(Ermis Lafazanovski: “Novel about the Weapon”, Magor, Skopje, 2003)
#1 I can begin this text with a frank and honest lament, written in the spirit of this novel’s introductory sentence: “Today it’s almost impossible to get a ‘healthy’ male critic”. That’s why I had to – and further I will also have to – do what I’m doing now. And also, I must add that this paraphrase was, namely, inspired from other unusual confession made by this ‘brave man’: Lafazanovski, which is, I quote: “Today it’s almost impossible to get a ‘healthy’ male beating”.
But it isn’t Lafazanovski’s first time to find himself at this kind of a ‘striptease standpoint’. It isn’t and it simply cannot be any other standpoint, because, indeed – the ‘striptease’-poetic (as a poetic of the naked narration form) is his well-known and highly individual narrating ‘scenery’ – always when he, in such of a sovereign position, steps onto our literature audience – still/always hungry for voyeurism.
Lafazanovski is wandering through some corridor used for the smuggling of ‘carnivalised merchandise’ and the sharp-minded Daniil-Harms-like poetic. His previous books (stories, novels) look like an ideal school-book for the illustration of the Russian formalists’ theory ‘tricks’ that made them famous: the poetic of a naked narrative form (“… poor meal… seemed that her elders thought her right… ‘Child, don’t go, they will tear you apart!’”); the estranged narrating form (“… the explosive ‘bardak’-cocktail”); the ‘oralisation’ (“… the unsuccessful assassination of Marko Cepenkov…”); the use of the grotesque manner of narration (“… he wastes time in the corridors of the institutions of the system…”); the ‘callambure’-forms (“… Mrs. Prof. D-r from Eastern Europe…”); the meta– lingual poetics (“… I’ll never be able to begin my mornings like in the western movies…”); the epistemological metaphors and homonyms (“… the massager – a person who delivers m-e/a-ssages…”), etc.
By the way, the previous Lafazanovski’s novel “Describer” (2001), also begins from the position of the meta-textuality and results with the so-called ‘striping’ of the narrating form, and of course, with the demystification of the authorial ‘charge’ and the ‘writer’s craft’ cult – a craft that he understands as any other one – made by order, and without any craftsman’s authentic and art implantation in it.
This latest novel, tautologically named as “Novel of the Weapon”, not only follows, but also – up to perfection – develops this quite complex ‘anatomy’ of various crafts. This time, the reader is invited toward the examination (striping, desacralisation) of the ‘science-worker’ craft, shown in the close linkage with the ‘ideology’ craft: a craft for manufacturing the public discourse and of its fine ‘framing’.
With this novel, definitely, we’ve got the ‘Candid’ – from our hood, this time. This Candid is the narrator itself, a folklorist dedicated to his researches on weapons, employed at the Rare Weapons & Arms Museum. And in the role of ‘The Hood’ is our well-known ‘Balkan Express’ – with which we mainly stand still or travel backwards, instead of striving forward in progress. Everything else is mainly the same – it is the playing with every kind of authorities and their de-thronization in the world of the completely disturbed values and lost identities. All this together promotes the humorous manner of narrating as a ‘spiritus movens’ and the ‘spiritus lovens’ of this highly loveable, fun and attractive reading.
As for illustration of the numerous comic rhetorical effects of the de-thronization manner of narration, we would accent this author’s ‘description’ of the spring, in which the use of numerous slang-styles and intonations within the actual language are masterfully interlaced; like the interlacing of the oral speech’s colloquial usage with the banal journalistic style: “In the eve of the spring-coming… while the earth still hides under the heavenly ice and while the electric cables slowly relax their tension, and while the bridges throughout all country spread on the steel junctures built for that single purpose – the bridges’ spring spreading – the households, the population, the young and the elder, clean & wash this winter’s cabbage barrels. Is it so? Yes, it is”.
The weapon, primarily, is the narrator’s basic interest (or more precisely – the hand-beating as an authentic pre-industrial mean of inter-human relations). His narrowed research is on the issue of the slow, but certain disappearance of that ethnological heritage, especially by its contemporary modernization and transformation in numerous forms. And, further down the narration line f this novel, the ideological matrix of the weapon is being revealed – as an ontological turn-point – the allegory upon which the alternative history of the Balkan world functions, including the Weapons & Arms Symposium with its ‘oral’ histories and reports.
This novel, actually, deals with ours actual ‘weapon culture’, leading the fable plots to their grotesque extremes: “… it is only rusted contemporary handgun, every baby in the kindergarten has one to kill the teachers, if needed… the plastic explosive was a good sale down the coffee-shops, bars, restaurants and kindergartens, not even to speak of the elementary and high schools… … defense condoms in mouth”.
The description of the scene when the narrator flirts with his colleague Babulinska – is simply extraordinary: at the moment when he asks her if she still keeps the hat which she previously enchanted him with, she (by pure automatism) – reaches for her handgun.
