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Quorum Generation Prose

article by Krešimir Bagić
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"To the writers of the Quorum generation the most inspirational world literature writers are the short story authors Daniil Kharms, Dino Buzzati, Jorge Luis Borges and Raymond Carver, the autoreferential prose of Umberto Eco and Italo Calvino, and ‘hipster’ and erotic literature ranging from authors such as the Marquis de Sade to Charles Bukowski, Henry Miller and William Burroughs.It is generally possible to point out three prose models used by the writers gathered around the Quorum library and magazine: minimalist prose, conceptual prose and urban landscape prose."



 

 

 

 

Quorum Generation Prose [1984 – 1996]

 

 

Literary context

 

At the time when the Quorum library (1984) and magazine (1985) were founded, three poetic concepts dominated recent Croatian prose: trivial prose, ‘jeans prose’ and the historical novel. The most prevalent concept was that of trivial prose, which described all prose that schematically used various literary devices fit for the tastes of a wide circle of readers (linear narration, provocative plot line, reducing characters to the function of the story, dialogue, the all-knowing narrator, etc.). The most widespread and popular genre was the Croatian version of the detective novel, which was mostly due to exceptional literary production of authors such as Pavao Pavličić and Goran Tribuson. Neven Orhel’s novels about medical life are also interesting. While the three abovementioned authors only indirectly display an awareness of an intentional trivialization of the text, Dubravka Ugre šić begins with such an awareness, but not with the intention of following such a style, but travestying it. For example, she adopts the repository of stylistic devices of the love novel but only to play ironically with the genre, to deconstruct and re-signify it. The writers of the Quorum generation did not refer much to the concept of trivial prose. If some of them did so, they did it very indirectly, mostly using the characteristic devices used in travestying a trivial genre. In fact, some of the authors (for example Edo Bušić and Ljiljana Domić) used certain devices from the period of the Croatian genre of the fantastic, such as the early novels of Pavao Pavličić, Goran Tribuson, Stjepan Čuić, Irfan Horozović, etc. The second concept – ‘jeans prose’ – was already established in the mid- 1980s and was a concept more pertinent to readers than in the active literary scene. The most important works by the main authors of this genre, Antun Šoljan, Ivan Slamnig, Zvonimir Majdak, Ivan Kušan and Alojz Majetić, were published prior to the 1980s. Still, the reason I decided to mention ‘jeans prose’ is because I believe this prose to be the most productive Croatian literary experience of the Quorum generation writers. Aleksandar Flaker defines this prose phenomenon in the following manner: “We named ‘jeans prose’ the prose featuring a young narrator who constructed his/her distinctive style based on the speech of city youth, thus contradicting the traditional language of literature, as well as traditional or conservative social and cultural structures.” 1 In the outsider identity of the main characters of ‘jeans prose’, the attempt of a deideologisation and infantilization of its narrators, and the usage of non-standard syntactic structures and catch-phrases some of the Quorum generation prosaics recognized literature they could treat conditionally with the previous tradition. The third concept, that of the historical novel, dominated Croatian literature at the turn of the 20th century. It was renewed at the end of the 1970s and at the beginning of the 1980s thanks to Ivan Aralica and his historical novels.. (In a certain sense this concept could also include chroniclenovels by Nedjeljko Fabrio.) Aralica thematized events from distant and recent history, doing so with an authoritative novelistic discourse. His narrator completely controls the story: when he uses actual documents he gives himself the right to interpret them; when he introduces new characters he first provides the outlines of a short biography which determines their role in the novel’s narrative world; at the end of a prose sequence he provides a moralistic commentary on the story just narrated or an appropriate universal statement. The novels of Ivan Aralica are primarily monologically structured because his narrator takes on the role of enlightening an ignorant audience. The Quorum generation writers never actually referred to this type of prose (not even by disputing it). Besides these three prose concepts, the Quorum generation writers most directly refer to the short stories written by Davor Slamnig and Dražen Mazur. In this prose model new creativity is displayed through a concentration on randomly chosen fragments or details, disguising the genre they were using, a dishevelled urban language matrix, intermedial connection of the literary discourse with the discourses of rock music, comic books and the mass media, the lack of large themes and the ironic (frequently dark-humoured) thematization of one’s own existential position. To the writers of the Quorum generation the most inspirational world literature writers are the short story authors Daniil Kharms, Dino Buzzati, Jorge Luis Borges and Raymond Carver, the autoreferential prose of Umberto Eco and Italo Calvino, and ‘hipster’ and erotic literature ranging from authors such as the Marquis de Sade to Charles Bukowski, Henry Miller and William Burroughs. It is generally possible to point out three prose models used by the writers gathered around the Quorum library and magazine: minimalist prose, conceptual prose and urban landscape prose. I say ‘generally’ because a more detailed analysis would show that the referential narrative devices and techniques of each of the three models are present in the other two models as well. However, any attempt at systematization is always accompanied by simplification, and one need not apologize because of it. In the following paragraphs I will therefore describe the basic characteristics of each model and mention its most important authors and works.

