Beyond the outer shell: interview with Dorotea Šušak, one of the Deconfining Writers

Meet Dorotea Šušak, a talented author whose narrative struck a chord with the judges of the “Deconfining” project’s short story competition organized by the Croatian National Theatre Ivan Zajc. In this engaging discussion, we’ll uncover the secrets behind her winning narrative, delving into the profound wellsprings of her inspiration and her personal reflections on the trials of illegal migrations


  • Your work "Anatomy of a Point" delves into themes of movement, separation, and existence through complex images and metaphors. What inspired you to explore these themes? How do they relate to your personal experiences or broader societal issues?


Just as in the composition of a musical or visual work, the process of weaving materials is equally if not more important than the fabric itself. In my case, it’s about weaving text, which is exhausted through the construction of language whose architecture enables the fullest expression of content. This is, of course, the desire and aspiration. How successful we are in this endeavor naturally varies. In that sense, it is extremely important for me in works like this to understand the values I want to contemplate, create through them, and speak about. The theme of ‘migration’, ‘illegal migrations’, or ‘refugee crises’ in this case is just the outer shell of the content itself. The essence of the text is to penetrate much deeper and dissect that shell through a thousand small micro-cuts, to observe and abstract what lies within, to detect what we have consciously or associatively inscribed in those arrangements. Both as societies and as individuals. Through such a process, I arrived at what I consider to be the originating values of the outer shell, and it seemed to me that it was precisely about antonymous pairs such as: belonging versus ‘non-belonging / separating / losing roots’ or existence versus non-existence / being unaware and absent / dying. In analyzing all of these values, my reading of social issues is as intensely personal as every artistic endeavor demands. I truly believe that prose, poetry, or dramatic writing has nothing of impartiality, pseudo-objectivity, politicking (unlike the concept of politicalness), or hygienicity (unlike the concept of ethics). In social work, I am interested in statistics, the law of large numbers, and patterns (although this is entirely conditional because I always want to focus on the individual story), but in artistic work, I am interested in something entirely different. This doesn’t always evoke autobiographical kitsch. I am interested in how bloody we are under the skin and what we do with that realization.


  • The concepts of lines and points seem to play a significant role in your text. Could you explain the symbolism of these elements and how they are loaded into the message you want to convey?


Graphic determinants of textuality are particularly close sources for me to construct images and metaphors. We are educated and raised in a culture that knows lines and directions much better than points. Lines are much richer, but also more unrestrained than directions. Unrestraint sometimes frightens people, but it is often a threat to social order. This is completely absurd and funny because life is essentially a completely uncontrollable and unrestrained phenomenon. It is not surprising that the graphic symbol of the ‘semicolon’ (;) has become a frequent symbol (tattoo) of survival for people facing suicidal depression or mental difficulties. However, in this case, my text aimed to rebrand the position of the ‘point’. The point is not necessarily the space of ‘end’, but it can simply be the time of ‘breath’.


  • Your exploration of separation and resilience, especially in relation to parenthood, is profound and touching. What emotional undertone drives this aspect of your writing?


Parenthood and the generational relationship to those who introduce us to the world, or those to whom we leave the world, are very important to me in writing in general, and in this text as well. The theme of the decision to biologically continue the generation is also important. However, I think that ‘parenthood’ transcends the idea of ‘reproduction’ or ‘adoption’. We are much more often ‘parents’ in life than it is biologically possible and much more often we seek parents in other people than we are given at birth. In our nature, there is nurturing if we nurture it, as well as the need to be cared for. In moments of high external crisis (regardless of whether that crisis is caused by displacement, poverty, pandemic threat, war, or natural disaster), this need for care intensifies, as well as the need to be taken care of. I think that parenthood understood in this way is an innate human need, and everything that stands in its way opens wounds that are very difficult to heal. It is difficult to recover from not helping someone get up from the floor, as well as from the fact that there was no one when we needed someone to lend a hand. The most difficult scenario is when the system interferes and obstructs both the helper and the one in need of help.


  • In the second part of your work, you compare the idea of refined life with the harsh realities of the world. What prompted you to create the contrast of these concepts, and what message do you want to convey from this opposition?


The fact is that the modern world is a realm of opposites. A handful of those who have everything and the majority of those who have nothing or very little. This enables the fetishism of money to ignite, so the idea of the real value of this or that, perhaps was never further from the real, as it is today. However, this is just one lens through which I wanted to observe this theme. More importantly, it was for me to realize that how I live is equally or even more important than the fact that I live. This realization demands a lot from us, but it reconciles us with the need within us not to settle for mediocrity. At the same time, it deprives us of the right to set the measure of reality for others or to locate their place in the sun for them.


