(Richard Gaughran, Zoran Ančevski: Change of the System: Stories of Contemporary Macedonia, Skopje, “MAGOR”, 2000)
“How easy the stories can be made” A. Prokopiev, “Two women”
#1 The anthology of Macedonian contemporary short stories, named as Change of the System, recently published by the MAGOR Publishing Co. from Skopje, is the result of teamwork by the academic professors Richard Gaughran and Zoran Ančevski, and stands as a viewpoint on the Macedonian literature and culture in the world, because – primarily – aims the wider English-language readers. The novelty is, in this case, the publishing – not in Macedonian – but in English, one of the most spread languages in the world. The fact that this anthology is published in English in our country emphasizes the significance of this project, and strongly points at the noble mission of the literature to step beyond the divisions among the nations and cultures. “There is no literature that declined or substituted another, but in a cyclic and reciprocate game that exists thousands of years, all literatures mutually do translate each other in efforts to get closer one to another, just like those passengers that have no intention to conquer or rule or govern, to change or indoctrinate, but to comprehend the world and the other people…” – as the well-known Italian contemporary comparativist Armando Gnisci said once. His words are very illustrative, concerning the role and the function of the translation as creativity and creation, or more likely – as meta-creation of the literature deed in a new linguistic and literature context. In this case, this (above mentioned) thoughts, in a very good way, point on the integration of the Macedonian short story into the European and the world tradition of the narrative – as a genre.
Change of the System isn’t the first anthology of Macedonian stories in English, but it is a first anthology of the Macedonian stories in English – since the Independence of Republic of Macedonia. Worldwide is common to publish this kind of anthologies on decade-bases; here, is a real rarity, but this book – judging by the carefully presented selection –and proves that the narrative story practice in Macedonia is increasing and that even in a small literature like ours, can show significant richness in its production. This is, of course, a fact to commend but also a fact that obligates in the millenium that follows.
In the realization of this project, besides the editors and the publisher, the whole team of experts is included: above all, here are the 17 authors of the stories in this anthology, classificated by the most elementary criteria – by their age: Slavko Janevski, Dimitar Solev, Vlada Urošević, Petre M. Andreevski, Mitko Madzunkov, Vase Manchev, Krste Chachanski, Dragi Mihajlovski, Aleksandar Prokopiev, Stevo Simski, Kim Mehmeti, Jadranka Vladova, Blaže Minevski, Ermis Lafazanovski, Venko Andonovski, Olivera Kjorveziroska and Igor Isakovski. So, the Pantheon begins with the one of the doyens of the Macedonian contemporary literature – Slavko Janevski, and it ends with the one of the youngest narrative writers – Igor Isakovski. As for documentation: Slavko Janevski is born in 1920 – and Igor Isakovski is born in 1970… Further, the significant part in the final shaping of this anthology has the team of the translators: along with the editors and translators Richard Gaughran and Zoran Anchevski, there are Rajna Koshka, Lucy Bednar, and also, with one story each – David Bowen and Margaret Reid.
The result of this project is the edition welcomed in any library, edition that is gladly read over and over again… That fact is noticeable even from the very graphical solution for the book cover – the fragment of the painting DOLAP by Milosh Kodzhoman. The attention of the English language reader would be drown also by the provocative title The Change of the System, took by the same-named Dimitar Solev’s story – put in this anthology (in which, in irony speaks of the change of the heating system). As Richard Gaughran says in his prologue: “… the title has no political allusions, it implicates the change of the spirit”.
The generally spread opinion is that the short story is relatively young literature form, born from an old, maybe the oldest form of literature expression. It may be said that the narrating, same as dreaming, always was, and always will be – a common part of living itself. The story that lays in the narrative base, is a subtle, undetermined magic equally fascinating for the writer and reader both… That’s why is commonly said that the pleasure in story telling – is in the narrating itself.
