Orwell would approve. Over the past three decades, Dubravka Ugresic has established herself as one of Europe"s greatest--and most entertaining--thinkers and creators, and it's in her essays that Ugresic is at her sharpest. With laser focus, she pierces our pop culture, dissecting the absurdity of daily life with a wit and style that's all her own. Whether it's commentary on jaded youth, the ways technology has made us soft in the head, or how wrestling a hotel minibar into a bathtub is the best way to stick it to The Man, Ugresic writes with unmatched honesty and panache. Karaoke Culture is full of candid, personal, and opinionated accounts of topics ranging from the baffling worldwide-pop-culture phenomena to the detriments of conformist nationalism.
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Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. David Williams Translator. Celia Hawkesworth Translator. Whether it's commentary on jaded youth, the ways technology has made us soft in the head, or how wrestling a hotel minibar into a bathtub is the best way to stick it to The Man, Ugresic writes with unmatched honesty and panache. Get A Copy.
Paperback , pages. Published October 23rd by Open Letter first published September 22nd More Details Other Editions 8. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Karaoke Culture , please sign up. Lists with This Book.
Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 3. Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Start your review of Karaoke Culture. These weren't the sort of pieces that, based on the author's formidable reputation, I'd variously looked forward to reading, or assumed to be intimidating. In the past few weeks I've run into or read several discussions about contemporary essayists, so it's little surprise to me that I started reading one - a recommendation received a while ago, which I'd prematurely passed on to another friend before actually reading her work myself.
A bad habit of mine. Within the first few pages, I realised that these days, I have very specific requirements for an essayist I'm going to like. And not an awful lot of writers are going to fill those. The internet is stuffed with polemic. Perhaps I now feel no need for published books that add to the cacophony of rants, unless they're exceptionally well-written, say something one doesn't see every day, and which I more or less agree with. Things I want from a [professional] essayist.
The other day I randomly opened Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others ; there was just over a page about Georges Bataille keeping a photograph on his desk of a Chinese person being tortured; the writing was perfectly pitched, never losing sight of the horror or of intellectual freedom with a hint of discomfort that did not detract from the essential detachment, but which gave the impression that if one said drily, " We need people who can stand above and aside from all that.
Or at the very least understands that this is the best destination and tries for it. Makes my brain fizz. For this, I love Will Self's non-fiction pieces as much as the average Guardian below-the-line commenter hates them. I suspect I have an imaginary template for an 'ideal essayist' or 'ideal book of essays' - the hope that there is a non-fiction equivalent of Darkmans by Nicola Barker, which, when I read it in , felt like someone had put just about every theme and type of character I'd want to put in a novel, in one, and then added a bunch of extra magic I never would have been able to.
I could put my feet up, secure in the knowledge that it had been said. Not only has someone finally said it , someone with the audience and the credentials, but via a character who's calm and wise about exactly the same things that at times make me angry, which helps in a whole lot of ways.
Anyway, I'm not much of a fiction writer and I've known that for most of my adult life: it's essays, more than any other cultural product, that give my gyp in the 'coulda been a contender' chip on my shoulder. Oh, and great essayists can make something entirely coherent and seamless, hardly ever having to resort publicly to bullet points and jumpy chapter-by-chapter summaries to half-order their thoughts.
This is the bit where a half-decent piece of writing turns messy. Not only because I didn't read Karaoke Culture in the order it's printed. This section features a lot of short, newspaper-column style pieces of just the sort I don't want to read in essay collections.
Haven't been able to find out if they were first written for a particular publication. Most contain several points that I wanted a lot of elaboration on.
Many of them skip around and lack focus. It's a bit mean-spirited at times a statement it's impossible to make without being so oneself I wouldn't, in print, compare the appearance of the best hairdresser I'd found in years to a walrus, even in an affectionate way, and expect her to have anything to do with me ever again.
And I don't doubt that there are some gold-digging Filipinas in Hong Kong, but there must be a slightly more compassionate way of writing about them than what's here.
Still, there were a few brain-fizz moments, and interesting insights about Croatia. Most of them negative, though - she rarely has a good word to say about the place. One of its chief offences appears to be lionising criminals. In the last few months, I've binge-watched a lot of Scandinavian detective series. Former Yugoslavia is where you get your dodgy bouncer types, big stupid hench-lumps of muscle.
I was hoping to hear another side to the region to counter the accumulating stereotype. She does this kind of confessional-with-a-point, and with a cultural angle, not just blurting everything like some. She moved to Amsterdam in to escape this. A notable remark from a former colleague states, but we protected you - you weren't killed. Which gives some small indication of what it was like: if you were mean to someone who disagreed with you, but not violent, that in the tenor of the times felt pretty decent.
