The Culture of Lies: Antipolitical Essays

Dubravka Ugresic

translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth
Phoenix House 1998
A book review by Danny Yee © 2004
Yugoslavian writer Dubravka Ugresic, made Croatian without having any say in the matter, went into exile in the Netherlands in 1993, under attack for refusing to toe the patriotic line. The Culture of Lies is a collection of pieces, mostly written between 1991 and 1996, dealing with the breakup of Yugoslavia — not with the battles and politics, but with the rewriting of history in the service of new nationalisms and the accompanying cultural changes.

Ugresic looks back at the school primer she used in 1957, contrasting it with primers from 1885 and the 1990s. She dissects state propaganda and nationalist kitsch and the culture of lies in the new Croatia. She explores the rewriting of history and the reconstruction to match it of background culture, of music and soap operas and children's books. And she writes about the destruction of books, the intertwining of metaphors and reality, the problems of being a writer in Croatia, sexism and misogyny in "Yugo-man", and the literary construction of "Eastern Europe" and "Eastern European writer". Some topics are returned to several times, but there's no repetition of material — each time there are new ideas, new approaches.

Ugresic's reach is broad: there is more about Croatia, where she lived and worked, but she ranges from Ljubljana to Skopje and spares neither herself nor well-meaning Western intellectuals. Both anger and sorrow are discernible, but her prose is balanced, restrained and precise, never becoming at all histrionic and invariably concrete rather than rhetorical. Though the subject material is depressing, The Culture of Lies is an entertaining, even compelling, read. It offers a fascinating view of the politics of culture in Yugoslavia and its successor states.

July 2004

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- books about Eastern Europe + Eastern European history
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- more literary criticism
%T The Culture of Lies
%S Antipolitical Essays
%A Ugresic, Dubravka
%M Serbo-Croatian
%F Hawkesworth, Celia
%I Phoenix House
%D 1998
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1861591047
%P 273pp