UK journalist and broadcaster Bidisha spoke to Darko Tuševljaković, the Serbian winner of the European Union Prize for Literature 2017. Tuševljaković (1978) lives and works in Belgrade. He is the author of two novels and a collection of short stories. His books have been awarded and shortlisted for some of the most important Serbian national awards for fiction. His novel Jaz (The Chasm) was shortlisted for the NIN Award for the best Serbian novel of the year and awarded the European Union Prize for Literature.
What are the thematic concerns that arise repeatedly in your work – either deliberately or subconsciously?
The past, collective or individual, and our inability to deal with it. It seems that the past is a very cunning sort of an inner demon. It never leaves us at peace, it demands action, but when we take it, we usually mess things up even more. For me, our past is a chamber drama that often confuses reality with possibility, everyday life with a dream. Even when I write about the future, it appears that I’m actually referring to the past.
Do you think literature is moving away from the solid 19th-century style novel and more towards a hybrid form: interlinked stories, mingled text and image, poetic or aphoristic forms?
I don’t think that the old-school style novel is going out of fashion, I’d rather say that today’s literature is trying to incorporate new things in its existing body of topics and forms. In other words, now there’s room for all kinds of different approaches and styles, but that includes traditional forms, too. Yes, we’re allowed to experiment and invent, we’re allowed to mix genres and fewer and fewer people are wondering about the boundaries within which we operate as authors. The sky is the limit, but the good old 500-page novel can still excite us. I believe that literary forms, or genres, aren’t expendable.
At a time when much of the political discourse is unsettled, divisive and anxious, what can literature do to comment upon, rebut or ameliorate such feelings? Or is literature somehow “outside” of current events?
I don’t think artists should be told what to do or not to do. Of course, art can be fiercely engaged, politically and socially, but equally, it has the right to keep itself away from all the political and social turmoil. It can be escapist. I’m even inclined to say that it always is. An artist should be free to create following his/her instincts. If you want to write about the US political establishment, please do, but if your main preoccupation are colonies of ants, feel free to tell us stories about them. Those could even prove to be more interesting.
Bidisha is a writer, journalist and broadcaster based in London. Read her essay about the European Union Prize for Literature.
Photo: © Arhipelag / European Union Prize for Literature