World and Theater (Vladimir Mikulka)
Mis à jour le Wednesday 12 February 2014
Future full of excitement
World and Theater (Svět a divadlo), issue 5, volume 2011
Ten years ago Patrik Ourednik won the hearts of the Czech readers with a thin book, which at first sight resembles swotty school notes by a secondary school pupil, who despite being very meticulous, is completely unable of distinguishing what he heard at school from the things he saw in some trashy TV quiz. Europeana consists of a free stream of historical data, mixed with miscellaneous information from popular science on technology, sociology and politics; magazine gossip is complemented by shocking and peculiar details, on top of that, the mixture is spiced up by banalities, clichés and primitively paraphrased ideological slogans. Ourednik uses stiff schoolboy style, repeating constantly sentences such as “ And some people said that the end of the world would be very soon and others said that it would be a while yet.” Descriptions of war horrors appear as a refrain and the absurdity of this surreal mixture is supported by a pseudoscientific glossary, which is printed in a column on the margins of the page (“Future full of excitement”). Heaps of corpses are mentioned with the detachment of a statistician and the invention of the pushup bra receives similar attention as the Oedipus complex or the atomic bomb.
The book begins with the information on the length of a line which could be formed from the corpses of American soldiers who died during the D-Day operation in Normandy (38 kilometres). It concludes with an even more telling reminder of the optimistic theory about the “end of history”, which is closely linked with the definite victory of liberal democracy, “which was invented in 1989 by some American political scientist.” Moreover, Ourednik includes a vicious, yet in its brevity very telling epilogue: “But lots of people did not know the theory and continued to make history as if nothing had happened.” In the meantime, the history of the 20th century is narrated at random as a chaotic bloody mess; purposefully there is no gradation nor structure (except a very vague chronology describing the events from the oldest to the newest with many digressions and jumps).
Although Europeana is soaked in irony, Ourednik does not openly give hints to his readers (the above mentioned comment on making history is one of the few exceptions). He rather adopts the attitude of a naively trustful stupidity with almost Schweikian rigorousness. He describes all events very seriously and with conviction– but from such perspective and in such context that the ridiculousness, senselessness or even murderous stupidity of the events is fully shown. Ourednik is unusually skilful and manages to be subversive in a very catchy way. As a result, almost all readers agree with Europeana. It is a strange paradox: he laughs at everything and everybody and still wins praise from everyone. It seems that Europeana matches the current mood with almost dangerous precision.
The readers of Europeana might be confirmed in their comfortable “pub” feeling that nothing has (and never had) any worth, as they have always suspected and that now they together with the author of Europeana have finally seen it in full light. However, nothing is so simple, Ourednik definitely does not relish in such banal plebeian attitude: his stance is despite all irony quite clear and consistent. On the whole, it seems more conservative than plebeian. His disgust with wordy ideologies, concepts, social engineering and revolutions is most strongly revealed when he writes about Nazism and Communism (which is very often). Enthusiastic revolutionaries of Paris Spring, various sectarians or Esperantists trying to save the world also get their scolding. Basic human values – but surprisingly also faith and even the church, both being common targets in such cases – Ourednik leaves aside. Europeana is a sarcastic and cruel book, but it is not without distinctions, nor is cynicism an end in itself.
Translated by Hana Pavelková