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Do we have the capacity for heroes?

– To have heroes, we must have a consensus about what we value – what we admire, what is good, and what is worthy of contempt. There is no such consensus and that terrifies me. The same people are criminals for some, and a source of national pride for others. Losing the touch and the compass is felt in the novel, which was important to me while I was writing it, says Mirjana Drljević in an interview for Mikser.

“No one is forgotten and we remember nothing” is Mirjana Drljević’s debut novel, recently published by Booka publishing house as part of a competition with OTP bank. The novel touches on the fragile memories of innocent childhood until the beginning of the nineties and gently disarms our belief in the purity and undisturbed honesty of that time. Gentle, because it does not ridicule it, because it is forgiving and points us to the threads that connect people, events, and phenomena that clearly announced what was coming next until today. She points out: “It’s as if history is just a series of pictures in a kaleidoscope that is assembled and scattered, but it should be a stronghold and a guide.” Written as a Sherlockian inductive puzzle, the novel, apart from the perpetrator, discloses the very cause of the distortion of values that made its crime, at least for a moment, justified, meaningful, and just. With this “parenting method”, Mirjana reveals to us that this seed was planted in each of us who existed at the turn of the era: before, during, and after the civil war and all the turmoil of that era…

Your novel is steeped in the past from which we drag and inherit burdens, not only from the past generation but apparently, from all generations before them. What is needed first as a society, and then as individuals to (do/deserve) to leave that burdened past behind us as a lesson well-learned?

It would be good if we inherited and passed on values, not burdens. We need to start interpreting the past objectively, and not from the victim’s perspective, or righteous, or avengers, or members of a superior nation, or…

It would also be just as good if the past was not erased and revised. The past defines us, and every revision is a revision of our identity. I want to say – our relationship with the past is what makes it burdensome, and the lack of continuity and the need to withdraw parts of the past that are in ideological collision with the daily political agenda, to cancel segments of our lives. That’s how the burden is perpetuated.

We need objectivity and continuity.

One of the characters defies the popular saying “Like thoughts, like life” and concludes that what matters is where thoughts end and actions begin… With this in mind, who are our heroes today?

Photo Credits: Jana Anđić

“Neko se ne seća, neko se seća, a nema ništa protiv, neko se seća i ne može da veruje”, Mirjana Drljević

That incredibly self-centered and cheap idea that we can influence reality with our thoughts, without having to act, is one of the mantras of today that looks for shortcuts to save time and effort.

The question is whether such a present-day has the capacity for heroes.

In theory, a hero is someone who surpasses us with their qualities and abilities, and whose values we admire. Ancient heroes are beings who are halfway between gods and men – they have divine qualities but they are mortal because what would a hero’s story be without a tragic ending?

To have heroes, we must have a consensus about what we value – what we admire, what is good, and what is worthy of contempt. There is no such consensus and that terrifies me. The same people are criminals for some, and a source of national pride for others. Losing the touch for that and losing the compass is felt in the novel, which was important to me while I was writing it.

In the example of another character, we have the opportunity to observe how, something that today would probably be called PTSD, affects the perception of heroic, exceptional, and meritorious… Do you have the impression that the problem of collective (lack of)memory, the aspiration to possess a monopoly over absolute truth and correctness, and the exclusivity we encounter in domestic public discourse, are the consequences of collective and intergenerational PTSD in these areas?

“Opasno je verovati u konačne istine, a još je opasnije odbacivati ili relativizovati osnovne humanističke vrednosti i zdrav razum” – naslovna strana romana

Yes, we would probably say PTSD today – naming the condition, the phenomenon, and the process is extremely important. I think that as a society we grew together wrongly when those wars ended, the world we lived in until then broke down, and a new one was inevitably grafted onto it, and really no one talked about the trauma of that process. If you didn’t participate in the war and you weren’t endangered or displaced, you probably had the belief that you don’t have the right to feel traumatized.

Nevertheless, it is obvious that we live in a deeply traumatized society and that this trauma is now manifesting in the general confusion and the absence of standards, but also this exclusivity and rigidity and the lack of genuine dialogue. It seems to me that it encourages remaining in a state of vagueness where there is no final judgment about what happened to us in the 1990s, and no conditions for healing will ever occur. How it affects the generations that are now growing up is yet to be seen.

And while we have this memory that seems to go back on forever, the joke says that we “remember until Thursday” – how does this distorted memory shape both individuals and society, and what does that determine?

It’s hard for me to distinguish today what is the loss of focus due to information overload, what is the ignorance and lack of interest in the most basic information about the world around us, and what is the falsification of memories to effortlessly accept the present.

