Topographies of kitsch : locating and dislocating tyrannical kitsch in contemporary Russian, Hebrew and Serbo-Croatian literature




Flider, Marina

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Much of what is known about contemporary Russia, Israel, and the Serbo-Croatian region is gleaned from the international headlines of newspapers. Yet, the continual political upheavals, military actions, and social strife that define the realities of these countries constitute only the faint backdrops to the emerging bodies of literature from these countries. The novels of writers such as Victor Pelevin, Orly Castel-Bloom, and Miljenko Jergović exemplify recent literary trends that default on the critical portrayal of the commonplace lives and commodity cultures in their respective regions. These novels obsessively depict the quotidian and trivial, documenting kitsch rather than war. Yet, the contemporary actualities that are reflected in these texts are the accumulation of historical moments that have brought on periods of neo-nationalism-the same neo-nationalistic movements that are responsible for the news headlines that they produce. The struggle to construct their national identities, both politically and culturally, and against he forces of twenty-first century global commercialism defines the particular brand of mythology that these countries are disseminating. Claiming cultural exceptionalism while embracing the onslaught of globalization, the liminally Western countries must take account of the pervasive influence of Western media and commoditization that, in the digital age, reaches their demographic through multiple outlets, regardless of the overt and latent systems of censorship set in place by their governments. Rather than attempting to thwart the consumption of Western media by their citizens, the political machines of these nations make allowances for its presence. Western television programs, name brands, and popular cultural trends are omnipresent in these regions. Fed to citizens through a political filter, the proliferation of Western media is incorporated into the national ideology and collective memory of the country, creating a semblance of freedom and cosmopolitanism, while leveling down individual liberties and cultural possibilities. The byproduct of this phenomenon is kitsch. The permutations and societal effects of kitsch are some of the central but often overlooked themes of contemporary Israeli, Russian and BSC literature. The following study will argue for the importance of detecting and examining the depictions of kitsch in these regional literatures. More than a study of consumerist practices, such an analysis promises to reveal the political charge of these ostensibly innocuous commonplace objects, which are revealed to be tools for the propagation of the homogenizing, objectifying ideologies of their respective countries.


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