Archive for the ‘language’ Category
The Illyrian alphabet that wasn’t: how two centuries of European printers circulated an imaginary Balkan script
One of the joys of historical research is finding unusual things in old books.
One of the joys of social media once you link a whole lot of historians, linguists and literature people up with each other is finding the unusual things people have found in a lot of old books.
Like these pages from Josiah Ricraft’s The Peculier Characters of the Orientall Languages and Sundry Others, published in London in or around 1645, that Heather Froehlich encountered while looking at texts in languages other than English in the Early English Books Online collection:
(Make that The Peculier Characters of the Orientall Languages and Sundry Others, Exactly Delineated for the Benifit of All Such as Are Studious in the Languages, and the Choice Rarities Thereof, and for the Advancement of Language Learning in These Latter Dayes. That claim to precision with its millenarian twist at the end – the same combination that introduced readers of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens to an occult text called The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch – is exactly what you want in your early-modern-English-book-title aesthetic.)
Two of these scripts – the ‘Alphabet of the Slavs’ and ‘Alphabet of the Croats’ – are forms of Glagolitic, one of the scripts devised for writing down Old Church Slavonic by the early medieval Byzantine missionaries who spread Orthodox Christianity in eastern Europe. Cyrillic (named after one of the two most famous missionaries, Saints Cyril and Methodius) endured and became the basis of alphabets for eastern Slavonic languages such as Russian and Ukrainian, and for south Slavonic languages in nations with strong Orthodox traditions (Serbian, Bulgarian, Macedonian).
Glagolitic (somehow, it never got called ‘Methodian’) didn’t become the basis of any modern-day national language’s literary script, but as a liturgical and monumental script lasted longest in Croatia. For 19th- and 20th-century Croatian national movements, the 12th-century Baška tablet, discovered by a Croatian priest in 1851 when Croatian (and many other) national ‘awakenings’ were in full swing, has both symbolised the continuity of Croatian statehood and connected to layers of Croatian national myth.
The inscription acknowledges the historic King Zvonimir, who ruled the medieval Croatian kingdom until being betrayed by his own noblemen; moreover, it provides the first reference to ‘the national Croatian name […] in the Croatian language’. And it does it in Glagolitic. (In the words of one of the most famous new patriotic songs that emerged in 1991 at the beginning of the Croatian war of independence, resonant with the karst landscapes of the Dalmatian hinterland, history is quite literally ‘written on a firm stone’.)
(Today, narratives and iconography of the Croatian national past that play on the ‘primordialism’ of ethnicity and tradition in the landscape continue to make Glagolitic script a symbol of Croatian ethnic continuity on the land, immediately distinguishable for a Croatian onlooker from the Cyrillic script which in the region’s late 20th/early 21st century language politics connotes Orthodoxy and Serbdom. It’s not uncommon on patriotic t-shirts and tattoos; some monuments commemorating 20th-century Croatian national ‘martyrs’ are inscribed in Glagolitic; and the Zagreb-based designers Vesna and Marija Miljkovic have used the script as detail for an entire clothing and accessories line.)
Ricraft’s fourth script, a version of Cyrillic, is the ‘Alphabet of the Muscovites’, inverting the balance of power between Russian and South Slav languages that most inhabitants of Slavonic languages departments will be used to these days.
It’s the first script, the ‘Alphabet of the Illyrian Slavs’, that looks hardest to place. Glagolitic-but-not-quite, Greek-but-not-quite, serpentine tails where you don’t expect them to go – tipping its ‘peculier characters’ into the uncanny valley between historic typography, modern-day invention and contemporaneous alchemical esoterica to which several decades’ worth of films and book covers have tied the aesthetic of early modern printing for a contemporary eye.
(Take a novel like Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Dumas Club, filmed as The Ninth Gate, about an antiquarian book dealer hunting a 17th-century treatise that can supposedly summon the Devil; just put up a woodcut on screen and the viewer should start to be smelling brimstone.)
Indeed, as a place-name Illyria itself is in much the same valley – the name of a historic tribe in south-east Europe who pre-date the migration of the Slavs, attached to a Roman province, Napoleon’s Adriatic satellite state and the first wave of the South Slav national ‘revival’ in the Habsburg Empire; part of an Albanian myth of national origin; and, as Vesna Goldsworthy records in her history of fictional Balkan countries, one of literature’s most popular go-to names for imagining the Balkans behind the one that gave her book its title, Inventing Ruritania. And then there was that time Joss Whedon named an ancient warrior demon after it.
To paraphrase Kieron Gillen’s line from The Wicked + The Divine about the mysteriously reincarnated goddess Tara (‘We don’t know if she’s Buddhist, Hindu or Tara from fucking Buffy‘), semidetached from its historic moorings the name has permeated literature so far that ‘we’ might be forgiven for not knowing if it’s from Shakespeare, Greater Albania or Illyria from fucking Angel.
Except the background to the Alphabet of Illyrian Slavs is less Ninth Gate, more in the equally time-honoured bibliographic tradition of printers messing about – with something to reveal about how north-west European typographers thought about foreign languages in the 16th to 18th centuries.
