Strange, but true: after a marked exception in the late 19th century (precisely because of its separate significance, this period will be excluded from our field of view here) and despite a powerful re-activation after the 1990s (which will be a particular object of our interest), relations with the US have not been among the most determinative for Bulgarian literature and culture.
Some of the reasons for this are clear: geopolitical and ideological constellations during the 20th century, geographical distance and perhaps an even greater distance within the sphere of national character…
Unlike the situation in some closely related Slavic, Balkan and Southern European countries (such as Russian, Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Italy), for Bulgarians North American was not a particularly attractive emigration “destination” during the first half of the 20th century; the “classic” territory for Bulgarian emigration was South America, mainly Argentina. Yet despite this, there are a sufficient number of interesting, albeit as-of-yet unstudied exceptions that deserve attention.
The situation rapidly began changing precisely during the past two or three decades – literally before our eyes. It has also included a heightened interest in the theoretical interpretation of these processes. However, as of the current moment, we have not seen the relations between Bulgaria and the US as the topic of a special debate from a humanities and literary-centered point of view. Our forum aims to fill this gap to a certain extent.
The conference’s intentions and its thematic scope are reflected in its title. It sketches out a theoretical territory which is sufficiently broad in its base, yet concentrically contracting, making it possible for Bulgarian-American relations in various aspects of the humanities to be examined in their relative contextual fullness – starting with a basic debate on the “USA phenomenon” and its contradictory role in civilization during the 20th century; the US as a geographical topic, but also as a utopia; as a political reality, but also as a cultural metaphor for Modernity during the 20th century, and what’s more – from its postmodern tendencies to a narrow focus on bilateral cultural and especially literary relations (reflections), including specific cases of such manifestations; the US as a topic in Bulgarian literature (in a broader cultural-philosophical or more empirical emigrant-oriented aspect); bidirectional literary-travelogue investigations; the literature of the Bulgarian emigrant diaspora in the US (as well as in Canada)…
The relations between the global superpower of the 20th century and tiny Bulgaria seem asymmetrical in every sense – and not just geopolitically. Their internal raison d’etre is based more on radical differences than on closeness.
On the whole, the dynamics of these relations follows the more general geopolitical dynamics of “greater” history during the 20th century and Bulgarian history as inevitably inscribed within it. Within these dynamics, three broad periods can be identified:
1. From the beginning of the 20th century until World War Two – a period that offers more than a few examples of literary contacts which have not yet been studied exhaustively. However, the US more often exercised its true power and influence indirectly – through the diverse effects of Modernity and mass culture during the interwar period.
2. The era of socialism and the Cold War (only on its strongly ideologized surface does it appear unambiguously clear, yet beneath this “iron” façade, the period turns out to be quite dynamic, rich in hidden and diverse submerged movements, on both an official as well as on an anti-official level). Alongside the routine demonization (the first example of which is Gyoncho Belev’s travelogue from 1948), hidden and open mythologizations were taking place – especially from the 1960s on, a process which greatly intensified during the 1980s, when the tide decisively turned.
3. The most dynamic stage is of course the last one, from 1989 until the present, when precisely the United States (and Canada) have dominated as the basic emigrant destination, including for a significant number of Bulgarian writers and intellectuals. An ever-growing number of Bulgarian authors from different generations live and write beyond the ocean, and their viewpoint is especially interesting, given their “double vision” of the USA phenomenon.
These circumstances, alongside active contacts on the whole, have brought America to the forefront as a special topic and problem – on various levels – within Bulgarian literature during the past two decades: novels, stories, poetry. It is also the subject of perhaps the largest number of travelogues, which, while not always of high literary value, certainly have cultural-psychological value.
We would be glad if you find the theoretical perimeter sketched out here and the possibilities it contains an interesting topic for debate.
The conference will be held in early December in Sofia.
Materials from the conference will be published in a special collection during 2015 within the framework of the “Literature and Geography” project of the Institute for Literature at BAS.
We invite you to submit your abstracts for participation to the following addresses: