Lost in Castration

Tomislav Kuzmanović

But what happens when we try our hand at translating a thing such as penis; when we attempt to erect it in a sociocultural context different from its original context? Some expressions contain the word kurac (penis), but they cannot be translated into English without the word being lost. Even when they get translated into English and the word is kept, the whole spectrum of the meanings of the phrase containing it is lost. What gets lost here is crucial for understanding the text at its full and it will be the topic of the ensuing discussion.




Any which way we turn it, a penis is always a penis: its physiognomy and shape are always recognizable. If we catch a glimpse of it in a text, we will very likely browse through it in search of who is missing it and who may have cut it off, who is the castrated and who is the castrator, and what prosthetic device is used to stand in its place and supplement it. We will think about castration, impotence and the anxiety, envy or fear it causes. The manifestations of this thing vary considerably and range from fallen or broken branches, mountains and mounds, rocks, volcanoes, lollipops, ice cream cones, stick shifts, joysticks, and cigars to towers of Babel, ziggurats, Roman and Greek pillars and columns, church towers and bell towers, Eiffel Towers, landmarks and skyscrapers on the skylines of many a modern metropolis. In different languages these representations often carry different meanings. Even within one language the penis has many names and each and every one of them, depending on the context, can have a different meaning.

But what happens when we try our hand at translating a thing such as penis; when we attempt to erect it in a sociocultural context different from its original context? Does it preserve its meanings or do they get completely lost? How many of its meanings can be carried over and how many are lost in the process? What else is lost in the process? What are the supplements, compensations for the loss and finally, given that the perfect translation almost never happens, what are the consequences on the author of the translation? These questions we will attempt to examine in this paper on the example of a chapter from Vlado Bulić’s novel which is literally littered with penises of different shapes and forms. We will also try to establish a connection between the castration that takes place in this chapter, castration that takes place in a broader sociocultural context surrounding the chapter and that is thus mirrored in it. Finally we will discuss the castration that happens in the process of translation and while doing so try to dispute the statement from the first sentence of this introduction and prove that even though its shape and physiognomy are always recognizable, a penis is not always a penis.



Vlado Bulić’s debut novel A Journey to the Heart of the Croatian Dream could be best described as a bildungsroman that follows the life of Denis Lalić from his childhood years, spent in his grandfather’s village far in the Dalmatian hills, where he learns about folk wisdom and reasoning, which will follow him throughout his life and which will later clash against the philosophy and ways of life in the city, to his stepping into the age of Balkan-style capitalism and consumerism far away from his childhood home. The novel paints an ironic picture of Croatia at the turn of the millennium, during the final years of Croatia’s war for independence and subsequent post-war crisis.

The chapter that will be discussed here is entitled The D Complex. It brings an episode from the main character’s student years which he spends in a dormitory, not doing anything. He uses drugs on hourly basis, listens to the radio reporting on the condition of the country’s dying president, and waits. The thing he is waiting for is presumably some kind of change. His closest friends in this part of the novel are two Croatian Romanians, Miha and Martin. Miha is a go-to man in the dormitory and a dealer of everything and anything, while Martin is Miha’s cousin and a seminary student who has been expelled from the seminary because he somewhat misbehaved. Martin is staying with Denis and, despite Martin being a priest, the two of them get along very well. It starts snowing and they, high on drugs and tired of doing nothing, leave their room in order to build a snowman. They want to build a snowman in the shape of the letter D as homage to a page from the Bible they used to roll a joint. The text on that page is from Gospel According to John (In the beginning was the Word/ And the Word was with God) and as they smoke their joint the D of the Word is the last thing they manage to read on it. Given that the construction of the letter D turns out to be an impossible task, they, inspired by Miha’s plan to organize a Viagra party because he happened upon a box of Viagra and couldn’t sell it to anyone, and his inflatable doll which is to become the star of the subsequent party, decide to build a giant snow penis instead. This attracts attention from other students who are living in the dormitory or who are just passing by, and they all join forces to build it. In a christening ceremony led by Martin they baptize the snowman by spilling the yogurt over the snowman and name it Živko. The activity ends up with the appearance of the dormitory’s guard who chases them all away and destroys their sculpture, making a note of their inappropriate behavior on the night the President is dying. During the party at Miha’s Viagra provokes such erection with all of those who take it that they end up in horrible pain in their member. The pain coincides with the announcement of the President’s death.



In order to understand the real meaning of the chapter summarized above as well as the translator’s frustration when engaging in translation of such a text, a couple of phrases need to be further explained. All of these phrases contain the word kurac, which means dick or cock in Croatian. It first appears very early in the chapter and is repeated regularly all over the text. The following two expressions contain the word kurac, but they cannot be translated into English without the word being lost. Even when they get translated into English and the word is kept, the whole spectrum of the meanings of the phrase containing it is lost. What gets lost here is crucial for understanding the text at its full and it will be the topic of the ensuing discussion.

