20 / 2004
Irena Avsenik Nabergoj


When following Cankar’s art in his three creative periods, from the pre-Vienna period (1891/1892-1899) through Vienna years (1899-1909) to the last, Ljubljana period (1909-1918) we see it was the time of his living abroad that marked him most. In his numerous “Vienna works”, distress because of eradication from the homeland connected with severe critique of its mental and cultural state and moral disintegration can be sensed.

There were several reasons for Cankar’s leaving for Vienna. Among principal were the “loss of home” after his mother’s death (1897), a negative reception of his first collection of poems Erotika (1899), his wish to study and for a closer contact with modern European literature, and disappointment over Slovene culture, which was not mature enough for genuine art. Cankar understood genuine art as art that has ethic goals and seeks uncompromisingly in the unjust world some deeper truth. Only art oriented toward the superlative can help the weak human in his search for deliverance from inevitable quilt and evil, in consolation of contradictions of the restless human nature, and at the same time reason ones’ suffering with faith in eternal ruling of the Truth and Beauty in the next world.

We find in Cankar’s works of the Vienna period that are about homeland and the writer’s relation toward it, his relief because abroad he was able to create modern literature independently and unburdened by the European model, and on the other hand, a passive protest against the homeland that did not recognize him, and its double morality. The very uneasiness of foreign land, sensation of isolation, superfluity, eradication, estrangement, self-denial, suffering and nostalgia influenced Cankar to create in his Vienna years the majority of his best works. Through strongly psychologically marked third-person fables, novels and dramas he frequently reveals his own estrangement in the world from which he cannot escape, and tries to overcome his weakness with spirituality. The repeating of St. Florian motive in his Vienna years in which Cankar appears as an exiled artist abroad who is longing for his homeland despite his awareness of its double morality, witness on the writer’s distress because of the sensation of not being accepted. Frequent cynicism found in his moral critique is hiding his wounded idealism. Because Cankar could not assert himself in society, he often resorted to defiance, denial and bitter tearing of himself. Cankar’s personal bitterness did not change into hatred of human beings and human civilisation; it reveals the writers’ deep human hurting. Numerous Cankar’s stories and dramas of the Vienna years thus bring with autobiographic elements the figure of an idealistic educated person or artist who does not want to conform to officially recognised patterns and ideals but wants his life arranged by his own ideals. Nevertheless, abroad Cankar frequently wrote that he did not hate the homeland he was accusing of rejecting and blemishing him, but that he loved it.

Soon after his arrival in Ottakring, the workers’ suburb of Vienna Cankar realized Vienna was not a “promised land” for him and that he would always remain a stranger there. His dark sensations at the recognition about non-realizable high juvenile artistic ideas and the deafness of the world for him and his artistic endeavours were deepened by loneliness and at times intensified to the thought of death. Cankar finally rescued himself from extreme existential distress with spirituality, which brought him back home. After his return to the homeland, Cankar wrote many autobiographic works. The foreign parts experience marked those works with increasing religiousness and search of reconciliation with himself, his deceased mother, fellow human in distress of wartime, and with God.