The pioneer role in the separation of the short-story genre from the traditional story genre has the American Edgar Alan Poe (in 1842). In the 20th-century literature, the line of the development of the mini-story leads from Hemingway and his “new theory” (by which is necessary to omit – intentionally – a part of the story in order to emphasize its effect), and leads to the short phantasmagorias of Jorge Luis Borges: “The story is a short dream, a short illusion”. The Austrian novelist Robert Musil was complaining in 1930, in his novel A Man With No Attributes, that we live in the period of the magazines, and that we become too impatient to read a book. The fragmented and dynamical living makes the short story very popular genre among the readers today. Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares made the Anthology of Short and Strange/Unusual Stories; our Vlada Urošević has anthology of the French short narrative forms, etc. The anthology of the Macedonian short story Change of the System by Richard Gaughran and Zoran Anchevski, in this way, shows refined taste and sharpened sense for the “expectation horizon” of the literature audience in whole and successfully corresponds with the literature taste and trends, as well with the dominating literature sensibility, here and worldwide.
Made by high standards and criteria, enriched with the Prologue and C.V. for the implemented authors in this anthology, the book of Gaughran and Anchevski offers that “dangerous pleasure of reading”, comprehended in Borhes’ sense. The communication with the literature world that pulses through the pages of this anthology is in the pre-sign of one specific harmony of variety. The narrative method often changes its basic coordinates: from the pure realism in the stories of Dimitar Solev and Igor Isakovski (conditionally claimed), along the lyrical vignettes of Vlada Urošević that stand on the doorstep of the prosodic poem, all to the postmodern manner of Borhes’ type (whose poetics understands: erudition, fragmentary nature, collage techniques, non-linear narration, quote use, etc.) – manner present in the stories of Aleksandar Prokopiev, Venko Andonovski and Olivera Korvezirovska. Or, the folklore bases of Petre M. Andreevski that inclines to the fantastic world of Slavko Janevski from one side, and from the other side to the stories-grotesques by Vase Manchev and Ermis Lafazanovski. Further, the lyric story of Kim Mehmeti and Blaže Minevski transforms into a dream in the stories by Stevo Simski and Jadranka Vladova, and results in touch with the other-side and playing with time and space in the stories of Dragi Mihajlovski and Mitko Madzhunkov. The constant change of the urban with the rural, lyricism with irony, black-humoresque and absurdity with tragic, the historical with the pseudo-historical, etc. Also, the static narration with the final effect of surprise, as well as the other style dominants mentioned above, is evident in the narrative poetics of the presented authors.
The heterogeneous structure of the anthology introduces the adequate image of Macedonian narrative story (and literature in whole) that struggles with decades for its own place in the large family of the world literature. In other words, our typical differentia specifica is the constant longing for our own identity, from one side, and from the other – the longing for the dialog with the world: “with the other, Bahtin would say. So, we can say that Macedonian literature in whole (accordingly – the short story as well), constantly pulses and vibrates among the tradition and innovation, among the national and universal, among its own and the other, among the oral and folklore tradition and the contemporary trends, among the actual and eternal. Or, as Mr. Gaughran says in his inspiring comparative views in his Introduction: “Macedonia is small country, but with deeply-rooted and richly layered culture; its borders are close and on the reach, but maybe exactly because of it, the longing for overcoming of any frontier is so strong”; as strong as the strings and needs deep-rooted in the national tradition and soul, we would add. Not so long ago, Goran Stefanovski named that typical Macedonian syndrome as “flying in place”.
