Book Review: The Body of War: Media, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Break-up of Yugoslavia, by Dubravka Žarkov

The Body of War: Media, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Break-up of YugoslaviaThe Body of War: Media, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Break-up of Yugoslavia by Dubravka Žarkov

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First, let’s look at this Ž. Is it not beautiful? To pronounce it, I would write it thus: Jha, with a soft ‘J’ and a quick ‘A,’ so that the Ža in Žarkov becomes a ‘Jhaarkohv’. We only have one lonely Z in English, one singular L, and one individual C. By way of contrast, Serbo-Croatian has a triumvirate of loyal C’s, two brotherly L’s, and two intimidating, yet friendly, Z’s, bestowing their alphabet with 31 various letters! (C, Č, Ć, & L, Lj, & Z, Ž).

Now, the only reason I mention this is because Goodreads, bless their hearts, cannot get Žarkov’s name visualized correctly… lists it as such: “by Dubravka & #381 ;arkov,” which, I can only assume, is HTML code for the Latin, Ž (update: it is HTML code, because every time I type it without spaces it writes ‘Ž’ in this post). So, I would like to give a ‘Ž’ for effort, and continue with my review.

I am not new to Duke University Press’ Next Wave: New Directions in Women’s Studies texts. I have read quite a few texts by Jasbir Puar, Inderpal Grewal, and others, and I always return whenever an interesting and complex topic is published under this specific press. Žarkov’s text, in particular, interests me because a close friend of mine is a Croatian from central Bosnia, and I wanted to know a bit more, let’s say, intriguing or controversial, insight into the history of the war that tore apart Yugoslavia during the early 1990s. I found this text to be highly challenging, yet quite engaging. This text, and the other in Duke’s Next Wave Press, are texts that are better ingested in small doses—say, a chapter per week, as opposed to a few chapters over one sitting—due to the density of the material, the numerous citations of competing and compelling authors, and the highly esoteric terminology.

The structure of this text is generally comprised of case studies that use one incident of mass protest, a contentious photo or statement, or a citizen involvement in the Yugoslavian war; for example, a statement made by a high ranking Albanian official, Fadil Hoxha, on October 9, 1987, where “he reportedly stated that the problem of rapes of Serb women by Albanian men in Kosovo would be solved if more non-Albanian women worked as prostitutes in Kosovo’s taverns” (21).  Žarkov then examines various treatments of the incident by mass media news outlets that cater to a specific regional ethnicity (Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian). Each chapter is a breakdown of news clippings accompanied along with a strict rhetorical analysis that even details the minutiae between Serbo-Croatian and Croat-Serbian languages; of which, Žarkov mentions, the populace would be able to identify the ethnicity of their speaker.

What I always enjoy about reading these highly theoretical texts are the various ways in which each text comes to a theoretical conclusion about how people, academics in general, interpret Feminism and how that term is morphing itself to adapt to a changing global environment. Žarkov is, of course, and to my relief, no different in her adept interpretation of the future of Feminism. Feminism, as such, is no longer just about female agency or empowerment. Issues of difference are just that: issues that lead to the promotion and celebration of difference that merely replicate and replace the actions of the oppressor. This cannot be what Feminism desires, I argue. Grewal, along with, much earlier, Gayatri Spivak, adapted Feminism to the needs and voices of the, ever contentious political term, Third World. And Puar moved it into the realm of globalism and a resurgence of Orientalism that Žarkov acknowledges in her study—”Orientalism is still alive and kicking in many feminist texts” (222). But Žarkov takes those decades of studies and theoretical compiling and calls into questions the very motives by which they began.

Žarkov states near the end of her text, “first, agency, emancipation, and empowerment are not intrinsically linked only to liberating and progressive movements; second, agency, emancipation, and empowerment may not be the best framework at all for studying women’s diverse positioning within violent conflict, including women’s participation in fighting” (225 my italics). Agency, in its Feminist usage, has become problematic for Žarkov; and this, for me personally, is the tensing of the realization that agency as the building block of Feminist studies merely asks to replicate and replace the actions of the oppressor by the oppressed. Again, this replication and replacement should not be what Feminism, or any radical theoretical movement confronting power, directly perceives as its goal. It’s theoretic goal should be the reforming of the social construct that created the structure of power, oppressed and oppressor, in the first place. And this includes the reformation of the very attitude with which the radical movement began.

Žarkov finds in her final sentences the “task” of the feminist critic (spoiler alert!).

“While many different forms of violence produce many different aspects of contemporary realities, analyzing this process of production may help a feminist critic to undo some of its machinery and deprive it of some of its components. For this to happen each of us, feminists, must see… not only who and what is privileged in the production of violence, but also who and what is privileged in our own analyses of it” (230).

The final chapter of this text, where Žarkov implements her case studies to theory, is where her analyses shines brightest. Her interrogation of former Feminist strongholds speak to contemporary issues and contemporary solutions. Not only does Žarkov contest our perception of what we see, read, and hear from the mass media productions throughout her study, she contests the very instruments which critics rely on to disassemble these productions.

I cannot contest the esoteric nature of this text. It is, albeit, not for everyone. But it is a rich text of a rewarding nature that delivers historical information that only a full-time passionate researcher could locate and deliver. I have passed up numerous cultural and historical texts that detail the history of the Yugoslavian conflict, and I avoided them for the exact reason Žarkov examines in her text: their overwhelmingly bias sympathy and pathos. Žarkov, even with her obvious roots and relation to the controversy, treats the often violent and harsh incidents within this text without a sympathetic voice that you would find in many history books or autobiographical treatments of the Yugoslavian war. Žarkov examines incidents of this war through the eyes of a Feminist critic with an indelible desire to confront how the war was produced by mass media outlets, and therefore, how our opinions are represented, shaped, interpreted, molded, and defined. This is an important text within the research of the Yugoslavian war.

My read shelf:
Shawn's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)


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