The University of Wisconsin Press

Slavic Studies / Cultural Studies / History


The Mystifications of a Nation
“The Potato Bug” and Other Essays on Czech Culture
Vladimír Macura
Translated by Hana Píchová and Craig Cravens
Foreword by Caryl Emerson; introduction by Peter Bugge

Writing with wit and irony, Vladimír Macura dissects the culture of Cold War Czechoslovakia

A keen observer of culture, Czech writer Vladimír Macura (1945–99) devoted a lifetime to illuminating the myths that defined his nation. The Mystifications of a Nation, the first book-length translation of Macura’s work in English, offers essays deftly analyzing a variety of cultural phenomena that originate, Macura argues, in the “big bang” of the nineteenth-century Czech National Revival, with its celebration of a uniquely Czech identity.

In reflections on two centuries of Czech history, he ponders the symbolism in daily life. Bridges, for example—once a force of civilization connecting diverse peoples—became a sign of destruction in World War I. Turning to the Soviet and post-Soviet eras, Macura probes a range of richly symbolic practices, from the naming of the Prague metro system, to the mass gymnastic displays of the Communist period, to post–Velvet Revolution preoccupations with the national anthem. In “The Potato Bug,” he muses on one of the stranger moments in the Cold War—the claim that the United States was deliberately dropping insects from airplanes to wreak havoc on the crops of Czechoslovakia.

While attending to the distinctively Czech elements of such phenomena, Macura reveals the larger patterns of Soviet-brand socialism. “We were its cocreators,” he declares, “and its analysis touches us as a scalpel turned on its own body.” Writing with erudition, irony, and wit, Macura turns the scalpel on the authoritarian state around him, demythologizing its mythology.

“In the shadow of Yuri Lotman’s Tartu School, the essays in this book stand out marvelously humorous and small.”
—Caryl Emerson, from the foreword

Vladimír Macura (1945–1999) was a Czech writer, translator, and semiotician. Hana Píchová is associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of The Art of Memory in Exile: Vladimir Nabokov and Milan Kundera. Craig Cravens is Fellow of Czech Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The Culture and Customs of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.


“While the essays in this volume are rather brief, they always present food for thought. Sometimes brilliant and often funny, they should be read, and not only by experts.”
European History Quarterly

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"The Potato Bug" and other essays.

November 2010

LC: 2010011537 DB
150 pp.   6 x 9   6 b/w illus.

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Paper $26.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-24894-9
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“The Macura revered by Czech intellectuals for his irreverent take on their culture’s sacred cows is very much in evidence in this selection of his essays.”
—Michael Henry Heim, University of
California, Los Angeles


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