Here are the phrases with their literal meanings as well as other meanings used in the text: a) boli me kurac literally means my dick hurts; it can be translated as I don’t give a damn/a fuck; b) napravit ćemo kurac literaly means we’ll build/make/do a dick; its other meaning in the text can best be rendered as we’ll make*/build/do shit.

We can now observe the key points of the text summarized above and notice that their meaning changes depending on the explanations provided above. The act of building a snowman in the shape of an erected penis gets completely different connotations when we know that the expression napravit ćemo kurac besides literally meaning we will build a dick means we will not build anything/ we will build shit. The thing they are constructing is nothing, it stands for nothing, it is an object apparently worth nothing; and it can thus be read as a result of frustration of the two main characters in the story and author’s commentary on the situation. We will later try to examine the penis and its meaning of nothing, but at this point let’s satisfy ourselves with this linguistic and interpretative analysis of the translation vis-à-vis the original.

Similar play between literal and metaphorical meaning is also visible in the following paragraph from the end of the chapter:

“There’s no giving up…” I kept repeating. I was drunk, stoned, shaking with fever. “You mustn’t give up, Don said…” I was losing it. “Tomorrow you’re fucked, you’ll see… You’re fucked…” I wasn’t giving up. “It’ll snow tomorrow again… you’ll see… Tomorrow, the youth from all over the country will meet again… and they’ll build a bigger, nicer, and even better dick…”[1]


Instead of being a call for a change, the call to come together and build a new structure of the same shape all over again becomes a call for yet another futile attempt at nothing. Even though this nothing is represented by an object, it still stands for nothing.

The other phrase—boli me kurac, literally meaning my dick hurts; figuratively I don’t give a fuck, I don’t give a damn—also falls flat in translation. The chapter ends with a sentence His dick hurt long into the night[2]. It does not only describe Martin’s pain after the Viagra party, but is also the narrator’s commentary on the whole situation. Hence, once again the literal and figurative meanings of the phrase come into play, but unfortunately this play is lost in translation.

As apparent from the examples above, in translation (at least from Croatian into English) we can only preserve one of the meanings of the phrase. The translator is forced to make a choice. Unfortunately the choice he or she has to make is unsatisfactory and it presents a great loss for the readers of the translation and for the understanding the complexity of the work in question. Although there are cases in this particular translation where the transfer from one language into another is successful, something is always lost. In the example below a double meaning of the verb beat is employed. However, in this case a play between literal and metaphorical meaning of the verb is not employed; it just happens that the pulsing of one’s heart and masturbation can, technically at least, be described by one and the same verb. The translator’s frustration and pain, as the last sentence in this example shows, thus only grow bigger.

In this most difficult moment, our Constitution and my destiny oblige me to announce to all the citizens of the Republic of Croatia and all the Croats living outside of the motherland that the great heart of Dr. Franjo Tuđman, statesman and nation-builder, the first president of modern, independent, sovereign, democratic Republic of Croatia, has stopped beating.

“Try to beat it off,” I suggested. “Maybe you’ll get it down.”

“Not…a…chance…” he tried to say. “It hurts…the pain…”[3]



As shown in previous paragraphs a lot depends on the word. But how did it all begin? The Gospel According to John says: In the beginning was the Word/ And the Word was with God. How come then we need translation in order to understand what the text we are reading is trying to communicate? The Bible, which came handy in Bulić’s text, proves itself to be useful here as well. The Story of Babel says the following:


1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. […] 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children builded. 6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth.[4]


From this point on—and let’s, at least for a moment and for the sake of this argument, presume that this is why we have so many languages—the world as it once was ceased to exist. The language once spoken and intelligible to everyone was no more. The people became strangers, scattered all over the world, unable to communicate. Ever since this happened there have been problems in communication across languages, communication without translation was, in most cases, brought down to babble. This is where translation began and where all our problems sprung from. Even the first instance of translation—that of the name of the place where all this happened—causes problems: in Hebrew, the language in which the story was recorded, the name comes from babel, bavel, which means to confuse, to confound. In Akkadian (from which it entered Greek) the name comes from babilu which means the gate of God. It is difficult to imagine how one could get from the babble to the gateway or stairway to that is how one would translate the babble into the gateway to God.

