The Mosque and the Cypress behind the Wall
Through the ages the Balkans has been a territory in which major cultural and political currents have clashed. Divided into two in the decline of the Roman Empire and by the ecclesiastic schism in the Middie Ages, this remote area was already a borderland when the Ottoman thrust towards the West began in the second half on the XIV century. For many centuries large parts of present day Yugoslavia were lost for Western culture and civilization. while other parts as the outermost outposts of the West and Christendom were constantly tormented by the threat of being conquered by the Turks. Throughout the ages, the incompatibiity of the Eastern and the Western World was one of the significant messages which literature in Serbo-Croatian tried to pass on to the outside world and to the future wherever it succeeded in developping. This is the inspiration and the urge we find in the learned humanist Marko Marulić, when he compares the encounter of his own, small Croatian nation and the Ottoman giant with the Old Testament's narratives about David and Goliath or Judith and Holofernes, When the Renaissance poet Petar Zoranić in his little allegoric novel “Planine” depicts the peaceful world of the littoral and contrasts it with the distress and misery in the mountains where wolves and wild beasts threaten, he is in fact writing about the civilized Dalmatia of the Renaissance and the barbarism and despotism in the adjacent Turkish provinces. In his epic “Osman”, the greatest poet of the baroque, Ivan Gundulić paints the victory of Christendom over Islam and in the romantic XIX century, when national freedom came to the front. Njegoš in his Montenegrin epic “Gorski vijenac” depicts the fight for national and religious survival, while Ivan Mažuranić wrote his Croatian vision of the final fate of Islam in “Smrt Smail-age Čengića”.
And still, in our modem time, when the physical presence of the Turks in the Balkans has come to an end and when a time of contemplation has come between then and now, we meet authors in contemporary Yugoslav literature who investigate the essence of the borderland and deal with this belonging to a culture which has its roots in the Eastern as well as in the Western world in a somewhat less heavy-handed way.
The most renowned of these authors is Ivo Andrić who, with his short story “Put Alije Đerzeleza” from 1920 turned to his native Bosnia and her people and legends, and created a work which has made him above all the author of the confrontation or the meeting between East and West in Yugoslav literature. In no other region of Yugoslavia have national and religious boundaries divided a territory as in Bosnia. In his two main works, “Na Drini ćuprija” and “Travnička hronika”, written during World War lI in occupied Belgrade at a time when it seemed that the borders of Europe were again going to be moved, Andrić tells about the Bosnian borderland. In the chronicle “Na Drini ćuprija” the small community in and around the town Višegrad on the banks of the Drina river is depicted through the centuries. In the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire, Višegrad was nothing more than a small and insignificant town, a kasaba, but it eventually became an important bordertown between the liberated and expanding Serbia and Turkish Bosnia. A bordertown on a river — one of Andrić's favourite metaphors for borders and division. This marvelous chronicle of Višegrad is a narrative of a world in a slow, century-long development. a narrative that derives its inner tension from the changing pace of development and from the contrast between a sober, from time to time harsh realism and a gentle, peaceful lyricism. “Na Drini ćuprija” is a description of a borderland and its people made by an “objective” and remote chronicler, but at the same time a testimony of the possibilities of the borderland as a bridge -builder.
In “Na Drini ćuprija”, the world outside Višegrad and Bosnia is remote and only suggested. It is in “Travnička hronika” that we meet the real clash, the confrontation between East and West.
Like Višegrad, Travnik had for centuries lived in “slatka tišina turskih vremena” until the turbulent historical and high political events at the beginning of the XIX century all of a sudden made the town a meeting place for the European great powers and Turkey, when Napoleonic France and later on also Austria sent their consuls to the town in order to take political and commercial advantages of a presence in Bosnia. Since 1639, Travnik had been the capital of the Bosnian pašaluk and thus the residence of the vizier, the official envoy of the Porte and the executive of Ottoman state authority. The “sweet Turkish silence” has reigned up to the moment when the narrative begins, on the last Friday of October 1807 and it descends again only when the time of the consuls is over and the elders of Travnik again gather in Lutva's coffeehouse on the last Friday of May 1814 to rejoice because time has again — at any rate apparently — come to a standstil and everything is again as it was.
It is tempting without further consideration to regard “Travnička hronika” as a chronicle as the title suggests, but before we do so, let us discuss in a little more detail the characteristics that constitute the literary chronicle as a type of text. The time of the chronicle is first and foremost a one-dimensional and progressive course. In “Na Drini ćuprija”, which is in my opinion Andrić's only true chronicle this conception of time is at its purest and the flow of time may well be considered the very theme of the book. The space of the chronicle is well-defìned and concrete, and the events of the chronicle are observable occurrences witnessed by the chronicler himself or others, i.e. the events are the common experience of a given community. The single events stand in no causal or consecutive relation to one another as in historiography. In the chronicles of earlier times which are models for the literary chronicles there is — to be true — explicit or implicit a certain ruler's ideology or a certain view of the nation or society, but it is not, and this holds good of the literary chronicle as well its aim or purpose to tell, how the world is organized or to reveal the essence of a certain culture or civilization. The chronicle does not interpret the world. It is realistic and does not use symbols, and as a literary genre it is characterized by its lack of a main plot and of principal characters described in psychological terms.
In these respects “Travnička hronika” does not conform with the chronicle and even shows significant characteristics of the myth, which in many ways is a type of text directly opposed to the chronicle.
What is immediately apparent is that “Travnička hronika” is a novel with a principal character. The narrative starts with the French consul Davil's arrival in Travnik and ends with his departure from the town eight years later. He is the only French consul in Travnik, his opponents being two Austrian consuls and three Turkish viziers. Davil is present in all the chapters of the book and unlike all the other characters the description of him is thorough and given in psychological detail. In this psychological description of Davil's character, the narrator is repeatedly forced to leave the time and space of the chronicle. This is of course done in order to explain and reveal experiences and situations which have had decisive influence on Davil and which motivate his reactions towards other characters or towards the Oriental world. which ve meet fìrst and foremost seen through his eyes. This psychological motivation does not conform with the chronicle and the leaps in time and space are an essential break with the successive order of events. This does not mean that large parts of “Travnička hronika” do not accord with the conception of time of the chronicle, but together with the linear and progressive course of time, we meet again and again with a purely mythical conception. This is seen in the relatively strong underlining of the cycle of the year, where spring is stressed as a life-giving power intensely connected with youth and eternity:
Proleće poravnjava i popravlja sve. Dok zemlja cvate, uvek ponovo i ponovo, i dok ima ljudi da taj fenomen posmatraju i uživaju u njemu, sve je dobro.
— A ljudi će biti uvek, jer se neprestano gube oni koji više ne mogu i ne umeju da vide sunce i cveće, a pristižu novi. Kako kaže pesnik: “U deci se obnavlja i čisti reka čovečanstva”.
(TH p. 413-14)*
As mentioned, the chronicle does not interpret the world, i.e. it neither deals with its beginning or its end nor tries to explain or illustrate through symbols how it is organized. In the poetic interpretations of the myth we almost always meet a strongly underlined dualism. Genesis-myths distinguish between chaos and order, light and darkness and most eschatological myths take the form of a struggle between good and evil. Many myths can be interpreted as clashes between cultures with symbols or representatives for two competing cultural systems: the agriculturist Abel versus the cattlebreeder Cain, the hunter Esau versus the farmer Jacob (“Two nations in your womb, two peoples, going their own ways from birth! One shall be stronger than the other; the older shall be servant to the younger” (Genesis, 25, 23-25)).
In its basic thematic structure, “Travnička hronika” is built on dichotomies. The cultural dichotomy between East and West, so outstanding and signifìcant in the book is only one of an ingenious system of contrasts, which can be observed on three different levels. The descent from a higher to a lower level is a descent in the generality of the dichotomies. On the most general level we fìnd such contrasts as life — death, light — darkness, health — disease, growth — decline, youth — maturity (and its variant spring — autumn). On the second and less general level, which we might call the cultural and which includes the most important opposition: East — West. we find contrasts between the French consul and the Austrian, between the French consulate as a whole and the Austrian etc. The system of cultural oppositions is so thoroughly worked out that e.g. characters in the French colony are very often opposed to certain characters in the Austrian. Thus Davil is strongly opposed to the Austrian consul fon Miterer, the French interpreter Davna to the Austrian Rota, Mrs. Davil to Mrs. fon Miterer etc.
On the third and most specific levei, we find personal and psychological contrasts, often not defined or described otherwise than in terms like: “Sušta protivnost Tahirbegova i njegov nepomirljiv i nemoćni protivnik bio je haznadar Baki . . .“ (p. 205). In this system of contrasts one and the same pair of opponents may face one another on all three levels. The opposition between consul Davil and his young councellor Defose may serve as an example of this. They are beyond any doubt opponents: “Ovaj mladi Francuz u ovoj pustinji i jedini njegov istinski saradnik, toliko je u svemu drukčiji od njega (ili bar tako izgleda), da se Davilu činilo na mahove da živi pored stranca i neprijatelja” (p. 79). The two men are confronted one another in the dichotomy youth — maturity which is a dichotomy on the general level. Davil is not old — “bliži četrdesetim nego tridesetim godinama” — but he is described as resigned and settled in his ways, quite unlike Defose who is the typical representative of an unformed and soaring youth who does not experience any conflict in his meeting with the Oriental world except in his juvenile powerlessness over its stilness and in his frustrated love affair with a young Bosnian girl.