Therefore the dominant tendency in the most of the stories presented in the anthology by Gaughran and Anchevski – the tendency to replace the positions of the possible or the real, with the impossible and the unreal. Therefore that imaginary metamorphosis of the main character in the story The Experiment of Naum Manivilov by Venko Andonovski – into a bird. Or, as Krste Chachanski says in his story Straw People: “… there are events which constantly stand at the division line between the possibility and the dream, between the wished and the impossible, and they stay that way permanently, with no intention to determine one way or another – whatsoever… ”. That fluid condition in which the most of the leading characters exist, that oscillating between the empirical and the non-real in a state of non-determination between the dream and reality, is exactly the phenomenon that illustrates the increased interest of our contemporary narrators on the fantastic, oniric and non-real sensibility in general, which, as the differentia specifica, determines the last decade of Macedonian story narrating. But, its genesis should be looked up in the 70’s of the 20th century. That way the chronological continuity between the past and present on the field of the narrative poetics can be realized, analogously with the uniting principles of the story within and out of this anthology, the principles successfully implemented through the selection of the authors that worked before and after the Macedonian State Independence, with a noticeable quantum.
The anthology shows a little discouraging picture of the status of – so called – female letter in Macedonian story narrating, especially on the issue of women-authors with no feministic pretensions. If the stories of Jadranka Vladova and Olivera Korvezirovska, the only female authors in the anthology, stand out of the dominant (conditionally said) “male” narrating discourse at all, they stand out only in the area of the intuitive ability, or the “skill that women posses” – says Anna Richter – “ the skill by which help a chair can blossom like the apple-tree in spring”. “… Women know,” – further she says – “how to break, humble and natural, through the thin rational barrier, that stern cell in which the deepest meaning of the things is often hidden”.
Dragi Mihajlovski (one of the implemented authors in this anthology) has a story named as Anthologist (not in the selection of the anthology), in which story the main character, the American Richard, passionately works – not anything else, but – the anthology of Macedonian short story! His intimate impression of Macedonia through the thoughts of the great Macedonian authors that he presents in his anthology comes to its peak in the moments when he writes his prologue. In that prologue, Richard (the Mihajlovski’s fiction) says: “I thought how unimportant the size of the country is. I was convinced that this would be an original book that will impose to the American readers to understand that here exists a beauty so different than then the American one. Some other truth. A little more conservative than ours, but from the aspect of the style, not less modern”. These thoughts we consider as the most valid on the issue of the supposed and the expected imagological comprehension of the implicit and explicit reader of the anthology Change of the System.
Is the case with the similarity of the fictional character and one of the actual editors of this anthology only a coincidence, or is there something more? At the bottom line, that is of no importance. What is important, is the dilemma, the challenge, the controversial situation that the anthologist like Richard Gaughran or Zoran Anchevski, can be put in. It’s impressive, in this story, how – not only Macedonian, but the wide human – syndrome in this kind of a situation, is presented: the impossibility of the particular selection to include and satisfy all. How skilful, through the hurt vanity of the petty and envious quasi-author, and through the remarks like: “Why I’m not included?” Mihajlovski masterly catches the literature sacrifice of his hero Richard. His Richard, under the pressure of the extreme subjectivity by the persistent and sickly ambitious author who bothers him al the time, aborts his work on the anthology just before the finish of his two-year work, and returns to America.
Here we are caught by the allusions with the widely accepted (psychoanalytic) comprehension of the literature as compensation: Verter kills himself, but his author Goethe lives and works on. Mihajlovski’s Richard doesn’t finish the anthology, but Richard Gaughran, together with Zoran Anchevski, with doubtless success, do fulfil their noble mission – they offer us a book, a world, maybe small, fake and tragic. A world, maybe well known to us, bizarre, real, and then again abstract, imaginary, somnambulistic. Maybe that is just a small fragment that, anyway, succeeds in “throwing the shadow” over our mind, spirit and meaning… Because, at the bottom of things, this literature world concerns all of us; are we Macedonian or American – doesn’t matter, because that world actualizes the eternal riddle of human life and spirit. That world exists, as that “moon blossom” from the same-named story by Kim Mehmeti does, and as its author lyrically and warmly says: “The beauty maybe represents only the fruit of fantasy, a great deception, like the life itself. But, it exists.”
Translated by: Petar Volnarovski