Magazine article World Literature Today

Europe in Sepia

Magazine article World Literature Today

Europe in Sepia

Article excerpt

Dubravka Ugresic. Europe in Sepia. David Williams, tr. Rochester, New York. Open Letter. 2014. isbn 978- 1934824894

Since leaving Croatia in 1994, Dubrav- ka Ugresic has penned sharp, dark- ly funny critiques of contemporary Western and global culture. But in Europe in Sepia, its title appropriately evoking a set of antique photographs, her "underground" humor turns dark- er still as she anatomizes the death of European and global "culture."

Its three parts, each preceded by a well-chosen epigraph from Envy, Yuri Olesha's early critique of both Stalinism and capitalism, record how materialism has made our world a megamall, peddling everything from art to "reality," spirituality to suffer- ing, breast-milk cheese to death-camp tourism. While trained on the globe, her lens highlights three main areas: the battered yet still macho Yugozone that Ugresic fled in 1994; the Euro- zone, her physical "home" since 1994; and the No-zone, the mental space she inhabits, from which she sends these "messages in a bottle."

Part 1, "Europe in Sepia," laments the rise of that nostalgia, whether Euro- or Yugo-, that commoditizes even defunct and now-hated ideolo- gies, turning culture into souvenirs. A dying Europe fears its East Euro- pean immigrants, like the "invasive plants" in Dublin's Botanical Gar- dens. But impoverished Croatia has a national "orgasm" of hero worship when freed Hague war criminal and murderer Ante Govina returns home: "How efficiently the confiscators of memory edit and erase." Zucotti Square may signal revolt, with which Ugresic, a born rebel, sympathizes, but "Europe no longer loves life."

Part 2, "Manifesto," finds united Europe a ruin, its people grieving for what was. The West blames the East, which grumbles about its failed dreams: all are "eaten by envy." Life reduced to simulacra, angry young "weapons of mass consumption" hunger for what is promised but ever beyond reach. …

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