interview

That Which is Expounded as Unfathomable

Interview: Branko Čegec

"Quorum in its first phase, that is, in the first five years while I was editing it together with my editorial board, must in some way be understood as a generational magazine, for it is a fact that it was dominated by an upcoming generation. When I, as you put it, declined the possibility that Quorum might be a generational project, I primarily had in mind a comparison with the existing tradition of generational magazines in Croatia, such as Krugovi, Razlog or the first issues of Pitanja."

Interviewer: Tvrtko Vuković
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• TVRTKO VUKOVIĆ: You have written fi ve books of poetry: Eros- Europa-Arafat/Eros-Europe-Arafat (1980), Zapadno-istočni spol/West- -Eastern Gender (1983), Me lankolični ljetopis/A Melancholic Chronicle (1988), Ekrani praznine/Screens of Emptiness (1992, 2001) and Tamno mjesto /A Dark Place (2005). Although your interests and the ways you articulated them changed from one anthology to another, two things, it seems to me, remained permanently present: sexuality and politics. What is the origin of this connection between poetry, sexuality and politics?

BRANKO ČEGEC: I think this is primarily the question of relationship with one’s context, of personal interests and choices. I started writing more intensely toward the end of the “silent” seventies, but even then it was quite obvious that on the social plane we were essentially determined by politics, in such a way that it limits, hinders or motivates us for something, produces resistance, whereas our personal space, or to put it oxymoronically, our wider intimacy is essentially determined by sexual relationships, both with others and with ourselves. I liked the tensions in the language that produced those, as they seemed to me, two most important coordinates of human life.

• VUKOVIĆ: In this sense you are a very modern writer/thinker since in lyrics you open up issues that in theory, for example, Foucault formed at approximately the same time in his works exploring the relationship between sexuality and power. You also deal with other problems, for example, the fi ctionalization of historical reality, which was dealt with in the works written by the theoreticians in the eighties. What are your general views on the relationship between your own writing and literary and cultural theory?

ČEGEC: My generation tried to capture as much theory as it was possible, considering a relatively slow flow of information coming from the West and too small a number of translations, for people traveled relatively rarely, except for shopping; there were no literary scholarships and residency programs, and so we had to find our ways through sporadic efforts and coincidences, among which, of course, some true gems could be found. I can’t say it was easy to create some systematic approach toward theory, especially toward the contemporary one, since it usually took at least a few years for some important books to be translated, whereas some books dating from that time aren’t translated even today. However, the fact that translations were being done in Zagreb, Belgrade and Sarajevo, and I personally quite early on started following the production in Slovenia too, made it possible for me to get a very good insight into what was available. During the eighties some people from our generation managed to get as far as Paris or Vienna, so thanks to them and the books they managed to obtain the communication with contemporary theory became more direct and quicker. As for my own writing, I am sure I didn’t make any special effort to fit into some specific theoretical patterns, although it is rather easy, and it was especially easy at that time, to get a glimpse from my texts of which theory was the most interesting to me and which one had the deepest influence on my attitude toward literature. It seems to me that I have always sort of compiled different experiences, trying to bring them into a different, perhaps even into a totally misguided relationship, but invariably diffracted through a personal prism.

• VUKOVIĆ: Your fi rst two books, at least to some extent, are marked by your interest in linguistic experiments, visual concretism, and the subversion of the idea of meaning, verse, rhythm, and, in this respect, lyrics in the traditional sense of the term. In the English and French speaking worlds the similar types of lyrical expression are usually called textual poetry. In Croatia, Branko Maleš tried to synthesize all that under the term semantic concretism. Can you elucidate this for me? What is semantic concretism, is there a rationale for the talk about the poeticism of semantic concretism and how do you perceive your lyrics in that context?

