Discover the forgotten works of East Europe’s “Second World”

By | July 29, 2021

Guest post by Gordana P. Crnkovic

My book, Literature and Film from East Europe’s Forgotten “Second World,” was inspired by my years of teaching literature and film from East Europe of the socialist “Second World” era at the University of Washington in Seattle. Over time, I noticed an interesting paradox: the more this period—which ended with the 1989 fall of communism and the subsequent dissolution of countries like the USSR, Czechoslovakia and, of course, Yugoslavia—receded into a historical never-land, the more its stories, novels and films seemed to resonate with and delight my students. From first-generation college undergrads, young sciences or business or humanities majors, to retired professionals and foreign students from all over the world, and from year to year, they all seemed increasingly enchanted and intrigued with these works and were always very grateful to be introduced to them. Having nothing to do with stereotypes of either socialist realist or politically dissident art, this “other” East European literature and cinema simply feels, to them, more giving and refreshingly different from much of what they are exposed to in and out of school.

I mused about this reception and realized that even seemingly minor aspects of these East European works, such as for instance the relationships between factory workers and their foreman in Dušan Makavejev’s Man is Not a Bird (Yugoslavia, 1965), must feel like “coming from Mars”—in a good way—to most people who had never lived in that peculiar socialist country. Czech Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966) playfully reinvents experimental and feminist filmmaking in mind-boggling ways and Magda Szabó’s novel The Door (Hungary, 1987) manages to be both a page-turner and a profound catalyst for our own examination of what we’ve hitherto believed is good or bad. And so on, many times over. These and the other East European works I write about come through as welcome and relevant surprises for audiences here and now.

My intention with this book is to enlarge my classroom. I want to provide a glimpse of these largely unknown riches of East European “Second World’s” literature and film to wider audiences. The book is divided into fifteen short and five longer essays. The short ones give a small “taste” of a single work, and the five longer ones explore in more depth how five other works reimagine major aspects of life everywhere, such as community, the reign of images, or human relations with nonhuman life.

I want readers to use my “essays of invitation” as an entry into this world of literature and film, pass through that door, and discover some of these works themselves. They will be very glad they did!

Literature and Film from East Europe’s Forgotten "Second World" cover image

Gordana P. Crnkovic is Professor of Slavic and of Comparative Literature, Cinema and Media at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA. Her writings include Imagined Dialogues: Eastern European Literature in Conversation with American and English Literature (Northwestern University Press 2000), over thirty articles on literature and film, as well as texts from the experimental video Zagreb Everywhere.

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