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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

Karaoke Culture

Dubravka Ugrešić

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To purchase Karaoke Culture

Title: Karaoke Culture
Author: Dubravka Ugrešić
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 324 pages
Original in: Croatian
Availability: Karaoke Culture - US
Karaoke Culture - UK
Karaoke Culture - Canada
Karaoke Culture - India
Karaoké culture - France
Karaokekultur - Deutschland
  • Croatian title: Napad na minibar
  • Translated and with an Afterword by David Williams, with contributions from Ellen Elias-Bursać and Celia Hawkesworth

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing personal reflections on culture, artists, and societal/political change

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Los Angeles Times . 1/1/2012 Carolyn Kellogg

  From the Reviews:
  • "Despite these small failings, Karaoke Culture is an essential investigation of our times. Ugresic's best moments come when she connects the personal to the universal, when navigating a political storm is illustrated by her mother's easy laughter in the face of unpleasantness, or when she extrapolates from her own Internet overuse" - Carolyn Kellogg, The Los Angeles Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Karaoke Culture is divided into four sections, and collects a variety of Ugrešić's recent observational personal essays. While most of it is a collection of relatively short feuilleton-filler pieces the first section, 'Karaoke Culture', is an extended hundred-page riff (though also divided into distinct but connected chapters), while the forty-plus-page piece, 'A Question of Perspective', stands somewhat apart as a much longer (and more intensely personal) essay than most of the pieces. There are some common threads running through the collection, but it does feel somewhat overfull; a tighter, more focused collection might have packed more of a punch.
       The very strong first section, 'Karaoke Culture', looks at the shift in what is considered art, as well as the shifting roles and definitions of artist and consumer, as Ugrešić notes:

The balance of power, formerly dominated by Author and Work, has flipped in favor of the Recipient.
       This "tectonic shift" -- with the rug suddenly pulled out from under us, as it were -- is one we're still trying to come to grips with, the wholesale embrace of amateurism, where everyone can be an artist and there is barely any differentiation between 'high' and 'low' art any longer (since all art is equally valid) of course changes everything.
       Ugrešić is clearly troubled by the 'cult of the amateur' and its consequences and, as in her previous work, she explores all this in a mix of personal reflection, amusing examples, and what amounts to thinking out loud. The tone sometimes approaches one of befuddlement -- how can this be ? one imagines her shaking her head, yet again -- but, of course, she knows exactly what is going on, and her meandering pieces prove to be not only entertaining but insightful, posing the questions that need to be asked and considered.
       The former Yugoslavia, and her personal memories of the culture and education she was exposed to there, is something she frequently returns to here as well. In 'A Question of Perspective' she also provides a detailed account of the ugly episode (and its lingering aftereffects) in Croatia in which she and other intellectuals -- specifically other women -- were denounced and hounded in a bizarre media frenzy. It is an interesting (and shocking) account and meditation on the events -- but the piece is also a bit of an odd fit in this collection.
       Some of the shorter pieces are only loosely connected to the book's main themes, but all but the most incidental are of some interest. Many at least touch on both the role and the life of the writer in the modern world, especially the peripatetic literary festival circuit life (as there are so many festivals now that: "every writer in Europe, whoever he or she may be, is deluged with invitations"). And, connecting some of her themes, she notes that in this new, Recipient- and amateur-dominated scene:
On the international market, geography is the only thing that gives the contemporary novel the illusion of dynamism, vitality, and richness. First a novel from Turkey turns up, then one from Pakistan, then France has a turn, after that Japan ...
       Among the stray pieces is also a longer one on 'The Spirit of the Kakanian Province', a fascinating piece in which Ugrešić revisits several "Croatian Kakanian novels" ('Kakania' refers to the Austro-Hungarian Empire -- from the 'K & K' of the imperial ('kaiserlich') and royal ('königlich') multicultural halves of the country as it existed between 1867 and 1918; Robert Musil's The Man without Qualities is, of course, the great Kakanian novel).
       Practically each of these pieces is worth reading, but it's a bit unwieldy as a collection. A slightly smaller book that focuses entirely on the 'karaoke culture'-idea (and perhaps develops or explores it a bit further) could easily have been split off from this one. As is, some of the other pieces, strong and weak, detract from the very strong beginning section. Similarly, 'A Question of Perspective' also deserves room of its own. Still: better too much than too little -- and Ugrešić certainly remains essential reading.
       (Note that there is also an Afterword by translator David Williams -- 'A Postcard from Berlin'. I have no idea what that's about -- i.e. what its purpose is -- and this trying-to-be-Ugrešić-like-riff is pretty much the last thing this collection, already bursting at the seams, needed.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 September 2011

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Karaoke Culture: Reviews: Dubravka Ugrešić: Other Books by Dubravka Ugresic under Review: Other books of interest under Review:

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About the Author:

       Dubravka Ugrešić was born in 1949, in Yugoslavia (now Croatia). Her writing has been translated into numerous languages. She was awarded the prestigious Heinrich Mann Prize in 2000.

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