Dominik Tatarka: the Slovak Don Quixote

(Freedom and Dreams)

by Mária Bátorová (Author)
©2016 Monographs 220 Pages


The book deals with the question of resistance to Soviet hegemony in Central Europe after 1968, when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. The political and cultural situation in the context of Central Europe is presented through the life and work of the Slovak dissident, the writer Dominik Tatarka, who signed Charta 77 immediately after Václav Havel. For the first time, the wider context of resistance to violence and to intellectual as well as material hegemony is explored here. Using the comparative method, this work considers historical, philosophical and sociological ramifications of this resistance. To understand the issues of dissent means to comprehend the alternative and parallel culture of the 20th century. Thanks to this culture and the efforts of intellectuals in particular, the present-day relatively free conditions for creation and life in general were created. On the basis of the literary work and life of one of the Charta 77 signatories, Dominik Tatarka, this work addresses the topic of dissident literature. By the use of the comparative method Slovak literature is analysed alongside other literatures of Central Europe (e.g. the literature of Czech dissent Václav Havel, Ludvík Vaculík), as well as French (exploring the genetic connection between Dominik Tatarka and Albert Camus). This illustrates the wider context of the idea of freedom and free cultural values characterizing Tatarka’s work.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1. “Internal emigration” as a gesture of freedom (Dominik Tatarka and Ludvík Vaculík after 1968)
  • 1. 1 Official culture versus “alternative culture” within the model of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (ČSSR)
  • 1. 2 Tatarka’s direction towards becoming a dissident
  • 1. 3 The Slovak question as a branch of opposition
  • 1. 4 Tatarka’s contributions to national identity and aesthetic artistic creation
  • 1. 5 D. Tatarka and L. Vaculík
  • 1. 6 The year 1968, years of normalization and consolidation
  • 1. 7 The difference between the Czech lands and Slovakia during consolidation
  • 1. 8 Comparison – a summary
  • 2. Traces of “autobiography” in fiction (On the question of authenticity of an artistic work)
  • 2. 1 Intensive and overt intervention of the author’s strategy to the text
  • 2. 2 The first “authenticity”
  • 2. 3 Acceptance as the foundation of relations
  • 2. 4 The second “authenticity”
  • 2. 5 The first “sacred silence” of togetherness as an authentic experience
  • 2. 6 Loneliness as a reprimand
  • 2. 7 Tatarka’s reflection of the social situation in Slovakia during normalization
  • 2. 8 The hat as a symbol
  • 2. 9 Death, night, solitude
  • 2. 10 A theoretical discourse on author-text-reader-interpreter relationship
  • 3. Essays on culture (Aesthetic and political opinions)
  • 3. 1 The spiritual life of a nation or “creatio perpetua”
  • 3. 2 France and home
  • 3. 3 Tatarka and the Slovak nation
  • 3. 4. A “double” identity
  • 4. Types of depiction
  • 4. 1 The peasant archetype and the picture of an intellectual
  • 4. 2 One-off portraits
  • 4. 3 Farská republika – a picture of ‘brown’ totalitarianism
  • 4. 4 Démon súhlasu – an image of red totalitarianism and schizophrenia
  • 4. 5 Depictions of women – mothers
  • 4. 6 Picture of women – marriages
  • 4. 7 Picture of women – outside of marriage as a symbol of desire
  • 4. 8 Magical maiden – picture of a Bratislava bohemian, process of creation, desire and dream
  • 4. 9 Self-portrait
  • 4. 10 Picture of the soul – “the inner place”
  • 5. Water as the Beginning and End (The water motif)
  • 5. 1 The autobiographical (retrospective, self-characterizing) motif
  • 5. 2 The water motif in literature
  • 5. 3 The water motif in autobiography – in dreams
  • 6. The relationship of nature and culture in Slovak literary modernism (Comparison of the nature-culture relationship in the work of J. C. Hronský and D. Tatarka)
  • 6. 1 Jan Patočka: the natural world as a philosophical problem
  • 6. 2 Hronský’s subjectivity and interaction with the world
  • 6. 3 Tatarka’s subjectivity and interaction with the world
  • 6. 4 “The Natural World” and culture in the creative work of J. C. Hronský and D. Tatarka
  • 7. The Adventure of Humanity
  • 7. 1 Augustinus Aurelius (354- 430), his radiance and impulses for the philosophy of life
  • 7. 2 Existentialism in Tatarka and Camus (When the nadir of human existence means the highest level)
  • 7. 3 Absurdity as a boundary of despair and the start of searching
  • 7. 4. Death as a lifelong distinguishing mark
  • 7. 5 The wrongness of experience as a type of estrangement
  • 7. 6 Violent unnatural death – suicide
  • 7. 7 Revolt and freedom
  • 7. 8 Conclusion
  • 8. Freedom and dreams
  • 8. 1 The idea of freedom in the literary modern
  • 8. 2 An attempt at reconstructing the genesis of freedom in the mental and intellectual features of Dominik Tatarka
  • 8. 3 Freedom as fresh air
  • 9. Political systems of the 20th century and Tatarka’s Community of God
  • 9. 1 The time of “Obec Božia” and the original manuscript
  • 9. 2 The prehistory of “Obec Božia”
  • 9. 3 The transformation captured in style
  • 9. 4 Civic expression and state power (The Community of God as a free society)
  • 9. 5 Discourse on “Obec Božia”
  • 9. 6 The permanent process of shaping the Community of God (Civic principle and Christian universalism)
  • 10. Tatarka’s multilayered identity (The myth and reality of the author’s archai)
  • 10. 1 A summary of knowledge from the viewpoint of identity
  • 10. 2 Results of research into the identity of the author
  • 11. The relativistic and materialistic perception of mankind (The postmodern and the work of Dominik Tatarka)
  • 11. 1 Dominik Tatarka in contemporary reflections
  • 11. 2 Postmodern theses
  • 11. 3 The postmodern and the authorial conception
  • 11. 4 Písačky – freedom and love
  • Edition Note
  • Résumé
  • Works of Dominik Tatarka
  • Archives
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index


