(On the poetic collection In Black and White by Lidija Dimkovska, published by Ili-Ili, Skopje, 2016)
Translated into English by: Natasha Stojanovska-Ilievska
The verses which are quoted in the text had previously been translated by Ljubica Arsovska and by Peggy Reed
Lidija Dimkovska’s poetry has always had that specific feature of being remarkably current, and thanks to its universal dimension, it loses not, but retains this feature of currency years after being written and published. This is because Dimkovska captures the essence both when through her verses she speaks of the self and of the most personal, and when she speaks of the Other and the most universal. In her exploration of the world stretched open before the poetic subject, by being faced with the Other and with the relations emerging in these encounters with the Otherness, in the poems of Lidija Dimkovska’s latest poetic collection In Black and White we witness a different perception of the reality, a world identical to the one that we have before our very eyes every day, but this time seen through the vision of the nomadic subject, defined in Rosi Braidotti’s Nomadic Subjects as a subject in a constant process of (self)transformation, as “vertiginous progression toward deconstructing identity; molecularization of the self” (Braidotti, 2002: 27). In this journey through oneself and through the world, moving along the trajectory of the journey of relocation, the poetic subject in Dimkovska’s poems unifies spaces and times, events and people. It is precisely through this molecularization of the self that the poetic subject develops particular sensitivity to those forced to relocation, to dislocation. The poems from In Black and White touch upon some of the most sensitive issues regarding the refugee crisis the world has been facing in recent years, and treat the topic of exile in verse in a subtle, yet, at the same time, fierce manner. Edward Said portrays human beings as being in a kind of a symbiotic relationship with their birthplace, and he describes exile as an “unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home” (Said, 2001: 173). It is in this rift that the life of the uprooted gets shattered, which is why the poetic subject in one of the poems in In Black and White says:
“You know, you know very well, how life is turned into scraps of rubbish,
but not how these scraps of rubbish can be turned into life.”
This dramatic situation does not sever the connection between the birthplace and the one who has fled it: the physical distance generally gives rise to even greater proximity on another level; being in exile evokes in exiles feelings that would constantly remind them of their birthplace, and “its essential sadness can never be surmounted”. For Said, the reason why literature and history focus on heroic, romantic, glorious, even triumphant episodes of life in exile lies in the need to “overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement”, as kind of recompense for that fact that “the achievements of exile are permanently undermined by the loss of something left behind forever” (Said 2001, 173). The condition called exile is full of contradictions, absurdities and paradoxes. On the one hand, regardless of whether they admit it to themselves or not, regardless of whether they say it openly or hide it inside, exiles are obsessed with their returning back home, but on the other hand, “the pathos of exile is in the loss of contact with the solidity and the satisfaction of earth: homecoming is out of the question” (ibid, 179). The uprootedness and dislocation engender in exiles bitterness about their own situation: “an exile is always out of place. What is it like to be born in a place, to stay and live there, to know that you are of it, more or less forever?” (ibid, 180-181). Lidija Dimkovska seems to be responding to Said’s queries with her own questions in the poem What is it like: what is it like “to be a splinter in God’s eye,” or what is it like “to feel that neither your skin nor the homeland fit you any more”, or what is it like “to become a tenant of your own existence”. These are questions that contain within themselves the answer about the quintessence of the existence in a place other than the one where the subject was born and has spent his formative years, existence that instills in human beings the sense that not only did they go to live somewhere else, but also, as Dimkovska puts it in one of her poems – “life has gone to some other place”, existence that swings from the point of existence to the point of non-existence and back again, and thus, the poetic subject in the poem Return feels that “no longer has a hometown”, and that it is “place of birth with no return”.
The theme of death, nonbeing, the feeling of nonexistence, is one of those that strongly determine the poetics of In Black and White. Even in the epigraph of this collection of poems, Dimkovska says:
“At the same time, at one end of the world one is alive,
dead at the other,
and already immortal at the third.”