ČEGEC: The writing of my first two books was mostly determined, in a pragmatic sense, by two things: historical avant-garde, especially the one that survived World War II and continued its research during the fifties and sixties, and then Slovenian avant-garde poetry from Kosovel onward, and particularly the authors that appeared on the literary scene in the first half of the sixties, the OHO group, Tomaž Šalamun... I have learnt a lot from Franci Zagoričnik, I have read almost every book written by Jesih and Svetina, and the detailed critical analyses of modern Slovenian poetry by Taras Kermauner. Semantic concertism is one of the attempts at naming the poetical relationship toward language; it was taken over from the German theoretician Thomas Kopfermann. I encountered it first in the works of the Slovenian critic Denis Poniž, in Croatia it was promoted, as you have just said, by Branko Maleš, and it happened in the context of other attempts at naming that which at the time was gaining recognition as a new tendency in Croatian poetry, such as “the poetry of the experience of language” as it was expressed by Mrkonjić. Even then it seemed to me, and I am still close to that opinion, that the problem of such a superior reconfiguration of the “vital tissue” of a poetical investigation that still isn’t finished is rather tricky, since it misses a great deal outside of “the terms”, and it can simultaneously be a limiting factor in poetical investigation, or even experimentation, if I may use that word, since, for example, a poet can get to like the idea of a groove that makes him recognizable.

• VUKOVIĆ: Sometimes I work with my students on your poem “Raspi si vanje” (“Writing-Out”) from the book West-Eastern Gender. Do you remember it; it is composed of eight parts and has footnotes? In it, as well as in some others like “Genesis (domovina): vazda i dovijeka” (“Genesis (Homeland): Forever and Ever”) from Eros- Europe-Arafat you demystify the ideas on national homogeneity, historical continuity; you mock ideological myths, including the unquestionable literary ideas and institutions like Krleža. How dangerous was it then, back in the eighties? Can you give us a sketch of the social and cultural climate in which you started your literary work?

ČEGEC: When I was writing those texts I didn’t think in the least how they would be interpreted. It’s true that I wanted to articulate my rebellion, among other things, through the demystification of the national myths and national (in some cases that meant Yugoslav too) celebrities, such as Krleža, whom I hold in high esteem as a writer, but I have never been able to understand how an author of that magnitude could possibly utter some unbelievable qualifications that I read in the conversations that Matvejević had with him. I am hinting primarily at his statements about abstract art, but also about some writers, literary texts... That it was not received as “pricking” by some rookie kid I discovered when Goran Babić asked me to come to the headquarters of the magazine Oko and explained his reasons why he wouldn’t publish the entire cycle of the poems I gave his literary editor. When I entered the headquarters, he was sitting with his back turned toward the desk with his legs placed on the window frame, looking out of the window. Without turning back, he spoke to me sounding almost disappointed: so, here you are Čegec. Sit down! I read those poems of yours; I can say they are bad, but we won’t publish some of them. Remember, the three topics that you will never write about, except in an affirmative context, are: Tito, Krleža and JNA. And so the following poems were kicked out: “Genesis (domovina): vazda i dovijeka” (“Genesis (Homeland): Forever and Ever”, “Govori po vi jesti” (“The Speeches of History”), “H ili V” (“H or V”), “Adriatic” (“Adriatic”) and perhaps a few more. Two years later, in 1980, the poems were published in a book for which I got the Goran award at the literary event Goranovo proljeće. Three of them appeared at the very beginning of the book. And nothing happened. Later on in the eighties there were some ridiculous attempts of censure: one poetess threw some of my poems out of a magazine on the pretext of vulgarity; one poet and party secretary asked me to see him and came to the conclusion I was not such a bad boy and that one day I would certainly become a good Party member; some newspaper editor and college poet kicked out my article covering the apprehension of a journalist working for the Ljubljana magazine Mladina for “you can’t fuck with stuff like that”, etc. I can’t say I was victimized in any way, but I did go through episodes that some people in the nineties turned into careers, just as they do it even today, whereas I was turned down at some job interview, for “you know, after all, you were a highly positioned person in the former regime, you edited a magazine and newspapers...”

• VUKOVIĆ: You edited the literary section in Polet, the legendary magazine published by the Federation of the Socialist Youth of Croatia. From 1989 to 1990 you were editor in chief of the cultural magazine Oko. Allegedly, at one point Polet reached the circulation of 150 000 copies? What infl uence did “your” Oko exert on the cultural events of that period? Can you compare the infl uence of those and similar contemporary publications such as Vijenac or Zarez?

