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RESIGNATION AND OTHER TEXTSRevista Umělec 2010/1
Raša Todosijević | The End of the Western Concept | en cs de
A Hieratic Story
Almost every day, but in mid-winter for the most part, innumerable flocks of naked women and naked men almost darken the grey winter morning while flying high above my house. Usually around ten AM, I see them coming from Dedinje, flying towards the confluence of the Sava and the Danube. In the evening, at dusk, as if obeying some primeval natural order, their flocks fly across the river again, passing over my house, and return to their nests on the hilly Dedinje. While snow falls and a cold wind blows outside, I wonder what warms those bare-bottomed creatures up there, amidst the blizzard and heavy fog.
Maybe those steatopygic flying ladies and those fat gentlemen gorged themselves on our warm blood long ago, so that their body fat and unbearable mad grunting saves them from the murderous February freeze
* * *
For no valid reason, out of pure whim, forgetting about love thy neighbor, about mercy and His immense stores of kindness, the good Lord cruelly punished my mother, my sweet little mother, that sensitive and kindhearted woman, that widow who had left her youth, beauty and health in the semi-dark laundry rooms of socialism, with baldness.
Now my sweet little mother wears a woolen headscarf both summer and winter, fills in her thinning eyebrows with her aged hand, wanders through Belgrade on her swollen feet, eats cheap salami, drinks bad brandy, curses God above, socialism on earth and her own infinite naivety.
This morning I met Strindberg at the Moscow Hotel. I met great and unhappy Strindberg.
I see him pacing hastily, weaving through the crowd; he stares at me, evidently wishing to see me. I raise my hand discretely, letting him know I had recognized him; I stop waiting for him to approach.
Strindberg fixes his tie, approaches, while I silently, just by a gesture, propose that we step aside, in the shadow of a pharmacy shop window. In the window languishes a plaster Hygea, a broken Aesculapius and their snakes eke out their miserable life. Hygea studies her ragged chiton, and Aesculapius, a wise man with chalky eyes, a doctor without eye pupils, leaning on his knobby rod, watches the world with indifference. There are no medicines in the pharmacy, but it does not tarnish their ancient fame.
The great playwright, the brilliant August Strindberg extends his hand, saying:
Good morning, Mr. Strindberg, what are you doing in Belgrade? We are in the war, and you strut here like a real peacock.
I grasp his sweaty hand, with an indefinite grimace I welcome those crazy words but I do not know how to react.
Poor guy imagines I am Strindberg. He thinks now he has met famous Strindberg. He surely imagines he is shaking hands with a genius. I am convinced he is already spinning a witty anecdote about our encounter. My God, what I am to say? How to start the conversation when he knows about himself ten times more than any literary critic? He won’t be so mad to ask me about my health. I can see he is cautious. He pretends he does not pity me, as if all this was nothing, he doesn’t know... but his eyes, his warm writer’s eyes are saying much. Still, it would be tasteless to repeat here, in front of all these people, stale historical facts proving that I am not Strindberg and Harriet is not my wife. Perhaps he wants just that? Maybe he is tempting my shamelessness? If it is so, if I am up to my neck in shit, and chance assigns me Strindberg’s fate, I’ll do my best that this encounter passes in pleasant charter, more like an artist’s talk with his own imagination, without Nordic tempests and perfidious rocks.
What will happen in his grieving soul, if I snap bluntly that he is Strindberg, a playwright, a jewel of European art, an anarchist, an alchemist, a poet, and that, to be truthful, that legend, that writer, a Swede, a man of the theatre, the spirit of the North, had passed away already in that distant May of 1912.
How will he act if he discovers I am no Strindberg? He will pop his astounded eyes when he finds out I am Rasa Todosijevic, a local great man, the South Slav Homer. Will he cry once he comprehends that all this is a mix-up and that it is blasphemous to make the circus out of another’s personality? My only wish is that he doesn’t whine in the street. Let this prominent citizen of Stockholm slobber in Paris, in London, let him parade his ass wherever he likes, but let him leave me alone.
