From Matoš to Karakaš, Part 5


The Muses had to be involved in the writing of such a literary piece. There are three primaeval ones; later, this Ministry employed more officials, probably due to increased creational ambition, which might have resulted from the bureaucratisation of the inspiration process. Aoede, Melete and Mneme didn’t feel like handling the new-coming artists, so they provided them with the inspiration they deserved, seeing a dishonourable ambition at work here, not the endeavour to channel the operations of “higher forces” through work. The three soon got a “fourth companion”, Arche, and the loosening policy led to the emergence of nine more. Ivana Brlić Mažuranić must have communicated with the first three, whereas the majority of later authors were in demand of more Muses on the list, cousins of the nine young ones; for it is absolutely unclear, even to a very attentive reader, why many writers write: they have got nothing to say to us, and they do not know how; apart from the diligent lining of the sentences one after the other, it is impossible to find any trace of verve in their work. So I’m thinking that a muse Donkee is in charge of these authors, not described by Greeks but doubtlessly residing here among us; the patron of the ones who believe that writing, for example, is equal to hitting the keys diligently to type letters on a piece of paper. The patron of Muses is Apollo, the most important God next to Zeus. Walter F. Otto describes him as extraordinarily pompous: as soon as he shows up, he exerts his power – something like a Muhammad Ali of the god-world. Grandiose, not gracious. A top-notch assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald without a helper, who can shoot from all sides: Achilles, the hero of all heroes, bit the dust after messing with him. It is possible to extract from his embellished, thunder-prone nature the boastful behaviour of all artists, writers, in particular, especially those who want us to praise every single line they have shoved on the screen as a proclamation of a significant, transcendent being. “God dictates my books to me” is a sentence often heard in our yard. Apollo’s nature is to blame for that, for he is the God who gives this type of intonation to anyone around him. It is tolerable when the results are like those of Krleža, Ujević, Parun, Šop, Dragojević, but it doesn’t hold water when it is evident that the tenth, additional muse Donkee (called Mule behind her back) stands behind the work you are reading – when there is nothing between the book covers except diligence and an unusual, mysterious tendency to write books that the taxpayers are expected to finance. Only the Greeks, whose words we are no longer able to translate into the impoverished languages we use (not just us, Croatian, but everybody), could have attributed sublimity to a swaggering, competitive champion such as Apollo – it’s like saying that a fist-fighting inclined neighbour is the gentlest man you have ever met, and it does not occur to you to estimate his gentleness by taking into account the exposed part of his personality. Gentlest perhaps, but similar to the cow from the saying: “Like a cow that gives a good bucket of milk – and then kicks it over”. So what should I say to Mickey at Camden Market about the situation at the beginning of the century; what should I throw into his backpack? We have Janko Polić Kamov, described as someone whose living was more intense than his writing – Slobodan Šnajder was among the first to state that the history of Croatian literature would have been different if he had lived longer and that Krleža’s reputation wouldn’t have been that high. That Ujević, with his eastern haze, would have to work further west because the volcanic nature of this temperament would make him settle down closer to the West European cultural circles or buzz off to the Far East, just like Veljačić did; however, there would be no Balkan rakijica1 there, as we already know. “Rakijica, you say? And what would that be?” cried Mickey, “some sort of Croatian dope?” Not the dope, Mickey, my boy, but irrefutable sadness, a total disaster; what plague used to be in the Middle Ages, that was rakija in my domestic literature in the twentieth century, even for the guys soberer than Kamov. Krleža himself said it would have ruined him if he had continued with the lifestyle of the twenties, wandering all over Zagreb with Ljubo Babić, a painter and his comrade, a misunderstood soul just like the great Krleža. And Kamov, he is an Irvine Welsh before the synthetic drugs, except that he didn’t take drugs and didn’t drink much; in our scientific-biographical literature, it is usually described like this: he drank at home, but nobody knew about it; there was no material evidence that he did it in Italy, France or Spain. However, biographical writing as a method is not an issue here; his text is. Matoš doesn’t like his journalistic style and overproduction and thinks he had finally learnt how to write when he died. So, there’s no point in putting him into your backpack; that’s just a story about us, about what dreams are made of. At one time, they presented him as a potential genius to relativise the other one who had already been put on a pedestal by the regime – the tactics that Croats like; I’m not sure whether other nations do it as well; I haven’t paid attention. Finally, you Englishmen (“Pardon me, I’m not an Englishman, I’m an Irish gipsy”) also do this when you treat Marlow as the greater Shakespeare than Shakespeare himself, feeling unwell because a country guy wrote your best dramas. Parun appreciates Kamov more than Krleža, too, calling him simply “more talented” and she can be trusted, even though this opinion may result from the wish for a good writer to live well, whereas, as we know it, many domestic writers disapproved of Krleža’s lifestyle, although it could not be called luxurious. Was there a reason to do it? I don’t know – I paid attention, but from such a distance that I could not see clearly. In Homer’s works Apollo didn’t sing; the Muses did, and at one moment, the Muses were right next to Krleža (whose critics were all over him as if Apollo himself was in charge of his inspiration, so he needed to do everything): while he was writing “Pan” in the western Slavonia, with Papuk hills on the horizon and the buzz of flies of the areas where people still keep livestock, with vineyards buzzing with bees, when Krleža started communicating with the only God that had died, in the times of the emperor Tiberius, when the news reached sailor Thamus on his way to Italy, passing by the Paxi islands. But whenever someone with good hearing is born, like Kamov and Krleža, Pan turns up from a mysterious portal known to the most perceptive ones, the most sensitive ones; he turned up for these two, students of the frightful Friedrich Nietzsche, the sailor who had brought the news even more horrible: God, generally, is dead. The general God. However, there will be Tito after Tito, Pan after Pan, and God will be there after God: the sensitive ones hear this and write it down, whether dictated to them or not: “Grapes ripe in the vineyard”. Come on, says Mickey, even I could do it! Is this all? Is this why you admire him? Dear Mickey, you could perhaps do it. Still, many have tried, and it seemed like they did it on their own, without, you know, that special participation. Without the feeling that something was going on there, it sounded automatic, lifeless, empty. As if it didn’t involve you, whereas this one involves you immediately, ties into you, because he says: “A golden bee is buzzing quietly like the Sunday organ.” Okay, this is something, says Mickey, although I’ve never heard an organ that is quiet; it roars, if you ask me. Things heat up as we go on; listen, I say to him: “Ripe mint blossoms are shedding, leaves of grass are swaying/the sunbeams are sucking on our honey udders./Heavenly peace.” So, that is your Krleža? No, not that; he is everything; you will hear it or not hear it, depending on the place, deadlines, flights, everything. And Kamov? Here he is: “I am about to rape you, you white and innocent sheet of paper;/ enormous is my passion, and you will hardly endure;/you skirt my rage, pale from the terror;/on your paleness – feel my black caresses./There is no law above you, and the laws are dead for me;/I escape them, and the getaway is swift;/passing where the dastards crawl,/where the dogs celebrate orgies, and their fornication be licking.” Wooow, says Mickey, this one sounds like someone from my hood, and the other one or the first one, the one you appreciate more (not all of us, not all of us, I feel the need to add) is too perfumed for me. This guy is furious. He’s a rapper. He gives you the evil eye. He threatens. 

  1. Rakijica is the diminutive of ‘rakija’, popular local brandy.


Dario Grgić