ponedeljak, 11 decembar, 2017.

Jelena Dimitrijević appertains to forgotten writers of Serbian literature: categories in which she could have been inscribed , “women”  and “oriental” , are conflictual, and both bluntly or cautiously  censured in Serbian literary history as well as criticism, contingent upon the ideological model the author inscribed himself  in. However, this is not a phenomenon which we observe only in Serbian literature, or in general in “small” literatures. In her book on the discourse of difference in women’s  travel writing, Sara Mills demonstrates that Western, prevalently English and American critics, passed in silence over women’s travel writers who wrote about exotic oriental regions also because their interest in local women was not in accordance with the colonial model, and in fact, it jeopardized the model of colonial superiority. On the other hand, the abandonment of the value system of one’s own society (adventurism, dropping out of the family, change of behaviour, male costume etc.) finds its counter-balance in the over-accentuated adaptation to the other: “white sisters” are the ones who are helping oppressed oriental women to liberate themselves from their oppressive men [1]. The scarce ones who are interested, as are  Ljiljana Djurdjić, the editor, and Slobodanka Peković, the author of the afterword, helped Jelena Dimitrijević’s letters from Niš harem to be published again [2]. It is interesting how Slobodanka Peković posits, within a genre and conceptually, Jelena Dimitrijević: “ Nevertheless, this book indeed is a travel writing in which a certain place is described, that is,  a specific landmark of that place - the harem life. And the harem life is the occasion to talk about customs as well as history” [3]. Further on, Slobodanka Peković insists that difference should be made between national exaltation and patriotism  ( which, in my opinion, is  provable with difficulty ), and, finally, defines Jelena Dimitrijević’s feminist protest as “mild” [4]. I will try to demonstrate that harem life is important, not only in Oriental, but in  European cultural history as well, and that its Balkan paradigm  has liminal effect on both: “ it seems to me that after the experience of the nouvelle histoire it is no longer possible to speak  about ‘customs’ situated outside of history.” Although naive, the approach of Slobodanka Peković still carries the pioneering, discovering energy of the forgotten women writers.

The literary and feminist work of Jelena Dimitrijević surely requires deeper interest and thorough treatment, and  even  a more precisely defined  genre and context . First of all, Jelena Dimitrijević’s writing about harems in Niš can hardly be classified as travel writing: it is about describing a sedentary way of life and customs, therefore it is about a pretension which is obviously anthropological, although the author probably does not defines it as such. Blending  letters and travel writing is customary in women literature;  couple of years later, Jelena Dimitrijević will use letters as an important connective tissue in her novel Nove [The New]  [5] which, also, has notable features of an anthropological description. In these two  prose texts, the letter functions in two different ways. In the letters from the harem, the letter (appealing to a friend) is a guarantee, although fragile, that discretion towards the described ones will be maintained: “To my gender I shall reveal secrets,  in front of which the curtain is raising for me in the way it is for prophet’s daughters, secrets that Moslem women are keeping from us more than they are keeping their faces from a ‘sinner’s eyes’. But no! I shall narrate to you only, and you will remain silent?” [6]

The communication of information remains intimate, and the author deprives her text of autonomy by leaving it to an ‘incidental’ publishing. In the novel Nove, the author uses the letter as an additional channel for  monologues and  separate communication between pairs of figures, depriving herself, this time, of a portion of power over statements in the text. Therefore, letters in the texts are gaining  special status, the one which is outside the narration and “more credible” than it. Obviously, it is not about simple use of a letter in travel writing, but about an attentively developed structure of a statement, which on a second reading level repeats the ambivalent status of a voice - in the case of all of Jelena Dinitrijevic’ s work, it is undoubtedly the question of women’s voice in the text.

Although the use of a letter form in the novel Nove is obviously more complicated and demanding, and the letter in Letters... has its poetic demands in the text. The letter, first of all, achieves a temporal (historical) distance between an event and a description, and, at the same time, deprives the author of a possible historiographic pretension. The letter, moreover, enables a non-hierarchical organization of an event, a “flow of things” independent of governing rules and reigning discourse, as well as the author’s standpoint in respect to the predominant and literary fashions. In the case of Jelena Dimitrijević, I would like to add another element, the guarding against the reigning ideology. National exaltation that rightfully annoyed Slobodanka Pekovic, as it seems to me, does not fully belongs to the “spirit of time”, it is perhaps about providing a nationalistic “alibi” before she gets into an extremely risky description of the remains of  foreign culture and the way of life, in particular into the part which is the most sedentary, the most stable, inscribed into the quotidian of the victorious Christian inhabitants, and not yet conflictual. Jelena Dimitrijević, by the clear selection of theme, enters into the way of living which, by a simple administrative decree, is to become the site of conflict, into the multicultural context which is to radically diverge towards the monocultural, among people who have not yet comprehended that, in the new world, they have become dispensable, and that they are victims of a history which requires oblivion instead of remembrance - as it is the case, after all, with any other national history. Her intention is even more risky - she wants to find, in this vanishing society, the extirpated, the silenced part, she wants to describe women and their way of life, with the consciousness that better days are ahead, of which she gradually becomes less and less certain. This insecurity originates from the status of the colonizer, which Jelena Dimitrijević has at least at the beginning of her report on Niš harems. “ It seems to me that I am sensible to thoughts of the Muslim women; it seems to me that their grieving souls resonate in my soul: ‘And yours it shall be! Under the burden of heavy sins, soon we shall tumble, and you, for your nobleness and justice, the one and mighty Allah shall recompense....’”.[7]

In this we recognize the basic traits of colonialistic argumentation: those who are to disappear are in fact guilty themselves: at the same time, collective and historical guilt, part of the new national invention, is transferred to the other. The colonized “admits” his mistakes, because of which his culture has to collapse faced with the more righteous and superior one. We recognize this procedure in many different colonial discourses, and its universality speaks clearly enough of the inscribed hegemony of the predominant - the male. Within domestic tradition, it manifests itself most clearly in the epic poetry (before dying, sultan Murat explains why Turkish reign is going to collapse, which otherwise he has not even established yet, Turkish governors have violated the old agreement and therefore the sinful authority has to fall, etc.).