Ricraft’s was far from the only handbook to include the Alphabet of the Illyrian Slavs, according to the Slavonic linguist Sebastian Kempgen, collector of Slavic alphabet tables from 1538 to 1824. It’s there in Richard Daniels’s Copy-Book of 1664, also from London, and a Leipzig printing manual in 1740; it surfaces in France in 1766, in Pierre Simon Fournier’s Manuel typographique, and in Edmund Fry’s 1799 Pantographia. De Bry’s Alphabeta et characteres, printed in Frankfurt in 1596, contains several Cyrillic and Glagolitic alphabets, the Illyrian script and a Cyrillic ‘Moscovitian’, putting it into the same lineage as Ricraft. Several Italian handbooks, meanwhile, don’t have the script at all. Finally, Kempgen traces it back to Zurich: Urban Wyss’s Libellus valde doctus, elegans, & utilis, published for the edification of calligraphers in 1549, where Kempgen notes no other Slavonic languages were printed at all.
‘Illyrian’ alphabets in the later books, compared to the greater variations of Cyrillic and Glagolitic scripts, resemble the Wyss models much more:
These later copies reproduced the alphabet very faithfully, but it is obvious that, for 250 years, none of the authors of these copybooks had a “living” alphabet to check his engravings against, that there actually were no texts that could be used to sample these letters from, no speakers to correct anything etc. Whereas in all these typographic books the Glagolitic and the Cyrillic alphabets do exhibit certain changes over time as they changed naturally, this one alphabet seems to be frozen in time, as if it had been photocopied by one author after the other. (Kempgen 2015: 6)
Kempgen speculates that Wyss invented the alphabet himself, using Glagolitic as a model but adding embellishments of his own that matched the codes of what he perceived as exotic (something he also seemed to have done to his book’s ‘Egyptian’ alphabet):
Having no idea which parts of the Glagolitic letters were distinctive and which weren’t, he transformed the Glagolitic letters into fanciful designs that fit the rest of the exotic alphabets that he cut for his book […] In Zurich at the time, there would have been no one who could have given him advice on how to interpret the Glagolitic letters best – which parts were important and which of his ornamental additions or re-interpretations made them unrecognizable as Glagolitic letters. (Kempgen 2015: 11)
The ‘mysterious’ Illyrian script, in other words, belongs somewhere between the chain of early-modern biblical typos, litanies of unfortunately transcribed script tattoos, and the comedies of errors through which Google Translate error messages and out-of-office emails end up written on signs.
Moreover, it’s missing several important sounds that the alphabet of any Slavonic language would be likely to contain; and the Italian manuals, printed closest to the Adriatic where their readership was likely to be in most contact with the script, have no trace of the Wyss alphabet whatsoever. Esteemed typographers in north-west Europe, for two and a half centuries, still reprinted the ‘Illyrian’ alphabet as fact. As Kempgen concludes:
Due to lack of better knowledge, it has been faithfully reprinted for 250 years – but never anywhere near Slavic-speaking countries. (Kempgen 2015: 11)
Wyss’s alphabet circulated because it looked plausible; other Cyrillic and Glagolitic scripts were and had been in use, ‘Illyria’ already existed as a designation, the Illyrian alphabet looked like its neighbours, why shouldn’t it be there? It’s as if the Dothraki language, knowingly constructed by George R R Martin and David Peterson for Game of Thrones in evocation of the horse-nomads of Eurasian steppes, were actually to appear in a handbook on the languages of Central Asia.
Two centuries before the Venetian traveller Alberto Fortis was romanticising the nomads and bandits of the Dalmatian hinterland as ‘Morlachs’, a generation before Shakespeare was imagining his shipwrecked twins making landfall in Illyria, Wyss was playing his own part in the European imagination of the Balkans. Whether Ricraft regarded the Illyrian Slavs as speakers of one of his ‘orientall languages’ or ‘sundry others’, his woodcut contributed a small node to the network of representations that south-east European cultural theorists such as Maria Todorova and Milica Bakic-Hayden have often compared to orientalism, or the politics of imperialist Europe representing and exoticising the Middle East.
Similar fabrications, in the age of national ‘awakenings’, could sometimes inspire nationalist imaginations anyway; the poems of Ossian, a third-century Gaelic bard, were part of a cultural movement that moved not only some Scots but romantic nationalists in other countries to imagine a folkloric national past even when they turned out to have been written by a contemporaneous Scottish poet, James MacPherson, in the 1760s.
If the Illyrian alphabet has never lent itself to an invention-of-tradition move, it might be because the chain of transmission ends abruptly, according to Kempgen, with Pantographia; linguists active in the 19th-century national ‘awakenings’ put enough new material into circulation about their languages’ scripts that they stopped depending on handbooks in the Wyss lineage and the error did not persist into the 20th century. Its lack of the full complement of South Slavonic letters means it would be hard to adapt to revivalist purposes in the same way that Glagolitic itself, though out of daily use, lives on in contemporary Croatian patriotic iconography.
Benifit or not to any such as were studious in the languages, Ricraft’s perpetuation of the alphabet-that-wasn’t certainly stands as a choice rarity thereof; an insight, even if not the one he might have wished for, into the advancement of language learning in his own latter dayes.
I’m supposed to write one of these a year and this time have actually done it – here are the various new things I published in 2015…
- First of all, The Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s – an introductory text (in Palgrave Macmillan’s ‘Studies in European History’ series) that actively involves the reader in thinking through what’s at stake in how historians, lawyers, or anyone else – including the reader themselves – interprets the wars and the break-up of Yugoslavia. I’ve written about the objectives behind the book here, here and here.
- I coordinated a special issue of Contemporary Southeastern Europe on the Eurovision Song Contest, and published an introduction to the issue on ‘Gender and geopolitics in the Eurovision Song Contest’ which revisited my earlier work on the politics of Eurovision in south-east Europe.
- My article on historical narratives of national identity in the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony appeared in print in Rethinking History this year (also available here).
- I wrote an article on emotional discourses that link home region and nation in Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav popular music (also available here) for a special issue of Southeastern Europe on ‘Music, affect and memory politics in post-Yugoslav space’ edited by Ana Hofman.
- I wrote an article on the uses and problems of sound in teaching about music and politics for Radical History Review.
- My book chapter on how far oral historians could or should try to ‘deconstruct’ ethnicity in interviewing about post-conflict Bosnia-Herzegovina appeared in Steven High’s volume Beyond Testimony and Trauma: Oral History in the Aftermath of Mass Violence (Vancouver: UBC Press).
- My book chapter on the language politics of peacebuilding appeared in Linda Cardinal and Selma K Sonntag’s volume State Traditions and Language Regimes (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press) (also available here).
Next on their way in 2016 or soon after – print publication of an article on the reuse of ‘found footage’ and built environments from the Yugoslav wars in a Hollywood adaptation of Coriolanus which will be appearing in International Feminist Journal of Politics (which has already published it online) – something else I want to extend in future; hopefully the volume on Gender in 20th-Century Eastern Europe and the USSR (including my introduction, and a chapter of mine giving an overview of transnational LGBT politics in the region(s) after the Cold War), depending on how long it takes to go through review and typesetting; a short piece on writing about militarism and embodiment as a form of translation, developed out of part of a talk I gave at the International Studies Association conference this year; and maybe other work that’s still under review…
Since 2013 I’ve been working on a new kind of book project for me: an introductory text on the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, which I spent most of 2014 working on intensively and which is now due for publication later this year. (Indeed, it’s close enough that the publishers have been showing me options for the cover design; I’m happy with the one we’ve chosen, and am hoping it’ll be going public very soon.)
The Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s will be very different to my previous two books (a research monograph on popular music and struggles over national identity in post-Yugoslav Croatia, and a co-authored monograph on translation/interpreting and peacekeeping during and after the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina). Firstly, it’ll be going straight into paperback, meaning there’s a good chance more of its potential readers will actually read it.
Secondly, it puts me in a very different relationship to its subject matter; Sounds of the Borderland and Interpreting the Peace were both the result of multi-year research projects after which I was the only person (or with Interpreting the Peace part of the only team) to have been able to write those books that way. With this book, on the other hand, several dozen scholars would have the subject knowledge to be able to write a book fitting the general remit I had when I began the project: a 50,000-word book aimed at a reader who is new to the topic and which fits into a series that puts ‘a strong emphasis on the different perspectives from which familiar events can be seen’.
(And it’s the right time to be doing a book like this; despite the volume of new research that continues to be published about the wars and their consequences, it’s still hard to find an up-to-date book to recommend to a reader who is new to the subject that will help to open up all the other books for them.)
Why should I do this, then, rather than anyone else?
In a post last year I talked about some of the micro-level decisions I was having to make while I was writing the book – choices, for instance, about organising events into a narrative, imposing an order on events by breaking them up into chapters and periods, making sure the reader can understand what’s at stake in essentialist or anti-essentialist representations of nationalism and ethnicity, and trying to make visible what truth claims are based on. I hope some of those thought processes will still be visible in the text (I wish I could have worked meta-commentary on my own narrativisation into the book in a much more structured way, but just didn’t have the word count to do it).
I set myself three objectives at the beginning of the writing process, which I think I have fulfilled – though ultimately the people who read and (I hope) use the book will be the judges of that.
First of all, I wanted it to help the reader understand research that is happening right now. The last few years have seen a new wave of archival studies about the core history of the wars, such as Josip Glaurdić’s The Hour of Europe: Western Powers and the Breakup of Yugoslavia or Robert Donia’s new biography of Radovan Karadžić, but also research that has been trying to expand the angles from which historians and other scholars might look at the wars (such as Bojan Bilić and Vesna Janković’s important edited volume, Resisting the Evil: (Post-)Yugoslav Anti-War Contention), not to mention work that takes a position on the longer-term human consequences of the wars and the collapse of Yugoslav socialism (for instance, Damir Arsenijević’s edited volume Unbribable Bosnia and Herzegovina: the Fight for the Commons, which was published earlier this year in response to the Bosnian ‘plenum’ protests of 2014).
Another objective was for the writing to show the reader how scholars make interventions into fields of knowledge, by giving some examples of how authors have set out to reinterpret or reassess elements of the histories of the wars. And a third – which perhaps can’t be entirely disentangled from the second – is to make explicit to the reader that their own beliefs and values are going to form part of how they (or the authors of any of the books in the bibliography, or me) go about interpreting and evaluating the events.
The book has eight chapters, beginning with a chapter on the long-term historical background to the wars, then chapters that cover the ‘1980s crisis’ in Yugoslavia; the independence of Slovenia and Croatia; the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina; and the Kosovo War plus its implications for Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia as well as Kosovo. (Already that’s slipping the boundaries of the 1990s – but then I’m a ‘lecturer in 20th century history’ whose research regularly ends up going into the 2010s…)
The last chapters (which are also informed by the teaching and research I’ve done in different disciplines) introduce ways in which the consequences of the conflicts have been researched and show how these research questions can feed back into understanding the 1990s: from debates over peacebuilding and reconciliation, through the prosecution of war crimes (an activity which has itself helped to shape historical knowledge about the recent past), into the cultural and linguistic legacies of the wars.
