Danilo Kiš Collection
The Danilo Kiš collection contains the estate of one of the most important non-conformist writers of socialist Yugoslavia. Kiš's collection is kept at the Archives of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU). His anti-authoritarian stance triggered attacks on his writing, which brought him to court. "Nobody did more to prove that Europe's twentieth-century experiments in fiction can take the measure of its experiments in totalitarianism, without curbing the liberties of the one or blurring the crimes of the other." asserts Mark Thompson in "Birth Certificate. The Story of Danilo Kiš" (2013, xi).
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Name of collection
Danilo Kiš Collection
Provenance and cultural activities
The Danilo Kiš Collection covers the author’s literary legacy. It is kept at the Archives of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU). The collection includes a multitude of relevant materials from throughout the author’s life, starting from his childhood until his death. The largest part of the collection covers Danilo Kiš’s work and artistic projects.
Besides his written legacy, the collection also contains medals, awards and other formal recognition that Kiš received throughout his life. As per the author's will, they are located in the archives of SANU. Given that this is a personal collection, the holdings of the writer are organized as follows: I – Personal Documents, II – Working Documents, III - Awards and Achievements, IV – Family Documents, V - Photos, VI - Personal Items.For those interested in understanding how the cultural opposition functioned, the most relevant part of this collection would be Personal Documents, particularly those records related Danilo Kiš’s trial (more in Featured Item).
A staunch anti-nationalist and anti-communist, Danilo Kiš was a non-conformist who “teased the pedantry of societies where labels matter more than the baggage." (Thompson, 2013, xiii). He described himself as a “European writer in the first place”, and “a Central European writer to the core” (Thompson, 2013, 20). Kiš elaborated on this: “Writers whom others call Central European or who describe themselves as such […] come to realise that their nonconformity stems from a certain reserve and an almost unconscious yearning for broader, more democratic European horizons.” (Thompson, 2013, 21).
Mirjana Miočinović has said in interviews with COURAGE that Danilo Kiš never wanted to be called a dissident, because he was not one. The theater expert and translator Miočinović was married to Danilo Kiš from 1961 to 1981. She maintained "[w]e lived in a system that did not force you to be part of it." Kiš reacted strictly to every form of censorship, but "he did not allow it to disrupt his attitude towards literature, he did not allow to be contaminated." Miočinović also explains that Kiš believed that "having nothing to do with people in power was a matter of mental hygiene". She says that he did not even want to socialize with people who were in ruling positions. Kiš's attitude towards power did not change over the years: "he has always been the same: far away from authorities." It was a matter of principle for him.
Already in the seventies, Kiš anticipated the danger of nationalist ideologies by maintaining: "Fear and envy are an engagement that demands no effort. Hell is comprised of the others (in a nationalist key, of course), and everything that is not mine (Serbian, Croatian, French) is foreign to me. Nationalism is the ideology of banality. Nationalism is thus a totalitarian ideology, while a nationalist […] is a coward who fails to admit his cowardice." (Debeljak 2016, Eurozine).
In 1978, Danilo Kiš published the book Čas anatomije [The Anatomy Lesson] which was a response to criticism and attacks on his previous book Grobnica za Borisa Davidoviča [A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, 1976]. The release of Čas anatomije formed the grounds to prosecute Kiš. Although the court acquitted him of three counts of defamation, Kiš left Yugoslavia for France in 1979, embarrassed and disappointed.
Nevertheless, Miočinović considers Kiš not belonging to the category of diaspora writers, which some try to classify him as. "He always thought about returning and he wanted to return. His works were still published here and he has been rewarded here." The fact that Kiš was at the same time rewarded and persecuted illustrates the specifics of the Yugoslav system. "The center was in Belgrade, but there were several cultural centers opposing each other." If someone encountered pressures in one republic, the person could seek for more freedom for his work in another. In the publishing houses there have been people from the party, but nevertheless they were "from an undoubted literary reputation, they had the ear for the right thing and that was very important." Kiš's attitude toward awards is explained by his principled attitude, "take them, but do nothing to deserve them." Kiš thought it important to preserve one’s integrity and to do nothing to be in the favor of those who grant awards.
Miočinović claims: "Since the break with Stalin, there have not been norms that you had to hold on. No form [nor] content was imposed or prescribed for an artist to be articulated in his art." This all led to a major cultural change in the 1960s. "Those years were years of blossoming, it was a real boom. This created such a gifted generation of creative people."
The situation changed in the 1970s when the freedom of action characterizing the previous decades was significantly reduced. The first strike against Kiš occurred then, which Miočinović considers particularly perfidious because it was an attack on his creativity and his integrity as a writer: "If you go to prison, you can nevertheless consider yourself as a kind of hero. But when you have an attack attempting to destro] completely the one thing you were into, with every deprivation, attacking something you fully committed your life to - that is really the scariest".
The author's widow helped with the digitization of Kiš’s literary legacy after his death. The materials gathered are available on the Danilo Kiš: Ostavština [Danilo Kiš: Legacy] CD, which contains 4800 pages of written material, 300 minutes of video footage, and 400 minutes of audio. In addition, the CD contains a biography, bibliography, personal library, numerous photographs, personal and family documents, and Kiš’s entire literary estate. The CD can be accessed in the Archives of SANU in Belgrade.
Description of content
Kiš’s collection is a highly relevant collection for those studying cultural opposition in former Yugoslavia as he was an author who was pressured due to his artistic work, for which he was brought to court and eventually, indirectly, forced to leave the country.
The Danilo Kiš Collection contains personal documents, texts from his literary legacy, correspondence with celebrities and statesmen, as well as personal and family photos. In addition, the collection contains a CD with digitized material which can be accessed in the Archives of SANU in Belgrade.
- artifacts: 10-99
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 10-99
- photos: 10-99
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 10-99
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
Geographical scope of recent operation
Creators of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Authors of this page
- Radović, Sanja
Debeljak, Aleš. 2016. The Yugoslav Atlantis. In: Eurozine URL http://www.eurozine.com/the-yugoslav-atlantis/ (Assessed November 23, 2017).
Kiš, Danilo. 2012 (1978). Čas anatomije [The Anatomy Lesson]. Beograd: Nolit.
Milutinović, Zoran. 2014: "Territorial Trap: Danilo Kiš, Cultural Geography and Geopolitical Imagination." East European Politics & Societies 28.4:715-738.
Thompson, Mark. 2013. Birth Certificate. The Story of Danilo Kiš. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Miočinović, Mirjana , interview by Radović, Sanja , January 14, 2017, December 26, 2016. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection