He was born on the first day of March in the year 1891, in Šabac, Kingdom of Serbia, in a well-to-do Jewish family. His father Josif was a physician and mother Ruža a pianist. Vinaver finished elementary school in Šabac, attended high school in both Šabac and Belgrade, and studied mathematics and physics at the University of Sorbonne, Paris. There he became a follower of Henri Bergson's philosophical ideas, and in 1911 his thoughts and ideas were published in a collection of symbolic poems Mjeća.
Vinaver volunteered in the Balkan wars and took part in World War I as one of the “1,300 corporals” famous students’ battalion, in which he was a lieutenant. He went through the horrors of the Serbian army retreating through Albania and found himself on the island of Corfu, where he became the editor of “Serbian newspaper” working as a state press-bureau clerk. In the year of 1916 he was sent on a lobbying mission to France and Great Britain on behalf of Serbia to garner public support for the fighting on the Balkan front. During the Russian Revolution he was a Serbian diplomatic envoy in St. Petersburg.
Erudite and literate, Stanislav Vinaver was briefly employed at the Ministry of Education in Belgrade after World War I, but soon his restless and wondering spirit led him into journalism, translation work, and writing. In the newly formed Kingdom of Yugoslavia he became quite an outstanding person among young and modern Serbian writers and poets (Miloš Crnjanski, Dragiša Vasić, Rastko Petrović, Ljubomir Micić, Rade Drainac, Velibor Gligorić, Marko Ristić), and Croat literati who had come to Belgrade after Kingdom of Yugoslavia was formed (Tin Ujević, Gustav Krklec, Sibe Miličić).
Vinaver is an important figure in Serbian literature and culture. As a poet and essay writer, he was one of the leaders of the expressionist movement as well as the author of “Manifesto of expressionism”, strongly pleading for abandoning traditional artistic expression, disclaiming routine “patriotic canons” established by honourable literary critics Jovan Skerlić and Bogdan Popović.
Vinaver spent World War II in captivity in the German POW camp Osnabrück. During the last years of his life (1945-1955) he worked in Belgrade as a writer, satirist and translator from French, English, German, Russian, Polish and Czech. His unique translations, in which he would often step away from the original text in order to describe and keep the essence and spirit of the original, were sometimes rejected by publishing houses, but to this day have not been overtop and have become almost an individual works of literature. For example, Vinaver wrote and added up to 200 new pages to his translation of François Rabelais' "Gargantua and Pantagruel". Another famously modified translation was Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass" where he diverts and twists the original novel going farther away from the literal translation, while keeping and cherishing Carroll's brilliant humor, puns and most importantly Carroll's message and the tale's essence. Vinaver himself never said "Alice" was a translation, and preferred to call it "re-telling".
As for satire, Vinaver’s style was endlessly witty and humorous, with unexpected turnovers, fresh and innovative expression and a subtle sense of grotesque, most apparent in his “Panthology of new Serbian Pelengyrics” (pelen, sr. – wormwood), a mockery of Bogdan Popović’s “Anthology of new Serbian lyrics”.
Among his works, the best known are “Stories that lost their balance” (1913), “Thoughts” (1913), “Lightning rod of the Universe” (1921), “Worlds keeper” (1921), “Evil wizards' small town”, “Icarus’ flight”, “War friends”, “European night”, “Our needed language” and his famous work “Laza Kostić’s enchantments and spites”. In the latter book, for which he had a hard time to publish it and did not manage to do so during his lifetime, Vinaver showed his master skills for debate and reached heights in criticizing Serbian cultural mediocrity and mythomania.
Even though he was rather modernist, particularly vis-à-vis national culture, he remained miscomprehended for half of a century, suppressed and concealed, and his book “Enchantments” was not republished until 2006. In this significant book, Vinaver manages to represent complete Serbian artistic and spiritual heritage that includes both culture and mythology, and beside portraying famous poet Laza Kostić, the book is an auto-poetic work, combining artistic-intellectual curiosity, encyclopedic knowledge as well as Vinaver's own strong and distinct identity. It contains complete Kostić’s biography and writings, historical context which they originated from and notes of his contemporaries, but the book also contains Vinaver's writings of music, verses structure, linguistic possibilities, melody of language and contemporary poetry in general.
Stanislav Vinaver died in Niška Banja, Serbia, on 1 August 1955.
- Michael D. Nicklanovich: "Rebecca West’s 'Constantine the Poet', Serb World U.S.A., March/April 1999, vol. XV, no. 4 (also available online)
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