On the lower, cultural level, Davil and Defose are opposed each other in their attitudes and relationships to the revolution, to Napoleon and to many state institutions, and on the third and lowest level, the personal or psychological, Davil is uncertain, hesitating, sentimental, while Defose is self-confident, resolute, open, matter-of-fact.
On the other hand, Davil and Defose, together with the rest of the French consulate, are opposed to the Austrian, but together the two consulates constitute what can be called the Western world, which is of course opposed to the Oriental: “Svi pripadnici zapadnih država, bez razlike, sačinjavaju ovde na Orijentu jednu jedinu porodicu ma kakve bile inače nesuglasice koje u Evropi postoje izmedu njih” (p. 487).
But just as the concept “West” is not altogether unambiguous, neither is the concept of “East”. The East is not only Ottoman civilization, represented by the viziers and their residence, the “Konak”, but also the Bosnian population with its collective psychology.
The local Travnik community consists of different ethnic and religious groups which are also characterized as parts of contrasts. First of all these different groups are in a terrifying mutual opposition. The Travnik Moslems, ‘Travnički Turci', are strongly opposed to both Western consulates, to the viziers and the remote Turkish central authority and of course also to the Christian “rayah”. The Catholic monks ally themselves with the Austrian consulate and are contrasted with the French ‘jacobine' consulate. The Orthodox Serbs, lacking a Russian, Orthodox consulate, are contrasted with the Konak and with both consulates.
These mutual oppositions in the population of Travnik culminate twice in a blind and apparently inexplicable revolt, which like a storm, is not turned against anybody in particular, but which in its exesses scares the Westeners out of their wits and leaves the Turkish upholders of law and order powerless.
Two spokesmen of the Bosnian population are particularly clearly heard. One is the Spanish Jew, Salomon Atijas, whose inner thoughts and reflections are worded by the narrator himself, “jer mu ni u kolevci nisu dali da glasno plače, a kamoli u životu da slobodno i jasno govori” (p. 524). In his leave-taking with consul Davil at the end of the book, the exiled Jew talks about the fate his people had met with in the Balkans, about having one's roots in Europe and living in the Orient, about living in a part of the world where you at one and the same time belong and are a stranger:
I naša je muka u tome što nit smo mogli da potpuno zavolimo ovu zemlju kojoj dugujemo što nas je primila i dala nam utočišta, nit smo mogli da zamrzimo onu koja nas je nepravedno oterala i prognala kao nedostojne sinove. Ne znamo je li nam teže što smo ovde ili nismo tamo. Ma gde bili van Španije, mi bismo patili, jer bismo dve otadžbine imali uvek, to znam, ali ovde nas je život suviše pritisnuo i unizio.
(TH p. 522)
This division between two worlds is expressed even more painfully and unmistakably by the ‘ilirski doktor” Kolonja “čovek neodređenih godina, neodređenih narodnosti i rase, neodređenog verovanja i pogleda i isto tako neodređenog znanja i iskustva” (p 271). This Homo bosnicus, this slightly ridiculous figure who says and does awkward and inexplicable things and whose death is bizarre and enigmatic, is once in the book taken seriously and his characterization of the Bosnian world and its people is therefore of great significance:
Na njih se mogu primeniti reči koje je pre šest vekova napisao veliki Dželaledin, Dželaledin Rumi: “Jer samog sebe ne mogu da poznam. Niti sam hrišćanin, ni Jevrein, ni Pars, ni musliman. Nit sam sa Istoka ni sa Zapada, ni sa kopna ni sa mora”. To su oni. To je jedno malo, izdvojeno čovečanstvo koje grca pod dvostrukim Istočnim grehom, i koje treba još jednom da bude spaseno i otkupljeno a niko ne vidi kako ni od koga. To su ljudi sa granice, duhovne i fizičke, sa crne i krvave linije koja je usled nekog teškog i apsurdnog nesporazuma potegnuta između ljudi, božjih stvorenja, između kojih ne treba i ne sme da bude granice. To je ona ivica izmedu mora i kopna, osuđena na večiti pokret i nemir. To je treći svet u koji se sleglo sve prokletstvo usled podeljenosti zemlje na dva sveta. To je…
(TH p. 330)
“Travnička hronika” is at the same time several types of text. It is a psychological novel which describes its main character's reactions under unusual and exotic circumstances. It is a chronicle which for a limited span of years records the occurences and events in and around Travnik as they were seen by a neutral observer. And it is, last but not least, a myth with a very distinct interpretation of the surrounding world. I do not doubt that of the three types of text, the myth is the most important. In its basic thematic structure the whole narrative is built upon dichotomies which have a clear function in the world which is described as dualistic; a world consisting of two conflicting, incompatible worlds between which a third world is situated. The dominant feature of this third world, treći svet is the curse. This notion of the curse is found in another work by Ivo Andrić, in his small novella “Prokleta avlija” from 1954. In its basic structure this work is a myth. Prokleta avlija, The Cursed Yard is the name of an ill-reputed Turkish jail, where the Bosnian monk, fra Petar, spends some time as a prisoner. The position of Prokleta avlija in the outskirts of Istanbul is literally between East and West, between Asia and Europe:
Iz avlije se ne vidi ništa od grada ni od pristaništa i napuštenog arsenala na obali ispod nje. Samo nebo, veliko i nemilosrdno u svojoj lepoti, u daljini nešto od zelene azijske obale s druge strane nevidljivog mora, i tek poneki vršak nepoznate džamije ili džinovskog kiparisa iza zida. Sve neodredeno, bezimeno, i tuđe.
