"The Crucial Question Seems to Me How Is Democracy Institutionalized." A Conversation with Darko Suvin

By Praznik, Katja | Extrapolation, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

"The Crucial Question Seems to Me How Is Democracy Institutionalized." A Conversation with Darko Suvin


Praznik, Katja, Extrapolation


Darko Suvin is a Yugoslav-born academic, philosopher and poet. He became a Professor at McGill University in Montreal, and is now emeritus. He was born in Zagreb, Croatia, and after teaching at the Department for Comparative Literature at Zagreb University, moved to Canada in 1968. He is best known for several major works of criticism and literary history devoted to science fiction. His work also includes political theory and dramaturgy. He was editor oí Science-Fiction Studies (later Science Fiction Studies) from 1973 to 1980 and is the author of poetry and numerous theoretical works, such as Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, To Brecht and Beyond, Positions and Presuppositions in Science Fiction, Lessons of Japan, U.S. Science Fiction and War/Militarism, and Defined by a Hollow. Since his retirement from McGill in 1999, he has lived in Lucca, Italy. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Recently, his book Kje smof Kam gremoì Xa politicno epistemologico odresitve (Where are we? Where are we going? For a political epistemologa of salvation) has been translated into Slovene and published by Zalozba Sophia, which gave us the opportunity to have a conversation on art, society, and pertinent questions regarding the contemporary political situation. This book is also available in Croatian (Gdje smof Kuda idemoì Za politicku epistemologiju spasa: eseji za orijentaciju i djelovanje u oskudnom vremenu [Zagreb 2006]).

KP: In one of your lectures on the occasion of the publication of the Slovene translation of your book Where are wei Where are we goingi For a political epistemology of salvation, you mentioned that art is a field of cognition. Why would you say it has always been so difficult to integrate the field of art (art practices, as well as artists) as an equally relevant field of society - art often being perceived either as a kind of propaganda tool for different social, political struggles or as an isolated sphere that has its seeming autonomy?

DS: I think the answer is implicit in your last clause: art as propaganda for immediate sociopolitical conflicts or as an autonomous sphere. These are in fact the two logical extremes of an alienated state of affairs collectively and personally. What an artist needs is a public sphere or civic (civil) society to address, to grow out from and receive responses from, that is, to interpellate and be interpellated by. To the contrary, when collectivities around the artist are corrupt, s/he flees to elitist autonomy as the only defense. When individuals around her and including her are necessarily also corrupt, the artist is drawn into direct struggles to overcome this alienated corruption, as in Zupancic's great "Ves poet svoj dolg?" (Do You Know, Oh Poet, Your Debt?)2 Both paths are at times very legitimate but à la longue unhealthy - too much is bracketed out in each. Both are potentially cognitive but never fully so. As long as economic and political power is not fully and transparently vested in people associated in directly democratic ways, so long shall we be stuck on the horns of this inescapable but unhealthy dilemma.

And yet: the cognitions arrived at by art will still be, in the best cases, Utopian foreshadowings, glimpses, and guesses, of a non-alienated state of relationships between people, une promesse de bonheur as Stendhal well put it. As I wrote in Essay 4 of Where are weì Where are we going?, with the title "What may the 20th century amount to?": "The best surviving articulation of lived non-official experience is in Joyce, Kafka, Meyerhold, Mayakovsky, Chaplin, Brecht, Krleza, Andric, Picasso, Tatlin, Larionov, Magritte, Ernst, Eisenstein, Benjamin, Lorca, Neruda, Bartok, Shostakovich ... Even when they were at some times forced to compromise, the compromises (Life of Galileo, Ivan the Terrible, The Leningrad Symphony, The Dove of Peace) are usually honorable, engaged, and advance our understanding." (Dear reader, you can put your own examples instead of mine, of course. …

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