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Stanford Humanities Center International Visitors Program brings Serbian writer and philosopher to Stanford

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Sreten Ugričić coined the term "meady-rade" to refer to works of art that are "missing" from the public by choice, unlike censored or banned art.
Sreten Ugričić is a philosopher, librarian, and the author of nine books, whose prose has been selected in several anthologies of contemporary Serbian literature.
 
From September through October 2013, Ugričić is in residence as an International Visitor at the Stanford Humanities Center where he will be working on a unique project about hidden art, which he calls “Meady-rade.”
 
Ugričić, who is well known for his critical approach and public engagement as a writer and national librarian, was born and lived for 30 years in Yugoslavia and then Serbia, following the Yugoslav wars. He is a member of the Serbian PEN Club and co-President of the Selection Committee of World Digital Library
 
In January 2012, he was dismissed from his position as the Director of the National Library of Serbia, which he held for eleven years, after publically supporting freedom of speech and reading. He was accused of terrorism and forced by a political threat to leave the country and live abroad.
 
Before coming to Stanford, Ugričić was a writer in residence at the Literaturhaus in Zurich, Switzerland. During the academic year 2013-14, Ugričić will be a visiting scholar at Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies (CREEES), co-funded by the Scholar Rescue Fund.
 
In an interview with Patricia Blessing, the Center’s Executive Officer for the Stanford Humanities Center's International Visitors Program, Ugričić explains the unique concept behind “Meady-rade.”
 
 
Your project “meady-rade” has an intriguing title evoking the French artist Marcel Duchamp’s “ready-made.” What is “meady-rade” and how did you choose the title?
Mostly, this concept pertains to the status and strategy of the imagination in dysfunctional societies. It asks, “what happens to art in an environment of barren, diseased, corrupt, and bankrupt imagination, both individual and collective?” The answer is that under such circumstances, art does the best it can: it makes itself missed.
 
Sometimes, rarely, it apears as if it was here, that it has returned to us. Puzzled, my heart starts to beat faster and I ask myself: “Out of desperate need, do I see the art even when it is not there?” This strategy - to be missed - is something that art often shares with freedom, with nature, with justice, with truth, with conscience, with trust, with love, with friendship. Somehow, these works of art are present, but they are not available to us. They withdraw to a reserve position, to a place and time of their ultimate defense.
 
I call this art that is not available to the public, by author’s intention or deliberation, meady-rade. Works of art under censorship, however, or those destroyed by vis major, are not eligible for the category.
 
Thus, meady-rade pertains to self-suspended, unattainable, hidden art. Often, art leaves no traces and no witnesses behind. One way or another, art always resists, doesn’t it?
 
Meady-rade means a work of art that survives and endures completely and consistently outside or beyond a given political, economic, institutional, cultural, and interpretative context. The main argument for it would be that if we can’t see, hear, touch, or find something, this does not mean that it does not exist. For example, there are stars so far away from us that their light will travel for several more millions of years before reaching us. We can’t see them or know anything about them, but they are there.
 
With any work of art, there is an element which remains beyond perceptible experience, an element which endures as tension or suspense or movement between exposed ingredients. I see meady-rade as the concept and strategy opposite to Marcel Duchamp’s concept and strategy of ready-made, which he based on deliberate inclusion of unaesthetic objects into the art system, its institutions, its interpretations, its inevitable economic and political interests.
 
The term meady-rade sounds like the opposite of the term ready-made, doesn’t it? I intend to research and write about the meady-rade concept, to justify it as relevant and functional in the framework of contemporary post-semantic or dystopian culture and polity, not only in the framework of aesthetics or meta-aesthetics.
 
What drew you to this topic and where do you find inspiration and ideas for new areas of research?
I got first pointers from symptoms of the situation in contemporary Serbia, where I come from, or, should I say, from where I had to leave. But to elaborate we would need another conversation. My project is not about Serbia, it’s universal.
 
How does your current project relate to your previous work? 
In all of my writings, fiction or non-fiction, there is a distinctive iconoclastic element. In a certain way, I share the principle of apophatic theology: we cannot say what God is, it’s impossible to impose anything as genus proximum for an absolute being itself. You can say only what God is not. You may recognize that kind of attitude in my poetics as an enduring element, along with anti-identity attitude, anti-essentialism, anti-naturalism and basically anti towards any similar reductive discourses.
 
On the other hand, I am interested relentlessly in any form of radical imagination, and it’s multileveled relations with concrete context, with so called reality, around us or inside us.
 
By the way, God is - if I must immediately deny my apophatic poetics and define it - nothing else but our imagination activated in it’s most radical, limitless articulation or manifestation. 
 

Could you describe some of the examples that you have explored so far?
Let me give just an explicit example of meady-rade, from seventy years ago. It was implemented and incorporated in the work and heritage of the German composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann. Hartmann is a figure unique in German music - a composer who didn’t emigrate during Nazi rule, and defied Hitler from inside for the duration of the Third Reich from 1933 to 1945. Hartmann’s music established a link in the symphonic chain from pre-Hitler modernism to post-War abstraction. When Hitler came to power in Germany, Hartmann was a well-known composer living in Munich, married to the daughter of a rich businessman with aristocratic background.
 
The Nazis wanted Hartmann to participate in cultural life in order to justify their cultural policy and ideology, but he rejected any collaboration with the Third Reich’s system and cultural scene. Instead, he directed his creative energies abroad, toward international festivals and competitions while remaining in inner emigration in Germany. From 1933 to 1945, Hartmann appeared at several international contemporary music festivals with a public declaration of independence from Third Reich Germany. Hartmann wrote symphonic movements but shoved the music sheets into a drawer and locked them away, or hid them buried in the woods and other secret places. He never stopped composing, but he did not allow his music to be published or performed during the Third Reich. This is a typical meady-rade. People could not hear nor read the compositions, but this did not mean that the music did not exist.
 
