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Chapter Summary

This chapter discusses a multilingual community of writers and intellectuals who gathered around the idea of a Central European culture in the 1980s, during the last decade of the Cold War. Czesław Miłosz, Danilo Kiš, Milan Kundera, György Konrád and others advocated the idea of a Central European culture. Their own work and their biographies, immersed in and marked by a triple historical trauma of Nazism, communism and endemic nationalism, were, as they claimed, both evidence of and a consequence of a specific Central European, historical imagination, marked by a ‘specific tone and sensibility’ (Miłosz). They convened on a number of occasions, commented on each others’ work and referred to each other, but they had no common language. This is all the more poignant as they did claim to be heirs of the actual cosmopolitan culture of pre-WWII Central Europe, which had German (and to some extend Yiddish) as a lingua franca. This chapter first explores how the self-proclaimed Central Europeans of the 1980s constructed their sense of community on an idea of multilingualism without having an actual lingua franca. This is followed by an analysis of how their invocation of a pre-WWII cosmopolitan culture of multilingualism relates to the actual linguistic situation a major multilingual writers, Franz Kafka.



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