The Burdens of History: Problems Invoked by Occidental Travel Writing on the Balkans
Boynton, Eric Grayson
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Works on the Balkans currently face a crisis of representation--from Ivo Andric's fictionalized memory to Joe Sacco's humanitarian witnessing, the occidental reader must examine the Balkans within a historical context of colonialism to avoid misrepresentation. The goal of this study is threefold: to provide a firm historical grounding while observing the instruments of colonialism, to give an overview of Occidental travel writing on the Balkans with a particular focus on the formation and dissolution of Yugoslavia, and to suggest examples of travel texts that strive to read colonized worlds without losing sight of their own Occidental positioning or pretending that it does not exist. When approaching a contested space that involves a multitude of competing discourses, a hefty responsibility is thrust on both the reader and writer of Balkan representations to retain an awareness of counter and hidden discourses while resisting the urge to define, or even pursue, the definitive "true story" of the Balkans. Thus, an occidental reader of East Europe must be able to contextualize various and often contradicting texts without naturalizing recorded experiences. He or she must also maintain a poignant awareness of how Western imperialism has constructed and reconstructed the region by journalism, memoir, artificial borders, ethnography, classification, historical absolutism, and financial exploitation. If this work simplifies or answers "What is Balkan?" then it has failed utterly. We can only hope to further complicate and challenge the dominant discourse of Balkanism to keep the reader's mind alive and questioning rather than dead and assured.
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