The long-term chapter was almost the most challenging part of the book to write, and the one that’s changed most dramatically since the first draft of the text (where it was twice as long, and much more detailed bibliographically – but when the full draft of the book started pushing 75,000 words in September, I had to accept that the first chapter couldn’t stay that way without pushing out another chapter later on).
I say ‘almost’ the most challenging part of the book because the most difficult – appropriately, perhaps – was the conclusion. Within 1,500 or so words – because the book length in this series just wouldn’t give me any space for war – I had both to sum up an account of the conflicts that I found most convincing and to show the reader the approach to historical narrative that the book had taken.
At times I wasn’t sure if I’d even improved on David Campbell’s classic review article ‘MetaBosnia‘ from 1998, which compared how ten works written in the mid-1990s had presented 32 political events that took place between 1990 and 1992 in Bosnia-Herzegovina; I hadn’t even been able to get into Campbell’s level of detail, or the level of detail that (with quite a different philosophy of knowledge) Sabrina Ramet was able to employ in her 2005 book about academic interpretations of the wars.
Moreover, as someone who aims to deconstruct notions of collective identity and narratives based on them, I need – like every other scholar in this area – to balance that against the responsibility of writing about real lives and deaths.
Ultimately, this needs to be a book which equips the reader to read more books, rather than being the first and last thing that anyone should read. This is not supposed to be even close to the final word on the Yugoslav wars, and indeed the format of the series precludes it from being that – which is one of the reasons I felt comfortable taking up the opportunity to write it at all. (It could however help open up discussion on how we teach, and how we might teach, the history of the wars from the point of view of two decades later – something that there’s a lot more scope to think about than I could cover here.) Mainly, it’s the book I’ve wanted to recommend as a starting point but which didn’t previously exist – which is usually a good reason to write anything…
Over the last couple of years I’ve been revisiting some of my popular culture work, and indeed some of my interview-based research, by thinking about the concept of ’embodied militarism’ in the emerging field of Critical Military Studies – specifically, how bodily practices and representations of the body reflect and shape imaginations of war inside, around and outside actual armed forces.
In recent years interest in embodiments of militarism, and more generally in embodied experiences of war, has crossed from history and literature (think of Elaine Scarry’s book The Body in Pain or Joanna Bourke’s Dismembering the Male) and sociology (John Hockey’s sensory ethnography of the infantry) into International Relations (through works such as Kevin McSorley’s War and the Body edited collection or Christine Sylvester’s War as Experience). Importantly for me, this approach incorporates both the lived experience of war and the fictional or fictionalised representations of war that appear in popular culture – joining together both sides of my research interests in a way that I used to find hard to express.
In War as Experience (2013), for instance, Sylvester calls for war to be studied as the same kind of ‘social institution’ as heterosexuality or marriage:
In the case of war, the institutional components include: heroic myths and stories about battles for freedom and tragic losses; memories of war passed from generation to generation; the workings of defense departments and militaries; the production of war-accepting or -glorifying masculinities; the steady production and development of weapon systems; religions that continue to weigh issues of just and unjust wars instead of advocating no wars; and aspects of global popular culture – films, video games, TV shows, advertisements, pop songs, and fashion design – that tacitly support activities of violent politics by mimicking or modeling their elements in everyday circumstances. (p4)
Of course, feminist International Relations has already been able to work for a long time with Cynthia Enloe’s concept of ‘militarisation‘, which includes both the material involvement of armed forces with the rest of society and the economy, and an ideological dimension of persuading the public to internalise the values of the military and war – which, Enloe comes to argue, occurs just as much through popular and consumer culture as through any other social process. (As one chapter in Enloe’s book Maneuvers: the International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives (2000) is titled: ‘How do they militarize a can of soup?‘) In the last decade, dozens of scholars have been able to use the idea of ‘militarised masculinities’ to talk about gendered representations and embodiments of militarism in contemporary and historic conflicts. (We hear less about ‘militarised femininities‘, even less about ‘female militarised masculinities’, and next to nothing about any non-binary engagements with militarisation, but they’re there too…)
At the International Studies Association conference this year, I was part of a panel on ’embodiment, experience and war’ where I talked about the process of writing about militarisation and embodiment – something I’ve been thinking about since a discussion I had with Synne Laastad-Dyvik during ISA last year. She and McSorley (plus Jesse Crane-Seeber and Lauren Wilcox) were also on the panel, with Sylvester as our discussant, and I took the opportunity to think further about what we communicate and what we ourselves might do or sense when we write about embodied experiences of war or mimetic representations of them.
Do we need to worry, for instance, that something about embodied, sensory experience is being lost when we write about it (especially in the format of academic writing)?
Loss vs. translation (because I never want to hear the phrase ‘lost in translation’ again)
In the panel, I suggested that we could think about it less as loss and more as translation – which lets us see what Translation Studies’ close engagement with the process and politics of translation could bring to thinking about this common concern of ours.
We do run into a problem here – whether the concept of translation can actually be extended beyond the interlingual at all. Anthropology and comparative literature have both used and critiqued the idea of ‘cultural translation’, for instance, but does this stretch ‘translation’ too far beyond the distinct things about translating between languages? Mary Louise Pratt offers one useful resolution by casting attention back on the writer as intermediary, focusing on positionality rather than process:
What is gained by using translation not only as a referent, but also as a metaphor for characterizing the transactions, the appropriations, negotiations, migrations, mediations that give rise to it? Perhaps this question invites us to reflect on the power (not the task) of the translator, as the one who knows both the codes; the one who has the power to do justice, be faithful, yet also to capture, deceive, betray one side to the other, or betray both to a third. (Pratt 2010: 96)
And now we’re back to the concern with the social positioning, agency, visibility and ethics of translation (and interpreting) that Translation Studies has been showing since the 1990s. Mona Baker and Anthony Pym, for instance, have both written on what the ethical responsibilities of translators might be; even though they interpret them differently, they’re still both concerned with how an intermediary uses the power that comes from their understanding of how to communicate in a source language and a target language at the same time.