Some of the perpetrators of the events of the 1990s are still in power, it is clear that it is in their favor that we do not remember anything, and this certainly shapes us as a society.

Someone doesn’t remember, someone remembers and doesn’t mind, someone remembers and can’t believe it.

This society did not get the resolution of any historical milestone it was on, its actors, meanings, and real events, whether it was the Sarajevo “Browning”, the sealed archives from the Second World War, not to mention the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, the bombing and so on. In such a situation, is it even possible to create a different approach to life and shape one’s social consciousness differently?

That’s right, each regime had its secrets, and each one, instead of relying on the previous one, wanted to start from the beginning and cancel everything we lived before. Because of all that, I have the impression of being broken and interrupted in time and space. It is as if history is just a series of images in a kaleidoscope that is assembled and scattered, and instead, it should be a support and a guide.

Žene su te koje i dalje malu decu uče gotovo svemu što treba da znaju o životu i postojanju u ljudskoj zajednici

A lot has happened in the last 30 years, and we lack resolution, any kind of conclusion that allows us to move on. Uncertainties are piling up, and there is no capacity to see reality through a clear, wide-angle lens, untainted by our ideological delusions and unresolved questions from the historical and personal past. Because historical and personal circumstances are always closely intertwined.

And are these ultimate truths healing or equally dangerous?

There are no ultimate truths, but there should be universal values that we can rely on when we don’t have answers. I deeply believe it would be healing. Instead, we live by conducting endless dialogues on topics that are not up for discussion – whether we all have the privilege to equal rights, whether there is superior genetic material, whether abortion should be banned, whether we should persist in anti-fascism…

Therefore, it is dangerous to believe in ultimate truths, and it is even more dangerous to reject or relativize basic human values and common sense.

Porodično nasilje kao misery porn

Mirjana Drljević, rođena 1971. u Beogradu, autorka je drame San o Svetom Petru Cetinjskom igrane u Crnogorskom narodnom pozorištu i javno čitane u Narodnom pozorištu u Beogradu, kao i drame Suncokreti izvođene u Narodnom pozorištu „Sterija“ u Vršcu.

This is your debut that undoubtedly struck the right chord with a large number of readers in a very short time. What is currently intriguing you? What are you noting down and building for a new story?

“I’m wondering which language and from which perspective one can best address the issue of domestic violence. It’s a topic that haunts me, and my stylistic preferences and literary taste deter me from writing a text that could be categorized as misery porn or, even worse, torture porn. I’m grappling with reconciling the theme and style; for every subject, the right literary framework must be found, and prior writing experience doesn’t help in that regard – you always start anew. When you have that, then you have a novel,

You also made a kind of revolution in domestic literature by putting female characters in the spotlight, not only the events but also the flow of thoughts and decisions from the female point of view. Probably for the first time, a woman is not a teammate, an ornament of the environment, or a victim, but we read the events of their encounters with themselves. Was it naturally easier to identify with, or is it a conscious decision to speak about all “male” things like heroism, war, heritage, responsibility, and dignity… in a female voice? And what is the difference between male and female narratives, are they different in the literature compared to reality?

I am a woman and I have no voice other than a woman’s, it is not a matter of choice. Still, unfortunately, we accept the male point of view and the male voice as the norm, the default in storytelling, and we see the female one as new and different. When it comes to the topics you list, the female view is the view of an outsider, the view of someone who does not make decisions and does not participate or participates quite marginally in the construction of the official narrative. We are used to the widely accepted portrayal of being male and the personal tale of being female. We are used to women’s voices talking about the private and men’s about the public, the woman saying “I” and the man “we”.

On the other hand – I will refer to Ursula Legwin’s essay “What Women Know” – it is women who continue to teach young children almost everything they need to know about life and existence in the human community. Mothers, grandmothers, nannies, kindergarten teachers, teachers – they are still the ones who teach very young children to speak, eat, socialize, and sing – they teach them basic life skills – both girls and boys alike.

Finally, we call our language our mother tongue. I want to say – a woman’s voice and language are well-known to all of us.

All this is reflected in literature as well, you can say with certainty for almost every text whether it was written by a man or a woman. Women, I’m sure, are yet to be encouraged to speak in their way about topics that have always belonged to men.

They are rare, but there are also writers whose gender you wouldn’t guess. Kazuo Ishiguro, for example, has several novels that could have been written by a woman. Again, all of them are written from an outsider’s point of view.

Aleksandra Malušev