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Interview with the writer, literary critic and editor Radovan BRENKUS (Book Revue 2007/21)

Some kind of fascination by mysticism emerges from titles of your works. Is thinking about afterlife important for you? Don’t you feel in this topic an excessive return to Werther’s romanticism?

No, because the theme of afterlife seems to be too remote from the character of Werther, but neither he could avoid considerations about death. In his case, Goethe chose the theme of unrequited love to Lotte, when not only Werther must, because of his nature, die tragically. Basic feelings of futility, which can’t be avoided by any young man in each period, make him an "eternal" character. On the basis of your question I have just realized certain parallel with the short story On the Other Side, where Paul also dies tragically for his unrequited love to Verona. However, similarity is external. Story with ending has another basis, it deals with other matters and by preferring the theme of afterlife Paul, in contrast to Werther, dies happily. Classical literature develops, so the communication with the past can’t be at least avoided from the point of view of collective consciousness. Question is whether the concrete return in literature is the repetition of written or whether it brings an original view. This difficult task remains on the shoulders of literary scientists. Therefore I don’t afford to claim that there is a return to romanticism in my themes, at the same time I, as the author, also can’t agree with some kind of exaggerated return. If I were convinced of it, I wouldn’t release any book to the public. If conflict between desires and reality is considered as one of the fundamental sings of literary romanticism, I don’t exclude that my production includes such an element. But I’m not competent to evaluate own production. Of course, thinking about afterlife is in my opinion useless for the practical life. On the other hand, I realize that we are not here in order to satisfy only own basic needs. In contrast to animals, we are searching for own meaning and in certain phase, afterlife becomes a part of important ethical issues.

"Remember that we are walking across that beach only once..." (You don’t even enter the river – from the collection Romance with a Will-o’-the-wisp). It is something sad on simple truths. Don’t you feel like intellectual Bergman’s knight of the sorrow? Therefore: Does your ego allow you to write also the amusing poems full of laughter and joy? Or differently – Alexej Mikulášek wrote that your inspiratory sources are symbolism and subjectivism of Slovak poetic modernism and surrealism with its visualized human anxiety. Why just these sources and not others?

I don’t know. When I’m creating, I don’t realize from which sources I’m drawing. Certain feelings, considerations and image of world emerging from it in the book Hell Returns belong to the specific period of my life and I admit there can be other sources in the future which may push me elsewhere. Period of the Hell Returns is behind me long time ago, today I’m somewhere else. I think that powerlessness depicted in all manners of expression is literally exhausted. As if tragic destinies required the comedy, a play, where everything is clear in advance, but anyway, everything is different from how it seems to be outwardly. I don’t feel like knight of the sorrow, not even the intellectual one or Bergman’s. Cervantes with his Don Quixote would pretty laugh at me (laughter). My ego will allow me to write and even publish any poems, if, after many doubts, I manage to reach the conclusion that their publication has meaning for the poetry readers. I don’t take into consideration their suit; let them work in their nakedness. Classical music remains classical, no matter whether it expresses sorrow or joy. Incidentally, when I read Poe’s, Baudelaire’s or Trakl’s poems some time ago, I didn’t need a catharsis in their space. Anyway, they had a strong aesthetic effect for me, comparable to the purifying bath. I have never believed that poetry could cause such a relief, moreover the poetry pushing the fingers to the ash outside the light, perhaps in order to dig some cruel fairy tale out of it.

In contrast to the positively accepted poetry, your short story book hasn’t met with such understanding. Is it only because the poetry can’t be always automatically interpreted into the prose language?

There is certainly more reasons, my goal was not the interpretation of poetry into the prose language. On the contrary, when creating the short stories, I tried to forget the poetry. But sometimes it seemed to me that, mainly in the case of corrections, brief metaphor describes the situation better than plain or lengthy description of the situation. Occasionally I afforded to use it, also because in prose, the sentences are repeated even more often and more boringly than in poetry. I’m simply convinced that it helped not only the form, but also the content. Final impressions are already on readers. I don’t think I would exaggerate that concrete type of poetic devices. It is necessary to save them, like with pepper. For example, only one short story Town of the Half-Dead is based on the expressive symbolism and I used several such expressions in the short story The Garden of Eden in Hell, where they were sometimes a necessary and appropriate description of strange setting and atmosphere. Reasons of little understanding of the short story book Hell Returns can be various. There was even the same reasonable question: why my poetry hasn’t met with such understanding as the prose? In my opinion it is useless for the author to speculate about these reasons and similarly about the reasons of accepting the prose by several readers who are enthusiastic and surprised that such stories from original production were published in Slovakia. Many literature lovers observing the character of contemporary Slovak prose exist and maybe my short stories brought them something what they expected subconsciously but didn’t know to find. Poles and French have shown the interest in publication of the book so far.