            And this is where things become interesting and where we can begin to draw parallels with the story of the Tower of Babel and Bulić’s chapter. God’s gateway to earth or people’s stairway to heaven in two languages that record its name has completely different meanings—probably depending on who got what from it. Yet when we think about it, it is one and the same object the people were building and that then got destroyed by an intervention from a higher place. If we wanted to take it one step further and allow ourselves to be somewhat mischievous or even blasphemous, we could easily conclude that the ziggurat from the story could be seen as a phallus symbol. In this context, God’s destruction of the tower can be seen as castration, and all attempts at communicating from then on as circular castrations preventing people from establishing the ideal way of communicating. As seen on the example of translation of Bulić’s text, translation also fails i.e. it can also be perceived as a kind of castration.



The notion of castration also makes its way into the broader context of Bulić’s text. The day the events in this chapter take place is December 10, 1999, and it coincides with the death of the first president of the “new” Croatia, Franjo Tuđman. This date also marks the peak of a crisis that began some ten years before with Croatia’s separation from Yugoslavia which resulted in very strong nationalistic sentiments, subsequent war and thousands of victims and refugees. The crisis was also marked by a long process of transition from communist/socialist system to capitalism. In this process Croatian economy was almost completely destroyed therefore resulting in unemployment, uncertainty, and depression. This national insecurity and depression are even further deepened by the accusations from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia whose prosecutors began focusing on Croatian generals and described them as war criminals responsible for ethnic cleansing and other atrocities of war. Tuđman’s death, as said before, represents the climax of the crisis.

Tuđman was perceived by Croats as a father figure. In general, father figure is the figure of power and authority. It is an object of envy and there is always ambition to take its place. It is also an object of identification and when this identification (envy and ambition) is applied to a whole nation, this, of course, results in castration, castration and impotence on every level. Direct consequence of the castration is castrated mentality of the people who in turn, without having such father figure to lead them, become completely impotent. In fact, the loss of the father figure, and numerous penises in the process, results in melancholy[5] and consequently constant, circular castration.

Already castrated, the characters in Bulić’s text are in a constant (even though extremely passive) search for a new penis that could replace the one that they have already lost only to have each and every one of these new penises (or their internal and external supplements) chopped off again and again. This is where their passivity and melancholy come into play because it seems that Bulić’s characters take pleasure from this circular castration. In other words, they feel complete when lacking their castrated penis i.e. they are addicted to castration.

The penis in the society depicted in this novel has a literal meaning (we’ll build a penis) as well as a figurative one (we’ll do nothing). The penis is a thing and not a thing at the same time. But it is not just “‘any [trivial] thing’ […], but a very specific thing, or let us say a specific cultural object that the vertiginous desire has turned into a kind of totem, into the Thing that transforms chaos into cosmos”[6] (Brown, 40). As concluded in paragraphs discussing the double grammar of the two key phrases for Bulić’s chapter, the penis is a central thing for this chapter. In the two phrases whose double meanings we tried to explain, it metaphorically stands for nothing (napravit ćemo kurac besides its literal meaning we'll make a dick means we’ll do nothing, we’ll do shit while boli me kurac means my dick hurts and metaphorically I don’t give a damn, I could care less or even nothing gets to me), while at the same time it is something. And this nothing is an important part of our castration circle. It is nothing that is lacking, it is nothing that is being replaced, and it is nothing that is causing pain and needs to be removed again at all costs. What the castration circles are revolving about is nothing, but this nothing is something and having it causes chaos, not having nothing restores order, cosmos as Bill Brown puts it. And this cosmos, in the given case, is thus a cosmos of melancholy, impotence and inertia; a closed circle of castration which is never round and offers no way out, no penis to hold (because holding it is not the point, not holding it is) but only a melting, disappearing penis to worship and chop off again and again.



Penis supplements could generally be described as objects that temporarily replace penis and offer temporary relief from castration; they help restore the cosmos. There are several penis supplements in Bulić’s text: the Bible (in combination with drugs), the inflatable doll named Belinda, Viagra, and finally the snowman called Živko. These supplements not only momentarily replace the chopped off penis and offer temporary relief from castration, but they are also immediately transformed into something that causes pain and therefore needs to be removed. Paradoxically, although one would expect opposite to happen, the constantly craved and finally acquired (temporarily of course) penis disturbs the cosmos. The very loss of the penis restores the cosmos again. The gain and pain that take place in the process are the very perks of the game: to have a penis is not the point, wanting to have it just to have it chopped off again is what is at stake. Circular castration—the suffering of not having the penis in order to have it in order to not have it again and again—is the craved state.

Martin became a seminary student, training to become a priest, because he wanted to be with his girlfriend who left his Romanian village and went to school to Zagreb. But instead of this story, which just might be true, there is no way of telling, he tells everyone that he ended up in a seminary because of his family’s cow:

“Ok, but what about the cow?” I was losing patience.

