Aleš Debeljak

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Aleš Debeljak
Born(1961-12-25)25 December 1961
Ljubljana, Slovenia, Yugoslavia
Died28 January 2016(2016-01-28) (aged 54)
  • Poet
  • essayist
  • academic
Genreessays, poetry, cultural studies
Literary movementPostmodernism
SpouseErica Johnson Debeljak

Aleš Debeljak (25 December 1961 – 28 January 2016) was a Slovenian cultural critic, poet, and essayist.


Debeljak was born in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, then part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to a family with rural origins; he was the first of the family to attend university.[1] In his youth he was the junior Slovenian champion in judo, and got a silver medal at the Yugoslav championship.[2] He stopped his sport career after an injury.[1]

He graduated from comparative literature at the University of Ljubljana in 1985.[3] He continued his studies in the United States, obtaining a PhD in sociology of culture at Syracuse University in 1989.[3] He was later a Senior Fulbright fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. He also worked at the Institute for Advanced Studies Collegium Budapest, the Civitella Ranieri Center and the Bogliasco Liguria Study Center for the Arts and Humanities.[4]

From the mid-1980s onwards, Debeljak took an active part in civil society movements.[5] He decided to come back to Slovenia at the time of the dissolution of Yugoslavia as, he said, he did not want to become a "Balkan-observer" from abroad, but rather wanted to take part directly in those moments.[1]

As many others[who?], he had come to accept the idea of Slovenian independence as a second-best option in lack of better alternatives, as every plan for reforming Yugoslavia while conceding more autonomy to Slovenia and Croatia had failed. He still retained and cherished his double identity as a Slovene and as a Yugoslav, and thought that independence had actually limited Slovenia's cultural references: "we lost our attachments to the people of the South, and at the same time we did not gain the same type of emotional attachment to Austria and to other European countries".[1]

In 1991 he worked as interpreter for foreign media during the Ten-Day War, and witnessed first-hand the Yugoslav-Slovene armed clashes at the Austrian border in Gornja Radgona. He described the experience as something that changed his point of view, as something that had been deemed impossible was actually taking place, "as if we were in a movie".[1]

He was one of the co-editors of the critical alternative journal Nova revija. He also participated in the social liberal think tank Forum 21, led by former President of Slovenia Milan Kučan. He was also, until his death, a professor of cultural studies at the Faculty for Social Studies of the University of Ljubljana.

From 2001 he started the journal Sarajevo notebooks, in order to re-establish communication and linkages between intellectuals and activists throughout former Yugoslavia, and create regional public forums of reconciliation.[1]

He was married to the columnist, translator and American-Slovenian writer[6] Erica Johnson Debeljak, with whom he had three children. He died on 28 January 2016, when he was struck and killed by a truck.[7][8][9]

Poetic works[edit]

Debeljak began publishing poetry in his college years. He was spotted by the poet Veno Taufer who helped him in the literary scene.[3] His first collection of poetry was well received also by the poet Tomaž Šalamun, who declared Debeljak as the best poet of the young generation of Slovene authors.[10]

Debeljak's poetry is noted for its melancholy and a new reaffirmation of traditional values such as family and God. An opponent to the everything-goes schools of modern thought, such as postmodernism, Debeljak's work was informed by an "Enlightenment" ideal of right and wrong, good and bad.[citation needed]

Debeljak was an extremely prolific writer.[citation needed] In addition to poetry and cultural criticism, Debeljak also worked as a columnist for the most important newspaper in Slovenia, Delo.[citation needed] His works have been translated in many languages.[citation needed]

List of works[edit]

Works published or translated in English:

  • The Hidden Handshake: National Identity and Europe in The Post Communist World (Rowman & Littlefield, New York & Oxford 2004).
  • Reluctant Modernity: The Institution of Art and its Historical Forms (Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham & New York 1998).
  • Twilight of the Idols: Recollections of a Lost Yugoslavia (Wite Pine Press, Fredonia & New York 1994).
  • Persistence of Modernity: Critical Social Theory of Modern vs. Postmodern Institution of Art (UMI, Ann Arbor, 1994).
  • Smugglers (BOA Editions, Ltd., Rochester, 2015)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Ales Debeljak Interview - Home | Writers & Company with Eleanor Wachtel | CBC Radio". 26 April 2015. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  2. ^ "Memento: Aleš Debeljak". 7 November 2015. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  3. ^ a b c [1][dead link]
  4. ^ [2] Archived 18 September 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ [3][dead link]
  6. ^ "Slovenski pisatelji, ki pišejo v slovenščini ali pa tudi ne". 24 January 2012. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  7. ^ Debeljak, Erica Johnson (28 October 2016). "Pesnik + smrt = { }". Delo. Retrieved 2 November 2018.
  8. ^ "STA: Eminent Slovenian author Aleš Debeljak dies". Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  9. ^ "Večer: Umrl Aleš Debeljak". Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  10. ^ Tomaž Šalamun, "Intervju z Alojzom Ihanom" in Sodobnost, yr. 42, n. 8/9 (1994)

External links[edit]