The auto-ironical approach on the today’s – almost inevitable by any law – patriotic discourse (with all its megalomania and irrationality), is especially cynical. This approach, actually, is a discourse of the hopelessly limited, narrowed, isolated, incapable and highly unstable province: “… you know us – we can’t stand anything that isn’t ecological! Especially if someone else tells us that!”; “These are my rotten Macedonian teeth. But they’re mine!”; “… Thanks God, we aren’t Europe! This is a safe place to be”…
The story of the unsuccessful Macedonian submarine vehicle has its highpoint at the actual national conspiracy rhetoric, used as a compensation of the actual historical frustration of this small nation: “Our national military & arms history is cut down to its roots, probably from our neighbor countries, driven only by jealousy.
We can also mention the parody of the lingual Puritanism and the ‘proofreading strictness’ common to our academic circles (“at what syllable is the accent on the word ‘salata’?” (*translators note: in Macedonian literature/non-literature lingual discourses: ‘the salad’, if the accent is on the second syllable, ‘the hall’, if it’s on the first); then, the endless vain conflicts among the two Museum employees about the bureaucracy of the scientific and academy titles.
Like in many other semantically multi-layered literature deeds, this novel can also be analyzed in many levels: on the level of its humor and likeability, it is extraordinary bright, attractive and fun reading, but it is also a highly structured appeal, which only appears to be an unpretentious; in fact it is an appeal deeply concerned upon its own turbulent, weird and wicked criminal time of existence.
The “Novel about the Weapon” is against its own subject that it is, allegedly, determined to. Cheerful, dynamic, rhetorically charming and enchanting, seducing novel. A novel with the irresistible and deep anti-militaristic message, and with powerful deconstructive ideology. This is a novel for the quasi-patriotism and the turbo-folklore. This novel is – a spiritual adventure.
I couldn’t avoid this exalted manner of speaking when I speak of this latest Lafazanovski’s novel. And I do believe that it is the only possible beginning for this allied reading: because today, rare are the books to grab you into this kind of an ‘allied’ reading.
One of the reasons for the enterprising this kind of an ‘allied’ reading before any other inferior kind, is the maturity level and the contemporary nature of this book in relation with its morbid context – this social, historical and cultural surrounding. The recognizable iconic ‘Balkan Zeitgeist’ is put down by this novel, where it is put to the sophistically made spiritual and rhetorical ‘mocking’. After that, this ‘Balkan Zeitgeist’ seems more like some bearable décor, than like some impassable ‘fatum*’ (*translators note: fate, destiny).
The grotesque is one of the strongest immanent rhetorical ‘weapons’ that this deed does posses. The grotesque equally covers the despised Balkan chronotops, like the inn with the regular fights every evening, but also reaches for the high pretentious, bourgeois-like twisted chronotops of the academic folklore, vain symposia, the idolatry of the ‘science projects’, and finally (although not the only) – of the folkloristic science itself – as a science at which field the author of this novel actually works, at his Folklore Institute.
But, what one gets when he speaks and describes the folklorism’s folklore? He gets the Lafazanovski’s meta-folklore approach, which, in a lucid and brilliant way repeats the Voltaire’s (auto)parody poetic in “Candid”…
The “Novel about the Weapon” is one of the rarely consistent and done ‘in details’ deed, shaped with the full awareness of the subversive power of the art itself. Primarily, that power has its origin within the – today esthetically neglected, but essentially one the most powerful and the most seductive principles – the principle of laughter. As Bahtin wrote, the laughter – although so much underestimated by dogmatic and academic circles – only seems to be so unpretentious. The laughter is, actually, the strongest and the most powerful weapon that humanity ever had – in its fight against the ruling of human stupidity and vanity.
According to one of Bahtin’s younger countrymen, Ala Ivanchikova, the laughter provokes/understands instability and collapse of the identities, and with that – it provokes resistance to the power in general also, like some specific (although unarmed) terrorism upon the world’s repressive orders of any kind.
That’s why all this tragicomic ending of the novel seems so funny and humorous – namely, the fatal Symposium, when, by the author’s seeing, the hurricane-like parody starts, a parody of the today’s fashionable, hyper-academic slang of the Alteration: as a consequence of the vaguely understood and wrongly used terms about the political fair-play hypocrisy, in the risky game they all play – both the ‘home team’ (the employees of the Museum, the hosts of the Symposium) and the ‘away team’ (the foreign guests of the Symposium) – are forced to exchange their identities. By these International Institutions’ advice, we exchanged our places, so now – we are them, and vice versa, they are us”.
And to conclude, the Lafazanovski’s novel is the noticeable confirmation of the creative potentials of a sovereign, meta-approach on the world in general: in this novel, side by side stand the academic erudition and the street laughter; the rhetorical skills and the play with the semantic meanings; the sharp criticism and the vivid fun; the lucid intellectual imagination and the charming humor; the urban slang and the ultra-archaic narration styles; the black humor, the absurd and etc. All those characteristics shape our immediate existential being in this world – a world as it is – a world of ‘oral histories’.
Translated by Petar Volnarovski