“Occorre fare inizialmente un tale inventario.“
Quaderni del carcere, Antonio Gramsci.
HOMOEROTICEXILE. My Cat Yugoslavia was characterized by the same simplicity in terms of writing, which reminded Hemingway for its descriptive immediacy, but overcharged academically, bringing in mind the creative writing courses/classes, where, for his misfortune, the American author is the real mainstream.
The architecture of the novel – to maintain the Hemingway’s terminology – was a spatial-temporal ping pong over the main story. This last was supported by a double first person narration, made of the voices of a homoeroticized son and the mother. The background story was narrated by the mother – starting in 1980, in Kosova and finishing in 2009, in present days’ Finland – woven with a compilation of costumes, legends and myth of the Albanian tradition (not very elaborated; just thrown there as baits). The present story was narrated by the son (2009, in Finland). The intersected first person narration voices produced a sort of final zoom out showing a big picture with a double focus: one on the lonely mother and her cat and the other on her son starting a new same sex relationship with Sami (the name brings in mind the indigenous people in Finland).
The book wasn’t more than a writing exercise of clichés, including the sexual minorities and feminist mainstream soundtrack made of names such as Tina Turner, Cher, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga. To make the book more tasty here and there words in Albanian popped up, for me like moldy mushrooms, but, I guess, as white truffle for the palate of literary tourists or institutionalized experts.
Cats and snakes with related illusive literary tropes, to me, more than Kafka, reminded Poe, for their suggestive but under-developed symbolic elaboration and quasi-hermeticism (but maybe I am influenced by reading the text in English and not in original). Referring at times to the lack of meaning or to obvious sexual symbols they are something in between Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey monolith and Kusturica’s Crna mačka, beli mačor cats.
Nationality and immigration were challenged with the same arrogant superficiality as in the first pages of Crossing, showing off a list of well-known nervous tics of Finnish and migrant characters caused by conflicting rituals, cultures as well as contexts. In addition, this superficiality contrasted with the quasi-total lack of historic research. For example, it was not highlighted the exile experience specificity of the main characters’ family: Albanians living in Kosova, under the Yugoslav Confederation, without having same rights, in terms of political representation, as Croats, Serbs, Slovenians, etc., which in everyday Yugoslavian life demonstrated better the colonial effects as well as aspects, such as prejudice and racism (i.e. Šiptar was a derogatory term which ridiculed the name Albanians called themselves Shqiptarë); and the connection of this background with the Finnish context.
Yet, in short, the book was well-packaged, matching all the different boxes of “fighting nationalism”, “promoting integration of migrants”, “enhancing gender equality”, “supporting sexual minority rights” and bla, bla, bla, for the taste of the literary status quo, which awarded and promoted the book nationally as well as throughout global mass media.
Considering the wide-spread neoliberal ideology in Finland, I imagined as if the book was written by a youngster, following the requirements of an open call, such as one I found last year at Migration Institute of Finland (link), which infantilized young refugees as if they did have problems of functional literacy:
“We work with art therapists and visual artists to help young refugees create objects and images about relational wellbeing. We do this in three ways – first, by asking them to show us what relational wellbeing looks like in their day to day life with others in the present. Then we ask them to imagine how it might look in the future.
Finally, we ask them to remember it in their lives before they left their country of origin. Then we put their stories, images and objects together to see how relational wellbeing in the past, present and future is similar or different over time. The journey from volatility to vitality is often a long one for refugee youth. We hope to show pictures and stories of how life flows after the drama of asylum, in the quiet, unremarkable moments when they and others are drawn together and as they become part of a nation’s diversity and wealth over time (link).“
It is the same procedure followed by Statovci in My Cat Yugoslavia. His quit, unremarkable moment, with the other is, as Il Venerdì della Repubblica defines it, on the cover of the Italian edition of the book, full of sensual realism, as if we were in front of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
But what is this sensual realism? Here it is, in a glimpse:
“He wore a bespoke suit, a tie, and leather shoes, and I felt like asking him to stop so that I could look at him from head to toe and admire myself standing next to him in the mirror. I wanted to be envious of myself, of this moment. Of the fact that I had found a man like this, my very own bank manager with whom I could come to any agreement whatsoever.” (My Cat Yugoslavia, p.224).
