The Mystifications of a Nation:

The Mystifications of a Nation: "The Potato Bug" and Other Essays on Czech Culture

by Vladimir Macura
     
 

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A keen observer of culture, Czech writer Vladimír Macura devoted a lifetime to illuminating the myths that defined his nation. The Mystifications of a Nation, the first book-length translation of Macura's work in English, offers essays deftly analyzing a variety of cultural phenomena that originate, Macura argues, in the "big bang" of the nineteenth-century

Overview

A keen observer of culture, Czech writer Vladimír Macura devoted a lifetime to illuminating the myths that defined his nation. The Mystifications of a Nation, the first book-length translation of Macura's work in English, offers essays deftly analyzing a variety of cultural phenomena that originate, Macura argues, in the "big bang" of the nineteenth-century Czech National Revival, with its celebration of a uniquely Czech identity.

In reflections on two centuries of Czech history, he ponders the symbolism in daily life. Bridges, for example-once a-force of civilization connecting diverse peoples-became a sign of destruction in World War I. Turning to the Soviet and post-Soviet eras,' Macura probes a range of richly symbolic practices, from the naming of the Prague metro system, to the mass-gymnastic displays of the Communist period, to post-Velvet Revolution preoccupations with the national anthem. In "The Potato Bug," he muses on one of the stranger moments in the Cold War-the claim that the United States was deliberately dropping insects from airplanes to wreak havoc on the crops of Czechoslovakia.

While attending to the distinctively Czech elements of such phenomena, Macura reveals the larger patterns of Soviet-brand socialism. "We were its cocreators," he declares, "and its analysis touches us as a scalpel turned on its own body." Writing with erudition, irony, and wit, Macura turns the scalpel on the authoritarian state around him, demythologizing its mythology.

Vladimír Macura (1945-99) was a Czech writer, translator, and semiotician. Hana Píchová is associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures at the University of North-Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of The Art of Memory in Exile: Vladimir Nabokov and Milan Kundera. Craig Cravens is Fellow of Czech Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The Culture and Customs of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The Macura revered by Czech intellectuals for his irreverent take on their culture's sacred cows is very much in evidence in this selection of his essays."—Michael Henry Heim, University of California, Los Angeles

 “Macura is not defined by his nation; rather, in these essays, he defines his nation. He does so with an ironic twinkle in his sharp eye, all the while catching what others missed seeing or, more often still hoped would be overlooked.”—Paulina Bren, Bohemia

“Hana Píchová and Craig Cravens have done Czech studies a great service in carefully translating and judiciously annotating this volume. . . . Most of Macura’s essays strike the reader in a particular way: as if you’ve had the good fortune to show up in the middle of a rather interesting but much broader discussion, the beginning of which and the end of which, it seems, you also won’t be around for. This peculiarity intrigues much more than it frustrates, and in the contemporary field of Czech studies, there is something to it.”—David S. Danaher, Slavic and East European Journal

“While the essays in this volume are rather brief, they always present food for thought. Sometimes brilliant and often funny, they should be read, and not only by experts.”—European History Quarterly

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780299248949
Publisher:
University of Wisconsin Press
Publication date:
11/18/2010
Edition description:
1
Pages:
150
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

“In the shadow of Yuri Lotman’s Tartu School, the essays in this book stand out marvelously humorous and small.”—Caryl Emerson, from the foreword

Meet the Author

Vladimír Macura (1945–1999) was a Czech writer, translator, and semiotician. Hana Píchová is associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of The Art of Memory in Exile: Vladimir Nabokov and Milan Kundera. Craig Cravens is Fellow of Czech Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The Culture and Customs of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

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