From Matoš to Karakaš, Part 6


I get it now, says Mickey, what Kamov had started with a swear word… Krleža finished with court music, I end his thought. Well, alright, says Mickey, I prefer swearing to court music, but we also have swearers, some excellent ones. The best of your Kamov are things he is criticised for (journalistic style, writing in a hurry); you can still feel the freshness, and his snarl resonates to this day, especially now that the autofictional prose is back, and this distortion is trendy. But this is not all Kamov is, I add; he has a poem “Dan mrtvih” (Day of the Dead) in which he – and I am not sure if there is a similar example in the world poetry  – says: “I have made a pilgrimage to you, the dead, and look, my soul is not sombre;/my thought is not desperation – oh, cosmos is not cruel.” Wow, what a badass, sighs Mickey, to my significant pleasure. I swivel my ears and nod my head: Yes, yes, we knew it, we know it, you Balkan-condescending West, the devaluators of our culture. That’s right, that’s right, if he hadn’t been like that, Slobodan Šnajder wouldn’t have put these words into his mouth in the play “Kamov, smrtopis” (Kamov, Course of Death): “If the free in Europe exist, they are here, in the public house.” Also, Kamov couldn’t have written this: “A swear word is your blessing.” Or this, and please tell me whether there is a more beautiful description of the end of love: “We will die here, Kitty, my legs are feeble;/there is no way out of the ice-cold wood and no paths in the dark;/all is covered, and our traces are gone;/my hand has weakened and frost has covered my thought;/we will decay, Kitty – lustful are jaws of death.” You can feel it in your bones that the delusions in Golub’s “Antologija ljubavne lirike 20. stoljeća” (Anthology of Love Poetry of the 20th Century) are nothing but complete and futile nonsense, needed only by those who haven’t read and taken in Nietzsche, knocked him down and soothed him with a full nelson. (For those unfamiliar with it: a wrestling hold, popular in Lika, too – if someone from Lika uses a full nelson on you, you will say goodbye to reading Nietzsche or reading in general, including revalorising Kamov. At that moment, all hell breaks loose, and you feel like the protagonist of the movie “Leptirov oblak” (Butterfly Cloud), who believes that his problems are insolvable, that everyone is against his dreams: his family and friends, and people in the market where he works.) Anyways, all in all, everything your Kamov wrote sounds as if Apollo himself dictated it to him; the same self-confidence, or insanity, the same feeling of being the best, whereas Krleža is more like Athena, and she has nothing to do with the senseless Muses. Mickey, legend, I feel like exclaiming, you have just unravelled the seventy-year-old confusion that has been darkening the Croatian literary landscapes; we have heard on many occasions that Krleža ruined the Croatian literature as nobody else, that he occupied the verbal expression – usually fearful of god (or rebellious) – by some crazy rationalism or enlightenment, or even diligence, perhaps. And we are the Mediterranean, mysticism, pure inspiration, not the encyclopaedic labour, not the kinetics. Here is his thought: “We are all soldiers on leave”; you’re right, that’s pure, essential Athena. Krleža is like a bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas); he simply doesn’t want to help; Croatian male and female artists have complained about that for years. On the National Geography Channel, I once saw a bull shark, and the narrator said: this time, it was drawn by the sound of a fish in trouble. You don’t have to be Tesla-smart to understand that it didn’t swim toward the fish to save it; on the contrary: it ate the fish in one bite, opened its jaw and – yummy. Or ouch, depending on the perspective. And really, when looking closer at this Pan of his, it is difficult to link it to a god who tended to cause panic – that is the origin of the term. His Pan is touched by everything; a leaf falls – Pan sheds tears, a bird flies over – tears again, a peasant girl passes by – again, the wind starts – there comes a quiver. To the god full of life, so full that it eventually cracked and died. But as an antithesis, I shall quote lines from “Pan”: “All of us, oh, all of us, in a frantic rhythm,/and laughter and sin, capricious and light,/we dance away into the burial pit.” Not bad, says Mickey, but not comparable to: “my arms