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Milica Bakić-Hayden
 Serbian city and fortress of Zvečan in medieval times
torical periods into specific political discourses and for distinct purposes, most notably in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. it is these extra-literary appropria- tions and engagement of the literary texts within the “cul- tures of nationalism” that are of special concern for us here.4 Within the cultures of nationalism we see different interpretive communities at work, highlighting those as- pects of the epic stories (themes, heroes) which “speak” most directly to the people at a given historical moment, and the mechanisms of that communication need more nuanced explanations than dismissing the phenomenon as “myth.”
if we assume that the epics express traditional views of the conflict—where traditional is understood as the ha- bitual pursuit of inherited forms of conduct which a so- ciety takes as its norms—then the self-conscious affirma- tion and appropriation of such norms and their establish-
ment as articulated models for current and future behav- ior may be distinguished as traditionalistic.5 For example, we can explore how the epic theme of the battle of Koso- vo with its own (traditional i.e. pre-nationalist) represen- tations and understanding of heroic ethos and warfare is adopted by nationalist discourse to become one of the na- tional symbols of struggle and in that sense traditionalis- tic. Symbolic potential, as mentioned earlier, is by defini- tion already embedded in the very structure of epic po- ems in general just as the battle theme is an epic theme par excellence—for there are no epics about peace.6 But epic, understood here as a kind of public history of pre- nationed peoples, becomes redefined in the process of na- tion building as an intrinsic part of the (now) national past, and being complicit in the evolving present of the national life it is transformed into national epic, with new legitimation and function. Of course, the very concep- tion of national literature is related to the rise of the mod- ern nation-state in Western europe. National literature conceived as “a particular national possession, as an ex- pression of the national mind, as a means toward nation’s self-definition,” was particularly pronounced in German scholarship, most notably in the writings of the philoso- pher and theologian johann Gottfried von Herder, who conceived of nations as individuals, having identities based on “national character” or “national spirit,” with places of origin (“cradle”) and missions to fulfill in history.7
Direct or indirect acceptance of this general ideologi- cal tenor of modernist models of nation formation, rein- forced with the enthusiasm of Romantic europe for the movements of national liberation at its periphery, revealed just how important cultural unification processes were for a nation. Within the inner realm of national culture, epic voice as the inner voice of the people, perceived as ex- pressing something essential about them, emerged as the “natural core” around which much of the national cul- ture could be defined. in the context of the societies with limited written history but rich oral tradition, such as was Serbia emerging from centuries of Ottoman rule, and at- tempting to forge itself as a modern nation, these ideas resonated strongly as they defined epic in terms of social and collective experiences in addition to aesthetic ones. in such societies, epic was recognized as a narrative of the historical record, something at once “our own” but also in agreement with widely accepted views of epic in the West as a proof and measure of the antiquity of a people
5 Brian Stock, Listening for the Text: On the Uses of the Past (Bal- timore and London 1990) 164.
6 Whether we look at the ancient indian or Greek epics, or medi- eval european epic poems we see that the central and common theme of all of them is battle. There are no epics about peace. For basic formal-substantive characteristics of epic as a genre see Mik- hail Bakhtin, “epic and Novel” in The Dialogic Imagination, ed. M. Holquist; trans. C. emerson and M. Holquist (austin 1992).
7 René Welleck, “Literature and its Cognates”, in Dictionary of the History of Ideas, ed. Philip P. Weiner, vol. 3 (NY 1974) 81–89.
Legends of People Myths of State: Violence, Intolerance and Political Culture in Sri Lanka and Australia (Washington 1988).
“Cultures of nationalism” is a concept used by Bruce Kapferer in

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