Juliana Sokolová (1981) grew up in Košice, Slovakia and Misratah, Libya. She studied philosophy at the University of York, where she completed her studies with a thesis on Emmanuel Levinas phenomenology of responsibility. Her research includes work in ancient and medieval philosophy, theory of architecture and film as well as an on-going research project on language and collective memory in urban settings, particularly in Košice.

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Wikipedia

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A set of ideas about places where family history took place
On two central european novels, place and movement

A gin bath in the middle of the Carpathian mountains. In Taras Prochasko’s novel Neprosti (2006), among the peaks of the Carpathian mountains lies the town of Jalivec, a renowned gin bath to which guests from all over central Europe and beyond flock in the young days of the 20th century to inhale the etheric oils of juniper berries and to consume gin in all its formats. The local cinema, Yuniperus, shows the work of its and the town’s founder Francysk, his experimental animations. And the stories that accompany people, and the beings in which they believe, eb in and out of the town as the events of the 20th century eb in and out of the town.

There are much more important things in the world than what we call fate, Francysk once told Sebastian. He meant above all a place. Is place more important than fate? Perhaps it is, perhaps it just sounds good. But perhaps it sounds good because of a suspicion it is true. If there is a place, there is also history, says Francysk to Sebastian.

A place stays put. There was once an ancient Egyptian city whose traces were found in two completely different places in the Nile delta. It was a mystery to generations of archeologists, until they discovered that the Egyptians moved the city, stone by stone, after the water changed its course. They moved not just the inhabitants, the possessions, the social structures, but the city itself: the buildings, the statues, the temples, the very stones, the layouts. In general however, towns stay put. Borders move, countries move, Poland moves left to right to left like a crab, the western border of Ukraine (with Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania) is added and subtracted, but towns stay, and in them words, like sediment. A town is a place, like a country is not. Words stay longer than the people who used them.

What links Prochasko’s Neprosti with László Darvasi’s epic journey of a novel A konnymutatvanyosok legendaja (1999), apart from the unsatiable richness of their respective languages, and the way the language and the observations about the world, people and situations it conveys fit with each other robustly and totaly, is a dreamy topography. But while in Neprosti, there is place and then there is movement, in Legenda there is movement and then there are places. People, and the stories they carry with them together with the beings they believe in, move through the Ottoman occupied Hungarian flatlands in the years that begin with 15.. and 16.. .

[Tradition by the way also entails crying like your greatgrandfathers, the legend’s narrator would have us believe. And so the tear-jugglers, whom the said legends concern, roam the Hungarian wastelands in the said years beginning with 15.. and 16.. among people who in turns believe and do not believe in their sadness, but as Darvasi points out: what can be believed, has to be believed. And: it also needs to be asked, who is the brother of man?]

In both, what comes to the fore, then recedes, then returns again, is the importance of the place where you first begin to perceive the world. In Darvasi, the dim dawning of perception when night still infuses daybreak, in Prochasko a high, bright transparent morning already, sucking in the fresh air of mountainside juniperus. Where you begin to perceive the world, in these novels, is how you perceive the world. And how you speak about it. The place, it seems, determines how you speak.

A new era means new slang; like new being; languages vanish slower than eras. Words linger. Names linger. Words remain longer than the people who used them. Ways of speaking work as repositories. No one from your family cared much for the generally accepted syntax, old Beda tells the first Anna.

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The question of central Europe is a stylistic one. Apart from whatever that might mean, it also means: how to write about central/east-central Europe when so much has already been said? The topic is by far not exhausted, so much more could of course be said, but all that has already been said is already there. And there is also the question of how to tell the stories and preserve them at the same time. For a while these stories started to be told from an impulse to preserve them, from a sense that people and memories are dying out, a sense they need to be told to be preserved. Today however there is the feeling that they are being talked out of existence, talked out of memory because talked out of their energy… telling the stories feels like dissolving, forgetting them. So, fiction. And:

No one from your family cared much for the generally accepted syntax, old Beda tells the first Anna. Maybe instead of telling the stories of the people, it is more fruitful to talk about the way they spoke, how they used the language.

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Juliana Sokolová