Straddling Borders

Straddling Borders: Literature and Identity in Subcarpathian Rus'

ELAINE RUSINKO
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 576
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442680227
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  • Book Info
    Straddling Borders
    Book Description:

    The Subcarpathian Rusyns are an east Slavic people who live along the southern slopes of the Carpathian mountains where the borders of Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland meet. Through centuries of oppression under the Austro-Hungarian and Soviet empires, they have struggled to preserve their culture and identity. Rusyn literature, reflecting various national influences and written in several linguistic variants, has historically been a response to social conditions, an affirmation of identity, and a strategy to ensure national survival.

    In this first English-language study of Rusyn literature, Elaine Rusinko looks at the literary history of Subcarpathia from the perspective of cultural studies and postcolonial theory, presenting Rusyn literature as a process of continual negotiation among states, religions, and languages, resulting in a characteristic hybridity that has made it difficult to classify Rusyn literature in traditional literary scholarship.

    Rusinko traces Rusyn literature from its emergence in the sixteenth century, through the national awakening of the mid-nineteenth century and its struggle for survival under Hungarian oppression, to its renaissance in inter-war Czechoslovakia. She argues that Rusyn literature provides an acute illustration of the constructedness of national identity, and has prefigured international postmodern culture with its emphasis on border-crossings, intersecting influences, and liminal spaces. With extracts from Rusyn texts never before available in English, Rusinko's study creates an entirely new perspective on Rusyn literature that rescues it from the clichés of Soviet dominated critical theory and makes an important contribution to Slavic studies in particular and post-colonial critical studies in general.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8022-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Technical Notes
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Transliteration Table
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. xiv-2)
  7. Introduction: Straddling Borders
    (pp. 3-21)

    There is hardly a more exhilarating experience for a literary scholar than the discovery of an unknown text by an established writer, or the revelation of a talented author previously unrecognized by the canon. Imagine, then, the excitement of discovering an entire literature, hitherto unrecognized by western scholarship. I exaggerate only slightly. While it has always had a place in the geopolitics of Eastern Europe, Subcarpathian Rus’ is unfamiliar territory for most scholars of Slavic literature, and to western literary scholars it isterra incognita.In the last decade, however, the revolutionary changes in East Central Europe have put Subcarpathian...

  8. 1 Inventing an ‘In-between’ Culture
    (pp. 22-63)

    The zeal with which Rusyns voiced issues of national identity in their literature was a consequence of the inescapable historical and geopolitical uncertainties that beset their existence. Like that of many Slavic nations, the early history of Subcarpathian Rus’ is obscured by a screen of conflicting theories grounded in ideological discord. There is no scholarly consensus as to when the Rusyns settled in the Subcarpathian region or when and from whom they received Christianity. In the absence of authentic documentation, these volatile questions have been answered by myths and legends that vary according to one’s patriotic predisposition and the prevailing...

  9. 2 Mimics and Other ‘Others’
    (pp. 64-110)

    The interest in literature and the conditions for its creation expanded with the educational reforms of the Hapsburg government in the second half of the eighteenth century. Rusyns from Subcarpathia began to attend institutions of higher education in the capital city of Vienna, returning to their villages with broadened perspectives that challenged the delicate balance of their ‘in-between’ culture. Their Latin and western European education developed in them a ‘colonialist consciousness,’ that is, a disparaging attitude toward their own culture. In a pattern familiar to subject peoples, the Rusyn intellectual elite accepted the metropolitan vision of themselves as ‘other,’ and...

  10. 3 Awakening to Rusyn Reality
    (pp. 111-181)

    The guiding force behind the Rusyn national awakening was Aleksander Dukhnovych (1803–65). The opening words of his poem ‘Vruchanie’ (Dedication, 1851), cited above, have achieved scriptural status for Rusyns and are ubiquitous in international Rusyn culture to the present day. They have appeared on the mastheads of newspapers and the banners of competing political factions, and they are carved in stone on numerous pedestals and monuments. They have been quoted reverentially in poetry, prose, polemics, and scholarship, and appear as the inevitable epigraph to almost any work that deals with Rusyn culture. The poem from which they are taken...

  11. 4 Strategies of Survival under the Magyar Yoke
    (pp. 182-295)

    During the national awakening in the mid-nineteenth century, the in-between culture created by Subcarpathian Rusyns received a shot of national energy that manifested itself in a burst of creative activity. Nevertheless, straddling geographic and political borders, Rusyn culture in Subcarpathia existed in a delicate balance, and the Rusyns themselves had little control over the seesaw. The national cultural movement was made possible because, after 1848, the centralist Austrian government found it expedient to foster the interests of the empire’s minorities as a counterweight to the rebellious Magyars. As Austria’s fortunes fell, however, the power of the Magyars to control internal...

  12. 5 Re-Imagining Rusyn Identity
    (pp. 296-406)

    The Czechoslovak period in the history of Subcarpathian Rus’ held out the promise of independence and cultural autonomy. Moving from the autocratic regime of Hungary to the liberal democracy of Czechoslovakia, the Rusyn intelligentsia for the first time enjoyed relative freedom to work out their identity and construct their own national narrative. Making up for lost time, Rusyn writers and activists produced a voluminous literature, including journals, polemics, critical studies, andbelles lettres.Although the period between 1918 and 1945 proved to be a true renaissance for Subcarpathian Rus’, the process of decolonization also took a toll on the already...

  13. 6 The Makings of Rusyn Modernism
    (pp. 407-442)

    Despite the Hungarian occupation of Subcarpathian Rus’, the war years saw a blossoming of literature in Subcarpathian Rus’ on a sophisticated aesthetic level. As a result of twenty years of relative freedom in Czechoslovakia, Rusyn writers had a greater knowledge of world literature and a firmer grasp on the question of national identity. Their identity options were limited under Hungarian control — Ukrainian identity and language were proscribed, and although Russian was allowed, sympathies with Russia (now the Soviet Union) had to be hidden. Therefore, Russian-language writers developed subversive strategies to express their thoughts in spite of the censor. Ironically,...

  14. Conclusion: Straddling Past and Future
    (pp. 443-466)

    From the sixteenth century until the middle of the twentieth, literature in Subcarpathian Rus’ developed in tandem with the intelligentsia’s quest for a national identity. In its initial stages, Rusyn literature established itself as part of an in-between culture, negotiating a position between east and west, Catholicism and Orthodoxy, written literature and folk art. As centuries passed, Rusyn national identity was the underlying focus of meaning behind the literary strivings of writers who represented diverse orientations in various languages. As borders and languages shifted, the changing interlocutionary situation in which the writers found themselves determined the problematics of literature and...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 467-508)
  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 509-536)
  17. Index
    (pp. 537-560)