THE FOLLOWING PIECE of writing appears in Family Parables, a collection of short fiction by the Slovene writer Boris Pintar, published by Talisman House in December in my translation. The collection consists of four short stories, each between eight and fifteen pages in length; a novella of some sixty pages, which lends the collection its title; and this piece, “Eros/Thanatos,” placed interestingly between the short stories and the novella, almost as a summing-up of the former (the last of the stories is about a man who brings home a hustler) and an introduction to the latter. Its own genre is difficult to pinpoint: is this fiction, an essay, or a poem? Is this the author’s own voice, or a fictional one belonging wholly to the work itself? Or is it perhaps a foretaste of the voice of one of the characters in the novella “Family Parables,” which is punctuated by the soliloquies of a homophobic psychoanalytical researcher who considers herself the embodiment of society’s “superego”? We cannot know for sure. But what is clear is that Pintar here invites the reader to reflect on the role of male homosexual desire in a heterosexualist society, one in which power is wielded by repressed male homosexuals, whose stake in upholding the hetero norm (and male dominance) is therefore all the greater.
Although the principles explored here are universal, the society to which Pintar refers is, specifically, present-day Slovenia. This is a country that can boast the oldest organized and officially recognized gay and lesbian rights movement in post-Communist Europe (in existence since 1984). As a result of these activists’ hard work, Slovenia enjoys very progressive legislation with regard to sexual minorities. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Slovene gay men and lesbians still live in the closet. The phenomenon of the heterosexually partnered closeted homosexual is far more common than that of the “out and proud” gay man. Still, Slovenes like to think of themselves as a liberal, open society, and a sign of their “tolerance” came in 2002, when the group Sestre (“Sisters”), a trio of drag queens, was chosen to represent the country at the Eurovision Song Contest. They came in thirteenth place but achieved fame throughout the continent, at least for a season. Pintar alludes to this group in “Eros/ Thanatos” as “three sisters, three yearners.” He also calls them “Fair Vidas in drag,” referring to a famous character from Slovene poetry who was tempted by the prospect of a better life abroad and abandoned her husband, child, and homeland, only to find herself miserable with homesickness. The group Sestre, however, did return to Slovenia and at least one of their number went on to achieve considerable success as the host of her own TV talk show.
— Rawley Grau