Marcell Hajdu (Weimar): Attempts at Freezing the Danube: To Arrest the Flow of Differences

The view of the Danube marks Budapest on the global map of cities. The river separates and at the same time holds together Buda and Pest. It is the core of the city. It, nevertheless, is not really a part of it. With the Parliament and the Royal Palace on its two shores the Danube serves as the symbolic centre of the entire Hungarian nation. Buda and Pest, facing each other above the river in between, anchor the imagined community in physical form. The riverbanks hold historical traces of the city’s and the nation’s development.

The city, the national community and their history all appear as stable, bounded objects. In reality, however, they are criss-crossed by lines of exclusion which are constantly challenged and re-negotiated. In my contribution, I render the Danube’s constant flow as the representation of political identities’ dynamic character. The river’s liquid materiality contrasts the space of the city by pointing towards the contingency of social forms; the Danube shapes Hungary’s position in a system of nations, and gives material form to its inner divisions as well.

I take my departure from an assertion made by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe in their seminal book Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. “Any discourse is constituted as an attempt to dominate the field of discursivity, to arrest the flow of differences, to construct a centre.” While the flow of the Danube can of course not literally be frozen at will, isn’t it the aim of any hegemonic political actor to freeze the centre of the nation in a state that represents society, history and the capital city in such a way that reproduces their hegemonic position?

Shifting the Danube’s meaning from simply being the geographical centre of Hungarian society to a representation of society’s groundlessness does not only enable me to reflect on the interrelated and contingent nature of the concepts of society, history and city, but also to explore how post-foundational theory can be connected with an empirical methodology.