The Curious Case of Daša Drndić

/ by Vladimir Arsenić

It is a self-evident fact that we are living in a post-truth world. The very notion designates that the truth is, in a way, unobtainable, that it is somehow beyond our reach, and not only because it is hidden or mysterious, but by the simple fact that there are instances which are very much concerned with putting the factual truth out of our sight. Factual truth, the one that can be crosschecked through evidence and put under the scrutiny of proof is, nowadays, very often changed with the post-truth, the emotional one with which the power and the community are blackmailing their subordinates and/or members. For instance, if you are a Serbian citizen, it would be expected of you not to talk about the genocide, but about the “mass murder and organized crimes of large proportions” that happened in the region of Srebrenica in July of 1995, in spite of the International Court of Justice’s ruling from 2007.

This appeal is emotional for several reasons. Firstly, because one wouldn’t like to connect one’s homeland with most disgusting crimes. Secondly, by doing so, one would endanger Serbian prosperity, because the State would have to pay compensation. Finally, the role of the government would be investigated, and that would not be nice for everyone who was involved in one way or another, actively or passively. So, unless you are very interested in facing the past and finding out what really happened, and one can do that rather easily, you will accept the official interpretation of the truth, the one served through the official media in Serbia, the emotional one, the post-truth that stands instead the factual truth.

Serbia is not unique example. Quite the contrary, the whole world is drowned in post-truth politics, and that is yesterday’s news. But what is the role of literature in these circumstances, since the truthfulness of art, according to Aristotle’s Poetics, is universal, and not particular. To quote: “But they differ in this, that the one speaks of things which have happened, and the other of such as might have happened. Hence, poetry is more philosophical, and more deserving of attention, than history. For poetry speaks more of universals, but history of particulars.” Let me argue that it could be exactly the field in which we might look for a reinvention of the role of literature in today’s society, in which the media is corrupt and particularized and vulgarized, and social networks are taking over the space of public debate which is, in turn, becoming exactly like them, according to Marshall McLuhan's teaching – the medium is the message. It is very personal, very much un-argued, and very emotionally intense – one could not expect anything else from Twitter or Facebook. The factual truth, on the other hand, should not be like that – it should be objective, proven, measured and calm.

The field of literature is changing. Or, to be precise, it changed forever, right after the invention of the Internet. The times are fast and furious. They cannot stand anything that takes time. And literature does take time. A lot of it. But that is why there is a chance to be calm and objective, and measured, and proven. One can put into literature things that once should have been in the media. Of course not in the same way, not by turning fiction or poetry into newspapers, or opinion pieces, but exactly by being truthful. I know it sounds silly, but let me give you an example.

One of the most acclaimed Croatian authors abroad is Daša Drndić. Her novels have been translated into more than 20 languages, and have received very positive critical response all over Europe and in the States. But she has not won any important literary award in her homeland. She had been shortlisted several times, but that is all. One may ask why, and the only truth is that she is writing about things that are not very pleasant for the ears of those in power. She is writing, without any restraint, about the rise of clericalism, nationalism, harsh and rude capitalism, in other words, about the things that are occurring in Croatia and elsewhere in the Balkans and Europe. She is not dealing with any emotional truth, as one would expect from the point of view of literature, and not with, or not only with, the things that might have happened, but with very specific and precise truths about some of the crimes that had happened during the Nazi or Ustaša regimes. That simply means that her novels are well-documented and subjected to research that led to the construction of the plot. For her books are novels in the strict sense of the word, they are fictitious, the protagonists are not historical characters, but the scenery and historical circumstances are thoroughly-researched. Daša Drndić has a readership and no one can deny her success, but the establishment is silent, because they are concerned with the post-truth politics. She and her like are not welcomed in today’s Croatia in which, as in Serbia, the role of the Partisan movement in the Second World War is questioned, murderers and war criminals are restored, and factual truth about our past and present is very often blurred and changed for the emotional one.

Daša Drndić's work is just an example of what I am proposing here – a slight change of roles. Because the media has been usurped, we should turn back to literature, to art as the conveyor, among other things, of factual truth. It is not as fast as the Internet, radio, TV or even newspapers, but there is another advantage: It lasts forever. 

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Vladimir Arsenić

graduated in comparative literature from the Tel Aviv University (master degree). He is a regular critic of the internet portal e-novine.com and booksa.hr. He published texts for the Think Tank, Beton, Quorum, pescanik.net, proletter.org. He was a mentor on the project Criticize this! with Srdjan Srdić, he teaches creative writing in Hila workshop. He is a regular contributor to literary festival Cum grano salis in Tuzla, BiH. His texts are translated into albanian and slovenian. He translates from English and Hebrew. With friends, he edits a literary magazine Ulaznica that is published in Zrenjanin. He supports Tottenham Hotspur FC. 


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