ČEGEC: At the beginning of the eighties I was a member of the editorial board of the magazine Pitanja, together with the actual President of the Republic, and I joined Polet after I had done my military service. At that time, Polet reached the circulation of some 90 000 copies, but I am not sure it crossed the limit of one hundred thousand. It had a political “edge” and it was “on the right side”. I didn’t feel comfortable in that context, I was constantly reproached, my whole thematic topics were kicked out, for instance, owing to Enzesberger, and so I was saved by the inception of Quorum in 1985. I went to Oko toward the end of 1989 and was its editor in chief for exactly one year. I thought that a great challenge for me was to turn a politically odious magazine into an open forum, where all the relevant opinions could confront one another, with special emphasis on those people who couldn’t publish or were not allowed to publish their works in Oko until then. From the very first issue I was publishing “the horrible faces of nothingness” by Slamnig, Šoljan, Mi halić, Cvitan, Stamać, Donat, Nikica Petrak, Horvatić, Čuić, to mention only a few authors. I also formed a very powerful editorial board, or to put it in the rock’n roll parlance, a real super band: Branko Maleš, Ivan Rogić Nehajev, Hrvoje Turković, Zvon ko Maković, Ana Lederer, Aleksandra Wagner, Vlaho Bogišić and Nihad Volić. At that time, Oko was still distributed across the whole of Yugoslavia, and the fact that there are still people who connect me with that one year I spent in Oko is perhaps the best confirmation of its influence. I personally didn’t think we tural actuality. Later on, these texts were collected into a book called Fantom slobode (Phantom of Freedom). If these essays are read carefully, a few diff erent things can be discerned in them. First, in them, as well as in your poetry, you come to grips with the demystifi cation of “common sense”, most often political “common sense”. Second, you deal in them with the problem of the mediation of reality and culture, which is, at least in part, the topic of your fourth book Ekrani praznine (Screens of Emptiness). Th ird, they succeeded in achieving all that we intended, for there was a very strong crisis even then, especially owing to the new political winds, which used revolutionary measures, like the radical cutting-down on the co-financing of magazines, in their attempts to make a clear cut with the dark past. However, when we compare that to the attempts that ensued, I think we need not be ashamed.

• VUKOVIĆ: Toward the end of the eighties and at the beginning of the nineties you published a series of essays on social and culclearly reveal how the demise of socialism and the inauguration of democratic liberalism suff er from the same ideological stereotypes that you are trying to expose. How do you see these texts today? In which direction and in which way do you employ your critical and polemic energy?

ČEGEC: I haven’t seen these texts for a very long time and I somehow think that they played out their role in the space of “thinking the difference” when they were created and published. I don’t read them again, for I would have to face the fact that I keep repeating myself, in an equally futile way, since I naively believe that things can change. However, the individual efforts are totally Sisyphean, whereas the mechanisms to prompt “the public” have for quite some time been out of the hands of writers, intellectuals, heretics, dreamers...

• VUKOVIĆ: Many texts from Phantom of Freedom still haven’t lost their relevance. In “Miris grada” (“Smell of the City”), for instance, you talk about the devastating city planning in Zagreb, and the essay “Tolerancija kao ignorancija” (“Tolerance as Ignorance”) speaks about the enforcement of the culture of trash, “Proizvodnja fi kcija” (“Production of Fictions”) about the ideological strategies of mass “bamboozlement”. When you take a look at the medial, cultural and social reality today, some twenty years later, do you see any progress?

ČEGEC: I do, to the worse. The context has got so banal that the problems from Phantom of Freedom now seem almost ridiculous, with a possible exception of those that deal directly with war events.

• VUKOVIĆ: In the mid-eighties you began editing the literary magazine Quorum. Quorum soon became an infl uential publication read all over the former Yugoslavia. Tells us something about Quorum that you at one occasion refused to call a generational project, insisting instead on actually calling it a cultural project! What did Quorum mean at the time in our culture?

ČEGEC: Quorum in its first phase, that is, in the first five years while I was editing it together with my editorial board, must in some way be understood as a generational magazine, for it is a fact that it was dominated by an upcoming generation. When I, as you put it, declined the possibility that Quorum might be a generational project, I primarily had in mind a comparison with the existing tradition of generational magazines in Croatia, such as Krugovi, Razlog or the first issues of Pitanja. All these magazines had their own critic (or critics) who tried to critically wrap up their literary praxis into a generational poetics. Quorum was definitely not such a case, and the proof of that is the appearance of often totally opposed, and even polemical opinions printed on its pages. Even the range of theoretical interests was so wide that probably no critical conception could shape it into a generational poetics. I personally often referred to “a generational sensibility” as a fragile cover under which all the differences of the times we are talking about found their place, that is in the second half of the eighties. To what extent was Quorum an important place of expressing differences can be best appreciated when we realize the resonance Quorum had in the ex-Yu media, the fact that Quorum was inescapable in every literary classification done in the last quarter of the century, as well as the fact that Quorum is still being published and plays an important role on the literary scene, although it is ghettoized more than ever before in its history.