embrace you – oh, give me the whisper of blood.” The whisper of blood, man! What a clever attempt to smooth-talk her into sinning… Or when he writes: “sleepy is our blood – the wake is our salvation.” Then this: “The edibles are ready, you ghost, eat up,/there is only one plate, Kitty, and our flesh is edible;/we are married, woman – in the bowels our wedding is awaiting…” Kamov took his nickname from the biblical Kam (Ham) and, in his otherwise great essay, Šnajder explains that he named himself suitably as something dangerous. I think differently: he named himself as something harmless in comparison to his brothers Shem and Japheth, who have been warring ever since through lies, deceitfulness, fake history, blaming everything on the poor Kam (or Ham, but Kam from now on) for daring to see his father’s nakedness. How would Kamov look at those who present themselves as his (among others’) successors today? Even better, we need a lineage tree (“Well, make it then!”) of Croatian literature to see who walks in whose footsteps; everything traces back to a few names. Like in the literature of other nations, anyways. Simone Weil wrote an outstanding essay about the three brothers. Japheth is the ancestor of the nomadic people. Shem is the ancestor of the Semites, Jews, Arabs, and allegedly Phoenicians. Hoping that you are familiar with the famous biblical anecdote – the first terrible drunkenness ever recorded and Kam barging into the tent of his drunken father where he “saw his father naked” or “saw the nakedness of his father” – we will move on. But not immediately: Weil says that the passed-out Noah was as innocent as Adam before the fall – this is not an attempt to talk us into drinking rakijica; it is the analysis of the text which analyses the states that we, people of today, condemn, for a reason. Here, in this parable of human history, or Croatian literature, the most important thing is that there is always, as Weil thinks, a parallel action of the forces that flow through all three brothers. Hellenes, or Achaeans, the first to arrive in Hellada, come in ignorance – so says Herodotus – and they start learning there. They are the ancestors of Japheth, who didn’t want to see his father’s nakedness, so they didn’t want to see it either but gave numerous names to this one phenomenon. The other nations, says Weil, who descended from the two brothers who didn’t want to see their father’s nakedness, wandered around the world in ignorance in a similar way. (“What’s this got to do with anything?” you’re probably wondering. You’ll find out eventually.) Romans were, as a consequence, completely blind and deaf to anything spiritual, and they were somewhat humanised by baptising. Israel, specifically Jews, didn’t want the god who would speak to the soul intimately, but rather a public god, a charismatic one, sulky and rigid, that unites the community, and consequently, they didn’t want to “learn” anymore. “Cheap idolatry” ruled (and rules) the majority of the world; nations have inherited prejudice from one another, the same as their writers, our writers. Christianity (or let us say “literature”) is a mixture of all of Noah’s sons, although they do not belong together. The first two do, but not Kam. He is different. The history of our literature, considering the literary quality, might be written from Shem and Japheth’s position (that would be Miroslav and Krleža) and Kam’s position (that would be Kamov, Vida, Ujević, or Parun, for example). Shem and Japheth are force, power, coercion, violence, apparatus, state, university, military, you name it. And Kam would be the exiled, the pure, the one who sees and must run away because of that, run away from those who refuse to be naked, who need the dresses made of the collective body to protect from light the evil we all carry inside. In this sense, Kamov was aware, even better than Šnajder, of the kind of name he chose (although Šnajder knows it, too). All Kam’s sons were cursed, says Weil, with the curse common to all things and beings bound to misery due to the surplus of beauty and pureness. “Conquerors have always been the offshoots of voluntarily blind sons.” Amen.

Post scriptum, not mine, however.

“First, he is an outcast, knowledge is the curse, eyesight is misfortune. He sees, whereas the others, who are only the descendants, walk backwards. Eyesight makes him different based on the insight. He is the difference that needs to be invested in.”

Slobodan Šnajder


Dario Grgić