Karl-Markus Gauß is the foremost literary cartographer of a vanishing Europe. His wide-ranging and incisive essays chronicle the diversity and wealth of languages and cultures, predominantly in Eastern Europe, that have played a formative role in shaping contemporary European identities but now risk being forgotten. A Herodotus of Central Europe, Gauß has spent more than three decades mapping the peripheries of Europe as well as its centre and giving voice to many ethnic minorities who have been all but silenced by the dominant cultures of their geographical regions. Gauß’s mix of genres, as varied as his interests, includes the essay, reportage, ethnography, travelogue, criticism, political commentary, and the personal journal. His books in general, but In the Forest of the Metropoles in particular, are animated by the conviction that it is necessary to understand a region’s traditions and history to understand its place in the world at present. Karl-Markus Gauß has assembled a study of figures who pursued in their lives and works the ideal of a progressive, enlightened, diverse, and unified Europe. (TL)
An Apropos: Janus Pannonius (The Neo-Latinists III)
In the middle of the 15th century in Dalmatia, there was a young man who grew up to become an Italian scholar, a Croatian humanist, a Hungarian bishop, an Austrian writer, and an outlaw refugee. In the few Austro-Hungarian history books in which he has earned a footnote, he is called Janus Cecinge; in the few works of Balkan literary history that dedicate a few pages to the early period before the invention of a national standard written language, he is, on the other hand, referred to as Ivan Česmički. The name he gave himself, however, is Janus Pannonius. Because Dalmatia was under Venetian rule in his day, he was educated in Italy in the legendary court of Lionello d’Este in Ferrara under the mentorship of the learned Guarino da Verona, who had established humanism in Ferrara. Guarino praised the sixteen-year-old: ‘when he spoke Latin, he seemed to have been born in Rome, when he spoke Greek, he seemed to have been born in Athens.’ But this Croatian, educated to be an Italian humanist in Ferrara and appointed Archbishop of Pécs/Fünfkirchen by the Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus who wanted to introduce the accomplishments of Western humanism into his chancelleries, this child of four peoples continued to write in Latin.
Threatened by intrigues and having fallen into disfavour through unfortunate political vicissitudes, he was forced to flee to a Croatian village, where he died at thirty-eight in a damp priory, but not before he had composed his own epitaph: ‘Here lies Janus, the first to have brought the laurel-wreathed Muses from Helicon’s heights to the banks of his native Ister.’ This beautifully illustrates the contradiction – unfortunately no longer decipherable for us today – that ran even more painfully through the classically educated humanists of the Balkans than through their brothers-in-spirit in the West with whom they maintained lively communications. In the Latin inscription, which Pannonius composed himself, he calls on Helicon, the Greek home of the Muses in order to give himself credit, as heir of the crowned singers of antiquity, for having made the Muses a home on the banks of the Ister, the ancient name for the Danube.
Before nations were invented, dialects normalised as national languages, and poetry appointed the guardian of national consciousness, there was a longing to implant and cultivate a European culture on the same level as that of ancient Greece throughout the region. For want of nations that could rise from the jumble of regional tribes and empower themselves as such and for want of codified languages with which nations would later identify themselves, this longing could only express itself in a language understood by the learned across the breadth of Europe and not by those who lived along the Rhine, the Vistula, or the Danube, in the Vosges, the Dolomites, or the Carpathian Mountains. It was an Enlightenment without people, succeeded by a national mobilisation without intellect.
Translated by Tess Lewis
From In the Forest of the Metropoles
by Karl-Markus Gauß
Introduced and translated by Tess Lewis
Forthcoming publication from Seagull Books
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Karl-Markus Gauß was born in Salzburg. Since 1991 he has been editor in chief of the literary magazine Literatur und Kritik, published by the Salzburg publishing house Otto Müller Verlag. Gauß is an essayist who uses his books to present and promote writers from Central and Eastern Europe, who are often relatively unknown in Austria and Germany.
Tess Lewis is a writer and translator from French and German with a soft spot for Austrian literature. She has translated works by Peter Handke, Karl-Markus Gauß, Alois Hotschnig, Doron Rabinovici and Julya Rabinowich, among many others. Her translation of Maja Haderlap’s Angel of Oblivion won the ACFNY Translation Prize and the 2017 PEN Translation Award.