The choices translators make – what to translate? how closely to accommodate the audience expectations? how strategically to unsettle those expectations through translation? – are all, as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s essay ‘The politics of translation‘ sets out, political – not least because the intermediary is always part of some kind of relationship of power towards the source-language audience(s) and target-language audience(s) they are responsible to.
Other fields – ethnography, postcolonial theory, feminist theory and oral history to name a few – may be further ahead in considering positionality, power and trust during the writing process, but there’s a useful focus on the how as well as the why, what and who of writing that Translation Studies puts into the spotlight (at least for me, after several years researching translation/interpreting and ‘language support’ in peacekeeping operations, when Translation Studies was part of the conceptual framework the research team I belonged to was working with).
It’s also interesting to compare writing about embodiment with the problem of screen translation or audiovisual translation; in some ways, it puts you in the same position as a subtitler. Henrik Gottlieb used the phrase ‘diagonal translation‘ to describe what subtitling does: it has to translate from one language to another, but also from one set of senses to another (speech you hear into writing you read – but staying associated with images you see), within a restrictive set of technical conventions for how much text can appear on screen and once and how long it’s supposed to stay there for.
Subtitling, necessarily, compresses meaning: the diagonal translation, as David MacDougall writes in Transcultural Cinema, ‘distils out of a range of implicit or possible meanings certain explicit ones’ (p. 174).
This is more or less where I’d got up to with the ISA paper when Mona Baker visited Hull to give a seminar on her new research about activist subtitling and the Egyptian Revolution. The activists she worked with have tried to translate in ways that already express changes they want to bring about and – while still restricted by some technical constraints – to experiment with format to convey more of the original than subtitling usually can (e.g. one video that moved subtitles around the screen to emphasise the rhythm of a protest chant).
This was an occasion for me to rethink the instances of militarised embodiment that I’ve written about: if I’m worried that something about embodied experience is being lost when I write, is there anything else I can do to mitigate the effect of that compression of meaning?
Thinking about how Saara Sarma has used paper collages of 2D internet parody images to build arguments about the international politics of nuclear warfare (as explained in her 2014 PhD thesis) – based on Sylvester’s theory of collage as a method where ‘‘[i]f there is a storyline […] “it” is one we [as the viewer] must provide’ (Sylvester 2006: 208), I started developing an idea I’d had in a footnote of an earlier version of the paper: is there anything I could do with video remix, for instance, that I couldn’t do with writing? But, if so, what?
When representations recirculate through us
Although I originally meant to talk about writing about embodiment based on interviews and writing about embodiment based on popular-cultural texts, I found when I was putting the paper together I had far more unanswered questions about writing and popular culture research.
This isn’t what I’d have expected if I’d thought about it. Interviews are the narratives of real people to whom I clearly have ethical responsibilities, and directly represent a person’s embodied experience of war; most of the cultural texts I deal with are audiovisual texts and performances, imagined representations at much more of a distance from what Sylvester and McSorley both emphasise is the core activity of war – injuring the body. They feel less real or material in an important way (though audiovisual texts need people to embody their characters in order to be produced, and have their own politics of production and labour; they’re not quite immaterial, either).
But interview-based and fieldwork-based disciplines already have scripts for thinking about the writer as an intermediary of other people’s experience and the responsibilities that writers then have. Whatever the problem is, someone else has probably had it before, if only you know where to look. Working with/on audiovisual texts doesn’t free us of ethical responsibilities or detach us from our social positions relative to others – a point Laura Shepherd reiterated later in the conference during an excellent paper on the ethics of researching and circulating (or not circulating) viral internet memes – but, then, what responsibilities and positions are they?
After explaining some of the ways in which I’ve researched militarised embodiment in popular culture – both in contexts where you’d expect it (like Croatian patriotic popular music during the Homeland War)…
…and in contexts where you might not…
…and making the point that even as we critique the recirculation of images and narratives, they recirculate through us (and bring with them, often very problematically, their own invitations to desire and identify), I finished up wondering whether – like the activist subtitlers in Mona Baker’s research – there are ways narrative approaches that might help get at this point more successfully than I can do in academic writing.
(A few other kinds of narrative that come to mind here: the use of fiction by IR scholars such as Elizabeth Dauphinée or Richard Jackson to communicate ethical questions about researching political violence; the narrative about fandom, desire and identification in the comic The Wicked and the Divine which within a few months, with the creators’ knowledge, had started inspiring fanart and cosplay of its own; the fact that whatever any of us academics write about critical engagement with popular culture, we’ll never reach as many people as Suzanne Collins has with The Hunger Games.)
So far, the closest I’ve come to an audiovisual research output is the Powerpoint of looped and paired images I used a couple of years ago to illustrate a paper I was giving on representations of militarised masculinities and the Balkans in the film adaptation of Coriolanus. (Which eventually became an article itself.) I’d seen Victoria Basham do this with one image per slide during a talk on popular militarism in the UK. For the Coriolanus slides (I’ll put up some of these in a forthcoming blog post about the article), I paired one image from the film and a news image from the Yugoslav wars in order to illustrate the points about resemblance, identification and recirculation that I was making, and had each pair automatically rotate behind me as I talked; it can’t convey all the information that a paper can, but is there anything a display like that can convey that an academic paper can’t, precisely because it forces the listener to take more of a part in making sense of what they can see?
