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The Sacred Cause

The Europe that was Lost – Thoughts on Central and Eastern European Modernism

Tom Sandqvist

«This book is about Modernism and Avant-Garde movements in Central and Eastern European art around the last turn of the century. It sketches a surrealistic, bewildering, irrational arena. At the same time, we are offered a differentiated view on the complex whole of the avantgarde scene in Eastern Europe. The author takes us to dark soirées, scandalous dada theatrical performances, drunken bouts with loudmouthed reformers. Subjectivity stands against rationality, ethnonationalism against internationalism. Yugoslavian zenitism, Czech poetism, Hungarian activism, and other less-known isms, are proposed in exstatic outbursts in shortlived magazines. The pace is hectic, the commitment enormous, and the sheer force of strongminded individuals overwhelming. All in all, the inversed perspective seems alluringly fresh, with Eastern Europe as the co-producer of ideological content, instead as the receiver, or, even worse, the passive reflection of Western thought. I am impressed by the tolerance of much of the audience before and after the First World War: To be a genius seems to be just a matter of course. Karel Teige in Prague, Ljubomir Micić in Zagreb, Lajos Kassák in Budapest, and Jacek Malczewski in Krakow were tireless propagators of avant-garde art – but also of nostalgic messianism. How did they get away with this, at times, monomaniac egoism, one wonders. Sandqvist finds the answer in that subjectivity was the remedy for avantgarde artists as a defence mechanism against the repressive society and destructive socioeconomical forces.» (Jan von Bonsdorff, Professor, Uppsala University)


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1. In Teresienburg and Berlin. Miroslav Krleža´s Teresienburg, Internationale Ausstellung Revolutionärer Künstler in Berlin, and the Uproar in Düsseldorf


27 1. In Teresienburg and Berlin Miroslav Krleža s´ Teresienburg, Internationale Ausstellung Revolutionärer Künstler in Berlin, and the Uproar in Düsseldorf He lived and worked on the Balkans, a region which the Austrian empress Ma- ria Theresa described at the end of the 18th century as nothing else than “a lot of infertile mountains and swamps infected by malaria, populated by unreliable Orthodox believers”.39 Like his literary antagonist, colleague and fellow-coun- tryman Antun Gustav Matoš a few years earlier, he had to leave Serbia accused of being an Austrian spy, although the circumstances differed in many other re- spects. Matoš had returned to the Croatian capital Zagreb in 1908 after having spent a couple of years in exile in both Genève and Paris, and after having been granted an amnesty he was soon to be described as the most prominent and influ- ential representative of Croatia s´ young modern or even Modernist literature just after the turn of the century. But Matoš died in 1914 at the age of only 41 and did never experience the collapse of the old Habsburg world during the Great War neither the fact that his twenty years younger colleague Miroslav Krleža40 in turn would be characterized as the most colorful figure of Croatian Expressionism. Krleža became the great star and was embraced in his native country as the united Yugoslavia s´ incomparably most prominent writer parallel only to Ivo Andrić, although he himself occasionally took the...

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