Mediantrop broj 13

Milena Dragićević Šešić - Statement regarding Sezgin Boynik thesis

University of Jyvaskyla
Statement regarding Sezgin Boynik thesis:

Towards a Theory of Political Art: Cultural Politics of 'Black Wave' Film in Yugoslavia, 1963-1972


Milena Dragićević ŠešićMilena Dragićević ŠešićAs an Opponent I made following analysis regarding Sezgin Boynik's thesis:

Research topic has been selected appropriately, as the Yugoslavian Cultural Politics of post-World War II period still needs its analysis and evaluation, especially regarding Film policy. (Film policy maybe was the only 'Yugoslav' cultural policy, as all other artistic policies were designed and implemented by federal republics, independently one from another).

There are only few otherthesis dealing with Black Wave that has been done mostly from the point of view of Film Studies (and most of the research articles and publications as well), while research dealing with Yugoslav cultural politics mostly focused on popular culture, on literature, or on visual arts. Thus, this approach linking art and politics, more precisely cultural politics and film,represents original and extremely significant approach for further discussions about crucial issues of the relation between arts and politics in Yugoslavia of that time.

Formulation of the research problem has been done with precision, showing theoretical knowledge, recognizing already existing scholarly works and debates in a domain, and understanding of socio-political and cultural context of the researched period. Positioning Black Wave in Yugoslav Cultural Politics, using as a leitmotiv the works and thoughts of Dušan Makavejev, a figure which is not considered to be the representative one for the Black Wave as such, he created a specific framework where he could debate three important issues: temporalization (retro-active interpretation of Yugoslavavantgarde-art), representation (locating Black Wave in a global context of film studies, as the focus on Makavejev was enabling him), and philosophical legitimacy (relation between artistic practices and progressive intellectual platforms such as Praxis group used to represent).

Sezgin introduced multiperspectivist approach (Douglas Kellner). Methods of the research included two important theoretical perspectives: Russian formalism and Benjamin's Nicht-synthesis, additionally introducing Althusser, Foucault, Bourdieu, adding different theoretical angles necessary for deepening the debate. Thus he succeeded, I think quite successfully, to offer a frame for later interpretation and discussion of his already published papers in different academic and cultural journals.

Taking in account the nature of Makavejev's film and theoretical work, the background theory was extremely fruitful in offering new interpretations and understanding of Makavejev's seminal works. For example, nicht-synthesis model applied to Makavejev cinematic work, enabled Boynik to separate „cinematic reality from everyday life reality by underlining the distinctiveness of its parameters". It is important to say that scholarly work about Makavejev up to now, usually were doing opposite – immerging understanding of Black wave films only in understanding of the socio-political context and even Serbian, not Yugoslavian daily reality. Thus, Sezgin Boynik could develop a concept of „cinema-country of Yugoslavia" in a very distinct and adequate way.

He also developed a new understanding of Yugoslavian cultural politics – opposing usual representation "either as a practice of anti-totalitarianism or a dissident approach." This is linked to the question of dissidence – what is one of the issues to be more elaborated during debate – as neither thesis neither papers deal enough with this question, so specific in Yugoslav political context. However, he is claiming that: "By looking at these complexities not as the symptoms of dissident artistic practice in the conditions of totalitarianism" (what most of the Western theoreticians did), "but as a constructive contradiction I have consciously analysed these rifts, difficulties, and conflicts." However, quoting Sudar, he positioned A. Petrović's work as "a genuine cinematic style of dissidence" (film Skupljači Perja / Even met the Happy Gipsies).

His research material was very complex, including films and texts of Makavejev. However, the real cultural politics of Yugoslavia/Serbia is not much researched. Boynik has as a major reference seminal work of Stevan Majstorović, written for UNESCO at the end of seventies, thus, written without necessary time delay, but also without real independence, to engage more critically in analysis and interpretation of its essence but also of its limits.Boynik now is well placed to present unknown important Majstorovic's cultural policy research achievements (Culture and democracy, Politics of identity, Right to culture, etc.).

In the meantime, several thesis and books has been written in the domain of cultural policies of socialist period (Dimitrijević about „utopian consumerism", and RadinaVučetić's about Coca-colaization and „Disneyfication of childhood in socialist Yugoslavia), and even Compendium offers one possible „periodization" of post-World War II cultural politics. On the other side, research material in the field of Russian formalism, Benjamin's thoughts and Black Wave and Makavejev itself, is comprehensive and sufficient.

Thus, this complex research materials enabled him to go further and to argument sufficiently his different thesis on Makavejev, on Ideology, on relationships between arts and politics...

Research results has been discussed in 5th and 6th chapters and I found these chapters extremely important as based on Contradictions and Excesses of Black Wave. Summarizing Black Wave characteristics as: formal innovation, non-narrative and non-diegetic plot, prevalence of politically and socially controversial issues... he added also „alternative strategies in realization, production and distribution" which he is not elaborating further, and that is one of the questions which I would raise in a debate.

But, these chaptersare offering very important insight of cultural politics expectations from the arts – „Yugoslavianism was not culture as a field of struggle, but a field of reconciliation where culture would play a role of affirming existing Yugoslavian conditions prescribed by the official policy of representation.(...) art was expected to erase social conflict and contradiction... Thus, the „Blackness", of black wave was seen„as phantasy of ideological excess"... Here Russian formalism and Bakhtin and his theory of carnivalesque excess could be even more fruitful...