A digital argument?
Feeling that this worked well but not quite knowing why, and being aware of what Sarma has already done with 2D collage, brought me to thinking about video remix. Outside the academy, this has already started becoming established as a tool in cultural studies pedagogy: Jonathan McIntosh’s ‘Buffy vs. Edward: Twilight Remixed‘, which edits footage from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight together into a scene between Buffy Summers and Edward Cullen to comment on Twilight‘s eroticisation of an abusive relationship, has had more than 3 million viewers despite being temporarily removed from YouTube in a copyright dispute. Craig Saddlemire and Ryan Conrad’s ‘A.V.A.T.A.R.: Anglos Valiantly Aiding Tragic Awe-Inspiring Races’, which mixes lines from Avatar with lines from 16 historical films to draw attention to the persistence of ‘white saviour‘ tropes in Hollywood film-making, has 40,000 but could still do with more.
In some ways, this might not even be too far from what we do as academics after all. I’m interested by Virginia Kuhn’s concept of this form of remix as a ‘digital argument’:
[R]ecent attempts to categorize remix are limiting, mainly as a result of their reliance on the visual arts and cinema theory as the gauge by which remix is measured. A more valuable view of remix is as a digital argument that works across the registers of sound, text, and image to make claims and provides evidence to support those claims. […] [A]rgument is key to academic efforts, and as such, the term holds resonance for the scholarly community. Remix can be a scholarly pursuit: it cites, synthesizes, and juxtaposes its sources. Argument also contains connotations of the dialogic quality of communication that is not anchored to either speech or writing, and so digital argument can extend its features to writing with sound and image in addition to words.
But then, what sources are even mine to do things with, especially when I’ve been engaged in cross-cultural research? My gut sense is only those sources that I’m addressed by or maybe even that I’m marginalised by; but I’d like to see the fields I belong to do much more to develop the ethics of dissemination methods like these. And how, when we leave more of the meaning-making to the viewer, do we ensure that they can’t miss the critical engagement we want to bring about?
Thanks to my co-panellists at ISA, my colleagues in researching militarisation/embodiment generally, and to Sarah Maitland for conversations which have helped me develop this…
In lieu of two more posts on public memory of war in the UK which I haven’t yet had time to research, here’s a quick post rounding up several publications that have come out over the last few months:
- ‘Prosperity Without Security: the Precarity of Interpreters in Postsocialist, Post-Conflict Bosnia-Herzegovina’. Slavic Review 71:4 (2012): 849-72. Exploring how interpreters working for foreign military forces were socioeconomically positioned in the context of post-socialism and of global practices of security. This link works with subscription access, alternatively look here.
- ‘When Bosnia was a Commonwealth Country: British Forces and their Interpreters in Republika Srpska 1995-2007′. History Workshop Journal 74:1 (2012): 131-55. Identifying common experiences in the narratives of interpreters who worked for British units within IFOR and SFOR that were based in Republika Srpska. Access as text or PDF.
- ‘The Afterlife of Neda Ukraden: Negotiating Space and Memory Through Popular Music After the Fall of Yugoslavia’, in Music, Politics and Violence, ed. Susan Fast and Kip Pegley (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2012): 60–82. Discussing the Bosnian and Croatian reception of a singer with a Serb background who moved from Sarajevo to Belgrade in 1992. For various reasons this has been on my in-press list for a while, and I’m delighted to see it in print.
- It’s still less than a year since Languages at War: Policies and Practices of Language Contacts in Conflict, ed. Hilary Footitt and Michael Kelly (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) came out. I have one chapter in this on British perceptions of what was then called Serbo-Croatian during the Cold War, another chapter giving an overview of interpreters’ work in peace operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and two exciting joint chapters – one with Simona Tobia comparing the working identities of language intermediaries in/after WW2 and in the Bosnian operations, and another with Hilary Footitt exploring the shifting meanings of ‘fraternisation’.
Beyond this, there’s more in the pipeline for (hopefully) 2013, although book chapters sometimes have a way of taking a bit longer than expected:
- My co-authored book with Michael Kelly, Interpreting the Peace: Peace Operations, Conflict and Language in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is due out from Palgrave Macmillan in the New Year – a more in-depth look at the histories of language support and the experiences of interpreters/translators that I’ve spotlighted in several articles. (Of course, now that I’ve posted it as forthcoming, watch them get it out before the end of the year!)
- An article on discourses of music as a weapon of war during the post-Yugoslav conflicts (awaiting peer review).
- An article on English/Croatian code switching in Croatian dance music during the 1990s (in press).
- A book chapter on the problems of framing and identity in oral history interviewing, thinking particularly about the frame of ethnic identity (submitted, editorial revisions done).
- A book chapter on the language politics of peacebuilding (submitted, editorial revisions done).
- A book chapter on post-socialist and post-conflict mobilities and the exercise of power during peace operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina (reviewer reports received, under revision).
- A thick handful of book reviews.
- Further down the list: a pair of articles on precarity, post-socialism and the international organisation sector in former Yugoslavia, which are still seeking homes.
