In the latest in her series about relocating to Sweden, Duška Radosavljević Krojer explores the frustrations and difficulties that come from starting over in a new country.
I have made several attempts to deliver on my pre-festive promise of a return after the quiet interval. Nothing has felt honest enough, worthwhile enough, baked enough to share or impart.
Sometimes one just has to sit with silence however uncomfortable, or overlong it seems. Pinter famously calls these moments in his scripts ‘pauses’. He is fond of such rhythmic devices. He makes them seem majestic, mysterious and menacing, rarely readable in any obvious way. Tim Crouch, on the other hand, in his 2009 play The Author – which is fresh on my mind as I have just been introducing it to some students of playwriting up in Stockholm recently – punctuates his script with ‘spaces’. It’s a significant choice, as one student observed. In keeping with the key themes of The Author, I read Tim’s conscious intervention in Pinter’s dramaturgical tradition as indicative of an anti-hierarchical openness and generosity towards the reader/audience member. The author making the ‘space’ for the audience communicates a desire to involve us in the meaning-making process rather than keeping us out of the story in the position of a mere witness to their acts of perfect hermetic authorship and authority. I think Tim belongs to and ushers in a new paradigm of theatre-making, wishing to change the 19th century terms of audience engagement. Unsurprisingly however this has not been a smooth undertaking.
Sometimes I am surprised how much we are still beholden to the 19th century ways of thinking despite our belief that we are modern, postmodern, progressive. Sometimes I do not think we can ever be truly progressive until we have really reckoned with our own desire for power and authority – with the insatiable demands of our own ego. As long as we are seeking to debunk, overturn and redress the power balance, we have not truly let go of an inherent valourization of power.
‘But what else is there?’, a young theatre-maker asked me following a talk in a queer bar in Berlin recently, when I shared a similar articulation of this thought.
‘I don’t know: love’, I said. [Space.] ‘Nature’, I said.
And her eyes lit up, and she said:
‘Thank you. [Space.] Thank you for that’.
I get these glimpses of hope that make a difference, but then the actual space I am in is one behind closed doors. One where nobody is prepared to open up in any way. That is the best-fitting metaphor.
I have been travelling, and talking to people, yes, but I have also not written this instalment sooner because all my writing capacity has been monopolised by the mundane necessity of writing job applications. A period of soul-searching over the last few months has led to the realisation that I really am an academic, even if, for now, a homeless one.
I love the idea of writing for a living, though I am a hopeless sales person; I love the idea of being a full time mother, though I am a constantly distracted playmate; I love the idea of worshipping at the altar of knowledge, though I am an iconoclast.
Nonetheless what this amounts to is that my sense of purpose is best served by academic establishments however imperfect and frustrating and out of date they might still be. And as it turns out they are very out of date in most, even progressive, parts of the world.
Let me fill you in on a recent exchange with a Nordic university seeking to appoint an Assistant/Associate Professor in Theatre and Performance. This is academic job application #11 I am writing since arriving in southern Sweden and I take extra care to learn from previous experiences. I take a month to carefully craft my seven attachment application tailored to this specific professional context, amounting to 40 perfect pages (excluding the actual copies of my top publications). I make sure to strike a perfect pitch between respectful and self-respectful, not too boasting, not too self-effacing, not too sycophantic, not too generic. I create space for the reader to think they can work with me or, at least, that it would be nice to meet me. I decorate my application with casual and relevantly placed references to my notable achievements, awards, esteemed collaborators, not forgetting to flag up here my particular favourite: The Mums and Babies Ensemble which I created with my first-born baby Joakim and two other theatre-making mums and their babies. I hope this communicates my assumption about authorship as something inherently collaborative and vital; and I hope that it adds warmth to the occasion as well as a sense of unified commitment.
They take less than a week after the closing date to inform me that: I have not been shortlisted.
I ask what criteria my application did not meet? They say, basically: ‘we don’t know, we have not assessed all 28 applications we received, we just picked the few we thought best fitted the advertisement’.
And I am thinking: I remember when, back in London, I received 90 applications for a post, and the committee and I read each one of the 90 applications and scored each one according to a grid of pre-agreed criteria so to generate specific numerical ranking of all applications and arrive at a shortlist of eight. And we completed this – admittedly tedious – task because ultimately we believed it was the right and fair thing to do. A thing that affords equal respect to all applicants and gives us the peace of mind that we are operating with full awareness of our own potential unconscious biases. A procedure which ultimately enables us to feed back to the applicant our decision based on evidence rather than arbitrary gut instinct.
I think what is at stake here is basically that difference of attitude between Pinter and Crouch contained in whether or not the person in the position of authority believes they owe any accountability to anyone.
It is the second time I have failed to be shortlisted for a job in Scandinavia for which I fulfil all objective criteria. It is the third rejection from Denmark (having had two lots of unsuccessful interviews at two Danish institutions before). This feels like the end of a journey, a burning of the Øresund Bridge, maybe even another potential displacement in the offing.
It is possible that on a mundane level the advertised post in this case was misleading and inexact in the way it was worded (subsequently wasting many people’s time), or that the hiring committee is working according to fundamentally different principles. Or both.
Alternatively, to put it simply, maybe it’s just another manifestation of those phenomena I have heard about before and refused to believe: the crucial importance of ‘who you know’ in Scandinavia, and the tough Danish stance on immigration.
What do you think? Answers on a pretty postcard, please.
Read the first part of Duška Radosavljević Krojer’s Migration Diary: An Improvised Life, and the most recent instalment Dark Places
Duška Radosavljević Krojer is a writer, dramaturg and academic. She is the author of award-winning academic monograph Theatre-Making: Interplay Between Text and Performance in the 21st Century (2013) and editor of Theatre Criticism: Changing Landscapes (2016) and the Contemporary Ensemble: Interviews with Theatre-Makers (2013). Her work has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK multiple times including for www.auralia.space (2020-21) and The Mums and Babies Ensemble (2015). She is a regular contributor to The Stage, Exeunt and The Theatre Times.