 

Minimalist prose  

 

By minimalist prose I define prose texts in which the alternation between narrative perspectives, sequences and devices is so rapid that it resembles the succession of shots in a music video. The sources of minimalist prose in the early 1980s are two short story collections (Monster, 1980 and Qwertz and Opš, 1983), by the abovementioned Davor Slamnig, and the literary project of the youth weekly Polet, entitled 29-line stories. Numerous young writers participated in the project of Polet and the most successful work was published in 1983 in an offprint of the magazine Pitanja.2 Slamnig’s self-initiated spatial minimalizing of the story, which was obligatory for Polet writers, resulted in the creation of a dynamic textual model – a short short story – which was open to all types of playfulness and experimentation. The narrative is completely stripped bare in these texts: there are no descriptions, characterizations, episodes or commentaries. The plot is indicated by an associative sequence of sentences in which each sentence stands for each narrative sequence, or the entire story is turned into a micro-dialogue. The shattered image of the world and the fragmentation of experience fit perfectly into this prose model. Stories consisting of 29 lines, and those somewhat longer, frequently conclude with a point which humourously or ironically re-signifies the earlier course of the text. The basic characteristic of this textual model is a ludic (even euphoric) dispute, first and foremost of the so-called high literature, its themes and motifs, the fanaticisms it constructs, the repositories of its stylistic devices, its language, and also of the social context in which the young author is located. The narrator of this ‘disappearing story’ uses various techniques to dispute the classic prose model: through an independence of language use, the feigned genre of the text, composing a story with illogical statements, etc. The expressive and appellative functions are of greater importance for communication than the function of representation. The narrator is significantly infantilized. He/she is not concerned with cause-and-effect and temporal relations, instead replacing “logical thought with the fantastic,”3 thus being prone to repetitions and unmotivated linguistic gestures (especially those based on sound). For the minimalist prose model the most characteristic texts are those by Stanislav Habjan (b. 1957), Carmen Klein (b. 1962), Predrag Vrabec (b. 1955), Zdenko Bužek (b. 1957), Boris Grego rić (b. 1961), and the co-authors Edi Jurković (b. 1964) and Dragan Ogurlić (b. 1963). Habjan was the first to publish a collection of short stories. It is entitled The Impossible Variant. The title itself can be interpreted as an autopoetic commentary that accentuates the need of discovering an original narrative model that can entirely express an individual’s authentic experience. In the same manner, the title also indicates that this search is a futile effort. Unlike most of the short story authors (especially those of 29-line stories), Habjan is not content with just the destruction of traditional narrative models, he also attempts to construct a model that could also authentically mediate extratextual reality. His narrator is not infantile, he is unrooted – he fails to find both a fixed point from which to view the world surrounding him and a recognizable discourse to describe this world with. It is for this very reason that Habjan’s stories are not canonized, but keeps renewing itself. On the level of thematization, as one of his best critics notices, Habjan focuses on describing the modern “(non)occurrence of urban time with its status symbols and signs,” which are rock music, new media, chaoticism, solitude, metaliteracy, the grotesque, etc.4 In the first Quorum library series Carmen Klein published the collection of short stories Between the Walls and Over Them. This collection included 13 stories written between 1978 and 1984. The uniqueness of her prose discourse, as pointed out by critics, is due to the infantile narrator who writes the text from a child’s perspective and the re-interpretation and parody of the genre scheme of the fairytale.5 Her book perhaps best illustrates the process of the transformation of the short story into a novel. I will compare the earlier written text, the short story “Metamorphoses” from 1978, with a text written later, a story that gave the book its title Between the Walls and Over Them from 1984. In both of these texts, Klein’s narrator recalls childhood events in the first-person; in both texts the narrator is five at the beginning and fifteen at the end. Her heroine starts the earlier story with a provocative sentence “In do crime in my free time,” in which this ‘crime’ at the beginning takes the shape of