I’m also looking forward to speaking trips or conference visits to Munich, Halle, Manchester, Newcastle, San Francisco (ISA 2013), possibly Sussex, and quite likely more to be determined…
On the same day that the British education secretary, Michael Gove, announced an initiative to encourage ex-military personnel to become primary and secondary teachers,the Centre for Policy Studies proposed a free school in Manchester that would be staffed entirely by former servicemen and women.
Gove’s announcement isn’t new: his department’s White Paper on schools in November 2010, which introduced the controversial ‘English Baccalaureate’ concept of a core set of GCSEs, had already mentioned sponsoring the tuition fees of ex-Forces graduates entering teacher training and investigating whether Forces non-graduates could take accelerated degrees.
The CPS’s brochure on the Phoenix School may fall on open ears at the Department for Education: the authors criticise Labour’s early-years intervention programmes (Every Child Matters and Sure Start). Tempting fate, they argue that their solution, which ‘will categorically reject the concept of moral relativism’ and ‘the charade of “personalised learning”‘, will support the government’s policy of moral restoration:
And, as a beneficial side-effect, the next time that riots break out in Britain, we should expect that few, if any, participants come from such schools.
The proposal has come in for sustained ridicule: as with any free school, which is allowed to employ unqualified teachers, why should non-specialist teachers be in schools? What place does the demeanour of the archetypal regimental sergeant-major have in a contemporary classroom? Is this really where the 2,000 Army and RAF personnel made redundant yesterday are expected to go?
But is there anything civilians could learn from the military about learning?
The military is a complex organisation that supplies its own version of much of the infrastructure in civilian society: transport, mail, telecommunications, media, food supply. The British Army’s recruitment website advertises ‘over 140 different jobs’; its US equivalent talks about more than 150. Fewer soldiers serve in the ‘combat arms’ (infantry and cavalry) than in ‘combat support’ (Artillery, Engineers, Signals and Intelligence) or ‘combat service support’ arms.
‘Combat service support’ designates the functions furthest away from the primary infantry/cavalry business of closing with and killing the enemy – mechanics, medics, logistics and many back office functions, including education and training.
Soldiers in these corps deploy to front lines, of course, either in their own units or on individual postings: Army educators with language skills, for instance, tend to be the first to volunteer for operational language training and deployment as ‘military colloquial speakers’ on six-month tours.
If an army contains so many professional dispositions, what makes a soldier? Rachel Woodward and K Neil Jenkings have argued in a recent issue of Sociology that soldiers express their military identities ‘with reference to the specificities of their professional skills’. Sometimes, but not always, those skills are in the disciplined use of force:
The military, according to the classic (Weberian) definition, is the state-sanctioned body with the authority to use lethal force. The exercise of lethal force defines military personnel as such. Our interviewees fleshed out that idea by talking about the constitution and expression of their military identities with reference to the specificities of their professional skills. For some, these skills were clearly identifiable as military tasks: accuracy in marksmanship, for example, or surveillance and observation skills, or the deployment of technical knowledge in the act of patrolling hostile urban areas.
Yet, they find, other soldiers base their soldier-ness in mastery of skills that aren’t to do with force (being first to put down heavy-duty electronic cables; survival and endurance outdoors; performing complex marching band manoeuvres). Military identity lies in the specifics, such as technical knowledge of military equipment and being able to operate in difficult or dangerous conditions where civilians would not work:
The skills of vehicle repair and rescue could be seen as similar to those required in civilian mechanic occupations. What was significant to this interviewee was the possession of not just technical skills but also an aptitude and willingness, specific to the military, to use such skills in extreme and hostile environments, for the sake of a wider military objective. So even when individual skills may be generic, and held by civilians, their application is not.
During my research on international intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina, I’ve met a number of soldiers from one of the less well known military populations, Army educators. The Educational and Training Services, which had existed as a separate corps between 1845 and 1992, deal with adult learning, basic skills training, staff development and needs analysis for the Army’s 110,000 soldiers. Among the enlisted personnel will be soldiers who have enlisted with few or no formal qualifications. ETS officers aim to equip them to take GCSEs and vocational qualifications, and ‘lifelong learning’ is even a selling point in Army recruitment material today.
Following Woodward and Jenkings, we could expect the ‘military’ in military education to rest in what you teach, how you teach, and where you teach it. Military language training for operations (the short courses that produce ‘colloquial speakers’ with basic competence in selected areas) differs from the civilian classroom in many ways. Courses emphasise military vocabulary and use authentic military texts for reading and listening practice; scenario-based learning, where students apply their language knowledge to situations based on recent operational experience, is the norm. Practical classes are often held outdoors and are reinforced when the language students take part in field exercises. No matter how difficult British society believes language learning to be, soldiers with very few formal qualifications have been able to learn entirely new languages (Bosnian/Serbian, Arabic, Pashto) to a usable colloquial standard through military educators’ training methods.
The civilian education system rarely taps into military ideas about education. In 1995, the Higher Education Funding Council for England published a report on what east European language needs the United Kingdom would have after the fall of communism and the crisis in former Yugoslavia. The report contained contributions from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office but not the Ministry of Defence, which had decades’ experience in teaching Russian and had been teaching and using ‘Serbo-Croatian’ on operations ever since 1992.
Being a military educator does not map into success or comfort in school teaching. Far from it. One of the educators I met had entered school teaching after leaving the Army in the mid-1990s only to find the environment conflicted so badly with their previous experiences that they moved out of the profession.
Yet might there be a reserve of knowledge in the military about alternative teaching methods for students who learn best through doing, outdoor learning, or teaching a functional level of basic skills to people who have disengaged from formal education?
