Csaba G. Kiss
Wydawnictwo Studio Emka
A certain Serbian proverb says that your neighbour’s language is the hardest to learn. Historian of literature and culture Professor Csaba G. Kiss has thus set himself the hardest of tasks. Instead of perfecting his knowledge of German or French, passports to the cosmopolitan world of academia, he chose the “minor”, “provincial” languages of his neighbours: Slovakian, Croatian, Polish, Czech. But the proverb is not about language as such, although language is the first step towards initiation. The proverb, above all, asserts that it is most difficult to understand one’s neighbour, to comprehend his experience, his past, his perspective.
As Csaba Kiss recalls, the nations of Central Europe, whom history has robbed of states of their own or has for centuries prevented the establishment of those states, have “fashioned an imagined home” in literature and culture. At a time when there were no other borders, language allowed the delineation of safe spaces for building and defending one’s identity. Thanks to his multilingualism, Csaba Kiss has found a way to penetrate those borders, to enter the heart of the matter and, from this vantage point, to attempt to understand his neighbours. And also to look at himself, at Hungary and Hungarianness from this other, less pleasant, side.
Csaba Kiss is not a translator, although he values translation considerably and writes about it beautifully, as in his tribute to Gracja Kerénya, who transfuses “blood from her own writerly veins into the Hungarian bodies of Polish works”. He is not a mediator between cultures, but feels himself to be a student of the great historian Wacław Felczak. Following in the footsteps of László Németh and Stanisław Vincenz, he seeks the Central European koiné, a shared language or, simply, a shared root. Nemeth wrote about Central European nations as “milk siblings”. Hence theirkinship, which Kiss constantly underscores, presenting places of shared memory and revealing shared cultural codes. His dream is the emergence of a canon of Central European identity, common to all of the inhabitants of this part of Europe, “an imagined home”. This is not only to be a list of our individual and mutual characteristics and complexes, but also a canon which will represent our Central European consciousness, different from the Western European consciousness. It is also a dream for a new generation of multilingual thinkers and researchers, like Kiss, attempting to conceptualise Central Europeanness as a whole.
The collected memoirs, essays and sketches in this book are the next – after Lekcja Europy Środkowej (The Central European reader, 2009) – guide for novices looking to travel this path. The stakes are high, because, as Stanisław Vincenz writes, “to disregard or overlook one’s neighbours – in particular, those culturally close to oneself – and instead to reach for others far away, only because they are recognised on the world stage although not necessarily great, is in consequence a lack of respect for oneself.”