Friday, March 31, 2006

Pekić's Writings in London

Following Pekić's immigration to London in 1971, the Yugoslav authorities still considered him persona non grata and for several years they prevented his books from being published in Yugoslavia. Finally, in 1975, Uspenje i sunovrat Ikara Gubelkijana (The Rise and Fall of Icarus Gubelkian) appeared. It was later translated into Polish in 1980, Hungarian in 1982, Czech in 1985 and French in 1992.

In 1977 he sent the manuscript of Kako upokojiti Vampira (How to Quiet a Vampire) to an anonymous literary competition. The Association of Yugoslav Publishers recognized it as the best novel of the year and promptly published it. It was subsequently translated into Czech in 1980, Polish in 1985, and Italian in 1992, with an English translation finally appearing in 2005. Based in part on Pekić’s own prison experiences, this novel offers an insight into the methods, logic and psychology of a modern totalitarian regime.

Odbrana i poslednji dani (The Defence and the Last Days, 1977) was published in Polish and Hungarian in 1982, Czech in 1983,French in 1989 and Swedish in 2003. These three novels essentially dealt with contrasting types of collaboration in Yugoslavia at different levels during World War II.

In 1978, after more than two decades of preparation, investigation and study, the first volume of Zlatno runo, I-VII (The Golden Fleece, 1978-1986) was published, fully establishing Pekić as one of the most important Serbian authors. In 1987 he received the highly prestigious "Njegoš" award for this work, marking it as one of the most important contemporary prose writings in Yugoslavia.

The Golden Fleece prompted comparison by international critics to James Joyce’s Ulysses and its narrative patterns of classical myths, to Thomas Mann’s Buddenbroks and its long family history and evolution of pre-war society, and to Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point and its inner tensions created through a maze of conflicting perspectives; yet The Golden Fleece was also hailed as unique. One of the novel’s obvious distinctions is its enormous scope and thematic complexity. The Golden Fleece describes the wanderings of generations of the Negovans, and through them explores the history of the Balkans.

The first, second and the third volumes were published in French in 2002, 2003, and 2005 with the remaining four volumes to be published annually, completing all seven volumes by the year 2009.

During the 1980s Pekić created something entirely new. He had been collecting material for a book about the lost island of Atlantis, with the intention to give “a new, although poetical, explanation of the roots, development, and the end of our civilization”. Despite the classical sources that inspired his anthropological interests, Pekić decided to project his new vision into the future and thus avoid the restrictions of the ‘historical models’, which he had inevitably had to confront in his earlier remakes of ancient myths.

The result was three novels: Besnilo (Rabies, 1983), Atlantida (Atlantis, 1988) and 1999 (in 1984). The novel Rabies together with The Golden Fleece and The Years the Locusts Have Devoured, were selected by readers as the best novels in the years from 1982-1991. All of them were reprinted numerous times in Yugoslavia. Rabies was published in Spanish in 1988, and Hungarian in 1994. For Atlantis Pekić won the Croatian “Goran” award in 1988. At the end of 1984 Pekić's twelve volume Selected Works appeared, winning him an award from the Union of Serbian Writers.

Godine koje su pojeli skakavci (The Years the Locusts Have Devoured, in three volumes) was published between 1987 and 1990. Two parts of the 1st volume were translated into English and published in literary magazines in London. These are Pekić’s memoirs with an account of the post-war days and the life and persecutions of the bourgeoisie under the communist rule. The account is not purely autobiographical in the classical sense, since Pekić also deals with life in general in Belgrade after the Second World War. He also depicts prison life as a unique civilization and the civilization of ‘freedom’ as a special kind of prison. This trilogy was selected as the best memoir and received the “Milos Crnjanski" award.

The gothic stories Novi Jerusalim (The New Jerusalem) were published in 1989, and Pekić accepted the “Majska Rukovanja” award in Montenegro in 1990 for his literary and cultural achievements. Two stories from the book were published in French and English in different anthologies. “Čovek koji je jeo smrt” (The Man who ate death) was published in France also as a separate book.

Pekić's Early Life and First Novels

For years Pekić had been working on several novels and when the first of them, Vreme čuda (1965), came out, it caught the attention of a wide reading audience as well as the critics. In 1976 it was published in English as The Time of Miracles. It was also translated into French and Polish in 1986, Rumanian 1987 and in Italian 2004. I is now been translated in Greek. Pekić’s first novel clearly announced two of the most important characteristics of his work: his sharp anti-dogmatism and his eternal skepticism regarding any possible ‘progress’ mankind has achieved in the course of history.

During the years 1968-1969 Pekić was one of the editors of the literary magazine "Književne Novine". In 1970 his second novel, Hodočašće Arsenija Njegovana (The Pilgrimage of Arsenije Negovan) was published, in which an echo of the students protests of 1968 in Yugoslavia can be found. Despite his ideological distance from the mainstream opposition movements of the student’s protests, the new political climate further complicated his relationship with the authorities, who refused him a passport for a year. The novel, nevertheless, won the "NIN" award for the best Yugoslav novel of the year. An English translation The Houses of Belgrade appeared in 1978 and it was later published in Polish, Czech and Rumanian in 1985.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Borislav Pekić: Interrogation or Self-Interrogation (Part-1)

Excerpt taken from Borislav Pekic's three-volume, The Years the Locusts devoured; translated © 1993 by Christina Pribićević-Zorić; published in ‘Vengeance!’ a Passport Anthology: Number 6, 1993.

Otto Dix 1914
The night of the sixth to seventh of November 1948[1]. The door opens and, as I stir awake, in the gaping hole, two shadows, like golden aura, slowly take shape against the light of the naked kitchen bulb. One of them switches on the light in the little maid’s room where I sleep in the winter and the two hazy shadows become two men in brown leather coats. This is the ultimate in 1917 revolutionary chic, the top hat and boater of the triumphant proletariat[2]. At first, however, they remind me of pilots who have veered off course and crash-landed by my side. I have no reason to see them as angels bearing glad tidings. Glad tidings disappeared from my life long ago.

In between the two of them, in the distance, in the clinical whiteness of the enamel tiles, is my mother’s blood-drained face. Above it hangs a mirror framed in red celluloid, stained with old-age lead freckles. In it the glare of the light bulb obliterates the contours of the kitchen furniture, enveloping my midnight callers in a spectral shroud. To the right, stripped kitchen towels hang from the wall. Farther back, the flower balcony is engulfed in darkness. Below, dishes are drying in the sink[3].

Schumann is playing but distinctly on the radio.

"Du bist meine Ruhe". ("You are my peace").

I had forgotten to turn it off. My gaze turns to the crystal ashtray and its cigarettes butts, to the pack of Moravas, the matches and the green book jacket. Nietzsche’s Will to Power from the ‘Cosmos’ Caryatid series.

Wonderful, I think to myself. Whatever kind of power you may have learned from it, it doesn’t look as though you’ll be using it much now. Henceforward, power will be turning itself on you.
The door shuts. My mother’s face vanishes.

I lie still. I jus kick my foot free of the bedcover, a blanket fitted into a slip of sheets. I try to assume an expression of faint surprise. I know that is what people do when they are about to be arrested. They are always surprised at being dragged out of the hiding-place they have dug for themselves in their own imagination. But, except for ones imagination, there is no other hiding-place[4].

I know this is an arrest.