Contemporary discussions about post-colonial culture / criticism have to be taken into consideration when dealing with Jelena Dimitrijević, precisely because of the assumption that Balkan post-colonialism can not be reduced to the position of the Third World and that of the Orient, in the way Edward Said has radicalized it [8]. Although Said’s radicalism is still politically appealing, the dual position of Balkan cultures (colonized by Europe, Eastern colonizers of benefit to Europe or against it) does not function within its system, in which a European constructs his identity to the disadvantage of savages and slaves, among them Balkans as well: Balkan participation in inventions on both sides of colonial borders tears down the rigidity of the system. Therefore, for the definition of the colonial-colonialistic position of Balkans the reflection of Gayatri Ch. Spivak is more usable [9]. Spivak defends the thesis that the other, the colonized, must not oppose Western colonialism with his (national) identity, but just the indefinite belonging, manifoldness and ambivalence. Her criticism of western liberal feminism which, precisely by its emancipatory programs, is trying to colonize women from the Third World, was truly prophetical for things happening in the East and Central European countries after 1989, and in Balkans during  Yugoslavian war. The “provide us with the data, we will provide you with the theory” strategy, shivered within the unheard-of connection of the mass media, the producers of stereotypes, and the outstanding Western feminists - for example, Catherine McKinnon [10]. The criticism Homi Bhabha leveled at Said also reveals the strategy of the colonized: he participates in the production of  stereotypes, so that the invention’s addressee is lost in the two-way and ambiguous game of substitution of identity, and in fact there are no stable models [11]. Reina Lewis, in her book about gendering of orientalism, attempts to determine how much ‘white women” contributed to the creation of the imperialistic western culture in the second part of the 19th century, based on the example of George Eliott and French painter and illustrator Henriette Brown [12]. This study is of a special interest for the research on Jelena Dimitrijević’s work, not solely because of the linking of imperialism, women and culture, based mostly on descriptions and representations of Turkish harems, but also because of the obvious historization of the problem, which steps out of the main ahistoric trend of the feminist writing today, and represents an innovation, a new course of research. Lewis applies the analyzing of texts and the reading of images, that is, of representational systems. In the analysis of Henriette Brown’s paintings, she arrives at exceptionally interesting conclusions, relevant for the case of Jelena Dimitrijević: paintings represent the everyday life in a harem as an analogy to the family life in the West, only in different costumes. The essence is the same, the scenery is different, could be Henriette Brown’s message. A harem is a site of family love, especially maternal. Such an attitude subverts the iconic status of the harem in the West, from the 18th century on, as the ultimate phantasm of men, of a petit bourgeois, of an eccentric intellectual and of a homosexual as well. Whereas for man a harem represents a phantasm, for female travelers, writers and painters a harem is the central symbol of female oppression. In his enthusiastic review of Henriette Brown’s paintings from  harem, Theophile Gautier [13] says that only women should be traveling to Turkey, for only they are able to see something in that “jealous country”. Lewis entitled the whole chapter “Only women should be traveling to Turkey”. Quoting the whole array of English, and then some Egyptian and French women writers as well, which from the early 19th century on have written about harems, she also shows that the description of harems had its literary and cultural market, and that very often male creators - for example Ingres, by painting scenes from harems - used these descriptions made by women travelers.

Although Reina Lewis’s book introduces very precisely into the marginal genre of women writing about harems, and into the phenomenon of women’s participation in the creation of imperialistic stereotypes and colonial icons, she still can not help completely: Jelena Dimitrijević does not write  either from the position of great literature or that of the Western colonizer. Therefore, it is necessary to introduce the modern theorization of  Balkans into the discourse. Maria Todorova, in her book on imagination in relation to  Balkans [14], attempts to determine the status of Balkans in relation to “orientalism” as well. Pointing out to the liminal character of  Balkans culture, and at the most important all-Balkans cultural tradition, Turkey, she emphasizes the basic difference between the representation of  Orient and the representation of  Balkans in the West. If mystique, luxury and sensuality, therefore sexuality as well, are the basic elements of  oriental phantasm, Balkans is the area of poverty, of contradictory customs and cruelty [15]. Between the “superfluous” and the “partial”, Balkans is a variant of the orientalism in Said’s sense. Although the analysis of Todorova is exceptionally rich and sophisticated, suprisingly, it does not approach the problems of  Balkans as the site of the production of orientalism for Balkans cultural necessities. With the formation of national states at the beginning of the 19th century, the production of past and oblivion becomes frenetic: new states are to invent narrations able to displace Turkish culture from the immediate to the definitely concluded past. The imaginary maps of Balkans during 19th and the beginning of the 20th century are dynamically changing thanks to the interventions of the Central-European (Austro-Hungarian) colonization (the annexation of Bosnia), the colonization of the past (ancient for Greeks, “tribal” for others), the aspiration to appertain to Europe, the identification with the Slavic world.. The common culprit for the backwardness is the Turkish period as well as the Turkish mentality, although the line of the nostalgic memory of the oriental pleasure is clear: it can not be equalized with the Western one, since it has the genuine quality of the domestication and the storing of the orientalism into the past, not into the other, distanced in space, contemporaneity. When poets, such as Jova Ilic was, write about Orient, it is not a region that could be visited, nor the area of the latest male fashion, as in the West: it is the area of the exceeded past. It is from  this tradition that Jelena Dimitrijević takes on the radical oriental, colonial step: in fact, she wants to prove that the object of desire does exist, and thus in Serbian culture realizes the ontological status of Orient / harem. Although, at first sight, she, with the same intentions and the same colonial feminist standpoint of “a white sister” - as many women from Western Europe did before her - goes to the harem, she in fact does not have the place to return to. She is not awaited by a market thirsty for harem descriptions, nor the cooperative male creators who would know how to use the data, or the fashion,  the colonial recognition. The state and national program for the oblivion of Turkish culture, and the thorough destruction of traces, excludes, even before it started, her effort in providing the description and her contribution to the knowledge: that kind of knowledge is no longer desirable. The emphasized sensibility and naturalistic melodramaticallity of Bora Stankovic will take over the position of the privileged producer of nostalgic phantasms which guarantee the impossibility to exist to this culture. The non-adaptability to the new of Bora Stankovic’s heroes, their desperateness and tragicalness, for Serbian national culture in the making are the desirable forms of representing the Turkish culture. Jelena Dimitrijević, with her descriptions of live culture, with her heroines who are not overwhelmed by the past and who want to survive, can not find  place in her originating culture. Precisely on the example of Jelena Dimitrijević we can understand the ambivalent position which Balkanian production of orientalism assumes: although she is aware of the way women from the West approach the Orient, which  to a great extent she repeats in her performance, Jelena Dimitrijević can not expect the communication with them. On the other side, although she knows that in  Serbian culture the symbolic,  not the ontological status of  Turkish culture is bearable, Jelena Dimitrijević maintains her effort to confirm this ontological status.

