This is the summit of the Bulgarian literature of the 70. Its peak. A world seen as a prison without exit. A screaming provincialism.
These verses speak of the need for love and the inability to attain it. We can call this undertaking a neoromanticist undertaking; the description is such: it uses nature to contrast it with life. Nature is unattainable, real life – unattainable, and each of the characters seems to be repeating or quoting a topic from the western European tradition from the middle of the last century. The red ant that had reached the window, the place where the first contact with nature takes place, will die, and the bell-shaped breasts mark clearly this mood in the poem. The female body is identified with church, with natural temple, a temple of flesh and blood.
This kind of poetry no longer presents naivity (as in the 50ies), but rather naivism, for literature cannot yet fully comply with the modernistic heritage. If there is a landscape it is a a landscape, a country
topic and not a landschaft* ; the little man in the small city, only love is big. Here too, when it is a matter of personal space, love is no longer a sign endowed to people from birth, but a sign of desperation of a person who is becoming even more desperate. It is not accidental that in Boris Hristov’s allegories of life the shadowy bushes, or the lighted (still not completely calm) places are the most frequent choice.
When speaking of the Bulgarian literature from the late 70ies and the 80ies, the female body serves completely to incarnate homelessness. Homelessness, in its turn, uncovers the secession of the person from the surrounding environment, of that person who has reached the ultimate forms of negation. The landscape is incorporated into a terrifying interior in which the person feels lonely, abandoned and alienated. The body as an interior reflects imprisonment, causing a paranoid feeling that someone is going to enter and discover the forbidden privacy. That body is as much inexplicable, unimaginable, obscure and intransparent as the buildings of the state institutions.
Out of silence and clay was the landscape coloured,
they escaped without uttering a word.”
This is how Georgi Rupcev, in The Army of the Conquered presented the irretrievably lost external appearance. And while love becomes the dominant subject in social criticism, the text becomes furious.
If there is, in the history of Bulgarian poetry, a period where different times encounter into the unbreakable Gordian knot, when the readers become upset contemplating about which century they live in, then it is the 80ies. Romantic, desperate, incessantly citing, they introduced great experiments into Bulgarian literature. Resembling early modernism in its pathos and tradition, the 80ies eventually established the authoreflexive side of literature and signified the beginning of contemporary modernism.
In this period the landscape reflects the author’s viewpoint, and figurative speech (in Rifater’s term) becomes, above all else, antirepresentative.
Here is one of the crucial poems of the 80ies. It has the hermetic title – “8”
(A Student’s Ballad from the 70ies)
“My sister, the bride, is
an enclosed garden
a locked well, sealed spring.”
It is the eighth year since I have been a virgin
to you with an incredibly blunt look:
“She was… and will remain…”
Vidin city. 1972 times dreamy winds
scattering seeds, gathering apples,
baking breads and lining up the Danube.
I commence from the New Era!
Yet, I remember the possibilities
of our moulded relationship,
which could be not so…
(If it could be not so – would it have been)
If truly it could, we would never have been going a roving
over the fortress of the student’s purity,
called: “Stop, stop… Why are you kissing me?”
Would we have done it inside the fortress?
Would we have done it over it?
Would we have done it (blunt and frightened)
maddened by the library hallucinations?
1972 times do the winds stick veins in you,
but you remain with a locked hymen,
turning your back on the menstrual bleeding.
You leave!! –
blush upon the lips of your mother’s house,
on you breasts the books lie,
books “Hristo G. Danov” publishes
out of a passion for you…
Yet, life ceases not.
Then I slipped politely…
And fell above the infinite blades of the railway tracks:
Head – on West
Face – on North
Voice – on East
Bottom – on South. IN WINTER.
Osiris, my Osiris,
they crucify you at winter again
so that you can resurrect in summer.
But hold – to pick up from the fields
the eyes, the hair, the soul.
Hold! – it’s spring, it’s summer –
who spread so much gold here?
Like weeping willows they sit by the riverlet
your ancient kids from the last years…
Pass by them, kiss them…
Hear how Isida cries for you:
Give him a moment, give him youth – save him!
Give him a moment, but in life – brick him up!
(1978 – 1980)
Is this a love poem? Is The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock a love song? This is where writing about love has come to – the text has become so dense that it is virtually impossible to read it as an allegory without the assistance of a small library of love books and a good set of instruments.
And isn’t it apparent that the landscape is filled with history – history of topics, history of ideas about time, history of the absolute, of the natural sciences, history of games (of the hazard and of the certain happiness), cultural history… In the interior of the poem not only are authors and book titles mentioned, but also names of publishing houses (Hristo G. Danov was, in fact, one of the publishers of contemporary foreign literature). And love seems to be sealed in a transgressive allegorical puberty.
In his critique on Zlatomir Zlatanov’s novel The Japanese and the Spring (1990), a young literary (according to the norms of the 1990ies) critic, Bojko Pencev, raised the issue of ideological parametres of the texts written in contemporary literature.
Zlatomir Zlatanov’s novel begins with the statement: “The clitoris of my neighbour was half a meter long”. Figuratively. Placed in quotation marks. And, as B. Pencev writes, that principle of narration, that ironical “transgression from the critical zone” using quotation marks, immediately faces the reader not with the interpretation of the well known ideas about collective conformism under authority or its censure – which it wipes off immediately – but with his/her coyness and sensitivity.
Pencev notes that the author himself “claims” that they are, in fact, someone else’s words, that they are fragments from the “summer notes” of his hero, placed in the text without order as a signifying shell, pointing to an approach towards the simulative unevenness of the text, and then notifying that “the clitoris ethimologically points to an ancient Greek word meaning ‘key’, ‘locking up’, which makes us suspect its seemingly accidental appearance.”
Indeed, The Japanese and the Spring had the role of a text that in the beginning of the 90ies was supposed to stir the Bulgarian moralist views, doing it Kundera’s way – by participation of characters who, in the sentimental plot, live through the problem of their own identity. In The Japanese and the Spring love stories whose ends lie in their demystification are constantly being uncovered. The underlying allusion of keys and decoding attracts, from the very beginning, the attention, directing it towards the subject of the exaggerated force of the text, and then, as if on a chess board, we are given a series of “lovers”: the unsuccessful intellectual whose role of a lover – of the one who lives in love, in the intimate world, in the warm shadow of rejection from the public – reminds us of a man of fashion tending to his end; then agents from the authority, as well as the Mafia – a debris from the everlasting golden youth with power which is still suspected(a general place for the antiutopian novels), although it has already been seen in service of repetitions, of the trivial narration; and the inevitable, ever the same ladies of love.
Before going back to the issue of the clitoris and what it signifies, however, let us consider a few more internal and external perspectives, where love or – even better – loveless history of novel develops. As far as descriptions of bodies in the act of love are concerned, we may say that Zlatomir Zlatanov placed so many of them in his text, that their number is higher than such descriptions in all the previous Bulgarian writers together. For example, in the love letter (“long as the Golden Gate”) written from the US by one of the characters of the novel we encounter this paragraph:
“Just as I arrived in Beverly Hills, I met a whore. Her bodybuilding was covered with a long nightgown, but as I tuned around to see her, it turned out that what was in front was, in fact, a belt, and behind the vans of Empire State Building were throwing out two broken melons towards the sky. And the thing above the melons, that thing – not to step over melons, Helen, does not work here. Kisses, you know where.”