This book is a contribution to the mosaic of knowledge about the development of culture, literature and artistic and sociopolitical thinking in Central Europe1, (Busek, Brix) part of which is the Slovak Republic2.

Little is known in the world about Slovak literature and culture, largely because this small but interesting country has been a part of other states for much of its history with its artistic achievements and leading figures often subsumed beneath another flag than the Slovak one. Its culture is a distinctive one, however, paradoxically preserved thanks to the long-lasting hegemonies it survived under. In this respect, Slovakia is unique within Central Europe; together with its official culture, there has always existed on its soil an alternative culture. This culture existed from the Middle Ages onwards on the crossroads of various trade routes and has endured, despite various kinds of linguistic and ideological pressure from outside, resistant to violence, universally and ecumenically Christian with a large measure of artistic inventiveness and warm sense of humour.

This book, translated into English, today’s Esperanto, deals with the complex developments of the 20th century and the sociopolitical processes much reflected in its art. The subject of analysis here is the life and work of the important Slovak author, Dominik Tatarka, signatory of Charter 77 – a Slovak Václav Havel. The English translation is the first monograph about him, a writer whose work was groundbreaking in several ways: in his essay Démon súhlasu (Kultúrny život, 1956) Tatarka was the first writer in Czecho ← 11 | 12 → slovakia to expose the mechanism of thought control of citizens during the times of Stalinist schematism (this essay serves as a complement to Czeslaw Milosz’s essay, The Captive Mind, published in England in 1953). In his essay Slovo k súčasníkom o literatúre (Kultúrny život, 1955), he was the first to defend the artist’s right to individuality, a view which ran counter to the cultural and political tendencies from above in which the party determined the rules for creative work (art meeting the criteria of socialist realism had to be ideological, partisan and ‘for the people‘; a writer had to be an “engineer of human souls“). Tatarka’s studies at Charles University in Prague and the Sorbonne in Paris gave him an affinity with these two cities and the countries they are capitals of. At the same time he became one of the best-known advocates of Slovak independence in 1968. In that traumatic year for Czecholoslovakia, following the invasion of Warsaw pact forces, military occupation and establishment of a servile government, Tatarka returned his state honours and abjured all advantages and honours the government granted him. This “performer of Slovak literature“ then lived and worked in internal emigration in Slovakia for nineteen years until his death shortly before the Velvet Revolution of 1989. During that time he signed Charter 77, was forbidden to leave Bratislava and lived under police surveillance. His books were translated into Czech and published abroad.

As well as analysing Tatarka’s works and their artistic context, especially French and Czech, the author has gathered hitherto unprocessed and little known source texts from three archives of dissenting material: the Libri prohibiti in Prague, the Forschungsstelle Osteuropa, Bremen (the dissident archive of the V4 and Soviet Russia) and the Památník národního písemnictví in Prague (the unprocessed estate of Dominik Tatarka, who in the 1970s sold his work to the institution in order to improve his bad financial situation). In the original Slovak version there are fifty pages of appendices from these archives. Although in the English version these pages are absent, there are references to them throughout the monograph.

This book gives insight into a culture and literature which first underpinned the anti-Fascist resistance of 1944 and later opposed the Communist consolidation process in Central Europe.

The author

Bratislava, December 2014 ← 12 | 13 →

1. Busek, E., Brix, E.: Projekt Mitteleuropa. Wien: Ueberreuter, 1986.

2. The Slovak Republic regained its statehood in 1993. Efforts at establishing an independent Slovak state had begun in 1848; these were exploited by Germany in 1939 when, in accordance with Hitler’s wishes, Czechoslovakia was divided into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and the Slovak Republic (1939-1945), which was a satellite of Germany. In 1944, Slovak citizens revolted against Fascism as well as against their own “schizophrenic“ government in what was a carefully planned and armed uprising.