Jelena Dimitrijević’s work could be central in proving that Balkanian orientalism does exist, that is, the production of representations for one’s own need, and that this Balkanian orientalism has its roots in the invention of national / nationals cultures. The Oriental, “Turkish” becomes the traumatic spot that produces, by negation, oblivion or nostalgia, within the ruling national culture, the new identity. Jelena Dimitrijević’s  isolated attempt, to oppose, to the new censured construction of  collective memory, the existence, more or less relevant description of the real space and customs that have to be “inscribed” into the collective memory and to which the participation in the history has to be provided for, while the possibility of direct description still exists, has all the features of the rationalistic western intervention. In other words, it was dually doomed to disaster. Jelena Dimitrijević’s feminism,  that is, the political energy she brought into her work, made her inacceptance within the national culture only stronger.

It is within such a concept, from my point of view, that Jelena Dimitrijević’s writing should be posited, as well as the way in which she constructs a harem out of stereotyped elements constituting her political goal, and  pretensions to an anthropological, “accurate” description.

Does Jelena Dimitrijević, and how, withdraws from her original colonialistic role?  It seems to me that her transition to another language is the most convincing proof of the abandonment of discourse. Gradually, her language becomes so saturated with Turkish words that sometimes it is impossible to understand it: the challenge sent to her contemporaneous readers is greater than we see it today with the understood historical distance, which explains many laziness in understanding.. Her contemporaneous readers from the old country or from the newly conquered areas must have considered her language  as pure challenge, but  Jelena Dimitrijević was rescuing herself, in such cases, with another technique of colonial discourse: the exoticism, the combination of seductiveness  and vagueness. Continuing the flow of oriental nostalgia which already existed in Serbian poetry and prose, Jelena Dimitrijević is playing with the week, feminine, seductive in the text, with stereotypes concerning the yearning and inactive “oriental” - the easy plunder for colonizers. Consciously marginalizing her text, she removes it away from the center of attention of the new national culture and its expansionistic projects, wrapping it with the veil of incomplete understanding. The meanings of her text become opaque for the ruling culture, but since they have already been inscribed into the feminine, unimportant and nationally optional thematic, the trick doubly succeeds.

What is this strategy used for? On the one side, Jelena Dimitrijević creates a cozy nook in which she can , undisturbed by the dominant culture, contemplate and describe a culture doomed to perish. On the other side, the status of women in the culture she describes has a role in her feminist project: obviously, this status has not been that strange and unknown, nor so distanced from the march of Serbian culture towards progress not to be paradigmatic for the politics of feminism. No matter how incomplete the list of parallels remain, Jelena Dimitrijević saw the elements of recognition, and she wanted them to be seen. Abandoning the role of the colonizer, she  succeeds in learning and applying certain strategies of the colonized: Muslim women become the symbolic minimum of women’s rights, the limit beyond which more is demanded. How much more it is most probably  not necessary to emphasize, so that this limit may remain blurred. At the same time, Muslim women function as the constant teaching about the other and the differences. Within their culture, they point to possible techniques of female communication, solidarity, different types of organizing and affecting that which is beyond. Beyond this culture, Jelena Dimitrijević can refer to them from the standpoint of an enlightened western woman and from the standpoint of a local Balkanian connoisseur. Gradually giving up the status of the colonizer, Jelena Dimitrijević keeps till the end her western enlightenment as far as women health, protection and rights are concerned. Her “Balkanian expertise” becomes, however, the indirect response to the western tradition of constructing “the oriental”. Precisely in this I see the main actuality of Jelena Dimitrijević’s writing, and the necessary need to posit her oeuvre in the Europe-Balkans-Orient range, which still remains to be researched in detail.

