Milutin Bojić (left) and Stanislav Vinaver (right)
1 March 1891|
Šabac, Kingdom of Serbia
|Died||1 August 1955
Niška Banja, Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
|Resting place||New Cemetery, Belgrade|
|Occupation||Writer • poet • translator • journalist|
|Alma mater||University of Paris|
Stanislav Vinaver (Serbian Cyrillic: Станислав Винавер; 1 March 1891 – 1 August 1955) was a Serbian writer, poet, translator and journalist. Vinaver was born to affluent Ashkenazi Jewish parents that had immigrated to Serbia from Poland in the late 19th century. He studied at the University of Paris, volunteered to fight in the Balkan Wars and later took part in World War I as an officer in the Royal Serbian Army. In 1915, he lost his father to malaria. He travelled to France and the United Kingdom the following year, delivering lectures about Serbia and its people. In 1917, he was assigned to the Serbian consulate in Petrograd, where he was to witness the Russian Revolution and its aftermath.
Following World War I, Vinaver briefly worked for the Ministry of Education of the newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia). In the 1930s, he worked for Radio Belgrade and was appointed chief of Yugoslavia's central press bureau. This period was defined by his tumultuous relationship with his ethnic German wife, who held anti-Semitic and anti-Slavic views, as well as his inclusion in Rebecca West's acclaimed travel book Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. In April 1941, Vinaver was mobilized to fight in the Royal Yugoslav Army, following the German-led Axis invasion of Yugoslavia. Vinaver survived the invasion, but was captured by the Germans and interned at a prisoner-of-war camp near Osnabrück. His status as a former Royal Yugoslav Army officer saved him from probable death, but his elderly mother was not as fortunate, and was killed in the gas chambers the following year.
After the war, Vinaver returned to Yugoslavia, but given his service in the interwar government, he did not receive a warm welcome. The Yugoslav monarchy had been replaced with a communist government under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito, and Vinaver's works were blacklisted due to his Serbian nationalist views and modernist style. He worked as a translator in the immediate post-war years and served as the editor of a literary journal until his death in 1955, aged 64. He is considered one of the key representatives of the Serbian and Yugoslav literary avant-garde.
Stanislav Vinaver was born in Šabac on 1 March 1891. His family was an affluent one. Vinaver's father, Josif, was a physician, and his mother, Ruža, was a pianist and Polish-language translator. Both were Ashkenazi Jews that had immigrated to Serbia from Poland in the 1880s, fleeing pogroms and anti-Jewish discrimination. Vinaver completed his primary education in Šabac. He attended high school in Šabac until 1908, when he transferred to a high school in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. Upon completing high school, he enrolled at the University of Paris, where he studied mathematics and physics. He also attended the lectures of the philosopher Henri Bergson and the anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, and studied music under Wanda Lewandowska. It was during this time that he became interested in contemporary literature and art. Bergson's philosophical teachings left a strong impression on the young Vinaver.
In 1912, Vinaver returned to Serbia to enlist in the Royal Serbian Army (Serbian: Vojska kraljevine Srbije; VKS) and fight in the Balkan Wars. During the First Balkan War, he served as a lieutenant in the VKS's Students' Battalion. By 1914, Vinaver had published three books. Following the outbreak of World War I, he reenlisted and again fought with the Students' Battalion, which played an important role in defending Serbia from Austria-Hungary in the early months of the conflict. Vinaver distinguished himself in action and was deemed a war hero by his contemporaries. His father, an officer in the medical corps, died of malaria in 1915. That November, Serbia was overwhelmed by a combined Austro-Hungarian, German and Bulgarian invasion, forcing the VKS to retreat across Albania to the Greek island of Corfu. Vinaver took part in the retreat, and in 1916, he was appointed the editor-in-chief of Srpske Novine (The Serbian Newspaper). Later that year, Vinaver was dispatched to France and the United Kingdom by Slobodan Jovanović, the head of the Serbian military press bureau, to deliver lectures about Serbia and the Serbian people. He was accompanied by the philosopher Branislav Petronijević and the bishop Nikolaj Velimirović. In 1917, Vinaver joined the Serbian diplomatic mission in Petrograd (modern-day Saint Petersburg), working as a translator. He arrived in Petrograd about a month before the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, and witnessed the political and social upheaval that it caused. His time in the Russian capital was spent gathering volunteers for the Macedonian Front.
At the war's end, Vinaver held the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1919, he joined the Ministry of Education of the newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, working alongside fellow writers Branislav Nušić and Borisav Stanković at the ministry's artistic department. He nearly lost his position in the artistic department following a dispute with the country's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ante Trumbić. In 1920, the artistic department was shut down following a government reshuffling, and Trumbić's antagonism precluded Vinaver from taking up further government positions. Vinaver took up journalism full-time and became one of interwar Yugoslavia's most prolific columnists. In the 1930s, he began working at Radio Belgrade and was appointed chief of Yugoslavia's central press bureau.