(PA p. 22)
It is remarkable how much the jail in Andrić's novella has in common with the Bosnia of “Travnička hronika”. Both are situated between East and West — in “Prokleta avlija” beautifully hinted at in the above quoted lines with the mosque symbolizing Islam and the Orient, and the cypress symbolizing the Mediterraenean, Western civilization. Both Bosnia and the jail are cursed, both are from time to time shocked by the same blind and destructive rebellions. Both works are based on a dualistic worldview; in “Travnička hronika” expressed through a carefully worked-out system of contrasts, in “Prokleta avlija” only shown obliquely by the frequent occurrence of pairs (the two Bulgarian prisoners, the two investigating policemen “kao dva lica dvolične sultanske pravde” and even two dogs etc.) but standing out strongly and significantly in the main theme of the narrative: the myth of the two rival brothers:
Otkako je sveta i veka postoje, i neprestano se ponovo rađaju i obnavljaju u svetu — dva brata-suparnika. Jedan od njih je stariji, mudriji, jači. bliži svetu i stvarnom životu i svemu onom to većinu ljudi vezuje i pokreće, čovek kom sve polazi za rukom, koji u svakom času zna šta treba i šta ne treba učiniti, šta se može a šta ne može tražiti od drugih i od sebe. Drugi je sušta protivnost njegova. Čovek kratka veka, zle sreće i pogrešnog prvog koraka, čovek čije težnje stalno idu mimo onog što treba i iznad onog što se može. On u sukobu sa starijim bratom, a sukob je neminovan, gubi unapred bitku.
(PA p. 77)
Fundamentally “Travnička hronika” and “Prokleta avlija” have the same theme. In its dissolution of time and space and in its basic dualism “Prokleta avlija” is a myth; but the prison of this myth, this closed meeting-place of nations and religions, conforms at all decisive points with the Bosnia of “Travnička hronika”. Both carry the curse of standing between two opposed worlds. Although the whole scenario of “Travnička hronika” is that of a chronicle of events in the years of the consuls, it is in essence more a myth than a chronicle. Thus we may observe a typological lime from the chronicle “Na Drini ćuprija” via the chronicle/myth “Travnička hronika” to the myth “Prokleta avlija”. As for the content of these three works, one may consider them to form a trilogy. In “Prokleta avlija” the curse of standing between two worlds or systems is given general validity; in “Travnička hronika” the concept of opposing systems is specifìed on a cultural level; we are on the Balkan Peninsula, the scene of centuries-long opposition between East and West and Bosnia carries the curse of being the third world between them. In the third and final part of the trilogy “Na Drini ćuprija”, this Bosnia is given the role of the bridge-builder and mediator between the two worlds:
Kad meleći viđeše kako jadni ljudi ne mogu da pređu one haluge i dubine ni da svršavaju poslove, nego se muče i uzalud gledaju i dovikuju s jedne obale na drugu, oni iznad tih mjesta raširiše krila i svijet stade da prelazi preko njihovih krila. Tako ljudi naučiše od božjih meleća kako se grade ćuprije. E zato je, poslije česme, najveći sevap sagraditi ćupriju, i najveća grjehota dirati u nju, jer svaka ćuprija, od onog brvna preko planinskog potoka pa do ove Mehmed-pašine građevine, ima svog meleća koji je čuva i drži, dok joj je od Boga suđeno da stoji. (NDĆ p. 254-55)
* Page references are to “Sabrana djela Ive Andrića”, Sarajevo 1981.
Per Jacobsen, The Mosque and the Cypress behind the Wall. East and West and “Treći svet” in Ivo Andrić , in: We and They. National Identity as a Theme in Slavic Cultures , Ed. K. Heltberg, P. A. Jensen, P. U. Møller, B. Nørretranders, L. Tybjœrg Schacke, E. Steffensen, Copenhagen, Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1984, p. 197-203.
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