News

/ 2 September 2019

Week of the Festival: Struga, Macedonia

A Cultural Spark in Our Society

Interview with Ana Martinoska

Ana Martinoska is a cultural spark in our society. A mentor of many generations of postgraduates andPhD studentsof Cultural Studies at the Institute of Macedonian Literature at ‘‘Ss. Cyril and Methodius’’ in Skopje. She is a cheerful, spontaneous and highly energetic woman with a contagious smile. That is more important to me than her academic titles, degrees and numerous social acknowledgements. However, it is inevitable that we must mention that Martinoska is the President of the Scientific Council of the Institute of Macedonian Literature, a member of the Macedonian Writers' Association, the Association for Comparative Literature and the International Association for Comparative Literature. She is the author of six books and her columns, which appeared in the Globe Magazine and the daily newspaper, Nova Makedonija, up until a few years ago, were a living document of a certain society and time, as featured in her new book, ‘Culture Factory - Views on Gender, the City and Popular Culture’.

One Russian classic says: ‘How difficult is it to put your thoughts into words’? The thought is elusive to the language. But, if you ought to summarise a concept or a feeling in one word, then what would be the most appropriate word for what you feel about the state of literature, poetry and art in the Republic of North Macedonia?

Searching for the right word is a lifelong quest for everyone working in literature and cultural studies, like me. There are days when words come so naturally and easy, and then there are days that I spend nail-biting over a single sentence. Anyway, it is an intensive and sensitive process I cherish deeply. Talking about my own feelings on literature, poetry and art created in my country, the right word would most likely be REVIVAL. First of all, historically, we have seen periods of the revival of Macedonian literature under challenging political circumstances. Later, once in every few decades, there comes an awakening phase with contemporary artistic tendencies, based on restoration of familiar topics and traditions in innovative ways. 

Throughout the columns on gender and cultural themes in your new book Culture Factory - Views on Gender, the City and Popular Culture, you re-actualise some questions that are still open and controversial in our society, such as:  Proto-feminism, control over a woman's body, pornography, pain, art, politics, the philosophy of loneliness, commercials, reality shows and many more. There’s a dictum by Albert Camus: ‘The purpose of a writeris tokeep civilization from destroying itself.’ Do you try to fulfil it?

To be honest, I never did it intentionally. Nonetheless, looking back at it, it is certain that the texts in this book aim to provoke social changes, to shake up the established order, to break down some persistent myths and stereotypes, to challenge the boundaries of the social, gender and cultural life in our country. Thus, I hope that this book will be perceived as a witness of the cultural production in Macedonia over the past decade, a kind of a testimony of the conservative and patriarchal tendencies that have dominated the public discourse and evidence of the struggle for freedom and openness in art, culture and society as a whole.

 

In addition to your academic credits in gender studies, you are also active as a women's rights activist. In the gender alphabet which word do you consider the most feminine and which one is the most masculine for you?

In my personal alphabet, every word can choose its own gender, I stand firmly for gender and sexual diversity and equality. But then again, if I have to choose, I would go with ‘day’ and ‘night’. Although antonyms, I did not pick those words to emphasize how men and women are completely different from each other and from the others, but quite the contrary. I did so wanting to put an emphasis on the fact that everyone is equally important and equally beautiful in their own unique way.

In Culture Factoryyou write about the character of Lilith, known since Mesopotamia, through Arabic and Greek-Roman mythology, with reference to contemporary occultism, as a proto-feminist, as a woman willing to give up paradise for freedom and equality. Where do you recognise the patriarchal model of culture (literature) in Macedonian society?

Unfortunately, I would need yet another whole book to answer this question. Whether we want to admit it or not, we still live in an extremely patriarchal society. And you can see it in all aspects of the everyday life, as well as in culture and literature - from women being underrepresented in politics, business and other leader positions, through their misrepresentation in media and popular culture, to silencing and undermining female experiences. New models of femininity and masculinity are still being intersected with hierarchical and stereotypical roles, ideologically constructed. For instance, there is the beauty myth Naomi Wolf was writing about, which is intended to maintain the normative values of the patriarchal system by projecting insecurity in women, thus helping men to preserve their hegemony. Then, there is sexualisation and objectification of women and the appropriation of their bodies in the public sphere. There is growing frequency of ethnical, racial, sexual and other stereotypes, etc. On the other hand, there is an ongoing revolution against all of these things. From Lilith to nowadays heroines, there are feminists and activists who are fighting patriarchy and the mechanisms of marginalisation, hence encouraging equality and making significant changes in the visibility and the social and cultural perceptions of gender issues.

Queer theory is not only about identity politics, it also deconstructs and questions every dominant and exclusive model of thinking and acting. In your academic/literary texts you write about Foucault, Jeffers, Butler... Is there a need to emphasise gender in promoting an artist? And can the work of a female author be placed under the syntagma of ‘female writing’?

Well, there has been controversy over the use of the term ‘female writing’ and whether it means books written by women or books about/for women, often forgetting the simple fact that books by women are also often books about women, in the plurality of that term. They even coined a term ‘chick-lit’, a misogynistic label for some kind of laidback literature dealing with everyday life or the love life of women. It opens up the questions of whether there are genres that are gender-oriented and whether the female audience identifies only with certain types of books, films etc. And then again, the gender of the author can be the decisive and most influential point of view from where literature is being born. And art can be used to give voice to different perspectives and promote tolerance, to deconstruct stereotypes and destigmatise minorities, to reshape the understanding of gender and sex.

 

It is often said that solitude is a choice of writers and philosophers. You’ve asked: ‘Is everyone lonely? Are the existentialists right when they claim that loneliness is the essence of being human, someone who comes and goes from this world alone?’ Thus, you ask if we can trust Joseph Conrad when he says:‘Who knows what true loneliness is - not the conventional word but the naked terror’? What does loneliness mean to you? And what is the difference between loneliness as isolation and alienation and loneliness as the essential need to be alone with yourself, in order to be able to engage in dialogue with yourself?

Oh, I never ever dreamed of offering a solution to such a deep philosophical question. As with other topics, I just wanted to open up a discussion and I sought to understand that emotion of loneliness and emptiness that we all feel sometimes. It is not the same as being alone, regardless of whether by choice or by circumstance. There are moments in life when being alone with ourselves can be healing, but I still prefer not to associate loneliness with happiness, as Chekov would put it. As one saying goes: ‘There is only one hope against loneliness, which is love’.

By Irena Hristov, a freelance writer, poet and a public relations specialist. She has built her career working specifically within international development organizations (USAID, United Nations, British Council, European Union) with professional focus on strategic communications, advocacy and grass-root outreach in the areas of socio-economic development, institutional building, government relations and diplomacy, and cultural management. She was engaged as a Festival Coordinator of Skopje Cinema City – Festival of Music Documentaries, as well as Skopje Jazz Festival. She also served as a Public Relations Advisor to the President of Macedonia.

Edited by Ana Jovkovska