“Wait a second! Goddamn! Anyhow, my father, being a true Croat and a Catholic, couldn’t find a job, and my mother was pregnant with me and none of it looked very promising, and then, on top of all that, their cow, the only thing they owned, got sick. It swelled up as if from clover.”

“Bullshit!” I was completely stoned and really getting into the story.

“That’s what my mother told me,” he went on. “And then, since they had no money for the vet, they called in the priest, don Martin. The guy showed up, blessed the cow, and told my father to go to the butcher’s and get the stomach contents of a freshly slaughtered calf, mix it with water, and pour it down the cow’s throat.”


“He did it, poured it down the cow’s throat and then they waited until the next morning, but my mother couldn’t remove herself from the Blessed Virgin’s picture. She vowed that, if the cow got well and she had a son, the son would become a priest.”

I was staring at him as if I were a calf.

“And the fucking cow pulled through!” he went on. “And I am what I am because of that veal shit.” He downed the rest of his Pelinkovac.[7]


Martin definitely owes his name to the story of cow, but he owes his profession to yet another castration. His profession implies celibacy which can be seen as castration. The fact that his girlfriend left him, combined with his profession, represents yet another castration. One of the supplements for his twice lost penis is the Bible. But the Bible is not, as expected, an object where he finds consolation. It is an object that gets transformed into yet another phallus, into yet another penis, into a joint, which will get chopped off in a sadomasochistic act of smoking it. The Bible becomes nothing (through the act of ripping the pages out of it and finally burning it in the phallic shape of a joint) and it replaces another nothing, only to be replaced by another nothing (ironically, what cannabis offers is yet another state of nothingness). It could be concluded that Martin, just as any other character from this chapter, is constantly looking for this nothing and when he finally finds it, paradoxically he again has just another nothing. The same is true for other supplements as well.

The inflatable doll named Belinda is another such supplement for Martin. True, it can be read as a supplement for the girlfriend who left him, but given that the act of her abandoning him can be read as castration, the intercourse with the inflatable doll is seen as a supplement for the penis lost on this occasion. The fact that anyone can have the inflatable doll and that it can just as easily be deflated can be seen as yet another in the circle of castrations, castrations that fills and at the same time empties the hole in Martin’s self. The nothing, the void caused by Martin’s girlfriend leaving him is filled by emptiness (nothingness) of the inflatable doll. It can in turn again offer nothing, and the nothing Martin is seeking is once again there. The circle of castrations removes nothing and replaces it with yet another nothing. Martin is happy to get castrated i.e. to get nothing replaced by nothing, simply to replace it with yet another nothing.

Viagra functions as a penis supplement in the sense that it offers an extreme, prolonged erection to all guests at the Viagra party. It thus replaces the weak, limp penis. After offering temporary ease and pleasure, this supplement again proves to be having castrating substance to it and causes incredible pain to whoever takes it. This can again be read as yet another replacement for the lost penis. The pain caused by erection caused by Viagra needs to disappear through subsequent castration this time in the form of the inability to experience orgasm. In the end, castration, not the craved one replacement, but a never ending succession of replacements restores things to normal again. Once again, Viagra replaces nothing (the limp penis) only to end again in nothing except pain. And this pain needs to be nothing because it is not what it should be. This pain as nothing is replaced again through the inability to ejaculate i.e. experience orgasm. Given that there is no orgasm or macho pride with the long lasting erection that would make even the inflatable doll scream that are supposed to come as a reward, Viagra offers nothing, and this nothing is again something that is necessary to feel complete.

Finally, similar happens with the most evident phallic representation in the story. It is actually the very totemic or zigguratish penis we encountered in the paragraphs above. Denis and Martin want to build it because it turns out that the construction of a snowman in the shape of the letter D as homage to a page from the Bible proves to be an impossible task. If we go back to the explanations of the two key phrases for the chapter we are discussing here, we can see that building a penis means building nothing (even though something is being built). It is thus yet another in the cycle of castrations. The fact that they cannot build their snowman in the shape of the letter D is the initial castration (event though it can be read as yet another is a series of castrations these characters are going through as well as a part of the castration on the national level, a part of their castrated mentality). They try to replace the penis they lost on the occasion by building another snowman, this time in the shape of the penis itself. However, what they are building here proves not only that they are castrated but that everyone who joins them (almost half of the dormitory) is castrated as well. This new golden calf, a new totem, a new ziggurat is being built in the atmosphere of mass hysteria. They know that what they are all building is something forbidden or at least inappropriate given that the President is dying (also a point of mass hysteria, probably with a different index before it), but they all still engage in it. They know that it will be destroyed. But even in case it doesn’t, they know it will eventually melt and disappear.