In the anthropology of Muslim societies, the mobile, nomadic harem is not in the least unusual. As a sedentary and concealed cell of society, it moves together with the entirety, remaining sedentary and concealed, regardless of the external dynamic . But, my aim is to look at the ambivalency of harem’s status, from the perspective of “the nomadic”, as  defined by the feminist theory, for example by Rosi Braidotti, who refers herself in the great extend to Deleuze [16]. It would be hard to conceive of a better example for a polyglot as a linguistic nomad [17] than that of Jelena Dimitrijević: the transgression of the linguistic system, the enjoyment in new sounds, signs, new words, the critical distance in respect to the starting (maternal language), the critical distance in respect to the aims of transgressions. The abandonment of the colonialistic status for Jelena Dimitrijević is a clear political decision, even more so since it is not the question of the need to communicate. The colonizer may be qualified to communicate in the language of the colonized: it will only hasten his success. In our case, the colonized speaks the starting language of the author, but in respect to the identification with the “maternal” language he has a different position. As distinguished from Jelena Dimitrijević’s former patriotic identity, which is connected with the “maternal” language, Muslim women in Niš harems have their starting point in the polyglosy: they have to know Arabic, the language of Koran, they speak Turkish for it is the language of their culture, and they are able to cope with all languages that are functional or symbolically important for the society. Thus, they know Persian, the language of the fine literature of the Muslim world, they know some Albanian, Gypsy and Tzintzar language in order to be able to make  themselves understood by the servants, merchants and entertainers; while Serbian is one of the everyday languages that gained political power. The situation is even more complicated within the elite culture, such as  described in the novel Nove:  harems of the high bourgeois layer must know the most important European languages, which they master and are taught by governesses from the West - namely French, English, German and even Italian, and the local languages such as Greek, Armenian and Ladino - except the already mentioned language of the basic Islamic, especially Balkanian Islamic culture.The absence of  communication is precisely the very thing that is falling out of the definition of polyglocy, that is the linguistic nomadism. Contrary to any modern notion of linguistic nomadism, by which  dynamic, mobility and constant transgression are understood, harem nomadism is signified by a polyglocy, which  in great extent represents its own aim. In other words, by the  polyglocy which fulfills itself through enjoyment. Similarly to closed academic circles for the research of and the enjoyment in the“dead” languages, harem  practices the knowledge of those languages which already have the status  of a “dead language” ( Arabic language of  Koran, Persian language), or those which, upon their communicational scope, are considered to be “dead” by those within the harem who take delight in them , such as the Italian language: its only purpose  is to enable the performance of an operatic aria accompanied by the piano in the harem, not even to enable an opera in Italian to be seen in a theater. The rest of West European languages have similar status too - they are used only for learning, communicating with governesses and for reading. Balkanian languages only have the communicational scope that goes beyond the internal limits of a harem, which means communication, limited, under surveillance, codified, but still a communication with the external, real world. All the languages that are spoken and known in the harem, that are coming across and transgressing within harem nomadism, have, thus, primarily the function of rejoicing in. A word is embodied through pleasure. Harem’s identity is not dual, manifold, transgressive and conflictual, in the first place it is a body in a language - in any lanuage.A woman in a harem which speaks, reads or sings, makes use of different and numerous languages to express different forms of being, that is, of the enjoyment of its own body; nomadism between languages, that is, mastering of new languages, can not be interpreted from outside in any other way than as the symbolic act of  freedom, but only in the Cartesian European tradition, in which it is possible to separate “body” and “soul”. Jelena Dimitrijević correctly concludes that women in harem are “happier” than she would like them to be and could imagine them to be: in the search for the answer to the question why, Jelena Dimitrijević discovers the polyglotic nomadism and without any hesitation she surrenders herself to it, not in order to be closer, but to live herself the experience of taking delight in  linguistic transgression.

The important aspect of this game of substitution and taking over of  identity is the European, Western, in a great extent Jelena’s “hypertext” about harems as well, the stereotypified narration which complements the colonial tension and at the same time emphasizes “difference” as the basis from which the collective identity is constructed: harem is the place  of pleasure, that is of the forbidden pleasure, for a monogamic Western man as well as for an emancipated Western woman. In  Western imagination, the phantasmally forbidden-unworthy of  had an exceptionally important place ever since the European return to the colonial interests in the Balkans and the East in the 17th century, that is, since the cessation of the direct Turkish threat to the Western Europe after the siege of Wienna [18]. Sexual fantasy, as it has been noticed by Edward Said and Maria Todorova, is unbreakably tied to the European understanding of the East, that is of Orientalism. Jelena Dimitrijević, originating from the culture in which orientalism of such determination represented an entire poetic-aesthetic school doomed to last shortly in the atmosphere of national invention, enters harems fully aware of such an aspect of things. Her political (feminist) aim is to debunk (deconstruct) the myth about sexuality, and to display the “real” state of things: the desperate health condition of women who smoke to much and do not expose themselves enough to air and sun, the opssessive psychic states, not even to mention the catastrophical social position, the impossibility to make decisions and other external elements.  It is obviously clear to Jelena Dimitrijević that the sexual fantasy about harems is just another strategy in order to deculpabilize the colonizers (innate amorality of the colonized) and the hegemonistic male, Western as well as Eastern (innate amorality of female pleasure). Therefore, her insisting upon  the authenticity of religiousness of Moslem women, finds its function precisely in demonstrating the equality of spiritual weight of women in the harem, thus women in general as well, provided that they are able to achieve it under the most unfavourable conditions.

