Bugarski, Ranko – A Travel Guide through Memory

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A Travel Guide Through Memory

Publication date 2014. 272 pages.

Price: 700 din.




Dr Ranko Bugarski, a professor at the Faculty of Philology of the University of Belgrade, has published a large number of works in English studies, general and applied linguistics and sociolinguistics. This publisher has released his works Linguistics and People (1975, 1983), Language in Society (1986), Language From Peace to War (1995), Faces of Language – Sociolinguistic Themes (2001, 2002), New Faces of Language – Sociolinguistic Themes (2002, 2009), Jargon – A Sociolinguistic Study (2003, 2006), Language and Culture (2005), Europe in Language (2009), Language and Identity (2010), Portrait of a Language (2012) and Sarmageddon in Mesopotamia – A Lexical Game of Hide and Seek (2013). He has taught at many international universities. He was vice president of the International Association for Applied Linguistics (Association Internationale de Linguistique Appliquée) and president of the European Linguistic Society (Societas Linguistica Europaea). He is a member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts (Salzburg) and an expert consultant to the Council of Europe for regional and minority languages (Strasbourg). Three collections of essays have been published in his honour: History and Perspectives of Language Study – Papers in Honor of Ranko Bugarski (Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2000), Jezik, društvo, saznanje – Profesoru Ranku Bugarskom od njegovih studenata [Language, Culture, Knowledge – To Professor Ranko Bugarski From His Students] (Beograd: Filološki fakultet, 2003) and Jezik u upotrebi [Language in Use] (Novi Sad: Društvo za primenjenu lingvistiku Srbije, 2011).




A person who has lived long enough may at some point feel a certain need to commit something of what he has experienced to paper, so as to leave some trace; in contrast with memoirs written for a purpose or autobiographies, the texts that come to life in this way are not directed to anybody in particular, and do not necessarily arise from the intention that they be published in the form of a book. This was the case with me: in the summer of 2012, during a pause between two more serious jobs, I began to rummage through my memories and pulled out the laptop to write down some of the things that I found there, that could eventually be assembled into a totality that I had barely glimpsed the outlines of in the beginning.

Of course, right from the beginning it was clear that the most serious issue was making a selction. I immediately decided that this would not be a scholarly biography, except occasionally and in a few details; after all, much of that material is already covered in the appropriate parts of my books Language and Identity (2010) and Portrait of a Language (2012), in the introductory text of the collection Language in Use (2011) dedicated to me, and in the bibliograohy of my Collected Works (8th edtion, 2013). I have also, except for a short treatment of the most important events, excluded my private life – emotional connections, marriage, fanily and other purely personal things which are not necessarily of interest to anybody.

What was left after these cuts? A kaleidoscope of assorted interesting events and experiences from my long life and rich experience, which bears witness to the various times, customs and people that I have known. They are presented selectively and mostly unsystematically, through several pictures offered through a combination of rough chronological and thematic order, but with a good deal of digression and overlap, both internally and with parts of the books from 2010 and 2012, although simple repetition is avoided.  These three works are, in a word, complementary; each can be read independently of the others, but for a complete picture it would be best to consult all three. From the above description it is clear that this is not a book about linguistics, although from the choice and treatment of themes it is clear that it was written by a linguist.

The general character of these sketches could best be described as autobiography or memoir, with meaningful elements of travel writing. The title itself has an intentional double meaning, indicating on the one hand a metahoric trip through memory, while on the other hand this travel unfolds in large measure without reference to written records or other material reminders, revealing how a chronicler who never kept a diary in his life remembers events from before many years or even decades. His memories were revived, in a few instances during the course of writing, by the discovery of some more or less coincidentally preserved document or letter, notes taken along the way, maps, postcards or photographs, tourist guides or souvenirs, and the reconstruction of long-ago travels was made easier by looking at visas and stamps in old passports.

The pages that follow contain notes on travels from student days and afterward, on passports and visas, airplanes and airports, trains and buses, hotels, restaurants and pubs, food and drink, bookstores and monuments …. they also include the author’s reminiscences on the experience of life in Sarajevo during the Second World War and in school, a bizarre conversation with a young Bobby Fischer, life in London and New York, an unplanned visit to the grave of Marilyn Monroe in Los Angeles, Indian reservations in Arizona and New Mexico, gambling in Las Vegas and Dixieland jazz in New Orleans …. there are remembrances of why alcohol and Coca-Cola are the favourite drinks of Norwegian whale hunters, of unusual dreams and Swedish unisex toilets, of the magic of numbers and ironing shirts, of the possibility to predict wars electronically, of the ethnopsychology of Germans and the character of Basque nationalism, of identity and the primitive mentality, of the Tuesday Academy in Belgrade and the fate of Yugoslavia, of European institutions, of the commercialisation of academic publishing, and of many other things. Less pleasant topics are not passed over, like the author’s moderately dissident activity in Serbia in the 1990s and their extended consequences, as well as the NATO bombing and some more recent events.

Although it is fragmentary and far from a complete autobiography, a memoir conceived and constructed in this way might be interesting to various groups of readers, offering them interesting (and sometimes, I hope, entertaining) insight into some more or less unusual adventures in which I have been a witness or participant; maybe readers will also be interested or entertained by the frequent digressions, associations and general reflections. A panorama conceived in this way means that in some parts events and people are mentioned because they are important for that episode, while the book may pass over, or mention only incidentally, events and people who are otherwise, generally considered, much more important in my life and experience. In other words, the question of who or what is included or left out of the book, which is legitimate in the case of a complete autobiography, is better left unasked in this case.

The first part of the book, which is also the largest, is divided into 250 continuously numbered small sections, grouped into seven chapters; except for a few additions made later, it was finished in the spring of 2013, not long after the author’s eightieth birthday, which seemed like an appropriate measuring point from which to look at the path that had been crossed. The second part of the book, written duting the following year, contains three chapters: the first presents the author’s memories of outstanding linguists, the second is an additional text to the consideration of greengage in last year’s book Sarmageddon in Mesopotamia, and the third is a continuation of my ongoing bibliography on sociolinguistics in Serbia (this time for the period 2012 to 2014, with additions for earlier years).


Belgrade, July 2014