a fantasized car theft (when she was five) and later metamorphosizes into a ritual tearing of small branches and flowers off of city plants (when she was fifteen). At the beginning of the later story her five-year-old heroine has fun peeking through a hole in a wall, looking into the yard of a juvenile girls’ detention home, and ten years later she assists two girls in escaping from the same home. This story ends with the following sentence: “It was as if they took into their freedom everything I had wanted to say.” In both texts, therefore, we notice contrasts between the worlds of children and adults, along with the difference between freedom and unfreedom. Still, in spite of their correspondences on the level of thematization, these two texts significantly differ in the way they were composed. The most obvious difference is quantitative: the first text is only three pages long and the second is “twenty-seven pages” long. From this quantitative difference all other differences proceed. While narration is swift in the early story and the sentences short, the novel is constructed from more potentially independent short stories about childhood, in which the infantile narrator fills in the frame story about watching girls in the detention home. The 29-line story (that is, a story consisting of 29 lines), continued to exist (mainly in the pages of youth papers) even after Polet’s project finished. In a certain sense, the Quorum library performed a canonization of this miniature prose model by publishing the books of three authors: Predrag Vrabec, Zdenko Bužek, and Boris Gregorić. In addition, in Rijeka they published a co-authored collection of such stories by Edi Jurković and Dragan Orlić, authors whose first independent books were also published in the Quorum library. The book The Charge of the Light Brigade by Predrag Vrabec contains approximately sixty short short stories. The compactness of this author’s prose model results in the semantic thickening of the speech idiom and its humouristic rhythmization and poetization (for example, with the use of rhyme and the metre of oral poetry). Texts in The Charge of the Light Brigade travesty numerous types of discourse, including the literary, philosophical, historiographic, intimistic, etc. The mythologems of Vrabec’s stories, by rule of chance, become: spiritualism, magic, Hegel, Stalin, Montale, and self-managing socialism. Since the author mainly concentrates on the destruction of canonized values and orders, his hero is almost always portrayed in euphoric types of a negation of the real world. Zdenko Bužek, as opposed to Vrabec, did not publish only short short prose. Upon realizing that a narrative model is spent after a few stories in a book, he intentionally used a cycling of texts in the collection of stories The Children of Traffic Lights. He connects the stories either on the basis of the general theme or with a title that indicates the fragmentary character of the text (for example “Arrangement of Mosaics”; “Encyclopedia of Terms”). Similar to Vrabec, Bužak also ludically re-signifies various types of discourse: from the fairytale to the lexicographic, never establishing a clear distinction between fiction and reality. His exceptionally artificial prose is best displayed in dialogues and absurdist fabulations (which are occasionally reminiscent of Kharms’ prose). At the end of the book Theoretical Grammar by Boris Gregorić, we come across the author’s note which explains that the book was written over the course of a few days in the winter of 1986. The book title and the author’s note point to two basic characteristics of Gregorić’s minimalist prose writing: the need for a fictional demistification of theoretical discourse and the joy of writing which enabled the author to write a book in only a few days. The demistification of theory within the story, that is the mystification of the story with theory, was realized in the fact that Gregorić’s ‘grammar’ contains 99 stories (thus, a nonaccidental number, similar to Scheherazade’s 1001), in the frequent footnotes that serve to illuminate but not illustrate, and a table of contents of the names mentioned in the book His narrator connects his narrative discourse intertextually, that is intermedially, to theoretical ‘languages’ and to the ‘languages’ of journalism, graffiti, the street, film, music, sport, etc. The world of Gregorić’s stories is essentially unformed, empty, “desubstantialized”, which is the reason why “his novels can equally be placed in New York, Paris, Dublin; Rio de Janeiro; to the Wild West or King Justinian’s garden.”6 It is this very desubstantialization from which Gregorić’s euphoric rejoicing at the act of writing grows, and it produces the creation of miniature absurdist witty remarks such as, for example, one in the 76th story:

