From Matoš to Karakaš, Part 10

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She is the easiest to sell. It would be sufficient to put subtitles on a couple of documentaries about her, and there would be no young person – still disgusted by our hypocrisy – who wouldn’t have thought, hm, sure, I’ll read that, the corrupt ones are no good, they have burdened their books with so many things – all in vain because they are nothing but two-faced shitheads. Combinations, combinations, combinations. On the other hand, watching Vesna Parun in the documentary “Kad bi se moglo putovati” (If one could travel) would make anyone say just one thing: this is how to describe them, this is how to treat them. Anyone not involved in the masquerade, in which the people of culture and the politicians are twitching in the same way, the former being more disgusting because they speak of creativity and truth. Besides, her literary canon is fascinating; there are so many good things at once, as Nietzsche would say – another one who told the truth even when he lied, as it happened once when a student asked him: “Professor, have you been to the church?” “Not today”, answered Nietzsche keeping his cool, surrounded by shocked friends who knew he had never attended places like these. The book I would recommend as an introduction to her life impulse, compared to which the worldwide media story about the rebellion is nothing but a child’s play, is called “Posljednja volja Vesne Parun” (Vesna Parun’s last will), written by Denis Derk. There, she talks about herself and about us – we should not read her the same way we read Krleža, who calls other people stupid – and she says that she dreams about writing a book called “Antologija nesretnih sudbina” (Anthology of misfortune), which would be a piece of writing about the doomed who have left behind creations we are still proud of. She says she would start with Marin Držić. Fran Krsto Frankopan. Katarina Zrinski. Dora Pfanova, and then, in the typical not-right, not-left, but right-in-the-head manner, she adds: “I remember the one who became an academic, and he had always waited for hookers in the front of the hotel ‘Palace’. What was his name? He writes something, and he is an academic.” Vera Škurla-Ilijić. Dubravko Škurla. Here are his words: “There are poetry lines that should not be born, and, to our wonder, these are mostly tame, legal children. The fruits of raging love and stolen pleasure meet – in the poetry empire – like masters and tyrants. I bow in front of these rare outlaws from the courteous modern world.”