• VUKOVIĆ: Apart from literature, Quorum also opened some space for other cultural practices such as music, fi lm, photography, contemporary art. Was Quorum our fi rst multimedia magazine? To what extent was Quorum responsible for highlighting the importance of the so-called popular culture? Were the writers that reached their maturity in Quorum the fi rst ones who defi nitively crossed the borderline between high and so-called low literature?

ČEGEC: Quorum was perhaps the first one that highlighted the multimediality of literary praxis, which was just gaining momentum in the eighties, and is almost totally devalued today, turned into its own caricature owing to the fact that the technical support developed much faster than the ideas in art, that is faster than the theory that was supposed to open such a space in art. Quite logically, the technology got totally commercialized, since nothing stood in its way. The art mostly adapted itself to the gadgets and tried to use them in the most infantile forms. It seems to me that the illusion of availability of all things completely colonized the artistic ideas. And since theory got lost in some allies in which no global view everybody pretended to was no longer possible, we are nowadays in a situation in which the so-called postmodern renovation got transformed into an overall recycling in which it is almost impossible to find passion, enthusiasm, creative fever, from which you can’t get out of by pressing the button OFF. The sliding off of art into a commercial trap of a “grand narrative”, which we used up theoretically at least twenty or thirty ears ago, got us to a point at which we can no longer reach Barthes’ “pleasure in the text”, but instead we acquiesce to “the pleasure in the story”, that cheap cover on the languid bodies of contemporary texts. These sentences perhaps indicate a certain amount of dislike toward the annulment of the boundary between “high” and “low” literature, but I have never thought that it is possible to view literature in terms of such hierarchy. I think that many works that were created within the genres of the so called “low literature” made possible the supreme pleasure in the text, but the reductions that took place during the nineties and two thousands removed literature from textual pleasure and turned it into “a cotton candy pleasure”, the pleasure that is talked about only until it gets sold out.

• VUKOVIĆ: As an adjunct to the magazine Quorum, there was also a book edition of the same name. Many now renowned authors published their fi rst books in it. What is your evaluation of it today?

ČEGEC: The book edition Quorum was an important turning-point, since for years before that there hadn’t been a space where young writers could publish their works; that is, until Pero Kvesić didn’t persuade the people in power of that period into believing that it was not such a bad idea to have men of letters on their side. However, writers possess shortterm memory of gifts, so, luckily, their being published didn’t necessarily mean their being converted. We put out some brilliant books, which made possible the formation of some of the most important authors in the last two decades and a half. I think it went well beyond the initial expectations of those who started the book edition in the first place.

• VUKOVIĆ: Can you point to some issues of Quorum that you are particularly fond of, and tell us why you are so fond of them?

ČEGEC: Quorum has always been a very copious magazine, with different contents, so it is difficult for me to say: This issue is the best in my opinion. There was a lot of stuff in it that I found and still find significant for me, but I can’t point to a particular issue from its first to last page, for the magazine was construed as a space for expressing differences. Therefore, I often published texts that would have never been my personal choice, which doesn’t mean they were bad. On the contrary, some of them formed individual opuses, writers that have for more than twenty years attracted some sort of attention – either the one by the critics, media or readership.

• VUKOVIĆ: Let’s go back to your poetry. In the year 1988 your third book of poetry appeared, A Melancholic Chronicle which is, at least in form, signifi cantly diff erent from the fi rst two. In it, you defi nitely abandon the radical experimentation with language and form. It is mostly composed of narrative poetry in which, it seems to me, the emphasis is put onto the experiential dimension of the subject. And again, it’s about the infl uence of sexuality, ideology, including music, fi lm and some other media on life and social reality. Tell us a few words about that poetical turning-point. Is it really as distinctive as it appears to be at fi rst sight?

