Traumatic Aging in Borisav Stanković and Miloš Crnjanski
The Symptomatic Body in the Modern and Expressionist View on Soul and Society
Symptoms of aging represent the main naturalist elements in Borisav Stanković's premodern realist novel Nečista krv (1910) and in a similar way they lend anti-aesthetic notions to Miloš Crnjanski's expressionistic novel Seobe (1929; 1962). Aging frames these two Serbian texts by a concept of ugliness and degeneration. Furthermore, aging is linked to an inner state of helplessness and resignation, which the physical symptoms seem to illustrate in the first place. Far too early for their biological age the two young female characters fall into apathy and seem to become old at once, which is motivated by traumatic circumstances in their family life. In the first text, female aging is a reaction to the husband's disrespect, whereas in the second text it accompanies a hysteric state of “between the pregnancies” (when female functions are not needed). In both novels corporal and mental prostration are caused by the fading fascination for the respective characters. This indicates an inversion of the common principle: It is not aging that would lead to ugliness and disregard, but disrespect that causes ugly characters and physical traces of old age. Beyond individual aging, both texts refer to the phenomenon of aging in order to illustrate a pathologic dynamics of society. Stanković's novel opens with a reflection on the great-grandfathers and the grandfathers, about whom there was “still more left to tell” than about Sofka and her mother. This introduction anticipates, firstly, the inevitable fate of a patriarchal society that will lead to Sofka's traumatic aging and, secondly, a system in which the predominance of ancestors destroys the heritage of their children. Similar tendencies become visible in Crnjanski's novel, which also reports the end of the Isaković family, rather than their origins or future.