The events happened fifteen years before she wrote the piece, but she's still very shaken; she isn't at a point where she's able to consider that sort of idea, only record the quote. I would hazard a guess that she hasn't done therapy about this or didn't find anything good She examines the 'witch' idea not through detached, brief, historical examples; you can feel the unresolved trauma in the discourse more than ever as she goes into great detail about witchhunts against old women and children in contemporary rural Africa and India, the punishments and tortures meted out to the accused, and then uses these as metaphors for what she and the other writers experienced.
I routinely nap whilst reading, but very rarely [recall a] dream about the current book: this essay, though, had been vivid and I was either her or someone like her, utterly exhausted by all these detractors and bleak, empty university corridors and rooms, dazed, sweating - perhaps it had stuck because I thought I might have started a row online by saying the wrong thing.
Of these four, the two middle essays are absolutely excellent, both about Croatian and former-Yugoslav literature, using it as ways to explore the history and culture of the region. The tight structure and coherence also throw into even greater relief 'A Question of Perspective'; how different the discourse is on her most comfortable territory. Topics in these two great pieces include various communist and post-communist era perspectives on the place politics of in art and literature and a drily witty survey of turn of the 19thth century Croatian novels about young outsider-artist chaps.
That was the time under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the cool places to go for art and study were Vienna and Prague When reading about another place and time, I love that sound of hinges and cogs as the world changes shape and acquires a new centre. The author, who's pretty much addicted to the internet, considers the internet destructive of culture, and comes round to it a bit near the end, which is something we've seen in countless pieces.
This was written five years ago, and inevitably some of the content and perspectives are outdated already. On the central topic, there isn't anything new here - and I'm not sure there would have been in either. Despite my general sympathy with the topic, I didn't find much to agree with in its treatment here. I think it was better when everyone didn't think they had a voice, and you had to pass the test of getting a job on a paper, in the same way as those on the centre and left in Britain have for decades agreed that capital punishment should not be subject to a single-issue referendum.
There are plenty of things on which you can't trust the mob And I wish that the social internet was unchanged in sites and usage levels from , and that there were no smartphones.
Though I suppose I have a grudging gratefulness that, rather like the principle of the universal welfare state, internet posting activity is not only for those of us whose options of better things to do are limited. For all its length, there's so much this essay seems to miss out; it doesn't address points with much focus: it's more of a ramble exploring related topics that interest the author - and many of them are interesting.
There are a few notable weaknesses. A lack of appreciation and understanding of kitsch, for one again I invoke Sontag and the heartwarming sincerity that can lie behind kitsch and camp. And, as throughout the volume, a lack of exploration of the meanings and intent behind Yugo-nostalgia and Communist-era vintage trends in Eastern Europe generally. For the author herself it seems obvious why, as it was before that happened - but what about to all those people who supported the various nationalists in the war?
An exhibition of gifts that members of the public sent to Tito. The popularity of Gobelin cross-stitch.
A destructive rural equivalent of Poundbury built by a Serbian film director with connections that make him the local equivalent of a Russian oligarch. It drew all the visitors away from a genuine nearby historic village and its inhabitants who made a living selling folk crafts to tourists.
This volume could do with more such nods to the idea of even-handedness - I was so often left feeling that I wanted another perspective on the local subjects discussed here. I picked up this book unprepared, and expecting someone different, someone the author isn't.
What is it to be disappointed in, to give a middling review to, this embattled writer - merely because of personal expectations? Aug 08, Tuck rated it it was amazing. View 1 comment. Aug 30, Rebecca McNutt rated it really liked it Shelves: non-fiction , pop-culture.
Book review: ‘Karaoke Culture’ by Dubravka UgreÅ¡i
By Dubravka Ugresic. Orwell would approve. Over the past three decades, Dubravka Ugresic has established herself as one of Europe"s greatestand most entertainingthinkers and creators, and it's in her essays that Ugresic is at her sharpest. With laser focus, she pierces our pop culture, dissecting the absurdity of daily life with a wit and style that's all her own. Whether it's commentary on jaded youth, the ways technology has made us soft in the head, or how wrestling a hotel minibar into a bathtub is the best way to stick it to The Man, Ugresic writes with unmatched honesty and panache. Karaoke Culture is full of candid, personal, and opinionated accounts of topics ranging from the baffling worldwide-pop-culture phenomena to the detriments of conformist nationalism.
"Karaoke Culture" by Dubravka Ugresic [Read This Next]
Dubravka Ugresic does not like karaoke. Ugresic, a game and inquisitive critic, looks at culture from all angles, which sometimes means picking up the mic. Even in translation, the voice of satire threads through her work. Born in Yugoslavia in , trained as a writer and academic, Ugresic regularly attended international conferences and wrote magazine and newspaper pieces.
This essay was not only conceived, but also half-finished, when it occurred to me to go and catch a bit of real karaoke. They say Casablanca is the most popular karaoke bar in Amsterdam. My companion and I, both neophytes, arrived at eight on the dot, as if we were going to the theatre and not a bar. Casablanca was empty.