Other important contribution is the theory of cinematic excess – Sezgin Boynik had mapped contradictory aspects in three distinctive fields: ideological apparatus, nationalism and self-management socialism.

Thus identifying contradictions of party politics also in the analysis of results of other film researchers as well as in film material of Makavejev (slogans in Films of Dušan Makavejev) he came to the very important conclusions:

a) the necessity to reflect on contradiction – as Makavejev was always undertaking through his films;
b) the artistic-device in political formations – as Makavejev describes himself „slogans" having „sensuous, biological and non-rational nature", they are ideal device to show the uncanny or „artistic nature of political formation, which (...) mobilize the most illogical, dark and ambiguous parts of communication – dream-practices". This artistic device involved in the political formation of slogans, adding innovation, imagination, spontaneity and surrealism to State slogans... According to Sezgin, Makavejev introduced slogans (the device of dream-practice) in order to stabilize the antagonisms between politics and art;
c) Slogans in art have to be distinct – if they are included in film (as art text), their structure or plot should be recomposed, re-organized; art and politics have distinct rules of dealing with the contingencies.

Second contradiction – nationalism and relations toward nationalism was debated mostly through Black wave films as a case study.Here it would be important to add debate held in that time within cultural policy research and literature which was very developed in two research institutes in Belgrade and Zagreb. To understand why and how CULTURAL and EDUCATIONAL policies have been left to each of the Republics – and why culture was acknowledged in socialist Yugoslavia to be a NATIONAL (ethnic) issue in spite of antinationalistic official discourse.

Another important issue in this context of nationalism relates to the Film industry and its organisation in Yugoslavia where major „mode of management" was a self-government, or self-management. Sezgin discuss later self-management as a social contradiction, but not how it worked specifically within a field of cinematography, who always needed big investments. Thus, most of the films (excluding Black wave which were produced mostly in Serbia) has been co-productions in-between republics, with actors and staff coming from everywhere. Thus today is difficult to „separate" film production, and many films copyrights are sent to European court (Veljko Bulajić and Radna zajednica vs. Bosna film) – but this issue was debated in the book „Adio Yugo film" by Ranko Munitić.) Thus, still today, only in Belgrade there are institutions keeping word „Yugoslav" in the name, Yugoslav Film Archive and Yugoslav Drama Theater - while first ever named „Yugoslav" institution, in XIX century, Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts in Zagreb, had immediately changed its name with dissolution of the country).

In this chapter on nationalism, Sezgin Boynik had introduced several very important notions as part of his analytical apparatus: the notion of circularity, repetitiveness, polyvalent nation, and national imaginary of Balkanist, etc.

Finally, Contradictions of self-management – as debated in Praxis Philosophy, who saw arts as a chance for the „unanticipated possibilities of humanization" (Grlić) – more or less as today – art for social change, for inclusion, for wellbeing, for public health, to raise participation, sense of citizenship...

It is very important that Sezgin Boynik had identified the main problems with Praxis philosophy of art – as it „postponed the contradictions inherent in the artwork itself. By refuting the tensions that are constituent to the formation of any artwork, the Praxis Philosophy of art was responsible for proliferation of research assuming immediate representational relation between art and politics (p.52). Sezgin relies on Adorno's statement: expresses idea of harmony negatively by embodying the contradictions, pure and uncompromised in its innermost structure" – negative dialectics as poetics of negation (of A. Flaker).


As it is article-based dissertation, it is impressive to what extent the author succeeded in creating a comprehensive body of work, where the texts of the thesis give larger methodological framework for understanding each of the five separate articles, which however, link one with another. Each article represent very original approach to the work of Dušan Makavejev, relations in between art and politics and to Black wave and its cultural policy consequences.

Both composition of the work and style are clear and done according to the methodology he has chosen. Thus, the text is leading us through the process of analysis, through reflection toward conclusions. Language of the thesis is adequate and precise, offering formulations which are consistent and clear.

In total, the author has shown scientific and scholarly maturity, having not only extensive knowledge in various humanistic disciplines as well as in social sciences, but also ability to identify new and challenging research issues, to introduce adequate analytical and interpretative methods and to come out with coherent theories and conclusions. He succeeded in introducing in critical social theory few important notions which will, I am sure, going to be used by scholars of different disciplines (like in this chapter on nationalism: the notion of circularity, repetitiveness, polyvalent nation, and national imaginary of Balkanist discourses (rawness...), grand narratives of nationalist formation, Serbian essentialism (in relation to Serbian cutting)... etc.)

His readiness to enter in dialogue and discussion about research topics, his analytical and cognitive skills, his conceptual capacity to theorize and come up with new interpretative frameworks are proof that we have in front of us a promising young researcher – academic, scholar which in future will be able, using also his other important capacities (Sezgin Boynik speaks many languages, and he is also an accomplished artists, a person who is already for a long time practising co-creation – what is a brand new EU policy recommendation) to contribute new, transdisciplinary theorization in the domain of art and politics, cultural policies, film and visual art studies, etc.

Dr Milena Dragićević Šešić, prof.
University of Arts, Belgrade 13. December 2014.