When the sculptor finished the balls, everything was ready for the grand opening. In the manner of a future priest Don climbed the chair and said, “Živko, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” And spilled the yogurt on the snowy head.

Everyone was in delirium. Twenty-some people gathered around the dick, laughing hysterically, tossing in comments, and the climax were some guys from Trogir who’d seen it from their window. They ran down in their swimming trunks and started taking photos with the two-meter-tall dick.[8]


Therefore, what they are building is nothing and it will end in nothing. What Martin and Denis, together will all the other who join them, are doing is worshiping nothing. Worshiping a penis that will disappear either on its own or more likely through the intervention from some authority. They all simply enjoy being castrated, they simply enjoy the process of having the penis to lose, they enjoy the cycles of castration and the reason for that pleasure probably comes from the fact that what they are gaining and losing is always nothing. They have nothing, they do nothing, and no matter how many times someone takes this nothing from them, their nothing will always be there. And this is probably the biggest paradox of the chapter examined here, even though they only have nothing, this nothing is still something enough for someone to take it from them. The result of this state is the castration on all levels, the joy of being castrated, melancholy and inertia at all levels of society depicted in this chapter.



Penis supplements also serve as commodities of exchange i.e. goods of value worth having. Although they are nothing and are worth nothing, they are still objects worth having in the sense that they keep the cycle of castrations going. As we concluded above, the possession of nothing in order to become deprived of it through the process of repeated castration is the very name of the game. The penis supplements trade is something that keeps things in order; keeps the cosmos from turning into chaos. Thus, everyone wants to possess it, and they do possess it one way or another. The Bible, owned by everyone in the dormitory (Each room got a copy when the students moved in. Together with the linen.[9]), as said before, instead of being an object of lasting spiritual comfort and guidance, is brought down to something little better than nothing, a mere paper used to roll one’s joint which will consequently burn and thus really become nothing. The word of God has also become nothing, it has evaporated from the Bible, in fact, it has burned (Don, your God’s all burned up, the Word’s almost gone too, ‘D’ is catching on fire.[10]). Therefore, the Holy Book has become an object worth nothing, but it is at the same time worth possessing, simply because it may came handy when one finds himself lacking a penis to castrate. Viagra, on the other hand, proves to be a new type of the commodity. In this new world, anything can be traded, everything has its market value, and even a male enhancement drug can be sold to a pack of sex-starved adolescents (Where the hell did you get Viagra? Some guy owed me money so he gave it to me. […] You’re in a fucking dorm, you should be dealing something against a fucking hard on.[11]). It is also another trade with nothing (given that they are all more or less healthy and young they do not need Viagra, except as a compensation for their lost penis) in order to get nothing out of the trade in the end. The inflatable doll may offer physical pleasure and relief, but it is also everybody’s darling, anyone can have it, and the time of having it is limited to fifteen minutes only. So here the nothing that has become the most prized possession even has a time limit on it. This definitely proves it to be the something everyone wants to possess. In addition, it is not real, it cannot scream, it is cold, its skin smells of everyone, it offers only pain and in the end it will deflate and disappear just as everything in this chapter disappears the moment one lays one’s hand on it thus replacing nothing with yet another nothing and closing the castration cycle once again only to offer pleasure of being castrated i.e. deprived of nothing. The snow penis is as we said before just another nothing shaped as a phallus whose lack everyone worships. Being able to touch it, celebrate and worship it, and it standing for nothing, simply speaks for itself.

However, what is most interesting here is that one character in the chapter somehow always manages to stay outside of the trade. It would be wrong to say that he is not affected by it, but he always manages to stay clear of it. If we went back to the plot, we could easily conclude that everything indicates toward Miha. Not only is he a go-to man in the dormitory complex and a dealer; he is a man with a vision, a man living his vision and all he is looking for is to become even more successful at it. But it seems that this would be a mistake. Here is what the author tells us about Miha:

That was Miha. A man with a vision and one of the few from that bunch who never even considered going back. He could arrange everything in the dormitory—from pot or job position to a room or a roommate. He knew all the cleaning ladies, guards, receptionists, the secretary, the director, and he was on first name basis with all of them. The guy turned dorm life into a business and made enough money to leave it all behind and begin what people call a normal life, but that didn’t interest him. He’d say he was too young, but even the oldest students didn’t know how long he’d been there.[12]


From this it could be concluded that Miha is actually the one who is taking most pleasure in the constant castration. He has easy access to all the goods that keep the castration going and although he could put a stop to the cycle he doesn’t simply because he enjoys it so much. His position is the position of a delivery service—he is simply a middleman. Ironically, it seems that this middleman’s position is the ideal position all of the characters in the story would like to find themselves in. They are not interested in changing their status and advancing to something better, replacing the father figure, acquiring a permanent penis, or even accepting the fact that they do not have one, they just want to get the most out of the situation they are in, and the middleman’s position is exactly that. After all, it is castration that makes them happy, that keeps them going.