ČEGEC: Well, to me personally, that book was very close to the first two books. Additionally, it again made a grater use of the possibilities of text in the classical sense of the word; it is predominantly narrative, it got me back to the sentence, as Zvonko Mako vić wrote in his afterword. When that book was in the making, it didn’t seem to me that I made a significant shift from the first two books: perhaps it only paid a little more attention to the theoretical background, slightly softened up by Lipovetzky and Vattimo.

• VUKOVIĆ: Just as in the case of the fi rst two books, in this one too, in a certain way, you were communicating with some theoretical narratives that were important at the time. To which extent did the discussion on postmodernism and postmodernist literature, which was going on then, infl uence your poetical expression? At that time, you wrote your essays on literature, “Vizualnost književ nosti” (“Th e Visual Quality of Literature”), “Duh vremena i nova tekstualnost” (“Zeitgeist and New Textuality”), “Videospot poetike (“Th e Video-Spot of Poetics”), “Poliperspektivna slika individualiteta” (“Th e Multiperspective Image of Individuality”), in which you articulated some of these problems.

ČEGEC: I got a little bit ahead of myself and in the previous question gave you a short answer to this one too. The discussion you mentioned definitively left an imprint on my expression, and I myself tried to talk about the contemporary problems of that period through those several shorter essays. The attempt at situating and theoretically founding postmodernist literary praxis gave credibility to the procedures I myself used even in the first book: from palimpsest to construing the “incongruent” elements, the modern and the traditional, auto-referential anchors, etc.

• VUKOVIĆ: In this book you confront the reader with the topic of melancholy that approximately at that time somehow became an important theoretical topic (Kristeva: Soleil noir 1987, Agamben: Stanze 1977). Even today some contemporary thinkers, like Ži žek, grapple with melancholy again. How did you develop this interest in melancholy as a dominant sentiment of the modern man?

ČEGEC: Your question offers the easiest way to find the answer. Melancholy is a condition you can easily identify with, the one in which you can easily recognize yourself, and when you get the support and confirmation from theory, then you simply can’t run away from it. I would easily find the connections with “the black bile” through music too, even through the artistic opuses of the authors who may not have had their roots in melancholy, but whose reconstructions were quite close to melancholy (from Joseph Boys to Anselm Kiefer).

• VUKOVIĆ: Screens of Emptiness – of all your poetic anthologies, this one is the dearest to me. Critics oftentimes tried to connect it with Baudrillard’s conceptions: hyper reality, simulacrum, simulation, medialization and technology of actuality. It somehow makes sense to me. Anyway, in the essays that you wrote around that time (“Th e Production of Fictions”, “Assembling Reality”) you deal with the models of medial and informational shaping and producing of reality. Is this what Screens of Emptiness are actually talking about?

ČEGEC: When I was writing Screens, I didn’t read Baudrillard at all, but later on I very much liked the possibility of interpreting it through Baudrillard, because it seemed to me that I got the gist of things, although I didn’t really know them. The essays you mentioned are perhaps the best proof of that. I tried to explain to myself the ideas of simulation, medial and technological production of reality, although Baudrillard had already written about it. However, until you read about them, things don’t exist, as one of our colleges, an editor in a newspaper, would put it. That’s why he never reads anything. And I nevertheless tried to read, afterwards, in order to explain things to myself, things I had difficulty coping with.

• VUKOVIĆ: It seems to me that Screens of Emptiness, as well as A Melancholic Chronicle for that matter, actually talks about some sort of elementary defi ciency, inadequacy, emptiness which comes into being due to the surplus of information, commodities and everything else in a technologically sophisticated society of the modern world. Did you try to articulate through that book the sentiment that, for instance, Lipovetsky articulated in his renowned book Th e Age of Emptiness?

ČEGEC: Yes, I read Lipovetsky’s book at the time when Screens of Emptiness was already under way and it certainly had an impact on how the book was developed in the process of writing. My intimations of the problem of the surplus of information turned out to be a mere “grade school” in comparison to what has actually happened to us, and since I think that the most important thing for literature is to reflect its context, I do believe that my books reacted to it and that some subsequent interpretations can reveal the ways in which my doubts and suspicions branched out, as well as all the banal ways in which I tried to push them away from me and from my temporal context.