A foolish idea comes to my mind that our encounter is a unique example of double incarnation. Something like a double metempsychosis form: a fundamentally split personality. After long quarrels and many unpleasant truths, each soul went its own way, among other people. I am deeply convinced that I myself was Strindberg, the writer! I am the brilliance of his genial profile: a melancholy dreamer, an anarchist and a womanizer. And this creature, this sweaty hand, those puffy fingers blathering nonsense, boring my ears, all that is doctor August, he is that castrated Strindberg, a house tutor and the state pen-pusher. You see, he has come again to slander me, to wave his arms and insist on some cosmic Justice.
I thought: it would be best to take him to the restaurant, here, at “Moscow”. We’ll sit at a small table, order beer; we’ll enjoy in the sun and talk about politics. Once he calms down and pulls himself together, and after he had a few drinks and relaxed, I’ll show him my verses, the new cantos, and by the way, jokingly, I’ll hit him with truth, right between eyes.
I’ll say: August, enough of that fooling around! You’re an ordinary Scandinavian toady, but also a big fool if you expect any money from me!
Perhaps Strindberg will grasp that my poems are not his literature, his élan, his style and problematic. The scoundrel will understand that my art belongs to the corpus of Serbian poetry and not to the Scandinavian literary tradition.
At the beginning of 2008 the poverty hit me. People would say: hunger is knocking at the door. Whatever is going to happen to me onwards I remain firm in my piety. Yesterday I was visited by the priest. He says he admires me. He thinks I’m a saint and that the future of Serbia rests on my shoulders. While leaving, and without any reason, he passed the remark that baroness de Staël, namely, Anne Louise Germaine Necker baronne de Staël–Holstein, the wife of that naïve Swedish diplomat, was a rake, a heretic and the witch. In addition he told me that the hodge-podge made of holy Serbian paganism and Orthodoxy is pure nonsense and that he doesn’t understand at all why this French woman likes Germans. It would be better if the guy had brought something to snack together, than to bother me with that French woman who deceased such a long time ago. What’s wrong with Mme de Staël? I prefer much more hot porridge and a fresh loaf of bread than all of his tittle-tattle about God, Immaculate Conception and and French history. One can sincerely love mankind, all the people in this world, both the good and the evil ones, one can love little children, women, even the ants, and simultaneously not believe at all in life after death, angels and that immense amount of demonic forces.
I have had great luck and finally managed to finish one story. Here is what it’s all about. One incredibly pretty looking girl falls in love with a poet. This poet-laureate is a police informer, an ardent Russophile, a true quisling and a male prostitute. He is, therefore, a plain scumbag with heavy makeup, and she – upon finding out from her friends about these somewhat vague spots on the map of his impeccable character – wringing her hands all day, silently weeps and doesn’t know what to do with herself. She cannot understand that poetic souls can also be informers. In the forenoon he writes his verses, something between dark Nerval and blind Homer, in the afternoon he delivers his literary sermons, and in the early evening he drinks heavily and shamelessly, provokes ordinary, single-hearted people and denunciates his colleagues. In fact, I have imagined him as a modest and somewhat old-fashioned middle-aged provincial, who wants nothing else but privileges.y
I still torture myself about the title. Maybe I’ll call this story “Headless Poet”. Wherever our poet may find himself he holds in his hand a Russian military cap, the real Russian officer’s cap, which his older sister (of course, a fictitious sister, actually my creation) had bought him in Moscow, but he doesn’t have his head with himself. Just trust me – this guy never carried his head on his shoulders. At least, not publicly. So he walks through Belgrade, wanders around, creates within himself new verses, new elegies, but everybody knows quite well that he left his head at home in the refrigerator.