 

MISTER JAMES FOX

Look, isn’t that mister James Fox?

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Mister James Fox (1911 – 1971): comes from a renowned New York family, graduated from the University of Yale Law School, is a partner in a large attorney company Fox, Barnum & Mayer, always dresses in an impeccable black suit with a yellow rose always sticking out from his front pocket [...]7

 

The appearance of minimalist prose is one of the main traits of the prose of the 1980s. It is an expression of the paradoxical combination of melancholy and narcissism, of irony and self-irony, which includes the destruction that precedes creation and creation that strives to terminate itself.

 

Conceptual prose

 

Some of the continuous elements of criticism for the writers of the Quorum generation were and still are syntagms such as text-consciousness, author-consciousness, the inscription of creative consciousness into the text, etc. Some critics even had the tendency of giving these syntagms the status of a qualificative. It is true that, more than others, the writers of the Quorum generation insisted on thematizing the act of writing; thus one of the basic characteristics of their writing was autoreferentiality, defined by Vladimir Biti as “a dimension through which the utterance or the text refers to the situation, context or the subject of one’s own utterance, to one’s own composition, structure, code, propositional or genre- classification; generally, thus, a dimension through which it thematizes some of its own characteristics.”8 The term ‘conceptual prose’ here serves to accentuate the importance of various discursive practices used by the Quorum generation authors to carry out the conceptualization of the prose text, whether they analyze its textuality through autoreferentiality, or purposefully transform their narrator into an unambitious archivist (for example, through the usage of the referential elements of documentarist discourse), or compose various fragments into a single prose work by emitting metafictional signals to the readers in the spaces between fragments, thus creating signals that would justify the fragmentation of the integral narrative sequence and upcoming changes in the narrative perspective, tone, style, position of narrators, characters, etc. Conceptuality is thus a characteristic of prose that simultaneously mediates the fictional world and the author’s idea about the most appropriate manner of its construction. Representatives of the conceptual prose style include the following authors: Damir Miloš (b. 1954), Ljiljana Domić (b. 1954), Edo Budiša (1958 – 1988), Mladen Kožul (b. 1961) and Nikola Petković (b. 1962). Damir Miloš is the key author of this prose model. He is also the most productive – in the thematized period he published ten prose books. His unexpected, curious career change at the end of the 1980s (from university assistant to sailing instructor) was symbolically announced in his prose. Namely, Miloš tries to use, or rather create, a theory of language through his own prose practice. The questions of the utterable and unutterable, the semantic conventionalization of each grammaticalized utterance, the possibility of the personalization of language idioms and the utterance of the individual perception of the world are the fundamental questions with which Miloš engages. At the end of the novel Death in Opatija he records a non-fictional note in which he tries to inform the reader in a concise manner that the main goal of his prose project is “not to write down what is already written, even though (this project) is based on the knowledge of traditional as well as modern literature.”9 In fact, Miloš clearly concludes that: “The first and foremost reason for writing this novel is the opinion that grammar (of any language)... proscribes not only the way in which one writes, but the content of what is written as well. This does not mean that the amount of ‘content’ of different grammatical structures, in case grammatical rules, is limited, but rather that one can assume that creating a different grammar (in the beginning this is only a shift in syntax on the level of the sequence of tenses, flexion and so on) can open up the possibility of inscribing more unknown content. The point of the artistic work is still not the ‘same’ in hundreds of different ways.”10 Miloš ‘used’ the entire novel of Death in Opatija in order to contextualize the sentence “We watched each other,” in which the paradoxical perfect (the active past participle in the first person) serves to evoke the uncommon plot involving the narrating subject. In the novel SE Miloš focuses on pointing out the conventionality of the dialogue of the narrative. Following realistic replies in the text he dynimizes the dialogue, revealing its true meaning. For example, when He and She are conversing, this is how Miloš describes it:

Good evening – as if the words carried her to some secluded meadow, far from people, in the shadowy light.

Good evening – he also fi nds himself in the woods at the edge of the meadow. He sees her in a light spring dress. A light breeze.

You look lovely. – she breaks into a run over the meadow, extending her arms. And her arms are white.

Thank you – he lifts up his head in disbelief, she was undressing while running.

What would you like to drink, or rather not, should we just sit at the table right now and order drinks? – when suddenly from the nearby woods, a man was running towards her?!... 