This unification of life, death and immortality in these three verses by Dimkovska is reminiscent of Julia Kristeva’s reflection on the foreigner, life, death and resurrection in Strangers to ourselves. According to Kristeva: “The space of the foreigner is a moving train, a plane in flight, the very transition that precludes stopping. As to landmarks, there are none. His time? The time of a resurrection that remembers death and what happened before, but misses the glory of being beyond: merely the feeling of a reprieve, of having gotten away” (Кристева, 2005: 243). This wavering of the poetic subject between the place she departed from and the place she moved to, shapes not only her thoughts about life, but also her thoughts about what comes afterwards. Hence, in one of her poems, Dimkovska says:
“I will wish for half of my grave to be there and half here.”
In his Notes on Exile Czeslaw Milosz regards one’s birthplace as the centre of the world, and states that this way of experiencing space undergoes a change following one’s departure into exile: “Imagination, always spatial, points north, south, east and west of some central, privileged place, which is probably the village from one’s childhood or native region. As long as a writer lives in his country, the privileged place by centrifugally enlarging itself becomes more or less identified with his country as a whole. Exile displaces that centre or rather creates two centres. Imagination relates everything in one’s surroundings to over there – in my case somewhere on the European continent. It even continues to designate the four cardinal points, as if I still stood there. At the same time the north, south, east and west are determined by the place in which I write these words. Imagination tending toward the distant region of one’s childhood is typical of literature of nostalgia (a distance in space often serves as a disguise for a Proustian distance in time). Although quite common, literature of nostalgia is only one among many modes of coping with estrangement from one’s native land. The new point which orients space in respect to itself cannot be eliminated, i.e. one cannot abstract oneself from one’s physical presence in a definite spot on the Earth. That is why a curious phenomenon appears: the two centers and the two spaces arranged around them interfere with each other or – and this is a happy solution – coalesce” (Milosz, 2002: 16-17).
In this interpretation of how the exile experiences space, the contrapuntal feature of exile surfaces again through the constant awareness of two spaces and the perception of not only one space, but two, as the centre of the world, which in the verses of Dimkovska’s poem Correspondence with the World is expressed in a very powerful poetic fashion:
“I have never wanted to get far,
as close as possible
to the most distant.”
As Lidija Dimkovska thus thematizes the intertwinement of the closest and the most distant and their unification, the way is cleared for a remarkable feature typical of her poetics that can be fully grasped through Edward Said’s views on the contrapuntal awareness made possible by exile. In his Reflections on Exile he says “Seeing ‘the entire world as a foreign land’ makes possible originality of vision. Most people are principally aware of one culture, one setting, one home; exiles are aware of at least two, and this plurality of vision gives rise to an awareness of simultaneous dimensions, an awareness that—to borrow a phrase from music—is contrapuntal”. This perspective is not something that the exile has set as a goal, but it simply, naturally arises from life in exile, where “habits of life, expression, or activity in the new environment inevitably occur against the memory of these things in another environment. Thus both the new and the old environments are vivid, actual, occurring together contrapuntally. There is a unique pleasure in this sort of apprehension, especially if the exile is conscious of other contrapuntal juxtapositions that diminish orthodox judgment and elevate appreciative sympathy”. Because of this specific relationship to space, time and memories, “exile is life led outside habitual order. It is nomadic, decentered, contrapuntal; but no sooner does one get accustomed to it than its unsettling force erupts anew” (Said 2001, 186-187). It is precisely this destabilizing force that erupts from Dimkovska’s poetry, coupled with the awareness of the simultaneous dimensions of reality. This perspective for experiencing the world arises from the unhealability, from the shattering of the poetic subject striving for self-completion, for unification of I there and I here, of I then and I now. It is precisely this unhealable rift, this wavering of the poetic subject from In Black and White between now and then, here and there, I then and I now, I there and I here that exposes the contrapuntal awareness of simultaneous dimensions to the readers and makes it possible for Lidija Dimkovska to create powerful poetry that unfolds a plurality of perspectives for viewing the world.
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Milosz, Czeslaw. 20 “Notes on Exile”. In: To begin where I am: Selected Essays. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux: New York. Pp. 13-
Said, Edward. Reflections on Exile and Other Essays. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 20