He wrote that in 1951. He, for example, committed suicide. Today nobody knows who he was. Then Vesna Parun suddenly returns to Kamov and says: “In my opinion, he is bigger than Krleža, but us, young people, didn’t know that because he was practically banned for us. The church excommunicated him, and so did the parents. And his greatest enemies, just like mine, lived in his parents’ house.” Then Mirjana Matić-Halle (ended up in a mental asylum), “Marija Čudina, who became a drunk in Belgrade “, “Belgrade was a thousand times more interesting than Zagreb back then “. And then, for a bit of atmosphere: “I didn’t have anyone to hang out with in Zagreb. I went to the cinema. You needed to be dressed up for the theatres. There were all sorts of events for some other types of people. And Belgrade was just perfect for bohemians.” (…) “Zagreb was a lot more conservative and intolerant both in the time of the king and in Tito’s time. Anyone who moved from Zagreb to Belgrade was better off. Sarajevo was similar. No one asked you about your religion or nation. It got rotten later on when bad writers and fools stepped forward, wishing war, incapable of anything.” Šimunović, Kumičić, Šenoa – excellent, honourable. Krleža, a snitch, a zero. Viktor Vida, shouldn’t have moved, Vladimir Čerina, Dubravko Ivančan. “Then Ante Kovačić, a prose writer, he is a great writer.” I will repeat this because I can do whatever I want in my texts: Ante Kovačić is a great, great writer. August Harambašić, also crazy. Željko Sabol, committed suicide. Nikola Šop. He was translated by Auden. Đuro Sudeta. Josip Pupačić. Milan Milišić. Ivo Andrić – chased away from Croatia by the overwhelming kindness of ours. She talks – and every sensitive young person should read this – about the treatment of poets in small places. She says they are belittled, made fun of, forced into solitude. “Just a decent and compassionate person can have a poet’s mind.” She says that a country must forgive its poets for hating it, and they will, as soon as they realise how hated they are by their country. And then a mega-insight: if a poet is long lived, “he must be an untouchable mummy or a creature that has stopped being human, and just spoils the image of an area.” She talks about the scumbag informants all the time, but there is no paranoia here, but rather a psychic at work. Matko Peić should be in the Anthology of misfortune because he got drunk, fell into a gutter and died. According to a legend told in Stratford for a long time, colleague writers helped Shakespeare out of the gutter, but he caught pneumonia and died. The story is so profane that it must be true. A brilliant woman. Unlike some idiots who think that sex is a tabu, she says: capitalism is a tabu. And then she asks why. She is (with every right) quarrelsome when it comes to tradition. It needs to be consumed selectively. “There is too much alcohol, dawdling, self-praise, and even the snuggled paedophilia, allegedly harmless.” One of her most beautiful works in the collection of, provisionally speaking, journalistic texts “Pod muškim kišobranom” (Under a men’s umbrella). This is how it begins: “According to J.J. Rousseau, the one who first put a wire fence around a piece of land and said ‘this is mine’ was a founder of private property on this planet. According to me, the first who thought of – when it was raining cats and dogs and thunders were rolling gloomily across the sky – opening above their head a large, black, wired and ivory-handled men’s umbrella was the founder of this blessed and cursed, dreamy, technocratic, homey, morbid and still servile civilisation. A male civilisation, a protectionist, a warrior, a businessman one. With en ever more arrogant reasoning. Evermore protected by the mindlessness. And, luckily, so close to death.” (…) “And the umbrella is probably lying in some waiting room or hanging dully on a hanger; or, perhaps, going back to Šibenik hooked on the fence of a local steamboat, watching the landscape, coughing as an old man, as an Austro-Ugarian, mumbling: things will get evil. Things will get rough, my gentlemen! There will be war…” Nietzsche was not mentioned by accident here. When she was eighteen, Vesna Parun wrote this into her notebook: “Every day I count wasted in which there has been no dancing.” From “Zaratustra”. She says that the author has remained a big, attractive mystery to her. And she is the one who writes the following: she would like to know how big a royalty she would be granted for a poem by a stone pit worker or a ticket collector in a tram. “With an open palm, the culture awaits crumbs from the sizable dining table of economy.” But she doesn’t say the obvious, she doesn’t take the first way that comes to your mind. Is literature an economical asset, a piece of goods? Okay, if it is the goods, give us the right to exclude ourselves from the community, to stop chasing away the evil spirits out of the world we breathe in (her definition of poetry), the devil of despair, indifference, passionless thought, wrong words, boredom, self-neglect, sobering up, malevolence, and “the horrible self-sufficient devil of futility.” Vesna Parun made an olive tree of herself that she planted into the tradition she found meaningful and then she spread across the horizon of the Croatian poetry like a rarely seen plant. Her honesty is healable, especially today when the language used to discuss literature has been uglified to its extreme by falsely ideological and theoretical adornments. She can talk plainly about anything, but the reader knows she is not a naïve or a simple person. She is someone who has come here from far away, giving you back your image run through these experienced, deep eyes, sun-burnt, wind-whipped and surprisingly young in their thousand-year-old maturity. “The one who believes that ideology is making him a man is like a barrel: closed perfectly with a lid – but empty!” “All the people are false witnesses in other people’s lives; only in a courtroom may we find a few who, under oath, bear witness of some half-truth.” “If he could arise from his grave, Paganini would take up his violin, Pasteur his microscope. And Napoleon? He would be forced to live off his old fame.” “When Copernicus said the Earth was orbiting the Sun, linguists didn’t want to interfere. That is why it still does, unmistakeably.” “To live in a pond and not be a frog is horrible. To be a frog and not live in a pond – is simply not tactical.” Vesna Parun would be the easiest to translate because of the lack of testosteronism of her great forerunners, she is fresh, honest and, no matter how harsh, still very gentle – as a doctor talking to a patient. She sounds like someone who is not asking anything for herself. I wonder how many seconds would the boys from Collège de France be able to sit across her before they crawled back into one of their theoretical mouse holes?

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Dario Grgić

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