            The only other possibility is the narrator (Denis Lalić). Every other character in the story has a vision, every other character has something he (all characters in the chapter besides the inflatable doll named Belinda are male) craves to be taken away from him. It is again a sadomasochistic cycle of constant self-punishment and enjoyment that comes from this punishment.


Everyone in the dorm was waiting for something—the next exam, next semester, diploma, job, wife, money… That’s what all the visions came down to.

Visions are like pot, they make waiting easier. I never had them. Maybe because I had pot. Maybe because when I’d light the joint and look at the ceiling, there were no visions but images alternating like a slideshow picking up speed. When it would pick up enough speed, it seemed that the people in the pictures were moving, coming down from the ceiling and taking a stroll around the room…[13]


The narrator does not have any visions, because he has pot. He does nothing because he has nothing and this nothing is what he wanted and he doesn’t fight against it. One nothing is enough for him. The succession of nothings (castrations), as said before, offers nothing new but a never ending circle of nothing. The pot immunizes him from castration and he is thus the only permanently castrated character in the chapter. However, he is also a part of the castrated nation, the nation that has nothing to win, but is afraid of losing the nothing it has; his mentality is thus the mentality of the castrated. His penis and its supplements have been chopped off so many times that even castration, no matter how many times it occurs in a row, does not offer him satisfaction. Instead, he finds satisfaction in observing and meticulously recording every instance of castration he provokes or witnesses. He is so numb that he cannot even engage in the castration cycle. Instead he takes pleasure in watching and recording. His voyeurism is his addiction (not unlike the pot he constantly smokes); this is where he finds the pleasure of castration. His addiction is watching other get castrated over and over again. He is impotent and he accepts impotence as a condition. He is the ultimate castrato—the one who accepts it—but he cannot stand aside completely; he needs to engage in it, however passively.



The two phrases we discussed at the beginning of this paper make it more than evident that we cannot always translate a penis as a penis and from this we can conclude that a penis is not always a penis. Sometimes we have to replace it with an objects or objects that do not mirror its shape or physiognomy and do not carry all of its meanings. This replacement is definitely a loss, not only for the readers who are deprived of the work’s complexity but also for the translator. The readers are thus perhaps castrated, just as the translator is. The readers’ castration happens because of the translation and all it takes for it to go away is to learn yet another foreign language; and this does not seem such an impossible task. The translator’s castration, on the other hand, began long time ago. Translation without loss is impossible. As an activity it is doomed to failure i.e. castration from its very origin; it all began with the destruction of the Tower of Babel and has been repeating in cycles ever since.

In addition, we have also seen that a penis is not always just a penis and it can have many supplements, many objects that reflect a broader sociocultural context surrounding the text we find it in. A lot can be read in the penis and its supplements. They cause castration and anxiety not only on the level of the novel i.e. chapter discussed here, but on a much broader and more encompassing level. They are also objects of trade, most precious possessions that need to be had in order to maintain the order.

Finally, we could say that the reading presented in the paragraphs above is just one of many possible. And this impossibility to come up with one, definitive reading can be seen as yet another castration. Moreover, any subsequent reading will definitely lack something of the previous one. And therefore castration repeats in cycles and leaves us permanently searching for a penis. Nevertheless, we take pleasure in this search, and the numerous castrations and cycles of castration, even though sometimes painful, offer us pleasure and satisfaction. And after all, this is what we are after, aren’t we?




1.      Emily Apter, The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature, Princeton University Press, 2006

2.      Bill Brown, “The Idea of Things and Things in Them,” in A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature, University of Chicago Press, 2003

3.      Marjorie Levinson’s “Object-loss and Object-bondage: Economies of Representation in Hardy’s Poetry”, ELH 73 (2006), The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006

4.      Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan (ed.), Literary Theory: An Anthology, (Second Edition), Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004


[1] Vlado Bulić, “The D Complex,” in A Journey to the Heart of the Croatian Dream. Trans. Tomislav Kuzmanović. Unpublished. 16.


[2] Bulić, “The D Complex,” 2.

[3] Bulić, “The D Complex,” 1

[4] Genesis 11-1 9 1, Blue Letter Bible. King James Version, available from kjv/Gen/Gen011.html. December 10, 2006.

