"Word Made Flesh": Czech Women's Writing from Communism to Post-Communism

By Hron, Madelaine | Journal of International Women's Studies, May 2003 | Go to article overview

"Word Made Flesh": Czech Women's Writing from Communism to Post-Communism


Hron, Madelaine, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

This article explores the changes in Czech women's fiction from communism to post- communism, focusing in particular on Czech women writers' relationship to literary discourse and feminism. It contends that women writers' rapport to ideological discourse and literary production under communism is a determining factor in women's relationship to both writing and feminism. It examines this literary legacy in terms of post-communism, surveying the differences between a totalitarian socialist regime and that of a materialist, capitalist economy, as exemplified in Czech women's literature. The article offers a survey the major post-communist women writers, including Hodrova, Bouckova, Kriseova, as well as delving into a comparative close-reading analysis of two representatives of both communist and post-communist women's writing: Eva Kanturkova's Pritelkyne z domu smutku (Companions Of The Bleak House) and Iva Pekarkova's Kulaty svet (The World is Round). Both these texts offer a challenging vision of "women's community" for today's global order.

Key Words: Czech, Women, literature

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"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... And the Word became flesh and lived among us ..." (John 1:1; 1:14 NRSV)

I begin with a rather "revelationary" quote, perhaps because my endeavor in this essay appears rather apocryphal: I will attempt a synoptic account of the transition of Czech women's fiction from the communist to the post-communist era. At the outset I faced with three seemingly eschatological dilemmas. First is the difficulty I find in establishing a body of "Czech women's fiction" in the corpus of Czech literature when my belief is that good literature transcends all gender categorization, as it speaks of the desires driving one's being and therefore tends towards the universal human condition. Second, however, I am also convinced that, asymptotically, good writing is derived from an individual experience, which is gendered indeed, and so I must allow for a gendered "women's experience" which could be shared collectively. Finally, while oscillating between individualism and universalism, I must somehow take into account the diversity of women fiction writers that have contributed to the Czech literature over fifty year period but at the same time positing a fundamental change revolving around the "post" of the 1989 Velvet Revolution: communism and post-communism.

Taking into account these dilemmas, I offer this "revelationary" parabolic parable: that from communism to post communism Czech women's fiction transformed from "word to flesh." The bare-bone skeleton of this argument may be structured as follows. In communism, language, both in its oppressive and resistant form, established the Word as paradigm defining Czech governing economy and the resistant literary economy--"the Word was God." In the pre-revolutionary summer of 1989,Vaclav Havel drew from the same Bible passage as I: "words can be said to be the very source of our being, and in fact the substance of the cosmic life form we call human ... one thing would seem to be obvious: we have always believed in the power of words to change history." (WW 377-378) Havel illustrates how under communism, the power of words formulated itself in collective and generic terms, either as the totalizing communalism of the totalitarian system or in dissident denunciation advocating universal human rights. Conversely, in post-communism, "the word became flesh:" the shift to a market economy, private property and democracy favored a turn to individualism, material concerns, and emphasis on the body. In the summer of 1991, in the newly-formed Czechoslovak Federation, Havel's cautions against the harmful effects of post-communism, which he submits are most saliently felt in the flesh: "the catastrophic decline in the general cultural level, the level of public manners, related to the economic decline . …

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