Read Karaoke Culture by Dubravka Ugrešić Free Online
Book Title: Karaoke Culture|
The author of the book: Dubravka Ugrešić
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 21.98 MB
City - Country: No data
Edition: Open Letter
Date of issue: October 25th 2011
ISBN 13: 9781934824597
Loaded: 1931 times
Reader ratings: 4.7
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Ugrešić's few essays on former-Yugoslav literature in its context are engrossing, but too much of the other material here was mediocre. These weren't the sort of pieces that, based on the author's formidable reputation, I'd variously looked forward to reading, or assumed to be intimidating.
In the past few weeks I've run into or read several discussions about contemporary essayists, so it's little surprise to me that I started reading one - a recommendation received a while ago, which I'd prematurely passed on to another friend before actually reading her work myself. (A bad habit of mine.) Within the first few pages, I realised that these days, I have very specific requirements for an essayist I'm going to like. And not an awful lot of writers are going to fill those.
The internet is stuffed with polemic. Perhaps I now feel no need for published books that add to the cacophony of rants, unless they're exceptionally well-written, say something one doesn't see every day, and which I more or less agree with.
Things I want from a [professional] essayist.
- Time taken to marshal referenced evidence and carefully construct arguments and think in a way that participants in an online bunfight don't have the time and wherewithal to do.
- The ability to see both sides. The other day I randomly opened Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others; there was just over a page about Georges Bataille keeping a photograph on his desk of a Chinese person being tortured; the writing was perfectly pitched, never losing sight of the horror or of intellectual freedom (with a hint of discomfort that did not detract from the essential detachment, but which gave the impression that if one said drily, "...though I don't think he's someone I'd have wanted to be close to", she'd agree).
- An understanding of complexity and the coexistence of conditions which do not fit one-note polarised arguments - it's more important than ever now to have this, yet it is being lost as too many public intellectuals, even older ones, allow themselves to be swept up in shrill arguments on Twitter and trends in internet politics (too many younger ones come out of that scene in the first place). We need people who can stand above and aside from all that.
- Wisdom, not hysteria: someone who has processed and thought through and come to terms with and integrated difficult events. Or at the very least understands that this is the best destination and tries for it.
- An awareness of opinions as products of personal experience in themselves and others.
- Excellent writing and wit: phrases that encapsulate something perfectly in a way I never could have. Makes my brain fizz. For this, I love Will Self's non-fiction pieces as much as the average Guardian below-the-line commenter hates them.
I suspect I have an imaginary template for an 'ideal essayist' or 'ideal book of essays' - the hope that there is a non-fiction equivalent of Darkmans by Nicola Barker, which, when I read it in 2007, felt like someone had put just about every theme and type of character I'd want to put in a novel, in one, and then added a bunch of extra magic I never would have been able to. I could put my feet up, secure in the knowledge that it had been said. (The character of Rachel Briefman in Siri Hustvedt's 2014 novel The Blazing World has also become a beacon to me re. many of my views on current Western feminism. Not only has someone finally said it, someone with the audience and the credentials, but via a character who's calm and wise about exactly the same things that at times make me angry, which helps in a whole lot of ways.) Anyway, I'm not much of a fiction writer and I've known that for most of my adult life: it's essays, more than any other cultural product, that give my gyp in the 'coulda been a contender' chip on my shoulder.
Oh, and great essayists can make something entirely coherent and seamless, hardly ever having to resort publicly to bullet points and jumpy chapter-by-chapter summaries to half-order their thoughts. This is the bit where a half-decent piece of writing turns messy.
Not only because I didn't read Karaoke Culture in the order it's printed.
2)Buy the Jellyfish that Stung You
Cool and striking title at least - it refers to an enterprising little tyke in an Adriatic seaside resort, who was trying to sell jars of jellyfish to tourists as souvenirs. This section features a lot of short, newspaper-column style pieces of just the sort I don't want to read in essay collections. Haven't been able to find out if they were first written for a particular publication. Most contain several points that I wanted a lot of elaboration on. Many of them skip around and lack focus. It's a bit mean-spirited at times (a statement it's impossible to make without being so oneself...). I wouldn't, in print, compare the appearance of the best hairdresser I'd found in years to a walrus, even in an affectionate way, and expect her to have anything to do with me ever again. And I don't doubt that there are some gold-digging Filipinas in Hong Kong, but there must be a slightly more compassionate way of writing about them than what's here. 'My ear the Chauvinist, My Eye the Misanthrope' went a little way to bringing some self-awareness to it (I especially like the second phrase and want to adopt & slightly modify it; it has potential to create a Buddhist-style detachment from instinctual/kneejerk aesthetic judgements) - but there wasn't as much as insight as one might hope, and it didn't carry over to the other pieces. Still, there were a few brain-fizz moments, and interesting insights about Croatia.
Most of them negative, though - she rarely has a good word to say about the place. One of its chief offences appears to be lionising criminals. In the last few months, I've binge-watched a lot of Scandinavian detective series. Former Yugoslavia is where you get your dodgy bouncer types, big stupid hench-lumps of muscle. I was hoping to hear another side to the region to counter the accumulating stereotype. But it turns out Ugrešić is the wrong writer for that, just like you're not going to get very far by asking someone who's never recovered from an awful time growing up in Essex, bullied by tackily-dressed louts, to debunk TOWIE.
An essay by one of the translators about his study and travel experiences, and a minor hommage to Ugrešić ... there's nothing really wrong with it, but I wasn't quite sure why it was there. *shrug*
3) Without Anaesthesia
Named after an Andrzej Wajda film: when talking to Polish writer Ryszard Kapuściński, she used it to describe her experience of fleeing Yugoslavia, and it turned out the main character was based on him. Oops.
She does this kind of confessional-with-a-point, and with a cultural angle, not just blurting everything like some. There are 3 longer essays here; the first two are still somewhat bitty, though the second eventually hits a stride on the subject of Radovan Karadžić and his legacy - at time of writing he'd just been captured.
'A Question of Perspective', the third, is one of the most memorable in the book. Old wounds are opened when Ugrešić routinely opens a newspaper website and is ambushed by an interview with an aged Croatian professor, with a headline mentioning her. She tells how, at the beginning of the former-Yugoslav wars she was discredited and ostracised by colleagues for anti-nationalism and anti-war opinions, and how the media vilified her and a number of other Croatian female intellectuals, including Slavenka Drakulić, as enemies of Croatia, 'witches', lovers of Serbs and other trumped-up charges. She moved to Amsterdam in 1992 to escape this. A notable remark from a former colleague states, but we protected you - you weren't killed. Which gives some small indication of what it was like: if you were mean to someone who disagreed with you, but not violent, that in the tenor of the times felt pretty decent. The events happened fifteen years before she wrote the piece, but she's still very shaken; she isn't at a point where she's able to consider that sort of idea, only record the quote. I would hazard a guess that she hasn't done therapy about this or didn't find anything good... She examines the 'witch' idea not through detached, brief, historical examples; you can feel the unresolved trauma in the discourse more than ever as she goes into great detail about witchhunts against old women and children in contemporary rural Africa and India, the punishments and tortures meted out to the accused, and then uses these as metaphors for what she and the other writers experienced.
I routinely nap whilst reading, but very rarely [recall a] dream about the current book: this essay, though, had been vivid and I was either her or someone like her, utterly exhausted by all these detractors and bleak, empty university corridors and rooms, dazed, sweating - perhaps it had stuck because I thought I might have started a row online by saying the wrong thing.
4) The Cookie that Made a Frenchman Famous
Proust's Madeleine, yah?
Of these four, the two middle essays are absolutely excellent, both about Croatian and former-Yugoslav literature, using it as ways to explore the history and culture of the region. The tight structure and coherence also throw into even greater relief 'A Question of Perspective'; how different the discourse is on her most comfortable territory. Topics in these two great pieces include various communist and post-communist era perspectives on the place politics of in art and literature and a drily witty survey of turn of the (19th-20th) century Croatian novels about young outsider-artist chaps. That was the time under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the cool places to go for art and study were Vienna and Prague ... When reading about another place and time, I love that sound of hinges and cogs as the world changes shape and acquires a new centre.
1) Karaoke Culture
A long piece divided into ten parts: karaoke as a metaphor for the 'here comes everybody' participatory culture of the internet. The author, who's pretty much addicted to the internet, considers the internet destructive of culture, and comes round to it a bit near the end, which is something we've seen in countless pieces. This was written five years ago, and inevitably some of the content and perspectives are outdated already. On the central topic, there isn't anything new here - and I'm not sure there would have been in 2010 either. Despite my general sympathy with the topic, I didn't find much to agree with in its treatment here. (I think it was better when everyone didn't think they had a voice, and you had to pass the test of getting a job on a paper, in the same way as those on the centre and left in Britain have for decades agreed that capital punishment should not be subject to a single-issue referendum. There are plenty of things on which you can't trust the mob... more concerned about politics than Wattpad here... And I wish that the social internet was unchanged in sites and usage levels from 2007, and that there were no smartphones. Though I suppose I have a grudging gratefulness that, rather like the principle of the universal welfare state, internet posting activity is not only for those of us whose options of better things to do are limited.)
For all its length, there's so much this essay seems to miss out; it doesn't address points with much focus: it's more of a ramble exploring related topics that interest the author - and many of them are interesting.