[5] Adam Bradford’s in-class report on Marjorie Levinson’s “Object-loss and Object-bondage: Economies of Representation in Hardy’s Poetry”, ELH 73 (2006) 549-580, The Johns Hopkins University Press; class notes. Melancholia occurs when the affect generated by losing an object cannot be transmuted, and is characterized by a continued feeling of loss that cannot be transmuted through a normal process of mourning. This usually occurs because we have incorporated into our own ego some portion of the thing we have lost, such that our ego is now constituted in part by that object and its loss is felt as a loss of ego—a loss of self.

[6] Bill Brown, “The Idea of Things and Things in Them,” in A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature, University of Chicago Press, 2003

[7] Bulić, “The D Complex,” 9

[8] Bulić, “The D Complex,” 13

[9] Bulić, “The D Complex,” 6

[10] Bulić, “The D Complex,” 6

[11] Bulić, “The D Complex,” 4

[12] Bulić, “The D Complex,” 3

[13] Bulić, “The D Complex,” 2



Rebecca Duran's Take on Modern Day Life in Pazin (Istria)

Croatia is a small, charming country known today as a prime European tourist destination. However, it has a complicated often turbulent history and is seemingly always destined to be at the crossroads of empires, religions and worldviews, with its current identity and culture incorporating elements from its former Communist, Slavic, Austrian-Hungarian, Catholic, Mediterranean, and European traditions.


Review of Dubravka Ugrešić's Age of Skin

Dubravka Ugrešić is one of the most internationally recognizable writers from Croatia, but she has a contentious relationship with her home country, having gone into self-exile in the early 90s. Her recently translated collection of essays, The Age of Skin, touches on topics of of exile and displacement, among others. Read a review of Ugrešić’s latest work of non-fiction, expertly translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac, in the link below .


Vlaho Bukovac Exhibition in Zagreb Will Run Through May

Vlaho Bukovac (1855-1922) is arguably Croatia's most renowned painter. Born in the south in Cavtat, he spent some of his most impressionable teenage years in New York with his uncle and his first career was as a sailor, but he soon gave that up due to injury. He went on to receive an education in the fine arts in Paris and began his artistic career there. He lived at various times in New York, San Francisco, Peru, Paris, Cavtat, Zagreb and Prague. His painting style could be classified as Impressionism which incorporated various techniques such as pointilism.

An exhibition dedicated to the works of Vlaho Bukovac will be running in Klovićevi dvori Gallery in Gornji Grad, Zagreb through May 22nd, 2022.


Review of Neva Lukić's Endless Endings

Read a review of Neva Lukić's collection of short stories, Endless Endings, recently translated into English, in World Literature Today.


A Guide to Zagreb's Street Art

Zagreb has its fair share of graffiti, often startling passersby when it pops up on say a crumbling fortress wall in the historical center of the city. Along with some well-known street murals are the legendary street artists themselves. Check out the article below for a definitive guide to Zagreb's best street art.


Beloved Croatian Children's Show Professor Balthazar Now Available in English on YouTube

The colorful, eclectic and much beloved Croatian children's cartoon Professor Balthazar was created by Zlatko Grgić and produced from the late 1960s through the 1970s. Now newer generations will be able to enjoy the Professor's magic, whether they speak Croatian or English.


New Book on Croatian Football Legend Robert Prosinečki

Robert Prosinečki's long and fabled football career includes winning third place in the 1998 World Cup as part of the Croatian national team, stints in Real Madrid and FC Barcelona as well as managerial roles for the Croatian national team, Red Star Belgrade, the Azerbaijani national team and the Bosnian Hercegovinian national team.


Sandorf Publishing House Launches American Branch

Croatian publishing house Sandorf launched their American branch called Sandorf Passage earlier this year.


Jonathan Bousfield on the Seedy Side of the Seaside

From strange tales of mysterious murders to suspected criminals hiding out to scams, duels and gambling, Opatija, a favourite seaside escape for Central Europeans at the turn of the last century, routinely filled Austrian headlines and the public's imagination in the early 20th century.


Review of new English translation of Grigor Vitez's AntonTon

Hailed as the father of 20th century Croatian children's literature, Grigor Vitez (1911-1966) is well known and loved in his homeland. With a new English translation of one of his classic tales AntonTon (AntunTun in Croatian), children around the world can now experience the author's delightful depiction of the strong-minded and silly AntonTon. The Grigor Vitez Award is an annual prize given to the best Croatian children's book of the year.


The Best of New Eastern European Literature

Have an overabundance of free time, thanks to the pandemic and lockdowns? Yearning to travel but unable to do so safely? Discover the rhythm of life and thought in multiple Eastern European countries through exciting new literature translated into English. From war-torn Ukraine to tales from Gulag inmates to the search for identity by Eastern Europeans driven away from their home countries because of the economic or political situations but still drawn back to their cultural hearths, this list offers many new worlds to explore.


