INTERVIEW Anđela Turukalo: The problem is lack of identity
In the past few decades, we have witnessed huge upheavals on the world stage. Devastating periods of war, periods of so-called transition between different ideology systems from which further derive incoherent changes in the value patterns (the establishment and adoption of new values and in the same the disregard of old values, which somehow remain trapped and stagnant) and many more. In all of this: history, tradition and culture suffer the most. Every chance I get, I vigorously emphasize the importance of culture as a pivotal guideline for further development of society. Culture is one connective tissue, the most important material from which the identity of a nation is built. The building block of society itself. What we as a human species really are in our essence.
The ultimate goal is to maintain the cohesion of group identity, which is reflexive in its nature, where the elements are understood as such precisely because they are reflected in the consciousness of its members. The maintenance and non-distortion of that underlying concept of collectivistic memory. Where we make the biggest mistake is mostly in not paying the enough attention to cultural patterns and monuments from the past that have been left to us in heirloom. Being in the always turbulent Balkans and dealing with numerous crises in different, or better yet – in almost all spheres of society, the culture itself somehow seems to always fall into a far corner, hitting the very bottom of the barrel.
This is exactly what we had the opportunity to talk about with a young writer and literary critic from Montenegro, Anđela Turukalo.
CULTURE IS ALL THE WAYS OF LIFE
Given that you predominantly come from the domain of cultural creativity, tell us what it represents to you, Anđela?
Turukalo: Culture can be defined as all the ways of life; including arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Creativity represents the ability of using imagination for producing the ideas necessary to create something new and valuable. For me, culture represents development of the world as we know it, while creativity appears as an innate curiosity and playfulness. Creativity is a fun side of cultural seriousness.
A man of literature is different from a man of the world. Who is closer to reality?
Turukalo: It depends. Which reality? I do believe everyone has a reality for themselves, so I’d say they’re equally close to their own realities. A man of literature can have lots of them at the same time, simply by nurturing his own creativity and imagination. Every story is a world of its own, it is a life for itself. Writers are prone to imagining, so reality can vary from one moment to another. Man of the world is mostly loyal to one reality and finds it compelling enough, if not too much in some cases.
Literary activity these days is often carried out with the idea focused solely on earning degrees or marks for promotions, etc. Is it an ethical exercise, although it is going on at a very high scale? Is it transient?
Turukalo: I wouldn’t globalize automatically this type of situation, since I’m aware of many writers who write simply for the pleasure of it. They’re not invested in hunting degrees, diplomas, awards etc. Yet, there is a large number of people who are desperate to write plainly because of that hunger for awards. I know some who do it well, I know some who don’t. Anyway, I consider this as a very destructive behavior: since literature shouldn’t be degraded in such a primitive way. Art never existed for rewards. It lives for the beauty of itself.
What is creativity? And what is the reason that among the academia we can come to find some good researchers, but creative writers are few and far between. Can you identify what is at the root of lack of creativity?
Turukalo: For me, creativity is letting a child inside to speak freely. Sometimes, when people grow up, they start rejecting those feelings and thoughts as immature. Humans are born with a charming awareness in regards to the world that surrounds us. Children find plain joy in everything. They fall in love with every blink of an eye. When a person stops doing that - that’s the moment when creativity starts being replaced with a “feet firmly on the ground” attitude. Researchers have very different ways of work than creative writers. Lately, I’m noticing there’s more need for researchers, since the audience is more interested in their work. Creative writing is being devalued by a large number of cliché loving writers and the space they’re getting, so the readers interested in quality creative writing are not easily able to access the new material which would satisfy their needs.
Literature we come to know gives us joy while it also runs parallel to history. Why has a poet been considered more dangerous than a historian?
Turukalo: Literature I am mostly familiar with gives me joy sometimes. Other times: sadness, pain, bravery, rebelliousness... Also, literature often gives us information, based on writers’ point of view. Throughout history, we’re aware of many writers whose books were forbidden, some of them were even imprisoned on the count of it - simply because of their own “inadequate attitude”. History is written by winners. Stories are written by writers. Sometimes it happens that the story is dangerous for history, for it yells what history keeps as a secret. Yet, social engagement is a very important characteristic for many writers, including myself, since it’s their way of telling their truth.
THE WHOLE WORLD HAS IDENTITY CRISIS?
Identity is not only a crisis in itself, but it has plunged the whole world into a crisis. Is identity the root cause of human strife? And why?
Turukalo: I wouldn’t agree that identity is a problem. The problem lies in the lack of it. A person who is aware of his own identity, who knows who he is inside and outside, is confident enough not to care about the identity of other people. People who consider identity to be a problem of any sort are usually the ones who do not know themselves. That’s when national/religious/racial identities become important. For me, it’s just overcompensating and nothing else.
You have dedicated your life to literature. Or, I can say, you have lived by literature. You might be feeling satisfied and fulfilled. Do you feel people who spend a lifetime in other disciplines can feel fulfilled like you?
Turukalo: With poetry, I’m at peace. It’s something that is a part of me since I was born and it always comes naturally to me. Sometimes I even joke that I’m not capable of writing anything else: everything becomes a poem along the way. I wouldn’t say I dedicated my life to it, but I am living it and it feels like home. I’m pretty much assured that everyone in this world has a passion. Anyone who lives his own passion probably is fulfilled as much as I am. It’s important that people do what makes them happy. If it’s important to you, never throw it away. If it’s in you, then you can’t stop anyway.
A man’s greatness is measured by what he gives back to society. These days, such thoughts are exiled from the minds of the youth. People only wish to amass wealth. Where does the poet fit in this evolving system of commercial narcissism?
Turukalo: The poet never fits the system. The poet mainly corresponds to the life itself. If a poet fitted the system, it would mean that the system is perfect or that the poet is not exactly a poet. Poetry tends to be searching for ideals. We all know there’s nothing perfect in this world, so the poet can never be completely satisfied with the situation, whatever it may be. The root of poetry is a plea for better, more beautiful, more sincere, calmer, etc. Poets sincerely believe that a word makes a difference. Their words have the intention of their own to make this world a better place. It will never be perfect, but poets won’t stop trying. And that’s why poetry will continue to exist.
What is your view of this certain deterioration in relations to culture itself in the Western Balkans? Cultural scene in Montenegro: how would you characterize it?
Turukalo: Montenegro is a country with an amazingly rich cultural heritage. Yet, Montenegrins are known for laziness, so I'd say that the cultural scene in Montenegro suffers from the lack of effort. We have many amazing artists. Yet, some of them continue to keep quiet and the rest are not enough to overpower that sense of “destructive silence” and make a significant difference along the way. Of course, there's always a very loud crowd of intrusive mediocre creators who aren't as valuable, but they consume space. Since their work is made to be simple by its mere form, everyone can easily understand it. And, of course, the mass culture is for masses. As for the elite culture, embodied in so called “high” cultural forms and pertaining institutions that are keen on producing this type of cultural output – the accompanying audience is extremely hard to find, if there’s any left nowadays at all. It's not just the case of Montenegro; I'd say it's a global problem after all. People are used to having everything served on a plate, so the enjoyment of depth and complexity somehow became too much of an effort.