But surely you need an ego to assert yourself?
Yes, you do, but that doesn’t mean you should have no empathy. I’ve met many women who were able to manage their egos, who were capable of sacrificing their time and their life. I think it’s wonderful to be able to spring into action sometimes without wondering if you‘re wasting your time on someone else. And it seems to me that this hasn’t been sufficiently reflected in the arts.
Is there such a thing as female and male writing?
I don’t mix gender into my writing. Whatever I do, I am fully committed to – I always try to conceive of the world in a new way. But of course I use different language for female characters, because their experience is different. And if I find that my language isn’t up to it I have another go at it.
Do women write with their bodies, as Hélène Cixous has said?
I wouldn’t know, I write with my head. I always take an issue that preoccupies me at any given moment, mull it over from every conceivable angle and so before I start writing I already know what line of argument I’m going to put forward in the text. But of course, there are times when the writing happens intuitively. Writing is a very individual process for every woman as well as every man, you really can’t generalize.
Recently a vast number of new women authors has sprung up in Slovakia, producing what’s usually referred to as women’s novels. What does this trend indicate?
What it indicates is that they’ve been duped by the system. This is exactly what has been imposed on us: the expectation that women cover women’s themes: relationships, love and that’s that. But the real world is much more complex for all of us. Men find this rather convenient, of course. They see it as evidence that this really is the case.
Women‘s novels enjoy mass readership.
Some young and pretty women authors have started appearing on billboards.
Because they have become commodified just like their books and that suits the media. As for me, I had to turn down an interview for a women’s magazine because the editor kept pushing me to talk about men and children. I told her I wasn’t prepared to answer questions like that because it helps to perpetuate the system. You should have seen the panic – normally people beg to be interviewed and suddenly there’s someone who turns down the offer! It’s dangerous when society becomes so dumbed down that we lose the ability to spot a dictator.
Do you see a risk of social unrest at present?
I see that some groups are beginning to radicalize. The dumbed-down section of society demands entertainment, brands, holidays and adrenaline sports. And this crowd can be easily manipulated by somebody clever. We know from experience how easy it is to pick a vicarious target, someone who is different, and then dump all the problems on them, whether they are Roma or Muslims. It is interesting how little time it takes for most people to fall for this sort of thing. The promise of a temporary benefit is enough for them to give up what is most precious — their freedom and self-respect. Before 1989 we could at least hope that everything would change once the system collapsed. But nowadays we are the ones who are bringing all this about and suddenly we don’t know how to stop it. What freedom are we talking about? This word needs revising. What we really have is the opposite, we have covert shackling, modern slavery.
What should we do to break out of this slavery?
You have to create a parallel world, have friends, people you trust, your own culture, books, concerts. Otherwise we’d go mad. I can’t close my eyes to what’s happening in the world but I admit that I keep it separate from my private life. I enjoy my life, it amazes me in many ways. There are many great things around even though it sometimes takes a while to spot them among all the flickering adverts.
Do you have any maxims for raising your children?
I don’t tell my children anything, I just behave the way I would like everyone else to behave. I try not to be afraid and to speak my mind and, at the same time, accept that my words and actions will have consequences. I try not to steal, be open to other people. I’ve discovered that the greatest challenge these days is to remain a decent human being.
Readers wanting to know more about Radka Denemarková’s work can find her essay on translating Herta Müller in Asymptote and an extract from ‘Kobold’, her previous novel, in the November issue of Words without Borders.