Dirk Uffelmann studied Russian, Polish, Czech, and German literatures at the Universities of Tübingen, Vienna, Warsaw, and Konstanz. He obtained his PhD from the University of Konstanz in 1999 and defended his second thesis (Habilitation) at the University of Bremen in 2005 before teaching as Lecturer in Russian at the University of Edinburgh. He also was a Visiting Professor at the University of Bergen, Norway, Western Michigan University, and the University of Puget Sound, USA, and Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge and the University of Munich. At present, he is Professor of Slavic Literatures and Cultures at the University of Passau. From 2011 to 2014 he served as Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs. His research interests are Russian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian, and Central Asian literatures, philosophy, religion, migration, masculinity and Internet studies. Dirk Uffelmann has authored 2 monographs (Die russische Kulturosophie [Russian Culturosophy] (1999), Der erniedrigte Christus – Metaphern und Metonymien in der russischen Kultur und Literatur [The Humiliated Christ: Metaphors and Metonymies in Russian Culture and Literature] (2010)) and co-edited 11 volumes (Orte des Denkens. Neue Russische Philosophie [Places of Thinking: New Russian Philosophy] (1995), Kultur als Übersetzung [Culture as Translation] (1999), Nemetskoe filosofskoe literaturovedenie nashikh dnei [Contemporary German Philosophical Literary Criticism] (2001), Uskol’zaiushchii kontekst. Russkaia filosofiia v postsovetskikh usloviiakh [Evading Context: Russian Philosophy under Post-Soviet Conditions] (2002), Religion und Rhetorik [Religion and Rhetoric] (2007), Contemporary Polish Migrant Culture and Literature in Germany, Ireland, and the UK (2011), Tam, vnutri. Praktiki vnutrennei kolonizatsii v kul’turnoi istorii Rossii [There within: Practices of Internal Colonization in Russia’s Cultural History] (2012), Vladimir Sorokin’s Languages (2013), Digital Mnemonics (2014), Polnisch-osmanische Verflechtungen [Polish-Ottoman Interconnections] (2016, forthcoming), Postcolonial Slavic Literatures After Communism (2016, forthcoming)). He is co-editor of the journal Zeitschrift für Slavische Philologie as well as of the book series Postcolonial Perspectives on Eastern Europe and Polonistik im Kontext.
Tropes of „Central Europe”: Anti-Colonialism and Strategic Realism
The thesis which this contribution seeks to defend is that the Russian participants of the Lisbon conference of 1988 were perfectly right in sensing an anti-Soviet resentment in the East Central European participants’ strategic usage of the notion of „Central Europe” (CE). I contend that their correct interpretation of the anti-colonial nature of the concept of CE and the agonal dynamics at the roundtables seduced them into apologies for imperialism (which will be scrutinized in more detail in other contributions to this thematic cluster).
While not delving into the prehistory of the German concept of „Mitteleuropa”, I stress the key role of one „discussant” absent at Lisbon: Milan Kundera with his essay „Un occident kidnappé ou la tragédie de l’Europe centrale” (1983).
The second part of my paper is devoted to the epistemological „surface” of the debate, which I regard as a „replacement battlefield” for the underlying quarrel about Soviet colonial rule over East Central Europe. Both the Russian participants’ tactical nominalism and the East Central European discussants’ strategic realism (in the medieval sense) with regard to the existence of an abstract entity CE should be viewed as overreactions—the nominalist over-caution maintaining that there is no such thing as Central European literature as an abstract whole, and the realist over-generalization implicitly claiming that everything which is non-Soviet (and desirably anti-Soviet) can be legitimately subsumed to the concept of CE.
The final section of this contribution explores the defensive aggressiveness inherent in the strategic „CE realism” which pretends to be inclusive (encompassing the entire literary production of the region) but is in fact applied for the sake of exclusion (of the “Soviet occupants”).
The (somewhat provocative) thesis of this contribution goes: Tat’iana Tolstaia was right when asking: „When I will take my tanks out of Central Europe, is that the question?” Yes, in Lisbon in 1988, this was the question. The existence of a single, unique, and recognizable Central European literature was not.