• VUKOVIĆ: At the beginning of the nineties you worked as an editor in the publishing house Mladost, and approximately at the same time you started your own publishing house Meandar. How did that happen? What made you jump into starting your own business, if we can put it that way?

ČEGEC: I have never been a businessman, and today I know why. However, after the speedy and utterly “wild” (one of the first) privatization of Mladost, I didn’t sit down crying over my own destiny, but instead, after everything else failed, I started my own publishing house at the time when only a draft could move you in any direction (which also happened to me, simultaneously with starting Meandar). I began working in 1993, when the hardest wind of war was sweeping out the last traces of common sense in this region, and I somehow managed to persist until the present day, although I’m not quite sure whether I live in reality or have for a long time been operating on the basis of fiction. These grand narratives are a bitch. • VUKOVIĆ: Can you give us a short presentation of your publishing concept? What kind of books do you publish, what sort of logic do you employ when choosing titles, what are all the parameters that are important for a book to be successful, can you live on producing books?

ČEGEC: It seems to me that I have been working on the same project ever since the inception of Quorum, the one that changes its shape and adapts to the new conditions. Namely, my publishing project, similarly to Quorum in the eighties, is trying to maintain some kind of a healthy communicative tension between different artistic practices and different experiences. I can’t limit myself to a single model, to a single domain or to a certain type of writing. I publish a lot of fiction, not necessarily the one I like to read, although I don’t neglect that part either, but I regularly publish books on fine arts, film, music, theatre, as well as on some hybrid artistic practices, which are perhaps the dearest to me, if they bring a lot of excitement, personal attitude and difference with them, of course.

• VUKOVIĆ: In the second half of the nineties you also played an active role in our cultural life. Among other things, you initiated the founding of the Association of the Croatian Independent Publishers, and you even were the president of its managing board. However, in 2002 you cut yourself free from all the vocational associations of writers and publishers. Th is act of yours smells of revolt or at lest of resignation. What was that all about?

ČEGEC: Actually, it was both. Even before that, I realized I was wasting a lot of my time and energy on things that other people underestimate whenever it serves them best. I got out of it all when I realized that at the moment when the allegedly respected associations are supposed to take at least a semblance of a stand, they just remain silent. I have never had any regrets about it.

• VUKOVIĆ: What is your attitude toward today’s cultural politics? How does the State treat the publishing business, the book, literature and culture in general? I am asking you this question because, among other things, you spent a year working as an assistant to the Croatian Minster of Culture. conversation for either the current or the future government. In other words, even when some marginal candidate only as much as mentions culture, all the others immediately look the other way until the attempt at such a diversion totally evaporates into thin air. The position of the book, even in the random appearances of the traces of cultural politics, has never been more miserable. And other segments of culture, it seems to me, have more or less the same destiny. didn’t even want to hear about it, I registered the Center with the idea of initiating at least some projects and showing how such an institution could function. Today the Center publishes two magazines, Tema and Quorum, it published two catalogues containing the texts of writers translated into the English and German languages, it hosted some people and sent some others to festivals, but the whole project stagnates owing to the lack of funds, or more precisely owing to the fact that the funds that are already insufficient got reduced by more than a half during the last few years.

• VUKOVIĆ: In 1999 you became president of Goranovo proljeće, the most signifi cant and most infl uential poetry festival in Croatia, and you were the head of it for seven full years. You redesigned its concept to a great extent. Goranovo proljeće, mostly owing to you, has turned into a respectable cultural project. Tell us something about that too!

ČEGEC: I took over Goranovo proljeće when the Students’ Cultural Artistic Society Ivan Goran Kovačić was in doubt whether Goranovo pro ljeće should be continued or, as a simpler solution, discontinued. I was the head of it for eight years and it seems to me that it again became the only relevant and definitely the most influential poetry festival in Croatia. The most prestigious poetry award Goranov vijenac was given to a host of extremely important poets, the festival got internationalized and a very successful collaboration and exchange with other similar festivals in France, Great Britain, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland and Montenegro was achieved. I think that during those eight years some solid foundations were laid for a more serious and more respectable festival, which, I am sure, Goranovo proljeće is going to turn into quite soon.