There might; but this is not what the debate is about.
Instead, the government initiative to encourage former soldiers into teaching is being launched within a frame of discipline: increasing ‘male role models’ in schools and reducing bureaucracy that deters teachers restraining students with physical force. Gove’s undertone is a retraditionalisation of society to restore adult and legitimate authority, using the August riots as proof of a moral collapse. Only a body with masculine power and military training, he implies, can provide the necessary discipline and physicality.
There is a conversation about learning that the military, and military educators in particular, might be able to take part in. We are not having it yet.
One of my jobs for next year will be to take over teaching several postgraduate modules in nationalism, ethnic conflict and social research. The first step, not that I’ve even started work at that institution yet, is to revise each module’s syllabus.
(The first first step is to choose a consistent way of pluralising ‘syllabus’.)
I hope to post more on this process as each syllabus develops, but today’s post is about a discussion about language I won’t be able to have with my students because, between us, we won’t have a common language to access the material.
I’m going to be teaching these courses at a school of eastern European area studies, meaning that students will be applying the theory I teach about to eastern European case studies and the staff who teach them will all have research interests in eastern Europe. That includes me, one of many people there with research interests in the successor states of Yugoslavia.
The most controversial book on nationalism in former Yugoslavia to have been published in the last few years is Jezik i nacionalizam (Language and Nationalism) by Snježana Kordić, a linguist from Croatia who works in Germany. Kordić had received a grant from the Croatian Ministry of Culture supporting the publication. When it appeared, the director of the Croatian Cultural Council laid a complaint against the Ministry for financing the book:
‘[The complaint] states that the book ‘Jezik i nacionalizam’ is directed against Croatian culture, Croatian cultural identity and the Croatian language, and that it therefore should not have been financed from the state budget of the Republic of Croatia (RH). The book compares the contemporary democratic Croatian state with Nazi Germany, contradicts the RH constitution in the section about official usage of the Croatian language, and denies the right of the Croat people to call their language by their own popular name.’
Kordić is aiming to show that the policy to define or redefine the ‘Serbo-Croatian’ language as ‘Croatian’ after Croatia became independent from Yugoslavia was linguistically unjustified. Instead, she argues that the development of linguistic standards that drew Croatian ever further away from Serbian after 1991 was a deliberate effort to differentiate Croats from the group who became the national enemy, the Serbs.
Her case is that Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin are still so mutually intelligible they’re not separate languages at all. Linguists recognise the idea of polycentric languages – languages spoken by several nations or states, which may even have more than one national body codifying them. We talk about speakers of ‘English’, not speakers of ‘American’, ‘Australian’, ‘Indian’ and ‘Canadian’ – even though, if the right disposition existed in one of those countries’ politics and academia, it’s always possible that one day we might be asked to do just that.
By this point, Kordić has already compared the linguistic purists of 1990s Croatia with Nazi German language policy on the very first page.
There’s a lot of detail about how the literary standard for Serbo-Croatian was brought together in the mid-19th century, how ‘the Croatian language’ didn’t always mean the language of a nation-state, and how contingent the whole process was, which draws on the same constructivist theorists of nationalism that my students are going to be reading.
(In summary: the Croatians who standardised their language in the 19th century agreed to base it on the štokavian dialect, not the kajkavian dialect spoken around Zagreb, because štokavian would make it easy to communicate with speakers in Bosnia, Herzegovina and Serbia.)
Not so much drawing on the perennialist theorists of nationalism that my students are also going to be reading, which would argue that nations do pre-date the modernisation of the state, but then that’s something we could discuss. That is, if we could all read it.
Even if my students never intend to study Croatia (and most of them won’t), I’d like them to be able to understand how this book has been received and why. Studying language and writing about it with academic authority has consequences in the real world – that ‘impact’ that we’re now supposed to identify in every research funding proposal. And they may not be the consequences that researchers like.
But Kordić, like many of the German-speaking linguists she cites, rarely publishes in English. Her bibliography contains three titles in Croatian, three titles in German, and a short English-language descriptive grammar of Serbo-Croatian published in 1997. Her articles and reviews are usually in German or Croatian, with a few in French, and the critical responses to her book – like this article by Mario Grčević, who systematically takes issue with her use of sources and descriptions of prominent Croatian linguists – are, of course, in the language of the public and scientific community they’re addressing.
So, as a class group in a UK university, we’re stuck, until or unless there’s an English translation of the book, or a research article comes out on the controversy in a few years. It ought to be translated, and ten or twelve years ago when ‘the Balkans’ had a cachet to academic publishers that they don’t today, maybe it’s more likely that it would have been.
Last year I designed a module on the breakup of Yugoslavia. Its ghost syllabus – the one I’d use if everyone’s head contained a babelfish, including mine – contains books on the visual culture of the Croatian state at war and cultural practices of resisting nationalism in Belgrade and Zagreb that I’ve never been able to use with undergraduates because they never had an English translation, only a summary article, maybe.
Some of the translation gap lies in my own shortcomings as an instructor. Decades ago, acquiring a reading knowledge of German would just have been part of getting socialised into the identity of ‘serious academic’ in the UK. I could have followed up Kordić’s references in German to inform my lectures; and I could have assigned her German-language texts, confident that postgraduates would have been able to digest them.
Given the multinational student profile at my institution, there’s a good chance many of them are able to operate in German and English, but that won’t help me if I teach similar courses elsewhere, or when I revive the Yugoslav wars course next semester with a group of predominantly British undergraduates.
Back to the syllabus mines, for now.