How would you characterize the language of mathematics and physics? Are you also finding the poetry in them, like let’s say Vojtech Kondrót at one time? Do you strictly separate the work and the hobby or there are some touching points among them?

Language of mathematics is formal language with firmly fixed structure which has its historical basis in metamathematical evidence theory. Language of physics is rather a question of interpretation and evaluation of physical phenomena. It has more content than formal character. You would not believe how much fantasy the physicists must exert in order to discover something. Poetry as the way of life, sensational experiencing of reality can’t be denied either in the physical field. Written form of poetry, still only approaching to it, represents the language, which is, in the content level, situated in the opposite relation to the mathematical language. Therefore even the physics, as long as it uses the mathematical device, will technically never manage to depict what will manage to depict the poetry. Poetic language is paradoxical (by means of words, it will express what is not possible to express by words), while mathematical language is unambiguous. Poem includes everything and nothing, but Einstein field equation or Dirac equation of relativistic quantum mechanics include everything what we are able to justify physically in the macro and microworld so far. In equation, "everything" is implicitly given, by the mathematical rules; we only discover its consequences which as "hidden" we didn’t know before. In poem, we can find something what has never been there before. Both symbolic languages are not in extremely contrastive relation, they create a dialectical unity of opposites. From this point of view, it is not possible to remove their touching points! Just as the language of poetry shows the qualities of formalism, similarly the mathematics itself has already proved a content character of its language by Gödel’s theorem about the incompleteness of axiomatic systems – in each formal system the sentences, which truthfulness within this system can be neither proved nor disproved, exist. At the same time, I’m definitely bringing some philosophical questions of natural sciences to my literary production, whether I want it or not, because not only physics is more philosophical than mathematical approach to reality. If the writer creates an artistic image of world, he can’t completely eliminate his own ideology based also on these questions.

In successful short story Neverending Blue Entertainment from your prosaic debut you put into mouth of philosophizing poet the following sentences: "We write the novels, give the theatre performances and make the films. We make up the worlds in which we would like to find ourselves. Otherwise we would go crazy because of everydayness. Even the poets change a simple moment of life on the miraculous one in order not to go mad about a common day. We search ourselves in impressive stories because we are afraid of common reality." Do you identify with him in these words?

It’s clear that the author himself doesn’t have to agree with many statements put into mouth of characters. They are often enforced by the internal fiction logic. This is a part of text I’m identified with, to a certain degree. But is avoidance the stereotype the only motive of author’s production? No, it’s a purely existential motive of any activity when we are determined to do anything, even by Sisyphean way, only in order to kill the boredom. So the problem can arise also on the basis of boring life without troubles – in such situation the man will probably make up his life and according to that he will live it. By this way, several mortals are doing the literature from their lives. Isn’t such solution the escape without escape? Do we create and act only in order not to be smothered by nothingness by which the boredom is looking at us? We certainly come into contact also with other motives of production, e.g. the motive can be the simple joy of artistic fiction. Therefore I don’t want to generalize the validity of what the mentioned character has said. I assume that no ordinary man would like to find himself in cruel, tragic story, although maybe its romantic undertone would be worth of going through it in order to find, in contrast to the present-day life, his meaning in another life.

May be the motives of production described by you applied to your further literary activities? Can you reveal something more about them?

From what I have said, I don’t have the feeling that my further literary activities would be obviously emerging only from the existential motives of activity. I simply have my needs which I’m trying to satisfy like everybody else. One of these needs is to help others, if it makes sense. Since I’m active in literature also as the publisher, I can help the beginning authors who don’t have the slightest idea about the connections on Slovak literary scene. On one hand I’m trying to push the quality Slovak authors forward also abroad, on the other hand foreign publishers want their authors to publish the books in Slovakia. Such cooperation becomes mutually advantageous. Some Slovak authors have been already presented in Polish journals (Nadwislocze, Nasz Dom, Akant), Ukrainian (Literaturna Ukraina) and Boston journal (White Eagle). In cooperation with foreign publishing houses, I’m doing my best in order to publish the books of Slovak authors in translation. For this purpose, civic association and publishing house Pectus, focused also on the organization of literary activities for foreign writers, was founded. Presently, the translation of book Don’t you write anymore? (original title: Vous n’écrivez plus?, Slovak translation: Už nepíšete?) from the French writer Laurence Cossé, is being prepared for the print. Association, in which I’m not alone, enables from the economic point of view to gain own financial means which we are able to get ourselves. The town of Košice has already approved us the grants for two projects – multimedia interactive project (Verse versus verse) and project of authorial evenings (NON poetry), where several Slovak writers will be invited. International literary Košice festival is planned for 2013 and it will be organized by Slovak Writers Association and Slovak PEN centre.

Ľuboš Svetoň thanks for the interview