On September 13, “Dnevnik” republished from “Toest” Svetla Encheva’s comment “What’s wrong with Vinetu”. The occasion was the decision of the German publishing house “Ravensburg” to withdraw from its catalog two books about Vinetu, prepared for publication. We are now publishing Zornitsa Stoilova’s comment in Toest” in response to Svetla Encheva.
I read Svetla Encheva’s article “What’s wrong with Vinetu” with sympathy and understanding, but also with a certain amount of disagreement. That’s where it comes from.
The fact is that stereotypes are not a good thing, even if they are supposedly positive. Especially when they are durable. Especially when they seem to be covering up the real story. In the case of the Indians (I use that word with all the caveats of its inaccuracy) it is a history of genocide, displacement, cultural erasure and what not. Yes, it would not be nice if the story of the suppression of the April Uprising, say, was pushed out in this way.
Taking a book off the market, even more so a commercial “sequel” to the original, doesn’t solve anything and even harms. A stereotype is a complex of ideas that cannot be mechanically removed. If a huge and powerful publishing house like Ravensburg really cares about the image of Native Americans, it has a much better means of influencing the environment.
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Namely – by publishing more works by Native American authors. By promoting them for real. By giving them visibility in the media. In general: by standing behind them with his money and prestige.
Let’s take the example of Svetla Encheva. The one about the imaginary book in which a Bulgarian and a Turk are first friends in Kardzhalian times, and at the end of his life the Bulgarian accepts Islam. Well, let’s say the Turkish publisher pulls the book off the market. What will this change? And what would change if, instead of downloading it, he decided to publish Vera Mutafchieva’s “Chronicle of Troubled Time”, say? And ten more Bulgarian books?
That’s what it’s about. Banning, downloading, muting are not a good idea. Moreover, they create a precedent for banning, withdrawing, silencing other books that do not match the taste of part of the public. True liberalism, true concern for literature, true concern for the representation of all voices demands otherwise.
Words against words. Belief in the power of literature. To her freedom.
And there will always be stereotypes, of course. Human memory is designed to conserve resources by generalizing, often quite wrongly. This does not mean accepting them with a sigh of resignation (after all, a long time has passed since 1912, when the first book about Vinetu was published), but rather increasing the possibilities for conversation, for the inclusion of new voices. This, for example, has a reading list by Native American authors. Louise Erdrich also appeared in Bulgarian. Let’s start with that.
And something else: we either have freedom of speech or we don’t. Pulling books because they contain a racial stereotype and pulling them because they challenge it are two sides of the same coin.
By the way, this is what Salman Rushdie says in an interview for L’Express since 2015. The occasion is the attacks against “Charlie Hebdo” and the reaction of many intellectuals who consider the cartoonists to be guilty:
“Since then, I have felt that if the attacks on The Satanic Verses had happened today, these people would not have defended me, but would have used the same arguments against me, accusing me of offending an ethnic and cultural minority.”
And if we’re going to challenge stereotypes, it would be most effective if someone wrote the “Version of Vinetu” for the same age group that the original was aimed at.