Belgrade, Sunday, 2nd of March 2008
Revised on 14th of May, 2008
I am an African
I am an African; I have no legs, one arm and one eye. I am not utterly sightless. I hardly ever have had a pen and chance to write about my feelings and my fantasies. Actually, I never had opportunity to be in real classroom. I don’t know how to write all those bizarre characters. There are so many letters and those numbers confuses me much. I live in Leeds. In the suburb where I am residing, for almost 15 years, there are no schools. I will be very glad if Mister Stewart Homer writes something nice and really truthful instead of me; something about traditional wedding night in western Africa: More precisely, in Ivory Coast. Cooperation between him and me could be inspirational for many people as I am. Concerning mentioned fee of £ 500 that is, I must confess, nice sum. I am planning to splash out that money for my further education and for promotion of equal artistic opportunity for all people like me. My brother Mohamed is very important person. He is at the moment on his regular summer holiday in Guantanamo. Guantanamo is small and cozy town on the Cuba, full of marvelous seaside residences, white sands, blue Caribbean Sea, hotels with countless stars and so on. Many people say that Guantanamo is tropic paradise, like Virgin Islands. My Mohamed is honest international businessman, not local freebooter. I suppose he is up there with Mister Raul Castro arguing about human rights in North America. This is serious issue. I heard on my TV that black people in US are forced to carry green hats with peacock’s feathers. Every one! No exception for the kids or senior citizens. Unbelievable! Those idiots will exterminate all noble birds. Poor birds! Arnold Schwarzenegger is strongly against such mass birds slaughtering. He is right, he is absolutely right but nobody wish to hear his prophetic voice from that remote California’s desert. He is our new John the Baptist. Hollywood is New Jerusalem; holy junction of all faiths, heresies and hopes.
My family worries about my health; I have tuberculosis and syphilis as well but, in spite of my sickly body, I am still attempt to find out how to express myself in fine art, mainly in the field of literature. I adore Tennessee Williams, Shakespeare and Umberto Marioni, particularly Mister Marioni. He lives close to me, literally next door. I know how he breathes and writes. He is in love with my younger sister. I believe that he have sexual relationship with her; Not very often, maybe three times a week. Nobody is against honest coupling. She is satisfied with Mister Marioni… financially and sexually. My sister Fatima is Muslim and Mister Marioni is Catholic. These are nice example of religious tolerance. I have another sister and she is jealous of Fatima. Fatima has more money than Leila.
If one day in your misty, always muddy and remote village, suddenly appears Black Death, the bubonic one, or one that comes together with Scandinavian rats named rattus-rattus, rattus norvegicus, then my secret formula which can help you remain strong, healthy and alive is:
In the gloom of the night, bring 9 old naked women to your home to weave or knit a shirt for you. The shirt should be made in perfect silence. The job has to be completed in one hour. When you put the miracle shirt on, viruses can’t hurt you. If you wish to protect someone who is dear to you, allow them to wear that unique blouse for a while. If you have a nose for commerce or, if you are hereditarily predisposed towards making money, you can generously lend the shirt to others for a small sum during the epidemic confusion. However, ethics don’t matter; even if you charge a tidy sum, tomorrow you will be proudly counted amongst the meritorious for lessening potential mortality in the village. You’re humanistic and a marvelous support is undeniable. Remember: Money and honor often go together and it is hard to split up one off from the other. Poor, slow and hesitant sister ethics, always looking for cosmic justice, they shall be noticed on the tail of the triumphal parade. Following the romantic idea that goodness has to prevail, she voluntarily chooses that modest and unrespectable position. Those who give at once give twice: even if it is inevitable to reimburse such caesarian promptness.
* * *
In spite of the presence of qualified doctors from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy this recipe was still being used in Serbia in the first half of the 19th Century; of course not amongst the common folk, who had no cash to employ 9 old, undressed and diligent women, but exclusively by wealthy upper class Serbs.
1… nine old naked women
2… in the gloom of night
3… weaving or knitting
4… perfect silence
7… 60 minutes of a canonical hour