ČEGEC: I think it’s impossible to talk about a consistent cultural politics. Something like that simply does not exist. Traces of cultural politics come to the surface only in times when politics can’t wriggle away or when it resorts to the lowest mechanisms of manipulation, after everything else has been tried out. In such a context it is really hard to do a job that in part depends on cultural politics. I think that the current pre-elective hustles show that culture in general, as well as the book and literature, are not even a remotely relevant subject of

• VUKOVIĆ: You also initiated Th e Book Center within which the magazine Tema with the idea of supporting the book is being published. What is happening with this project? What were the initial plans, hopes, and what of all that got implemented?

ČEGEC: I initiated The Book Center as a private enterprise when the possibility of founding the Center as a vocational agency, like the Croatian Audio-Visual Center, failed. Since the politics in culture at that time

• VUKOVIĆ: Let’s go back to poetry to conclude the conversation. Your latest book of poetry bears the title A Dark Place. Critics talked a lot about transplanting the subject from an urban into a natural environment: the island, the coast, the sea, the mountain. I have a diff erent thesis and want to check it out with you. If Screens of Emptiness pointed to a dark place of a reality mediated by media and ideology, then A Dark Place points to a dark place of desire situated in the very subject himself. Th is is the entity that you expound as unfathomable, regardless of whether it is sexuality, love, gastronomy or simply traveling. What is this dark place then? I reread the book, and I think the title syntagm as such is nowhere to be found in it.

ČEGEC: It can’t be found, just as the texts in it do not suggest so much darkness as the need to shed light on things. A dark place is the one you have to lighten up, so that some content, space or anything at all could come into existence. And that book is definitely marked with spaces, entirely physical, the ones often hidden from sight. The deepest darkness is always the one present in us, if you insist on the thesis about “a dark place of desire situated in the very subject himself ”. However, I won’t say that those places can’t be lightened up too. The thing is that nothing like that had to happen in the book A Dark Place.

• VUKOVIĆ: Until this book got out, you were confronting politics, ideologies and media in your other books of poetry. What I perceive as a striking novelty is the criticism of consumerism. What are your thoughts about the commercialization of culture? Is it necessary today? What do you think about Žižek’s thesis that the cultural mediation of economy and politic is what’s happening today, rather than the commercialization of culture? And generally, how do you see the interrelation of capital and literature?

ČEGEC: I’m afraid that I have already given you my answer to that question too, at least to some extent, but I can try to express myself a bit differently: I think that we are generally hostages to capital, that the totalitarian potential of power moved from the sphere of politics into the sphere of money a long time ago, and that politics serves as a kind of public relation to the power of capital, or sporadically as a buffer in critical and hectic situations. Culture walked into the jaws of capital on its own will, practically without any resistance, but since it doesn’t pay back the invested money, capital quite easily gives it up. Even the so-called culture that sucks up to it, humbly, serving it implicitly. Perhaps Žižek is right, but if that is what the culturally mediated economy and politics look like, then it is perfectly clear what kind of culture we are talking about.

• VUKOVIĆ: Your poems have been translated into many languages. You often collaborate with foreign poets and take part in poetry festivals. Tell us something about these experiences! Can you situate Croatian contemporary lyrics into European lyrical horizon?

ČEGEC: Certain contemporary authors can undoubtedly be regarded equal to the contributions made by authors belonging to much bigger European and world literatures, even when they themselves don’t recognize it. I happened to witness some fantastic reactions from the audience and critics to our poets at poetry readings in Germany or France. Also, it is possible to find a whole series of poetic inventions in Croatian poetry that were made before or simultaneously with the similar inventions in “great literary nations”, whereas the anthological and panoramic publications reveal that none of the experience from greater literary nations is unknown to Croatian poetry.

• VUKOVIĆ: What are you doing right now, what are you reading, writing, editing?

ČEGEC: I really worked a lot during the summer. I finished the book I had been working on for the last five years, I wrote another one while I was at the residency program funded by the Traduki scholarship in Istanbul, and I am also trying to finish two books of essays, articles and critical writings. I mostly read what I am supposed to read, namely the books I edit, but, once in a while, I do catch up on some Calvino, Tabucchi or “Adieu Cowboy” by Olja Savičević Ivančević, which I truly enjoyed.

 

 Translated by Domagoj Orlić

 

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