Can you describe any examples of meady-rade from American culture?
Meady-rade is art that behaves like Herman Melville’s “Mr. Bartelby the Scrivener,” who calmly replies to any request or command: "I would prefer not to." You know, in all cultures, from all spaces and times of human history, there are meady-rades. The unfinished second volume of the nineteenth-century Russian writer Nikolay Gogol’sDead Souls is meady-rade. The second part of Aristotle’s Poetics, dedicated to comedy, is also meady-rade.
 
A haiku written in solitude, on a bare and dry piece of wood with a brush dipped in water, is meady-rade: by the time the last line is written, the first line has already dried and no one wil ever read the entire poem.
 
Glen Gould – the genius who suddenly rejects to play piano, without any explanation, is meady-rade. Samuel Beckett’s Godot, so strongly present in his absence, is a typical meady-rade. Or take into account the bitter poet Ovid, in dramatic moments when throwing the Metamorphoses manuscript into flames, just before he had leave Rome and going into exile, performing a gesture of meady-rade (we are lucky to have the Metamorphoses preserved from transcripts not authorized by the author himself).
 
Some aspects of meady-rade could be recognized in contemporary American culture: some of John Cage’s music, works by writers Thomas Pynchon and J. D. Salinger, photographer Cindy Sherman and the alternative rock band The Residents, to name just a few.
 
To elaborate on one of these examples, let me turn to Cindy Sherman. Her self-portraits are typical meady-rades, because we may see thousands photographs of Cindy Sherman, but none of them is her self-portrait. At the same time, the fact that we can not see the self-portrait doesn’t mean it does not exist.
 
Regarding J. D. Salinger, if you think about his consistent and unwavering retreat from the public scene and from publishing, you are only guessing. In the first place, it would be about Holden Caulfield’s belief that the most precious value must remain inaccessible. For example, at the very beginning of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden mentions a story by his brother D.B., about a boy who does not allow anybody to see his golden fish, because he had bought it with money of his own, patiently saved, making huge sacrifices that are unusual for a child of his age. Holden adores this boy. Now we know why: the golden fish exists, but nobody may see her – a nice shiny living example of meady-rade.
 
How do you approach the destruction or the absence of some of the works that you are discussing? How do you study something that was made, but can’t be seen? Could you describe the steps of your current research process? 
These are exactly the questions re-actualized and revoked and made inspiring again via meady-rade hypothesis. Meady-rade may be useful for better understanding the relations between art and non-art, fiction and non-fiction, presence and absence, obvious and non-recognizable, possible and impossible, accidental and inevitable, predictable and unpredictable, assumptions and conclusions, theory and non-theory, production and demand, indifference and desire, private and public, freedom and control, system and anarchy.
 
My research goes in two complementary directions: development of the concept itself, with theoretical implications, and a series of individual interpretations, as precise as possible, of selected examples, real or fictional, factual or imaginary. If anything, meady-rade helps me better understand how deeply both sides of the story are intertwined. I have already found interesting examples, but I am looking for more. I will try to use the meady-rade concept to interpret selected examples of different origins, in as relevant and as illuminating way as possible. At the same time, I will try to use those examples to further develop the concept, in order to make it more comprehensive and penetrating, more inspiring.
 
As for those examples, I must admit you are right, there is a paradox here: if a real meady-rade remains hidden, how can we show it and analyze it? This is why I select fictional examples as well, from novels, movies, and myths.
 
I am aware that all my examples inevitably must be failed, inconsistent, partial meady-rades, some kind of post festum meady-rade, because, if they are available to be shown and open for reception and interpretation, then they are not meady-rade in the strict sense of the word. Let’s say like this: a part-time meady-rade tells us a lot about full time meady-rade.
 
What sources do you use beyond the actual works of art? What are your most important research tools?
Conceptual recognition is my initial research tool. Then, if something is noticed and recognized, if it matches some elements of the pattern, I proceed with contextualization.
 
Meady-rade and related phenomena are everywhere. A person just needs to be attentive to everyday life and history, recent or ancient. Often we may not differentiate between knowledge and error, but it’s another issue. Flogiston, amnesia, Bozon, vanishing point, “Prism,” all have some meady-rade element. 
 
Just a few days ago, I read in the newspapers about a mammal discovered in the South American rain forest, previously unknown to us. Scientists named the animal olinguito. The fact that for thousands of years, we didn’t know anything about the olinguito doesn’t imply that the animal did not exist.
 
How do you project the future of this project? How do you plan on publishing it?
Hopefully, one day you will read the book Meady-rade, though at the moment, I am not yet sure if it would be a work of fiction or non-fiction. Meady-rade is real, but it simply requires implementation of our imagination. It’s that kind of concept which insists not only on your mind to react, but also inevitably your imagination too. Willingly or not, you start to imagine that somewhere is there, which is traditionally the task of art, because you know that it is there, even if it is beyond your sight and reach.
 
Meady-rade is a simple assumption, implying that art requires to be assumed. Assumptions may not be true or false, they are there just to be accepted or ignored. So, we will see if I will put fiction or non-fiction as the subtitle for the book. Until then, please don’t forget: art leaves no traces and no witnesses behind, it is not to be found where we expect it. Art is possible only if it doesn’t fit into our experience. Art always resists.
 

Media Contact: Corrie Goldman, Director of Humanities Communication:  (650) 724-8156, corrieg@stanford.edu