Towards the book 3’53’’ (Intimate History of Music from 1984 to 2004) (Goten, 2015) by Bert Stajn
Translated by: Angela Momirovska
The ones familiar with the topic already know that the unusual title 3’53’’ which unites the twenty one stories in this book (as many as the book contains), according to Google search engine statistical data, actually represents the average length of a modern song. According to the author, on the other hand, 3 minutes and 53 seconds is the average time that the reader would need to read one of his stories. Having in mind this basic information, the thing that grabs one’s attention when reading Bert Stajn’s autobiographical prose is his intention to encase the personal story in a specific time capsule, which as a technique compellingly resembles the storytelling strategy of counting down of time which Georgi Gospodinov used when structuring his short story 8 Minutes and 19 Seconds.1F It is a peculiar absurdist story, which unfolds during the last sunset of the world, during the course of eight minutes – the time the sunlight needs to reach the earth, and the time the author of the story actually gives to the reader to read the story.
If we agree that this playing with the formal side of storytelling in Gospodinov’s writing is in function of actualising the topic of facing “the end of it all“, that is, our imaginary comprehension of the end of the world, or with the nature of its content; that, on the other hand, would allow the making of numerous intertextual references to some other motifs or themes from some of his previously published literary works, works created in completely different poetics (for example, the play The Apocalypse Comes at 6pm (2009)). On the other hand, having in mind the playing with authorship which Bert Stajn takes up in the case of 3’53’’, that kind of focusing on the author’s creative process, although not entirely impossible, is quite limited and tight, so what is left to be said comes not only from the shaping of the stories according to the duration of the music hits, but also from the fine symbolic relationship which is created during the mutual contact of the rhythm of music, and the word.
All that allows for this autobiographical writing, which, according to its genre determinant, oscillates between a novel, a novella, and a short story, to be looked at in terms of the two layers of which it is composed. One of them, implicitly contained in the naming of each particular story by carefully selected “pieces” of hit and underground music; and the other, explicitly unwrapping the voice of the storyteller. The specific audio technique of reception in which the storytelling technique is confronted with the popular foreign/domestic music and the graphic illustrations helps inestimably in living up the memories of the past of a whole generation of, nowadays, mature individuals. That kind of relationship assumes the nature of a subliminal message which portends a tumultuous, intermedial adventure, in whose epicenter the topic of boyhood and the search for one’s self through growing up and maturing is set.
Namely, this “intimate history of music from 1984 to 2004”, as the subtitle of 3’53’’ says, at a macrostructure level, starts with the storyteller’s earliest memories which are related to his personal childhood adventures (the fear of Michael Jackson’s monstrous transformation in the video for his worldwide hit Thriller, as opposed to the appalling image of the mother imposed by his closest and most beloved ones), and at the same time refers to events of wider interest, taking place in front of the little child’s eyes, in pre-war Sarajevo, during the eighties (The Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, in 1984; the photograph with hugging Vučko; or, for example, Yugoslavia’s 1989 Eurovision Song Contest victory).
In the early 1990es, with the breakup of Yugoslavia, moving from Sarajevo to Skopje, the autobiographical confession continues to develop according to the euphoric feeling typical of the young man and his thirst for knowing the world. The literary shaping in this part takes on the magic of the flȃneur, and draws the city according to the culture of the urban space and the events occurring in it. Those were the creative energies that were shaking Skopje towards the mid-nineties, the gigs in “the esoteric Kuršumli An, with the, nowadays, mythical concerts of Arhangel, Kismet, Kiril, or the New Age festivals”, the rehearsals in the garages and small clubs, but also the new types of music coming to the cult Bagi Shop store. The stories winding about the cult and somewhat forgotten meeting places (Bagdat Cafѐ, Đađo, Dvaeskec in the Old Bazaar, Zizi, New Age, Aero, Music Garden, Zot, etc.), or the, already, completely forgotten bookstores of Kultura, across the bridge, and Tabernakul, in MNT, enrich the personal, intimate archive, in which the echoes of the native Sarajevo are present.
The part towards the end of the nineties, marked with the period of loneliness in Bologna, through the travelling in Budapest, London, Belgrade, except with music, also abounds with all types of various sensory stimuli, as intense as the effect of cannabis, or the excitement of riding a bicycle to the sound of The Chemical Brothers’ Block Rockin’ Beats. This unity is chronologically round out in the first four years of the new millennium, which correspond to the stabilizing of the urge for finding one’s self, through the emotional directing towards the other, and the emerging of the first feeling of contentment with oneself by the creative satisfaction that the writer’s nerve experiences.
3’53” has been structured as a hybrid, literary tissue, which, with the emphasised monologisation and the absence of dialogue situations, comes closer to the memoir prose that explores the inner world of the storyteller, and the author’s life experience. This type of linear representation of the “stream of consciousness” coincides with the intention of 3’53’’ Intimate History of Music from 1984 to 2004 to offer a broader sociocultural analysis, on a local, global, and individual level, in which the world occurrences and the personal stories intersect. The fact that 3’53’’ was shortlisted for the Macedonian literary award – “Novel of the Year” for 2015 testifies to the fact that the author has succeeded in his intention.
1. Господинов. Георги (2013) И всичко стана луна. Пловдив. Жанет 45, стр. 5-13.