Vinaver was a convert to Serbian Orthodoxy and identified as a Serb, despite his Jewish heritage. He was married to an ethnic German woman named Elsa. As a result of Elsa's anti-Semitic and anti-Slavic views, the marriage was a tumultuous one. The couple had two children. Vinaver features prominently in Rebecca West's acclaimed 1941 travel guide Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, appearing under the pseudonym Constantine. His wife appears under the pseudonym Gerda. In April 1941, Vinaver was mobilized to fight in the Royal Yugoslav Army, following the German-led Axis invasion of Yugoslavia. He survived the invasion, but was captured by the Wehrmacht and interned at a prisoner-of-war camp near Osnabrück. Vinaver's status as a former Royal Yugoslav Army officer saved him from probable death. His elderly mother was not as fortunate and was killed in the gas chambers in 1942 as part of the Final Solution.
Following the war, Vinaver returned to Yugoslavia, but given his service in the interwar government, he was not warmly received. The Yugoslav monarchy had been replaced with a communist government under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito, and the publication of Vinaver's works was discouraged, alongside those of writers such as Jovan Dučić and Miloš Crnjanski. Vinaver was a Serbian nationalist. In addition, his overtly modernist style conflicted with that of socialist realism, which was officially sanctioned by the government. Vinaver worked as a translator in the immediate post-war years. While he did establish a literary journal called Republika, which was viewed with suspicion by the communist authorities, he did not make any effort to reclaim his former esteemed position within the Yugoslav literary milieu. Vinaver wrote for Republika from 1950 until his death. He died in Niška Banja on 1 August 1955.
Style and themes
Vinaver was an avant-gardiste. He authored the first avant-garde programmatic text in Serbian literature, Manifesto ekspresionističke škole (Manifesto of the Expressionist School; 1920). He often resorted to burlesque and used parody as a means of mocking both friends and enemies, the weak and the powerful, as well as the avant-garde, and even himself. This is best exemplified in his 1920 anthology Pantologija novije srpske pelengirike (The Pantology of New Serbian Peasant Trousers), which takes aim at the conservative writer Bogdan Popović's influential 1911 compendium Antologija novije srpske lirike (Anthology of New Serbian Poetry). "The parodies were not just a game of virtuosity," the literary scholar Svetlana Slapšak writes. "They challenged the accepted literary chronologies, genre schemes and value systems." Vinaver continued writing parodies even after the war, despite his Holocaust experience, this time targeting Yugoslavia's new communist authorities.
Slapšak describes Vinaver as a "unique and versatile" writer. In his journalistic endeavours, the biographer Branko Šašić writes, Vinaver wrote in a manner that was "concise, brief and clear". Most prolific as an essayist and a poet, Vinaver made his literary debut in 1911, with a collection of poetry titled Mjeća. His poetry was written in free verse, with exclusive emphasis placed on sound rather than sematics. "He excelled in metrics and prosody and was capable of writing a pastiche of any poetic form," Slapšak writes, "though he went beyond the pastiche by deliberately slipping into the carnivalesque or even into nonsense." Slapšak believes that Vinaver used nonsense as a means of magnifying non-sequiturs and logical fallacies, thereby exposing academic discourse and even the avant-garde itself to mockery and ridicule.
Vinaver sporadically resorted to Greco-Roman mythology as a literary device, referring to the Classics ironically, naming texts after well known myths, or referencing them to reinforce an argument. This is best exemplified by his 1937 lecture Ikarov let: Sudbina današnje književnosti (The Flight of Icarus: The Fate of Contemporary Literature), in which Vinaver used the myth of Icarus and Daedalus as a metaphor for the state of modern poetry. He argued that contemporary poets were "flying between the sun of metaphysics and the water of social conformity," and that if they were not careful, they were "doomed to perish without a trace." "Vinaver," the historian Milan Ristović writes, "was in favour of a complete break with the traditional understanding of literature and of a radically avant-garde, new literature, a new poetics and a new understanding of language."
Vinaver is considered one of the key representatives of the Serbian and Yugoslav literary avant-garde. Literary critics consider his Pantologija to be the best avant-garde parody in all of Serbian literature. In September 2011, the Government of Serbia unveiled a commemorative plaque dedicated to Vinaver on the façade of the Belgrade building in which his apartment was located. The Stanislav Vinaver Award is presented for artistic excellence in the writing of short stories. Notable recipients include the Serbian-Jewish writer David Albahari.
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