This demonstration that starts from the minimal category, from the position of  minority, recently became theoretically productive, in the work of the already mentioned Gayatri Spivak and Trinh Minh-ha [19]. On the other side, Jelena Dimitrijević examines, with the real anthropological  inquisitiveness and accuracy in description, the forms of sexuality that have stayed outside of the stereotypical phantasmatic Western narrative. These forms of sexuality represent a system of symbolic gestures, which indirectly speak about censoring of the culture they are originating from : throwing of lighted cigarettes into one’s lap, disguising (transvestitism)  into other gender, verbal sexual innuendo, techniques of seduction. Homoerotic indications through symbolic gestures that function as “translation” of heterosexual, and as possible announcement of homosexual ones. Ambivalence does not pose any problems to Jelena Dimitrijević’s translations and descriptions : women friendship in harem is close to women friendship in patriarchal society, to feminist women closeness, to romantic women friendship nurtured by Western bourgeois culture of the 19th century. All these forms of closeness, characteristic of cultures in which woman is repressed, if not completely marginalized, dazzle the ruling one within a culture, that is, rule out his complete control over the marginalized group. Lesbianism turns into scandal only when it exceeds the limits of marginalization and exclusion of women. Protected from the outside by the wall of such a censorship, Jelena Dimitrijević does not feel any obstacle nor difficulty in speaking about seduction and love among women even more explicitly in her novel Nove than in Letters ... Describing the symbolic gestures of harem women, she radically deconstructs Oriental narration and sexual phantasms : we could say that this represents one of her main goals. Muslim women represent the reality of Balkan culture, not the erotic dream made of tobacco smoke and alcohol evaporation in the circle of those Balkan authors who can articulate eroticism and women sexuality in the text  only as a privilege / guilt of the other. I think that

Jelena Dimitrijević, with her description of the sexual culture of a harem, hits another target, namely she deprives Balkan men of one of their starting identity  points. This standpoint requires a slightly larger explanation : the discovery, made by the classical anthropology, that, in many cultures, the process of collective identification begins or takes place entirely with the other, has been developed by those anthropologists who are dealing with historic cultures, therefore with those cultures which do not have any live witnesses anymore. The anthropology of antiquity, in this sense, has a paradigmatic position. Jean-Paul Vernant has demonstrated, in numerous studies and debates [20], that Greek man, from the period we call “classical”, constructed his identity upon that which is outside, in reference to, sometimes distinctly ambivalently, the other - women, slaves, barbarians, animals, nature... For that kind of man, the motto Cogito ergo sum does not have any sense. It is the privilege / curse of modern man. We could say that this internalization of identity is not fully realized in modern Balkan cultures, which, in that respect communicate, at least according to anthropologists, with ancient cultures, as, after all, many non-European cultures do as well. Incidentally, for the anthropologist who deals with  antiquity, Balkan cultures are exceptionally valuable. Thus, just the same as in the ancient Greek tragedy and comedy we can read, thanks to the analyses of contemporary researchers [21], the traumatization  of the ancient Greek man, provoked by the absence of women (among others, in theater, in drama), in the oriental narration of Balkans, as well, we can read the traumatization of Balkan man who constructs his identity upon the absence of the other : in this case two-foldedly, in respect to the other-woman and the other-Muslim. Let us not forget that this is close to Said’s starting point : Western European is constructing his identity upon the contrast between the slave and the colonized. By extracting Muslim woman from the area of sexual phantasm, by putting her into the reality of the new national state, Jelena Dimitrijević indeed destroys a starting point of the Balkan male identity - the one which is, on behalf of the West,  at that moment  recognized as legitimate and superior - the orthodox one. In the reminiscences of Elisavet Moutzan-Martinengou [22] My Story , we find the astonishing parallel between Balkan cultures and the dissemination of the concept of harem, regardless of whether it is question about Muslim, Orthodox or even Catholic context. This Greek from the island Zakinta, born in 1801, spent the most of her life in her father’s house in the estate, under the strict surveillance, which became even closer when she expressed her wish to enter monastery in order to communicate with other learned women. Because of the fear she did not succeed to escape, and her reminiscences end with year 1831, before her marriage to the man designated by her father and uncle, and a year before her death. She learned by herself several languages, and wrote her reminiscences which were published only by the end of the century : the reminiscences were published by her son, as a chapter in a book of his poetry. Worried about the bourgeois reputation of his dead mother, the son, Elisavetios Martinengou severely censured the manuscript. Elisavet Moutzan-Martinengou’s description introduces into a monomial - or multi-membered - harem of the Christian Balkan tradition, which is, again, corresponding to the general Mediterranean model, regardless of the religious affiliation. Such a harem is very close to the family harem of the urban Turkish family, as Jelena Dimitrijević describes it in her novel Nove : instead of a place of debauchery, harem is the part of the house designated for female members of the family. Thus, the notion of harem in Balkans and in Balkan orientalism, has to be separated from the Western invention of harem, in order, among other things, to make manifest the amount of  Western invention that has been used for the new construct of Orient and the harem within it, from the perspective of national culture. If we take into consideration the Balkan situation on the example of Jelena Dimitrijević and her cultural starting point, as well as the example of Elisavet Moutzan-Martinengou, then the picture of gendering of harems, female and male, becomes more clear. The Western harem, the site of sexual phantasms of Western male, becomes accessible through Western women interested in women situation. Western man uses woman as the mediator of images of these phantasms, allowing at the same time her possible feminist investment, which he himself does not take into consideration. Western female visitors, conscious of this aspect of transmission of information as well, insist particularly upon the identicality of emotions and family ties in the Muslim harem and the corresponding family  ties in the Western urban family, as an attempt of protection from the clearly sexual use of the harem representation. The phantasm is situated in present times, in the distant space which is not accessible to the male traveler, but is to the female traveler. The Balkan phantasm of harem does not require the female mediator - the one that will describe and provide the material that will be manipulated into another meaning and another gender. It is posited in the unreachable past, which is indirectly insuring it the status of a domestic “harem”, that is, the patriarchal home frame for women. Jelena Dimitrijević does not have in her culture the male manipulator to whom she will submit the information, the “addressee”, if we use in somehow different meaning the Homi Bhabha’s entry. She does not belong even to the second great group of informers on harems, the harem women from Muslim cultures themselves, in which we could typologically situate Elisavet Moutzan-Martinengou too, as the phenomenon which destroys the stereotype about the exclusively Muslim harem. Jelena Dimitrijević is the isolated author who, in her letters from harem, still has the need to have a friend, a “sister” to whom she would reveal harem secrets, for already in this book the recipient of the letters becomes superfluous. In the novel Nove the position of the author is different, since she becomes conscious of her loneliness and her exclusive feminist position : in the culture from which she is slowly stepping out, although in it she is received as the “new Sapho” with her early poetry, Jelena Dimitrijević no longer has a collocutor, not even reverberation. Paradoxically, her clear political energy and her effort to achieve a relevant description, no longer can function in the invention of the national. By adopting the polyglot nomadism, and by manifesting her pleasure in the text, Jelena Dimitrijević has closed the circle of her isolation. Her late travel writings, especially Sedam mora I tri okeana [Seven Seas and Three Oceans] represent the testimony of the anaptability to a genre . The author is producing travel writings, remembering her feminist work and Turkish times. Perhaps the most exciting part of her travel writing is the encounter between Jelena Dimitrijević and Huda Sharaawi, the well-known Egyptian feminist. The memoirs of Huda Sharaawi were published in English [23]. In Jelena Dimitrijević’ s travel writing, this event becomes the key for evoking memories : “Present times Egypt reminds me of the past times Turkey, of the Turkey I knew in my early youth, and in which I spent  the best hours of my life among Turkish women, loving them, studying them, writing about them, not only with so much knowledge, but also with so much love, and with compassion’. [24]

