Heretical essays of Miroslav Krleža

  • Jovan Bukumira University of Belgrade
Keywords: Miroslav Krleža, essays, negation, polemic, Yugoslavia, conflict of the literary left


Miroslav Krleža (1893–1981) was a Croatian and Yugoslav writer whose voluminous work – encompassing almost all literary genres: poems, plays, short stories, novels, essays, travelogues, pamphlets, diaries, encyclopedic entries, etc. – represents the central authorial opus of South-Slavic literature of the 20th century. However, despite the almost elusive enormity of this opus, it could still be argued that the fundamental gesture of Krleža’s entire activity and creative efforts is – negation. It is symptomatic, therefore, that essays make the predominant part of Krleža’s entire work: due to its generic flexibility, openness, inherent heresy, but also wider communicativeness, this genre enabled him to express a comprehensive critique of the contemporary social reality, state of art, political circumstances, religious influences, etc. Essayism is, in fact, one of the typically Krležian procédés: the author didn’t hesitate to make long and richly elaborated essayistic passages an integral part of other genres he used, especially of drama and novels.   The essays of Krleža are, on the one hand, an expression of the author’s resolute aspiration to expose individual and collective lies and delusions, and, on the other, an attempt to establish and codify – argumentatively as well as emphatically – an alternative canon of values ​​and ideals. The breadth of Krleža’s creative, historical, and cognitive endeavour – a reflection of his restless critical erudition and gifted imagination – finds its most adequate form in essays, explaining how he managed to creatively and effectively cover such a wide range of topics, from literature, art, culture, and philosophy, to history and medicine, all the way to politics and contemporary reality. He thereby obsessively dealt with the nature and meaning of art and creativity in general, the relationship between freedom and tendency in art, as well as the historical and social conditioning of all human activities. His essays, as well as other literary works, are characterized by a recognizably ornate baroque style, implying intense stylization of sentence, “complex period” and hypotactic structure, rhythmic and poetic prose, frequent use of comparisons, vivid pictoriality and polyphony, associative connections, extensive enumeration and accumulation, and – especially in polemical works – perspectivity, antithetical stance, persiflage and ironizing of adversary’s attitudes, and the typical “dramatization of quotations”.   He persistently founded and edited magazines “for all cultural problems”, as he called them – Plamen (The Flame), Književna republika (Literary Republic), Danas (Today) and Pečat (Seal) decrees – which were “a thorn in the eye of all Yugoslav reactionaries”, with basic aim to “remove all the darkness of lies and traditions”. However, the heretical position of Krleža within Yugoslav culture could be best illustrated regarding the events during the interwar period: as an avid supporter of communist ideas, he criticized harshly the religious dullness, intellectual philistinism, and artistic opportunism, only to find himself subsequently accused of ideological deviations by his political comrades, in a so-called conflict of the literary left. During this period, he wrote his most important, and most notorious, polemical essays – “The Croatian Literary Lie”, “My Reckoning with Them”, “The Foreword to the Podravina motives by Krsto Hegedušić” and “Dialectical Antibarbarus” – in which he irreverently defended the (relative) autonomy of art in relation to society demands as well as party directives.


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