In other words, according the narrator, this sensual realism consists in a superficial and immediate reproduction of self-image framed by a mirror, which incentivizes the ego masturbation to reach its maximal apotheosis, where love is a bank and beloved a bank manager. The perfect speculation! This last intended as an image as well as financial profit.
Before Crossing back. It isn’t strange, at all, that Pajtovci’s first work was awarded and appreciated for its homoerotic-immigrant-Finnish mythology, considering the neoliberal ideology of the country as well as the ideology of its art and culture, public and private, institutions. The book was all about ego-masturbation, veiled by a post/petty-bourgeois superficial self critique of the culture and societies of provenience as well as reception. Yet, with some differences: from the first were challenged, beyond the culture as a whole, the costumes, myth and legends, while from the second, there were no indications, as if the Finnish myth and legends did not exist, did not influence or not exploited for the generation of contemporary ones (Just to make an example: I live in Haukilahti, Espoo and the two nearest big shopping centers are Ainoa, recalling the traditional myth of Kalevala , and Iso Omena/Big Apple recalling the contemporary myth of the well-known global metropolis. Both of them are not only similar with each other, but do not have any difference with shopping centers in New York or Tirana).
This arrogance, refusal and prejudice towards ones’ own cultural, traditional, national, ethnic belonging accompanied with an unscrupulous and ostentatious positivity towards consumerism, brings in mind the problems of acculturation highlighted by Pasolini in Italy, during the industrial and economic booming, in an open letter addressed to the Executive Directors of the National TV RAI, published at Corriere della Sera on December 9th, 1973. In that letter were highlighted the processes of erasure – unimaginable even under fascism – and how the youth with a peasant, proletarian and sub-proletarian background started to refuse their roots for a petty bourgeois consumerist model promoted by mass-media and TV. But this time, through the first person narrator voices of My Cat Yugoslavia, we are in front of several overlapping acculturation problems. Here we are in front of the youth refusing not only the peasant, proletarian and sub-proletarian background but also the national, ethnic, familial as well as culture heritage, tradition, costumes, values; refusing one system (based on collectivism and interdependence such as in former-Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) for another (based more on individualism such as the contemporary Finnish bourgeois democracy). And all this not in a Fordist industrial but post-industrial booming context.
Furthermore, considering the prices, awards and appreciations collected of Statovci’s first work, the strange thing was noticing the lack of novelty and transgression, in terms of diversity. Of course, the voice of the author can be considered as different, intended as a Kosovar, positioned as belonging to sexual minorities, coming from a culture supposed patriarchal by the general Finnish institutionalized imaginary, but not diverse. Diversity is something else. It is etymologically di(s)+vèrtere, di(s)=da is a suffix which indicates leaving a place, distancing, and vèrtere means verge, overthrow, overturn, turning towards another way, and also another verse (poetically intended). So, from this point of view, there is nothing diverse in My Cat Yugoslavia. At least, there is not a single thing that the neoliberal ideology, through its public and private, artistic and cultural, as well as political institutions and mass-media, doesn’t already promote. And coming from Albania, it reminds me the good, old times of socialist realism in literature, in its particular Albanian style, which is something different from the one criticized by Roland Barthes in Le degré zéro de l’écriture.
Thus, before restart reading Crossing I thought about Mark Fisher’s questions, “how long can a culture persist without the new? What happens if the young are no longer capable of producing surprises?” (Capitalist Realism: Is there No Alternative? O Books, 2009, p. 3.). And, considering that I already knew the initial approach of Crossing, I expected the author, after contesting his traditional Kosovar costumes, culture, myth, legends, to continue provoking deeper, with the same superficiality, Kosova’s Albanian roots.
At this point, considering the lack of all these multidimensional problematic strata in Statovci’s work and its critical reception, I couldn’t help but think also about Jean-Léon Gérôme’s The Snake Charmer embellishing the cover of Edward W. Said’s book Orientalism; think about homoerotisation of immigrants and intentional confusing the concept of exile with the concept of nomadism as a good neoliberal strategy to fight the well-known neo-conservative image of immigrant serial-rapists of immaculate white, liberal, Euro-American pure women; as well as think about image of the Albanian as paradigmatic within the concept of “orientalism”, starting from numerous Arnaouts’ of Gérôme or Lord Byron’s Child Harold’s Pilgrimage.
… to be continued with the Third Part!