More Zagreb Street Art

Explore TimeOut's gallery of fascinating and at times thought-provoking art in the great open air gallery of the streets of Zagreb.


Welcome to Zagreb's Hangover Museum

Partied too hard last night? Drop by Zagreb's Hangover Museum to feel more normal. People share their craziest hangover stories and visitors can even try on beer goggles to experience how the world looks like through drunken eyes.


Jonathan Bousfield on the Future as Imagined in 1960s Socialist Yugoslavia

How will the futuristic world of 2060 look? How far will technology have advanced, and how will those advancements affect how we live our everyday lives? These are the questions the Zagreb-based magazine Globus asked in a series of articles in 1960, when conceptualizing what advancements society would make 40 years in the future, the then far-off year of 2000. The articles used fantastical predictions about the future to highlight the technological advancements already made by the then socialist Yugoslavia. Take a trip with guide, Jonathan Bousfield, back to the future as envisioned by journalists in 1960s Yugoslavia.


Untranslatable Croatian Phrases

What’s the best way for an open-minded foreigner to get straight to the heart of another culture and get a feel for what makes people tick? Don’t just sample the local food and drink and see the major sights, perk up your ears and listen. There’s nothing that gives away the local flavor of a culture more than the common phrases people use, especially ones that have no direct translation.

Check out a quirky list of untranslatable Croatian phrases from Croatian cultural guide extraordinaire, Andrea Pisac, in the link below:


Jonathon Bousfield on the Museum of Broken Relationships

Just got out of a serious relationship and don't know what to do with all those keepsakes and mementos of your former loved one? The very popular and probably most unique museum in Zagreb, the Museum of Broken Relationships, dedicated to preserving keepsakes alongside the diverse stories of relationships gone wrong, will gladly take them. Find out how the museum got started and take an in-depth look at some of its quirkiest pieces in the link below.


Cool Things To Do in Zagreb

Zagreb is Croatia’s relaxed, charming and pedestrian-friendly capital. Check out Time Out’s definitive Zagreb guide for a diverse set of options of what to explore in the city from unusual museums to legendary flea markets and everything in between.


Jonathan Bousfield on Diocletian's Legacy in Split

Diocletian’s Palace is the main attraction in Split, the heart and soul of the city. Because of the palace, Split’s city center can be described as a living museum and it draws in the thousands of tourists that visit the city annually. But how much do we really know about the palace’s namesake who built it, the last ruler of a receding empire? Jonathan Bousfield contends that history only gives us a partial answer.


The Poetry of Zagreb

Cities have served as sources of inspiration, frustration, and discovery for millennia. The subject of sonnets, stories, plays, the power centers of entire cultures, hotbeds of innovation, and the cause of wars, cities are mainstays of the present and the future with millions more people flocking to them every year.

Let the poet, Zagreb native Tomica Bajsić, take you on a lyrical tour of the city. Walk the streets conjured by his graceful words and take in the gentle beauty of the Zagreb of his childhood memories and present day observation.


You Haven't Experienced Zagreb if You Haven't Been to the Dolac Market

Dolac, the main city market, is a Zagreb institution. Selling all the fresh ingredients you need to whip up a fabulous dinner, from fruits and vegetables to fish, meat and homemade cheese and sausages, the sellers come from all over Croatia. Positioned right above the main square, the colorful market is a beacon of a simpler way of life and is just as bustling as it was a century ago.


Croatian Phrases Translated into English

Do you find phrases and sayings give personality and flair to a language? Have you ever pondered how the culture and history of a place shape the common phrases? Check out some common sayings in Croatian with their literal translations and actual meanings below.


Discover Croatia's Archaeological Secrets

Discover Croatia’s rich archaeological secrets, from the well known ancient Roman city of Salona near Split or the Neanderthal museum in Krapina to the often overlooked Andautonia Archaeological Park, just outside of Zagreb, which boasts the excavated ruins of a Roman town or the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe, Vinkovci.


Croatian Sites on UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List

A little know fact is that Croatia, together with Spain, have the most cultural and historical heritage under the protection of UNESCO, and Croatia has the highest number of UNESCO intangible goods of any European country.


Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb

The National Theater in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, is one of those things which always finds its way to every visitor’s busy schedule.


Zagreb's Street Art

So you're visiting Zagreb and are curious about it's underground art scene? Check out this guide to Zagreb's street art and explore all the best graffiti artists' work for yourself on your next walk through the city.


Zagreb Festivals and Cultural Events

Numerous festivals, shows and exhibitions are held annually in Zagreb. Search our what's on guide to arts & entertainment.

Authors' pages

Književna Republika Relations PRAVOnaPROFESIJU LitLink mk zg