indication of how destabilizing [Pavic's] philosophical position must
have been in the context of Yugoslav literary culture can be found by
comparing [his] Dictionary to Ivo Andric's celebrated novel The
Bridge on the Drina. Like the Dictionary, Andric's novel covers
a long period of time (some five hundred years of Bosnian history), and
is informed by cyclical repetitions. More to the point, Andric also shows
that every Bosnian group views historical experience in its own way, and
that these views are frequently at variance with those of the others with
whom their lives are intertwined. The narrator's description of how the
Muslim and Christian townspeople interpret a barrow by the side, of the,
bridge is exemplary: "That tumulus was the end and frontier of all
the children's games around the bridge. That was the spot which at one
time was called Radisav's tomb. They used to tell that he was some sort
of Serbian hero,a man of power ... The Turks in the town, on the other
hand, have long told that on that spot a certain dervish, by name Sheik
Turhanija, died as a martyr to the faith". Thus, as in Pavic's novel
we appear to have irreconcilable claims, but in this work the narrator
enters the text to explain the origins of these stories and to tell the
reader the truth. First, he explains why such variants arise: "The
common people remember and tell of what they are able to grasp and what
they are able to transform into legend". It is the narrator's job
to separate fact frorn fancy, to explain to us some twenty pages later,
for example, that Radisav was indeed a real person; he was not a hero
of superhuman strength and ability, but a cunning Serbian peasant who
sabotaged the bridge while it was under construction, and was eventually
caught and executed in the cruelest of fashions. Thus, the narrator, standing
outside of his own text, illustrates that the seemingly irreconcilable
positions of "the common folk" can be overcome by the knowledge
that history provides. If this is so, then there is undoubtedly hope that
knowledge and enlightenment can overcome the differences that separate
the groups that make up Bosnia, and, by extension, Yugoslavia.
In sum, the central features of Andric's novel are 1) a cyclical view of time; 2) a recognition that what characterizes Yugoslavia at any moment in time is difference, but difference heightened by the unavoidability of intercourse among seemingly irreconcilably opposed groups; and 3) that difference is potentially surmountable on a mundane level through the actions of people in the world and in literary texts through the ability of the storyteller to know the truth and to unify the world through his work. And it is on this basis that Andric constructs an imagined community of Yugoslavia. Coming back to Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars, we see that it reproduces parts 1 and 2 of Andric's "Yugoslav" equation, while completely rejecting the possibility of part 3 (which is, precisely the part in which a Yugoslavia is imagined despite all the problems caused, particularly, by part 2), Where Andric ultimately implied the hope that despite difficulties, difference can be bridged and history demystified, Pavic's Dictionary implies precisely the opposite. Pavic's novel can, therefore, be seen as a parodic reworking of the central themes and devices of Andric's masterpiece. Pavic's book is an anti-Yugoslav novel in the same subtle and powerful ways that Andric's novel was pro-Yugoslav.
Andrew Wachtel: "Postmodernism as Nightmare: Miorad Pavic's Literary Demolotion of Yugoslavia," The Slavic and East European Journal 41 (1997): 627-44, quotes from pp. 632-36.
Andrew Watchel: "[Pavic indicates] that the novel is meant to function not merely as a complicated hoax, but rather as an allegorical replacement for any attempt to reach perfect truth."
Ken Kalfus: "In the global praise for [Pavic's Dictionary], its political implications tying the fate of the no-longer-existent Khazars to that of the Serbs have gone largely unremarked."
Kovac on Pavic's Dictionary:
Andrew Watchel: "The philosophical demolition job Pavic performed on the synthetic concept of Yugoslavia grew out of his own importation of a particular postmodernist mode of thought into Yugoslav discourse.""