Original and Imitative Literature Today
Life in the countries of Europe is becoming far less original that it used to be. This is due to globalisation that is leading to the gradual disappearance of differences in life-style among the numerous European peoples, which has as its consequence faceless and imitative art.
People in the European countries, and increasingly in other parts of this planet, are being indoctrinated with the idea of universal artistic values, which also sounds attractive to the producers of art works and to artists, because they believe that if they create a universal art work, they will conquer the entire world and, in that way, make a great deal of money.
Many authors start writing with the thought of creating a world bestseller and adapting themselves to the demands of the heterogenic world market.
In that way, they end up with a work that does not have much connection with the environment in which it was created.
Writers should write without such intentions; they should follow their own thoughts and feelings, without premeditation about global success.
Until fairly recently, the small nations and small literatures of Europe offered a much healthier context for the creation of literary works, free of that commercial pressure.
Unfortunately, the major world publishing houses have also imposed themselves more lately in those countries into which, thanks to inventive marketing and widespread promotion, they export their bestsellers and form literary taste, securing recognition for literary works that are not of sufficient quality to live longer than one or two seasons.
The natural life of literary works has been discontinued – the advertising mill of the small publishers in smaller countries imitates large publishers in large countries, resulting in domestic writers and domestic works being treated like ordinary products, which have to be packaged as attractively as possible, and sold with a great deal of noise.
Regrettably, a large number of literary critics and editors in the media play a part in all of this; they give their services directly to individual publishers and literary lobbies. To make matters worse, the film industry, too, with its pervasive power and popularity exerts great influence on world literature. Those literary works that are made into films or television projects impose themselves as being more significant than those eluded by this type of good fortune.
In an indirect way, the success of a particular film made on the basis of a novel defines the interest in that novel and its treatment by readers and professional literary circles.
Many writers start writing their literary works – novels, dramas and stories – thinking about how to make them appropriate for filming or for television screening.
And while at its beginning, film pilfered from and imitated literature, we now have the reverse situation – literature imitates film in such a way that it sets out to be pliant to it. So we are given an imitation of an imitation, a situation in which original literary inspiration suffers.
The idea for many today is to write a novel that will gain the favourable attention of the whole world, of numerous countries and peoples. However, for a work to conquer many cultures, the author must think more of universal elements than of the elements characteristic to the environment in which he/she has grown up and in which he/she creates.
In that way, writers distance themselves from their origins, producing a featureless piece of literature that will not, finally, attract anyone at all.
Of course, this can lead to a different type of reaction in the artist who tries to avoid that trap – and that is flight into arbitrary and radical hermitism. So it is that we have a growing number of literary works that resist the rules of the market, but that also pay no heed to a minimum of communicativeness, and, as they do not have any commercial impact whatsoever, the writers of such works rely heavily on the assistance of State funds and sponsors to stimulate them and their works, which have no public.
Many texts have already been written about the impotence of hermetic poetry dating from the second half of the 20th century, poetry that was read largely only by its creators. Everything has also been said already about the fact that almost all European poets over the last fifty years have, at the same time, been poetry critics and editors of literary magazines that publish poetry. Only as critics and editors were they able to induce poets, critics and editors of similar ilk to accept and recognise their own poems.
However, let’s put poetry aside and look at what has happened with hermetic literature in the sphere of the novel and drama in the recent past.
We remember how critics and academic circles gave recognition to and tried to impose the so-called “new French novel” something more than forty years ago, and the authors of that time, such as Michel Butor, Nathalie Sarraute and Alain Robbe-Grillet.
And even if these were hermetic, uninteresting novels, which were never accepted by the reading public, it is only now that we can say with certainty that this was a matter of a major deceit and a major deception on the part of the critics and theoreticians. In the meantime, strict university professors around Europe forced their suffering literature students to admire and learn about the “new French novel”, while no-one managed to summon up the courage to say: “Gentlemen, those novels are poor and boring”.
On the other hand, we have been witnesses over the last ten years or so in European drama literature to the terror imposed on theatre circles and the public by the so-called “blood and sperm dramas”, which are also referred to as “in-yer-face-theatre”.
The most important representatives of that trend have been Sarah Kane and Mark Revenhill.
It all started in England, carried over into Germany, and then spread throughout all of Europe. And even though it was a matter of more or less awkward, worthless texts that combined hermetism, heroes with limited awareness, and explicit sex and explicit violence, and that the public never genuinely accepted that type of drama, that artificially imposed theatre trend lay waste numerous European theatres, causing direct damage to the theatre arts overall.
Sanja Nikcevic wrote brilliantly about this in her book New European Drama and the Great Deception, unmasking the mechanisms of creating and imposing that trend from the centres of power of theatre directors and critics.
In European drama and in the European theatre, even more so than in novels, there has been shown to be a desire for trendy imitation of the work of others, despite how much their “success” may have rested on feet of clay.
The incentive to imitate every play or theatre trend that achieves success, whether with an academic or commercial denominator, is often so pronounced in European theatres that it must invoke only a derisive smile or a feeling of nausea in all normal theatre cognoscenti.
In my opinion, the authentic literature of our time – lyricism, epic poetry, drama – must avoid both hermetism and commercialism, those two seductive extremes, which have nothing in common with genuine art.
It is only by navigating between such devils and deep blue seas that today’s writers can create authentic works that the contemporary reader will recognise as being sincere and worthwhile.
It is paradoxical but true that, despite everything we have experienced since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there are still better conditions for normal literary life in the small literatures and among the small nations from the former Socialist camp, because they are under less pressure on literature and writers from commercial and academic circles…
In other words, it is always possible in small literatures that a reader or spectator gets to know the entire annual output and evaluates it him/herself, relying on his/her own taste. The situation differs in larger literatures, since such an overview would be absolutely impossible because of the multitude of new works. Thus, everyone has to put their trust in unreliable critics, unreliable advertising and subjective artistic lobbies.
This text is a paper delivered by the author at the symposium Zagreb Literary Conversations held on the theme Contemporary Literature and the Languages of Europe in the Autumn of 2005. It has been taken from Miro Gavran’s book: LITERATURE AND THE THEATRE, LJEVAK Publishers, Zagreb, 2008.