There are a few notable weaknesses. A lack of appreciation and understanding of kitsch, for one (again I invoke Sontag and the heartwarming sincerity that can lie behind kitsch and camp). And, as throughout the volume, a lack of exploration of the meanings and intent behind Yugo-nostalgia (and Communist-era vintage trends in Eastern Europe generally). For the author herself it seems obvious why, as it was before that happened - but what about to all those people who supported the various nationalists in the war? A short scene in a Zygmunt Miłoszewski mystery seemed more eloquent, if a little enigmatic, on some people's motivations: a young guy is dressed just like someone in a 1970s East German youth film, to the private derision of the older detective (not knowing it's deliberate and subculturally fashionable); this vintage enthusiast works in the archive that keeps records of the former secret police, and is very keen on rooting out those ex-totalitarian enforcers who still walk around unpunished and gaming the system.
It's on other aspects, and on factual details of her home region that Ugrešić is most eloquent and interesting here. An exhibition of gifts that members of the public sent to Tito. A Bulgarian Pop Idol contestant who went viral after mangling Mariah Carey. The popularity of Gobelin cross-stitch. A destructive rural equivalent of Poundbury built by a Serbian film director with connections that make him the local equivalent of a Russian oligarch. (It drew all the visitors away from a genuine nearby historic village and its inhabitants who made a living selling folk crafts to tourists.) Kudos to Ugrešić for being able to criticise Kusturica and say that his fame as a director is justifiable - not a nice bloke, yet still a good artist. This volume could do with more such nods to the idea of even-handedness - I was so often left feeling that I wanted another perspective on the local subjects discussed here. I picked up this book unprepared, and expecting someone different, someone the author isn't. What is it to be disappointed in, to give a middling review to, this embattled writer - merely because of personal expectations?
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Read information about the authorDubravka Ugrešić earned her degrees in Comparative Literature, Russian Language and Literature at the University of Zagreb, and worked for twenty years at the Institute for Theory of Literature at Zagreb University, successfully pursuing parallel careers as a writer and a literary scholar.
She started writing professionally with screenplays for children’s television programs, as an undergraduate. In 1971 she published her first book for children Mali plamen, which was awarded a prestigious Croatian literary prize for children’s literature. Ugresic published two more books (Filip i Srecica, 1976; Kucni duhovi, 1988), and then gave up writing for children.
As a literary scholar Dubravka Ugrešić was particularly interested in Russian avant-garde culture. She was a co-editor of the international scholarly project Pojmovnik ruske avangarde, (A Glossary of the Russian Avangarde) for many years. She rediscovered forgotten Russian writers such as Konstantin Vaginov and Leonid Dobychin, and published a book on Russian contemporary fiction (Nova ruska proza, 1980). She translated fiction into Croatian from Russian (Boris Pilnyak, Gola godina; Daniil Kharms, Nule i nistice), and edited anthologies of both Russian contemporary (Pljuska u ruci, 1989) and avant-garde writing.
Dubravka Ugrešić was best known in the former Yugoslavia for her fiction, novels and short stories: Poza za prozu, 1978; Stefica Cvek u raljama zivota, 1981; Zivot je bajka, 1983; Forsiranje romana reke, 1988. Her novel Forsiranje romana reke was given the coveted NIN-award for the best novel of the year: Ugrešić was the first woman to receive this honor. Croatian film director Rajko Grlic made a film U raljama zivota (1984) based on Ugrešić’s short novel Stefica Cvek u raljama zivota. Ugrešić co-authored the screenplay, as she did with screenplays for two other movies and a TV drama.
In 1991, when the war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, Ugrešić took a firm anti-nationalistic stand and consequently an anti-war stand. She started to write critically about nationalism (both Croatian and Serbian), the stupidity and criminality of war, and soon became a target of the nationalistically charged media, officials, politicians, fellow writers and anonymous citizens. She was proclaimed a “traitor”, a “public enemy” and a “witch”, ostracized and exposed to harsh and persistent media harassment. She left Croatia in 1993.
Dubravka Ugrešić has continued writing since she began living abroad. She has published both novels (Muzej bezuvjetne predaje, Ministarstvo boli) and books of essays (Americki fikcionar, Kultura lazi, Zabranjeno citanje, Nikog nema doma). Ugrešić’s essays have appeared in American (“Context”, “The Hedgehog Review”) and European newspapers and magazines (such as “Vrij Nederland”, “NRC Handelsblad”, “Die Zeit”, “Neue Zurcher Zeitung”, “Die Welt Woche”, and many others). She teaches occasionally at American and European universities. Her books have been translated into more then twenty languages. Dubravka Ugrešić has received several major European literary awards. In 2016, Ugrešić won the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.
She is based in Amsterdam today, working as a freelance writer.
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