Jelena Dimitrijević concludes that “Madame Sharaawi-Pasha” (she states her name as “Hoda”) is dealing more with politics than with social questions. The criticism of colonialism is obviously the first item of Huda Sharaawi’s political involvement. Jelena Dimitrijević compares her patriotism with the patriotism of Serbian women. But, that patriotism is formulated as meritorious for the creation of Yugoslavia : “ A huge part of the merit on the basis of which the small Sebria became the big Yugoslavia is earned by Serbian women, isn’t it?”[25]

Huda Sharaawi’s stated answer demonstrates that Jelena Dimitrijević’s explanation has been understood within the exclusive female context : “Serbia united herself with her sisters, the Turkish and Austrian provinces”.[26]

Even if we could read  Jelena Dimitrijević’s words as Serbian hegemonistic discourse, the words of the Egyptian feminist reveal a context that is clearly determined : female, multiethnic and multicultural. Encounters and conversation between these two feminists has yet another meaning : several years before this conversation took place, the Egyptian feminist left the harem, took off the veil and became involved in the political struggle for the annulation of harems and the liberation of Muslim women. Her memories, her writing of memories originate from the harem.

During her travel, Jelena Dimitrijević pays a visit to her, just as other feminists from the West went to visit the distinguished Muslim woman, although she described the other Muslim harems some thirty years before. The main element of emancipation in the harem of the highest social rank, in which Huda Sharaawi grew up, is learning - especially learning of languages. The comparison of her memories with Jelena Dimitrijević’s letters from harem shows certain important similarities and differences between the statements of witnesses and the statements of observers : in Jelena Dimitrijević’s descriptions, male members of the family, that is of harem, are not the personalities who would essentially influence the identity of women, but their fate. In Huda Sharaawi’s memories, probably the most important part is dedicated to the father and the brother, as in the memories of Elisavet Moutzan-Martinengou the important part is dedicated to the father and the uncle. The description of the conflicts with the male authority is conditioned by the previous establishment of the connection between one’s own identity and the male and authoritarian ones. Surely it is about the strategy aiming to  achieve the equality, but also about the cultural model in which the personal identity has to be marked by the familial and tribal, in order to be constructed in the first place. I can confirm this strategy from my own experience : in 1997 I participated in the project conceived by the Center de Ballie in Amsterdam, which engaged five intellectuals from different parts of the world to spend a couple of weeks in non-privileged milieux in Holland, and to report about their findings regarding the intercultural tolerance in the form most familiar to them (journal, film, performance). My milieu was the “Indian village”, the old working class neighborhood in the vicinity of the slaughterhouse in Amsterdam, which became the place of refuge for different non-European immigrants : from Surinamo, India, Indonesia during the seventies, from Morocco, Turkey and Algeria during the eighties, from Africa and Bosnia during the nineties. I opted for women statement, namely for fairy tale, and through interviews with women from different non-European Muslim cultures I obtained the model for the introduction into the narration : it was the story about father. Women speech liberated itself through the story about father, and after the story about father it was possible to obtain, depending on the level of liberation of the person and the atmosphere of the conversation, the insight into the narrative techniques. The story about father functioned as a sort of initiation, with the aim to present the narrator, but also to refer the listener - like a code for understanding. Azade Seyhan [27], who studies literature of Turkish women in contemporary Germany, claims that in contemporary Turkish literature exists the type of distinctively sexualized woman determined by “her” men - father, brother, husband, and although this literature acts as criticism, its result surely is not to give power (empowerment) to women. Obviously it is about a cultural model which has found its place within the main literary discourse. We could interpret it with the help of classic psychoanalysis, as a proof of an attempt to seduce the father, or, which seems more justifiable to me, within the frame of seduction in the text [28]. It is interesting, for example, that in the study of Manet’s Olympia from the quoted anthology (see note 28.), the author is mentioning only two thematic types of frontal nudity in the Western tradition of the 19th century : classic-mythological and oriental-romanticist (odalisque) [29]. But, whichever of the interpretative models we might apply, it remains that the identitary connection with the male authority represents a sufficiently clear sign of a traumatic past of both gender and individuum within culture. At this point, Jelena Dimitrijević’s report, together with the reports of other Western women visitors, manifests key cultural and anthropological difference, “the blind spot” of Western sisters in respect to  Oriental sisters. But, the separate position of Jelena Dimitrijević, that is of Balkan orientalism, can be read in the recognition of the national program, the sole possible inscription into the collective which Serbian (Balkan)  and Egyptian feminists could have reached on the public political stage of their cultures. This is the point where  Balkan and Oriental feminists are together, but not with their Western sisters.

