“Everything’s about the economy of love”: Remembering Croatian writer Dubravka Ugrešić (1949-2023)

Ugrešić with Daniel Medin and a be-antlered fox in Bergen. Photo: Alisa Ganieva.
In happier times: Ugrešić with Prof. Daniel Medin of the American University of Paris, and an antlered fox in Bergen. Photo: Alisa Ganieva.

The Croatian writer and Neustadt winner Dubravka Ugrešić died two days ago, on March 17, at her home in Amsterdam, surrounded by family. She was 73. I interviewed her at the inaugural Bergen Literary Festival in Norway, 2019. That interview was published in Music & Literature here. We talked about the break up of Yugoslavia, we spoke about the hate campaign against her and how she became one of the region’s many scapegoats.

But she also spoke the relationships between men and women, and, as the biographer of the French theorist René Girard, I couldn’t help but see a mimetic thread in her conversations. An excerpt from that interview:

CH: Something you said that I think is very true: “That through women, men find their way to other men.”

DU: Let us be fair, men are not the only ones who, consciously or unconsciously, manipulate. However, it is fair to say that there are some examples of women in history who attracted men because they were known as mistresses of other men. Love is often a struggle for territory and power, a social game. Literary life is rich in such examples. One such example is Lily Brik, wife of Russian futurist Osip Brik and mistress of Vladimir Mayakovsky. Both of her men died, and she carried on, living with another two men who were honored by inheriting “the territory” previously owned by two famous men. Such liaisons dangereuses are not foreign to human nature, but Brik’s story happened in the time of sexual liberation—remember Alexandra Kollontai! Also later, during the Communist era, sexual privacy was the only territory of freedom that was left.

CH: The comment we’re discussing is another remark from the character of the Widow in [her novel] Fox, who was speaking about Alma Mahler. You wrote—or rather, the Widow said—“her main talent was a deep and abiding knowledge of the economy of love.” What else might she had said that you didn’t have time to write down?

DU: Everything’s about the economy of love. When I see men—how they are natural, relaxed, and comfortable in the company of other men—I realize that it will take much longer for both genders to become emancipated from God’s given roles. Many men see the world like military life—that is the strongest human meme, where women stay at home and wait for men to come back from glorious battles with other men. Or, to use an analogy that is a bit more current, many men see the world like a football game, where they play with each other in order to play against each other. Why do men never wonder why women are so obviously excluded from so many zones of public life? Why doesn’t one of them ever protest that he will not participate in the conference, discussion, forum, or event unless the number of participants is equally divided: half women and half men? Why? Because they don’t see anything unusual in the landscape they are so used to.

Read more at Music & Literature here.

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