Where Do You Stand While You Create Your Work?

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Where Do You Stand While You Create Your Work?

For decades, in a trance we have been repeating to our students at literature classes a set mantra, that we have the best literature in the world. Still, when they open the world canon, our students see that our literature is nowhere to be found; so, we are lying to them. The world canon is not to blame that we are not part of it. They can hardly wait for literature that will be universally accepted, so that they sell it and study it. When I am asked at my literature classes: “Why should I read Kole Nedelkovski instead of Victor Hugo, I admit that have no esthetic, but rather a national response. But my students do not need such an answer. They already come as carriers of this culture, they do not need somebody to additionally rub their noses with the national issues. They only have honest questions if there is a Macedonian that would make them stay awake by five in the morning as Dostoyevsky does. What would you answer them?
When I read that the reason that we are not in the world canon is that we have not been adequately translated, it is simply not true. All of the more significant poets of the first five poetic generations in Macedonia have been translated at least to Serbian and Slovenian, and some of their work to English, German French, Russian. It is enough for some beginning, but still we do not communicate with the world. This is to some extent also valid for the prose, with a reserve that prose is more “robust” so it is technically more complicated for translation. However, many of the most significant Macedonian writers have been translated abroad, sometimes in several editions and with new works. And still they do not communicate with the world.
When we say that the world has not accepted us because we are a small culture, it is also incorrect. At least half of the best world literature was born in an agonic battle with the big languages and scenes. Kafka is an example – a Prague Jew who spoke German, tell me which scene he automatically belonged to, the Austro-Hungarian, Jewish, or the German? Which culture did he have to identify himself with for the world canon to accept him? The thing is that Kafka used to write as a dismantler of ideologies, systems, values, great languages and cultures, he worked as a dog that digs a hole, as a rat that makes a nest. Over here, they still write as bolts in the collective machinery, in the ecstasy of the collective stupidity. In this way you will really manage to be counted as a bolt, but only in your literature: for the world you need something more. Kafka says in a letter: “Only the small literature is capable of transforming the existing building material.” Kafka says that the great authors can come only from small literatures. If your vocabulary is poor, make it twinkle. Intensify it. Joyce, Becket and many others left their mother tongues, their great languages and cultures and they moved to others, where they were barely nomads; they consciously went to the areas they did not manage; there they had poorer expression, but they had the chance to pay along the “tight rope” of muteness, to say something very important.
Small literature is an advantage, not a shortcoming. It can revolutionize the expression, say things that the “walked on” culture can not longer say. The small culture is already favored in the beginning. In a great language nowadays you can only perfectly explain a Sunday lunch, a baby stolen from the crib, place a political figure in a thriller-mix-up, but in the small languages you still have unseen possibilities for a turnover. Every language creates meaning only if it pushes out of itself, when the tongue argues with the teeth, when eating argues with talking. There is a certain mismatch between eating and writing. Here we write only when we devour. We have no world values because our whole literature is made of: “oh, mother”, “oh, home”, “oh, country”, it is all: “la-la-la” or: “my-my-my”. It is a horror of collective “yelling and devouring”. The one who wants to make a difference in the world canon has to produce words that can compete with food, leave you hungry until five in the morning, as Becket left me, as my students would swap their last sausage for Shakespeare. It is a cruel competition, but it is not political, it is an intimate competition, it has been valid from Antiquity until nowadays; in this way the world canon is created.
Our problem, the problem that is called “the invisibility of the Macedonian literature in the world”, “Macedonian lack of quality”, “esthetic minority” is made of the fact that we do not know how to write expect for craftsmanship purposes. It is not always wrong, but at least then we should not deceive ourselves that we are a great literature. In all 45 years of communist Macedonia we did not manage to write a single book that would be classically censored. It is not about writing a dissident literature. Even back then we did not know how to write a book that would “get out” of the network of neighbors’ eyes, out of the evaluation that I expect from the lady at the grocery store, not to mention the uncrowned ruler of my cultural cash. No literature of this kind can be top. That is why we never needed any censors and we never had them, not even in the most classical communist meaning of the word. We were raised like this, that we are our own biggest censors. We like our provincial comfort and our writer’s dignity.
Since any fifth citizen of Macedonia was illiterate at the end of 1950es, then it is no wonder that the writer was something of a messiah. Awaited with flowers both by the party leaders and the neighbor who saved the best cabbage for souring under his counter. The canon was entered according to the Biblical parabola: “Many were called, and few were elected”, except that here it simply meant – according to literacy law. The ones who were literate were writers. And that is not enough. I am not saying that even in this way it is not possible to create great literature – yes, but only by exception. The same applies for the reverse examples. The rare examples of the great writers with royal backing from the world are just rare.
For the politicians in literature, the people who want both to write and eat at the same time, there is a ready-made formula for success, and we can sketch it in five moves. To enter the Macedonian canon, you should belong to as many of the following divisions as possible: 1. it’s better to be Macedonian, then a member of the ethnic groups; 2. it’s better to be a man than a woman, 3. it’s better to be from Skopje than from any other city of village in Macedonia. Besides this, it is good, (4.) to have a trivial detail in your biography (suicide, unfortunate killing in an earthquake, revolutionary clash, etc), (5.) to have been and are politically and morally acceptable and of course to have friends at important positions. And it is the best to have a status of this kind yourself. Even nowadays we easily canonize the literature professors, publishers, Maecenas with literary ambitions…
I find that the saddest thing is that in every published discussion, the Macedonian writers repeat the same mourning, that they are “disappointed from the people”. As if they were the pimps of the people, so the “sew workers” did not satisfy them. What can the people owe them, or what they owe the people? Our writers maybe have the right to grudge, from a distance, because they lied in their literature on behalf of the agendas. It is sad, but so reactive, that it brings human empathy in me, but nor professional understanding. You either write because you want to tell some truth about the world or yourself, or – of you have worked programmed – don’t be sorry.

2018-08-21T17:22:59+00:00 March 3rd, 2009|Categories: Literature, Essays, Blesok no. 64|0 Comments