Jelena Dimitrijević’s work, posited in the context of Western writing about harems and Muslim women, in the context of  memories of Muslim women themselves and their feminist politics, in the context of post-colonial theories of identity, and in the context of women historiography, manifests certain distinctions in respect to which her position within the starting culture is changing, in the way in which, upon her example, the phenomenon of Balkan orientalism is introduced into Balkan cultural anthropology. Let us summarize these distinctions : polyglotic nomadism, the gaze of the western and colonialistic feminist enlightenment, the attempt to posit into the national (but multucultural) program. All three distinctions are mutually more or less opposed, but they successfully link a specific form of orientalism - the Balkan one. The question one must ask, from my point of view, is - what kind of epistemological pertinence had the description of harem made by Jelena Dimitrijević?

In the inteview forming part of her contribution to the anthology about the new historicism, Gayatri Ch. Spivak [30] speaks about her marginal experiences, and gives the attitude, of another author, that it is of crucial importance for a cultural worker to separate himself from his “gender” (native ) bourgeoisie. In this inteview, in which the unexpected amount of time and attention is lost on Spivak’s selfexplanations, regarding her irrelevant, for the scientific audience, determinations concerning American university folklore (testimony of just another voluntary victim of the academic star-system) - this incidental demand is singled out. It is political, feminist, and, perhaps in Balkan context still has the same weight as in the Third World. Jelena Dimitrijević has satisfied that demand with her turnabout and exit from the refuge of a nationally recognized woman poet into the uncertain, marginal area of description, therefore the cultural foundation of the specific women culture which has been dually marked - as the other and as the enemy. This prompted me to try to “weight” the epistemological significance of Jelena Dimitrijević’s work according to the criteria of an exceptionally demanding, and politically radically determined line of research of women from the Muslim world, and not necessary agreeing with the attitudes and demands of the author, Eva Kunzler. Namely, she organizes her research in the first place as critical review of contemporary anthropological approaches to Muslim women. I emphasize “contemporary”, for it seems to me that in Jelena Dimitrijević’s work exists an element of actuality which in Balkan conflict situations could be abused.

Most women-anthropologists whose work Eva Kunzler [31] considers as important - certainly important enough to criticize them and, on the basis of that criticism, to build her approach, to act from the radically left position - in  West-European and North-American sense of these words. This, from one side, has to be said because of the interwoven meanings in the former socialist countries, and from the other side because of the fact that some of the Western feminists abused the cheapest, anti-Communist entrance ticket to be first present in the prestige area that has to be colonized. Anthropologists working in the Third World area have not encountered this problem. Their theoretical interest is to avoid mistakes provoked by the European bourgeois thought, as Maria Mies [32] puts it : among the products of the European bourgeois thought are meanings such as “logic”, “rationality” and “ability  to abstract”. Mies, of course, has in mind the transfer of these meanings in the form of demands to other cultures. She thinks that research women worker has to realize the “look from above”, to integrate research into the emancipatory practice, to change  things she investigates and to share the research starting points with the feminist aims. The demand for change acts as the most radical one, but the argumentation points only at the falsity of the “objective” and “neutral” authority. Jelena Dimitrijević’s work  fully corresponds to these contemporary radical demands. In the further analysis of different approaches, Eva Kunzler speaks especially about inter-familial, that is, harem relationships and defines the most important ones: father-brother, husband, mother-in-law, women groups within  harem or community, and attempts to determine the position of the research woman worker in the eroticized female conversation. Her conclusion is , approximately, that description is possible only when the research woman worker rejects what represents the Western gender bias. This attitude confirms that the gap between “male” and “female” anthropology is becoming  wider, and that, justified or not, the traditional anthropology does not place confidence any longer in the reports lacking explanation about gender position. To put in more simply, the research woman worker must “unpack” her cultural luggage and confront it with her research aims. Anthropologists very often emphasize that the “drowning into” another culture  harms the description, that is, the notorious “objectivity”. The attitude of the radical feminist anthropology is, obviously, judging after the panorama of approach and criticism represented by Eva Kunzler, that the relevant description can not be obtained precisely if this demand is fulfilled.

But now, let us return to Jelena Dimitrijević : she has adopted the approach of getting accustomed, without giving up her political (feminist) goal. Her attitude towards gender bias, that is, the sexuality of culture’s  starting point, can not be read from her work, but it still remains that the representative sexuality of Muslim women has been described without any interventions, that is, without censorship that we could connect with her originating culture. The price she had to pay - silent exclusion from national culture and its value circles, power circles and marginalization - apparently had a very special effect on Jelena Dimitrijević. Not even thirty years later, in her travel writings, she does not gives up her starting points : according to Muslim women, these starting points are determined as love and compassion, as we have seen it in the conversation with Huda Sharaawi. I think that her novel Nove has a special place in this argumentation. If with her Letters.... she was still counting on the public and the communicational space which requires data and knowledge, some years later these illusions are no longer there. Nove is fiction based upon documentation, it is not dealing with the local situation nor the culture doomed to perish, but with the future of Turkish women and the temptations of the struggle for women rights. Appealing to the originating culture obviously was not successful, and Jelena Dimitrijević did not want to write about Muslim women in conformity with the acceptable mythical discourse. Her opting for future, for the emancipatory practice and the critical analysis of the possibilities that are opening up is clear : in the novel, the intellectual-feminist is dying, the young woman who is getting married to the man she is in love with (the success of harem politics) unveils the fact that this does not guarantee the success of the marriage. Nove is the merciless result of women struggle and not less the unyielding program for the continuation of that struggle. The novel was written for two completely different kinds of public : the one that will read the exotic fiction which destroys the expected oriental phantasm, and the other one that will read the difficult but exciting feminist enterprise. In both cases, Jelena Dimitrijević’s moving away from the originating culture is justifiable. Although she remains within her originating culture as an active member in different female initiatives - for example in “The circle of Serbian sisters” - she, from now on,  defines her writing and her life as  travel. Here, the transition from the description of  harem to  travel writing unveils the point at which closeness and mobility, harem and nomadism, are coming into contact one with another - Jelena’s identity can only be nomadic after her harem experience. The transgression of genre, the transgression of culture, the transgression of writing. I am where I am not. Jelena’s past, namely, the place and time where, according to her own words in the conversation with Huda Sharaawi, she was “the happiest”, with Muslim women, does not exist as fixed in collective memory of her originating culture, except in the form of the colonialistic phantasm. What she wrote remained as a separate thought, as a marginal voice and alternative testimony. Perfectly conscious of that position, Jelena Dimitrijević leaves her legacy to the sole interpretation which is not going to do her injustice - the feminist one. I am concluding this brief  insight into the possibilities for interpreting her work with regret that this work had to wait for too long.
 _________________

