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Saturday, March 27, 2021

Dubravka Ugresic On Writers, Popular Culture and the Media

     Dubravka Ugresic, the author of Thank You For Not Reading, a 2003 collection of essays about the writing life, the literary marketplace, popular culture, and the media, lives in Amsterdam. A native of the former Yugoslavia,  Ugresic taught at several American universities. She is unusual because as an academic she is interesting and writes well. Excerpts from some of the essays in her book:

     Realizing that they have been deprived forever of their position as protected losers, writers have radically changed their image. Tubercular neurotics, humble burglars, drunks, wastrels, bohemians, thin men and women in black wool sweaters leaning against a well-stocked home bookshelf, bearded intellectuals in tweed jackets with academic patches on the elbows and books in their hands, short-sighted smokers of pipes and cigars--they are all a thing of the distant past...Resigned to the cruel laws of the marketplace, women writers submit to face-lifts, justifying themselves by saying that their profession demands it of them. In their photographs, male writers increasingly display intelligently formed muscles and bare their shaggy chests. They are all regularly photographed with a self-confident "I know what I want" expression. In the short biographies on book jackets, no one mentions the year of their birth...If they are physically attractive, their photograph appears on the book's cover.

     My surroundings are dominated by the culture of public confession, where the television has taken over the role of the church, and the role of church confessors is played by popular TV presenters. Memoirs are no longer reserved for those who have climbed the Himalayas or swum the Atlantic. On the contrary, what is valued are the ordinary accounts of ordinary people about ordinary things...In the culture of public confession, everyone has acquired the right to his personal fifteen minutes, just as Andy Warhol predicted.

     When East European writers finally began crawling out of their underground...[they discovered that their fellow writers] are prostitutes who write their memoirs, sportsmen who describe their sporting lives, girlfriends of renowned murderers who describe the murderer from a more intimate perspective, housewives bored with daily life who have decided to try the creative life. There are lawyer-writers, fisherman-writers, literary critic-writers, innumerable searchers after their own identify, a whole army of those whom someone has offended, raped, or beaten up, or whose toes have been stepped on, and who rush to inform the world in writing of the drama of their long-repressed injury.

     The media, television in particular, transform events into entertainment, simply because entertainment, and not information, has become the main engine of the mass media. Media presentation has reduced American trials (O. J. Simpson) and American political life...to mass amusement.

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