  • Your use of images, such as the metaphor of tea, is expressive and evocative. How do you approach creating such vivid images, and what is the essence of metaphor?


Tea and the act of drinking tea certainly have synesthetic potential, but I must admit that this metaphor in the text is one of the more literal ones. I am glad it was recognized because, through something so simple and literal, I speak about migration and the plant and its use on planet Earth, as well as about colonization routes. It’s terrible that as humans we sometimes find more sympathy within us for colonizers than for people who are saving their lives by leaving. Ultimately, it is important to understand that tea time in an armchair is a luxury for many today. And we all need that ‘luxury’.


  • The third part of your text explores themes of identity, resilience, and human experience. Do they overlap with your thoughts on life and existence?


It has always seemed to me, even before any humanistic education, that the social constructs of identity are very unstable ground. They are, of course, shaped by our perception and self-conception. At the end of the day, we have what we are born with, what will return to the ground, and some baggage in between. And the hope that we are not as definitive as it seems. In that ‘baggage on the road,’ wonder and love are hidden, but also some burden. Everything else is entirely unstable and uncertain, but we sometimes play our roles too firmly, so it seems that jumping out of that skin is dangerous and that we could break a bone or two on the way. In fact, we are much more fragile when we just watch and wait. The last few years that I have decided to mark for myself with education in the field of psychotherapy lead me to the conclusion that it is entirely impossible and entirely unnecessary to avoid breaks. When they happen, they cannot be repaired or erased. What is possible and very important to do is to learn to live with those breaks and to use the consequences in the best possible way. Building one’s own resilience through living, rather than sedation. It greatly annoys me when the media compare human health with our care for objects and things like ‘if you take your car for service, surely you will take care of your own health too’. Could the analogy be more banal? Man is not always rational or sober, and life experience cannot be optimized. Existence fortunately goes beyond assumed directions and curves.


  • You often return to the idea of lines versus strokes, luck versus misfortune. Could you expand the meaning of these contrasts and how they shape your exploration of human emotions and experiences?


Strokes are like lines or directions, simply the object of learned experience. The boundaries of our knowledge, thoughts, movements. Like an automated hand movement, or the signature we leave on administrative forms and contracts, or the set of movements in martial arts. Great for the ring and completely inadequate or inappropriate for everything outside of it. Luck and misfortune, on the other hand, are much more interesting concepts because in their essential meaning, they suggest their unpredictability and uncontrollability. It seems as if everything outside of ‘luck’ or ‘misfortune’ can be controlled, which certainly isn’t true. Or as if the whole experience of life is subject to ‘luck’ or ‘misfortune’, although that is much less true. It is certainly about borderline concepts whose analysis in literature is very potent. Understanding these concepts significantly shapes our emotional worlds.


  • Finally, could you share some insights into your creative process and how you approach shaping such a complex and stimulating prose work?


It is certain that shaping prose, poetry, or dramatic text differs in craft code, so my approach also differs, but what is always identical in my creative process is certainly the relationship towards the textuality of the text and the aspiration, or orientation towards the rhythm, tempo, and musicality of textual material. If I weren’t engaged in writing, I would probably be involved in music, so the musicality of the text is especially important to me. When I turn to music, I will see how interpolarity works on the reverse plane. Jokes or seriousness aside, dealing with the form that a certain theme should take is almost as important to me as the theme itself. It is important for me that the theme chooses me, just as I choose it. I don’t mystify anything, but I want to say that it is necessary to have a physical reaction to the theme or chosen content. If you are not disturbed, excited, amazed, overwhelmed, childishly happy, or existentially frightened, what do you need it for?! And if you don’t need it, others will need it even less. Ultimately, it is extremely important for me to abandon any expectations of the rationality of approach and to surrender to semi-conscious associativity. However, since I am not only a writer but also a dramaturge, in some projects I work on in collaboration, by agreement, or by order, it is necessary to deviate from my thematic, poetic, or aesthetic given because the job requires it from me, but therefore, I always clearly distinguish my own writing from applied writing. This doesn’t mean that one is less or more important than the other, but that this boundary is not permeable and that when my own or anyone else’s ‘writing’ is truly sought, it simply does not succumb to work compromises but rather to the needs of the spirit and soul.


You can read Dorotea’s text “Anatomy of a Point” HERE!

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