The Unexpected Persistence of Stereotypes: On the East-West Distinction in the Work of Dubravka Ugrešić

  • Abstract:

    The old division between Western Europe and its allegedly inferior Eastern counterpart has demonstrated great resilience across Europe, particularly in stereotypical forms. Intellectuals and artists from Eastern Europe have critically addressed this distinction. Rather than automatically praising such critical discourses for their subversive nature, this paper questions their effectiveness in overcoming the stereotypical East-West distinction. Through the concept of rhetorical stereotype, this paper analyzes the functioning of apparent and hidden stereotypes, and seeks to interpret the simultaneous deconstruction and revitalization of East-West stereotypes. This will be illustrated by a close reading the contemporary writings of Dubravka Ugrešić. Her work is of particular relevance not only for her status as a famous, international writer, but also for its critical potential towards stereotyping. This critical approach manifests itself in theoretical and narratological sophistication, as well as in the perspective from which she writes. Provoked by her exile experiences, Ugrešić’s texts show a critical awareness of two directional East-West stereotyping. It is from this perspective of an intermediary figure – commenting upon but standing in between the ‘East’ and ‘West’ – that Ugrešić addresses, uses and criticizes these stereotypes. My argument is that Ugrešić’s critical writings and by extension many other cultural representations – despite the sophisticated attempts to subvert the East-West distinction and the concomitant stereotypes – reinforce the very stereotypes they try to deconstruct. In conclusion, this paper sheds new light on the concrete functioning and persistence of stereotypes in texts where these very stereotypes are undermined by critical, anti-essentialist intellectuals. Indeed, precisely there where we would not immediately expect them.