Sunday, April 09, 2006

Foreword by Bogdan Rakić

Excerpt (pp. XI-XIII) taken from How to Quiet a Vampire, Translator’s Foreword; English translation copyright © 2005 by Northwestern University Press; translated from the Serbian: Stephen M. Dickey and Bogdan Rakić. Originally published in Serbian – Kako upokojiti vampira, © 1977 by Borislav Pekić.

(…) Although Pekić refused to be actively involved with a group of Yugoslav dissidents during his self-imposed exile in London, the communist authorities at home still considered him a persona non grata, and in 1973 the publishing house Nolit canceled the publication of three of his works – Kako upokojiti vampira (How to Quiet a Vampire) among them – that had already been accepted and paid for. Nonetheless, as soon as the book appeared a few years later, in 1977, The Association of Yugoslav Publishers recognized How to Quiet a Vampire as the best novel of the year.

Based on Pekić’s own prison experiences and his firsthand understanding of police methods at work – as well as his thorough knowledge of the long tradition of European philosophical thought - How to Quiet a Vampire offers an insight into the mechanisms of the logic and psychology of modern totalitarianism. It tells the story of the former SS office Konrad Rutkowski, now professor of medieval history at the University of Heidelberg, who returns to a costal town of D. in Yugoslavia where he served as a Gestapo agent twenty-two years before, during the Second World War. Rutkowski returns to the scene of his past crimes, spurred by the ambivalent urge both to justify and renounce his Nazi past.

His painful inner deliberations are described in twenty-six letters to his brother-in-law. Rutkowski tries to reach a moral compromise with his own past, exploiting some of the major currents of European philosophy. Thus, the self- styled editor of his manuscript, Borislav Pekić, loosely connected the individual letters to some of the best-known and most influential works of European thinkers: Plato, St. Augustine, Descartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Wittgenstein.

The editor considered this necessary in order to show that Rutkowski and his ideology and the logic do not represent an aberration from the traditions of European philosophical thoughts, but rather its continuation and logical development. Rutkowski’s thought was simply the result of a “logical radicalization” of that European philosophical tradition.

Written at the peak of Communist era in Yugoslavia and allegedly dealing with German Nazism, How to Quiet a Vampire simultaneously looks back to the 1940s and sums up the political reality of Yugoslavia in the 1970s. In view of the upsurge of new forms of dogmatism in the Balkans (and elsewhere) during the 1990s, the novel has certainly not lost its topicality – it remains one of the most chilling account of the psychology of the “captive mind” in contemporary European literature.

But the real meaning of this sometime harsh satire is much more subtle: the glaring horrors of the “practice” of totalitarian ideologies are associated with more obscure threats implicit in some of the “theories” of the seemingly benign tradition of European rational thought. In this regard, its message parallels the reappraisal of recent Western culture (especially with respect to the Holocaust) suggested by George Steiner’s In Bluebeard’s Castle (notably, both were written more or less simultaneously in the early 1970s). Thus, exposing totalitarianism as well as challenging accepted Western philosophical tradition.

How to Quiet a Vampire is a warning to a world that is well aware of what has transpired in the past but apparently unwilling to believe that some of it can happen again – and in the most unexpected intellectual, cultural, and political surroundings at that.

In this respect, the novel is clear distinguished from most other literary accounts of modern repressive systems. Pekić claimed that his intention was to show that “fascism or similar form of totalitarian oppression could show up at our doorstep once again, and this time submerge us in its floodwaters once and for all.”

But he also indicated that there is no discrete boundary separating the intellectual tradition of which Europe is so proud from some of its more recent aberrant political ideologies. In this way, How to Quiet a Vampire is one of the most important literary works to question the ethical validity of a large part of the history of rational thought in the Western world as well as the role of intellectuals in it.

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