The homogenizing force of globalization means that a shopping center in Budapest doesn’t look all that different from one central Turin, or York, or Cleveland. Is “Eastern Europe” as an idea disappearing? What held it together in the first place, beyond stereotypes? Try Jacob Mikanowski‘s essay in the LA Review of Books for some suggestions (and some objections).
Gone are the days of Penguin’s Writers from the Other Europe series or Susan Sontag exhorting us to read Danilo Kiš while we still had time. Since then, Eastern Europe has been reduced to a backdrop for other people’s fantasies. I know a distinguished scholar of the region, a historian who teaches a regular course on Eastern European history, who told me that every year he has to answer questions from his students about whether people actually love and laugh in this “gray place.” It’s always a bit humiliating to read an English-language book with an Eastern European character. You never know if they’re going to be a world-weary janitor (a Pole), a captivating fraud (a Hungarian), a post-Communist gangster (a Serb), or a source of erotic awakening for a literary-minded man (a Czech for Americans, any of the above for residents of Ireland and the United Kingdom).