Notes

[1] Sara Mills, Discourse of Difference: An Analysis of Women’s Travel Writing and Colonialism, Routledge, London-New York, 1991; Jovan Deretic, in his History of Serbian Literature, Nolit, Beograd, 1983,  devotes three rows, on page 489 to Jelena Dimitrijević: ‘she mostly represented the oriental Muslim world, especially the life of Turkish women...”
[2] Jelena J. Dimitrijević, Pisma iz Nisa o haremima [Letters from Niš about harems] , NBS, Collection Ziva proslost [Live past], photoprinted edition, 1986. Cf. Also Svetlana Slapsak, What are Women Made of? Inventing Women in the Yugoslav Area, in G. Brinker-Gabler & S. Smith eds., Writing New Identities, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1997, pp. 358-375.
[3] Op. cit., p. VIII
[4] Op. cit., p. XV.
[5] SKZ, Beograd, 1912.
[6] Op. cit., p.4.
[7]  Op. cit. , pp. 9-10.
[8] Edward Said, Orientalism, New York, 1978.
[9] G. Ch. Spivak, In Other Worlds, New York, 1987.
[10] Catherine Mc Kinnon went so far that, in the case of “Croatian witches”, she attacked five Croatian writers and journalists, with the same arguments as the Croatian nationalistic media did, that is, that they “deminish” the crime of raping women in Bosnia during the war.
[11] Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, London-New York, 1994.
[12] Reina Lewis, Gendering Orientalism, Routledge, London-New York, 1996.
[13] After Reina Lewis’s book, op. cit., p.132.
[14] Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans, Oxford University Press, 1997.
[15] Op. cit., pp. 10-12, 15-17.
[16] Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic Subjects, Columbia University Press, New York, 1994.
[17]  Braidotti, op. cit., p. 8.
[18] Here, I have in mind a phenomenon which would require larger explanation and debate, a new interest in the Turkish state since, in the colonizing of the American continent high conflictuality of such an enterprise manifested itself ; for the sake of a future interpretation I am quoting a fascinating example of the use, in Europe,  of onomasiology with “turkish” entry for the names of new plants and animals found in the New World - Italian granturco for corn, English turkey for the large domesticated bird, and so on.
[19] Trinh T. Minh-ha, Woman, Nature, Other, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1989. 
[20] Jean-Pierre Vernant, Mythe et pensee chez les Grecs, Maspero, Paris, 1966 ; Les origines de la pensee grecque, PUF, Paris, 1975 ; La mort dans les yeux, Hachette, Paris, 1985.
[21]  Cf. Froma Zeitlin, Playing the Other. Gender and Society in Classical Greek Literature, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996.
[22] Elisavet Moutzan-Martinengou, My Story, trans. By Helen Dendrinou Kolias, The University of Georgia Press, Athens-London, 1989.
[23]  Huda Sharaawi, Harem Years. The memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist, transl. And introd. By Margot Badran, The Feminist Press, New York, 1987.
[24]  Op. Cit., p.207.
[25] Ibidem.
[26] Ibidem.
[27] Azade Seyhan, “Scherezade’s Daughters”, in G. Brinker-Gabler & S. Smith eds., Writing New Identities, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1997, pp. 230-249.
[28]  Cf. Dianne Hunter, ed., Seduction & Theory. Readings of Gender, Representation, and Rhetoric, University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 1989.
[29] Charles bernheimer, “The Uncanny Lure of Manet’s Olympia”, Ibidem, pp.13-28.
[30] G.Ch.Spivak, “The New Historicism: Political Commitment and the Postmodern Critic”, in H. Aram Veeser ed., The New Historicism, Routledge, London - New York, 1989, pp. 277-293.
[31] Eva Kunzler, Zum westlichen Frauenbild von Musliminnen, Ethno-Islamica, Bd. 4, Ergon Verlag, Wurzburg, 1993.
[32] Maria Mies, “Frauenforschung oder feministishce Forschung? Die Debate um feministische Wissenchaft und Methodologie”, in Beitrage zur feministischen theorie und praxis, Koln, Nr 11, pp. 40-60.


Ženska književnost u Srbiji - Zavera nečitanja: mesto, sudbina i značaj  ženskog književnog stvaralaštva u srpskoj kulturnoj baštini (2001-2004)
Projekat je proizišao iz predavačkog programa Centra, uz cilj da reafirmiše žensku književnost sa istorijskog aspekta, da stvori teorijski okvir za ponovno čitanje i razumevanje ženskog pisma, kao i da ustanovi tradiciju ženskog spisateljstva u Srbiji.

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