       “Internal emigration”1 as a gesture of freedom

       (Dominik Tatarka and Ludvík Vaculík after 1968)

“…As a medium of human self-esteem literature can never simply be fully emancipated from the climate of its place and time. Therefore, where politics so noticeably pervades everything, literature is also more penetrated by it…”

Václav Havel: A scream of epiphany
(Introduction to the book Démon súhlasu, 1985)

The ability to express one’s own opinion even at the price of exclusion from public, social and even professional life, the risk of being shut away and ostracized for writing has always been an aspect of civilization since the time of Socrates’ “wantonness” and subsequent persecution.. Such an ability follows official policy and official thinking as a shadow, as their corrective, as a reservoir of other thinking, of potential transformation. Václav Havel describes this ← 13 | 14 → internal mechanism as follows: “It is impossible to register the action radius of this strange power through numbers of followers, voters or soldiers because it lies in the ‘fifth column’ of social awareness and of the hidden intentions of life, the suppressed aspirations of a person for his own dignity and the fulfilling of fundamental rights, his actual social and political interests. It therefore involves a power which is not inherent in the power of any clearly defined social or political groups, but lies primarily in the power of the potential hidden in the whole of society, including all of its power structures. This power is not reliant on any of its own soldiers, but on, as it were, the ‘soldiers of its enemy’, namely on all who live in lies and who at any time could – at least theoretically – be stricken by the power of truth (-). This is a kind of bacteriological weapon with which – should the circumstances be ripe for it – a single civilian can disarm an entire division.”2

The word dissent is one of those concepts which can only be defined very inexactly. One part of intellectual deliberations on reality in Czechoslovak dissent was the question of “the natural world”. J. Patočka formulated this question as a philosophical problem, V. Bělohradský as a political one. The question of the natural world forms the core of all of the works of Dominik Tatarka; it is the essence of his narration. The artistic expression of the spontaneity of his talent is in places greatly suggestive of expressionism with hints of surrealism and of action art.3 Jiří Gruša has a well conceived, philosophi ← 14 | 15 → cal, but also aphoristically brisk and concise text about the topic as he experienced it: “Dissent which came out of the written word believed rightly in the power of writing. It attributed its hope for success to this (“power of the powerless” = power of writings). This success, however, in its political form appeared not only as the already mentioned consequence of decoded drivel, but also as the power of the medium. Writing thus became the body and obtained political cogency. The almost complete absence of dissident faces on screens abroad and their absolute absence at home before the magic year of 1989 worked in the end on strengthening the imagination. It evoked a certain ‘mysticism and from it then practical-political expectations grew. Further, literary dissent (-) (despite the medium – author’s note), wrote texts at the table as if unobserved and chatted with friends about their qualities. From this feeling of comfortable socks and domestic trousers authenticity seemed more important than status. But to be seen always means: to be dressed in a costume.”4

Dissent in Czechoslovakia and other countries under the hegemony of the USSR after the Second World War developed under the same historical-political conditions; however, with respect to the differing development and identity of individual countries it everywhere had different conditions of existence.5 ← 15 | 16 → Slovak participation was regularly absent in international projects, probably because Czechoslovakia was one country. From my own experience, I know that in the West in 1996, “Slovakia” was still only a grammatical suffix to the Czech lands. From the outside this may appear acceptable; however, upon a closer view we ascertain clear differences between dissent in the various countries. In the Czech lands and in Slovakia there was the conception of A. Dubček, “socialism with a human face”, inspired by shifts both in intellectual circles as well as among “workers”, those who in the 1950s created political trials, gulags, collectivization and abolished religious orders etc. Even in the preparatory phase of the 1960s it is necessary to ascertain parallels and differing development in the Czech lands and Slovakia.6 ← 16 | 17 →

1.1 Official culture versus “alternative culture” within the model of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (ČSSR)

Alternative culture was created out of the will for freedom and the voluntary choice of artists to exist in sub-standard civic positions in society and in the role of ‘second-rate’ artists rather than to serve ideology with their art.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
Charta 77 Dissidenten Dissidentenliteratur
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 220 pp., 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Mária Bátorová (Author)

Mária Bátorová, (Institute of World Literature, Slovak Academy of Sciences and Pedagogical Faculty, Comenius University in Bratislava) specializes in German literature, Slavic literatures and comparative literature. For political reasons she was banned from publishing until 1989. In 1995–1998 she taught at the University of Cologne, Germany. In 2011 she founded the Center for research in comparative literature KD at the Pedagogical faculty of Comenius University. In her seven scientific monographs and other articles she studies the problematique of repressed and tabooized themes of Slovak literary history of the 20th Century. Using a new comparative method, she reconstructs the place of Slovak literary modernism in the context of European literary modernism. She is also known as a literary author and essayist. Her works were translated into 8 languages. Her monograph Jozef Cíger Hronský und die europäische Moderne (Jozef Cíger Hronský and European modernism) was published by Peter Lang Publishers in 2004. Her most recent monograph is Dominik Tatarka – slovenský Don Quijote (Dominik Tatarka – The Slovak Don Quijote) was published by Veda in 2012.


Title: Dominik Tatarka: the Slovak Don Quixote
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
222 pages