In his most well known work, the children’s novel The White Clown, the question of perception is at the center of Miloš’s interest. Miloš constructs a story in which a blind old man teaches a young colour-blind circus boy who wants to become a clown how to differentiate colours. The boy overcomes his physical disability through mental activity. Miloš starts with an idea that resembles a theoretical premise and then contrives a plot that will either verify or dispute the idea. The novel Nebuchadnezzar offers an exciting story featuring convincing dialogue and characters. The narrative strategy of Miloš’s storyteller is based on the continuous intertwining of the three narrative lines: the first reveals the main character’s obsessive dream in which Nebuchadnezzar continually appears, the second thematizes the hero’s fictional reality and the third reconstructs the psychoanalytic procedure of regression (as a memory exercise) which the main character undergoes under the guidance of a female psychiatrist and a protector of sorts. This novel’s narrative world is marked by the existence of binary oppositions on the level of thematization (good – evil) as well as on the temporal level (past – present) and in the main character’s behaviour (dream – reality). The plot is carried out with an almost mathematical precision: each narrative situation is justified in the context of the novel, each character has an anticharacter, all textual information that appears is justified. Still, Miloš does not write the story for the sake of the story itself. By using a few classical narrative matrixes in a parallel fashion, he actually ironizies the story. Namely, even though he has formed a tense, dynamic and exciting plot, he ends the novel before the resolution, by which he again draws attention to the fact that he is not interested in the schematization of the story but rather in the unexplored spaces of language and narration. Nebuchadnezzar also shows obvious signs of story conceptualization. Its first element is of course the title itself. By naming the novel after the cruel Babylonian king, Miloš suggests to the reader that in order to communicate with his text one should perhaps look into the historical, Biblical or the apocryphal story about Nebuchadnezzar; or the reader could just ignore all of it and be completely immersed in the text and its own associations. An examination of Miloš’s prose prioritizes the notion of oblivion as the beginning of interpretational creation. Besides, in this novel there is a continual need for erasing (and removing) traces, which is true for both Nebuchadnezzar and Miloš’s main character, Viktor. For Miloš to leave a trace also in a certain sense means accepting one’s own defeat. The novel starts with a syntactically and semantically thickened exposition in which the half-consciousness of the wounded Viktor alternates with his phantasmagoric dream about Nebuchadnezzar and his crimes. During the first twenty pages the syntax is entirely fragmented, and there are numeorous linguistic games (anagrams, euphonisation, syntactic and syntagmic inversions), incomplete utterances, etc. The introductory analysis of the language medium obviously takes on the role of initiation in Miloš’s transformation of the well-known story about Nebuchadnezzar into an unknown story. This introduction, which codes the later plot and subordinates it to a great extent, is only one of the types of conceptualization found in Miloš’s novels. This is also clearly evident in two other elements of his storytelling: the introduction of the psychoanalytic procedure of regression as the narrative means of researching the main character’s subconscious and avoiding the localization of the narrative event. The conceptuality of Ljiljana Do mić’s prose in the book The Six Deaths of Veronika Grabar, which consists of seven novellas, is revealed in the implicit compilation of single texts into a larger whole which comes close to the form of the fragmented novel. There are two important elements of correspondence between the stories: 1) All of the main characters are women and 2) all of the stories are connected to the motif of the main character’s death. In the last story, “The Six Deaths of Veronika Grabar, or the Destruction of the Text,” Domić directly – with a metatextual note – addresses the reader, attempting to reinforce the reader’s intuition about the important thematic connection of all these stories: “Simply, I suggest to the reader that the main female character, named Veronika, transforms into five various characters from story to story. Some of these characters belong to mythical and science fiction temporalities. Each story is about impossibility, repression and in that sense about death as well. It is not therefore accidental that these female characters, as symbols of the alternative, the anarchistic or the established, tend towards their own destruction. Veronika thus dies five times over.”11 Edo Budiša also has a tendency to use both a documentary approach and elements of fantasy in his prose texts. He has published the collection Beautiful Stories and the novel The Pipe Smokers’ Club. His collection was, in a way, preparation for writing larger prose works. Namely, The Pipe Smokers’ Club is a fragmented novel. Its three protagonists enter into a phantasmagoric chase after Magdalena Braun, the personification of unattainable beauty and perfection. Budiša discards linear narration for the method of event reconstruction. The narrator cites letters, incidental notes, diary excerpts and the pipe smoker club’s statute, thus avoiding the perspective of the omniscient narrator, and he distances himself from an authoritative position through constructions such as “we can only assume,” “it still remains unclear,” etc. The alternation of narrative perspectives and the addition of the fantastic element into the narrative world happens slowly, without sudden juxtapositions. However, the value of his conceptualization of the novelistic model lies in this very discretion. Nikola Petković resorts to a ludic thematization of the very act of creation in the novel Tales of Long Ago. The title itself, which brings to the reader’s mind the cult book by the famous writer of children’s tales Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić, indicates that this is a work that wants to please the reader with its structure and narrative organization. By writing humorous family chronicles, Petković constructs a novel around the absurd fact that favourite pastime of all the male family members is jumping into a bathtub. The author gives this unconvincing story persuasiveness by thematizing the literary act itself and by continually repeating that he is not able to tell anything at all. At the very beginning of the novel, his carnevalized narrator tells the readers: “Busy with writing myself and the world, I believe that nothing will happen in the following pages and I don’t believe that any of you, devastated by the absence of text, would notice that those words, rid of their things, still do not belong to me.”12 In the following chapters, Pet ković’s narrator admits that he is “an infantile narrator,” that a “world without text is full of challenges” and at the very end of the text he goes back to the beginning: “Life writes novels, and we write stories and novels about the life which writes novels and as that primitive and infantile yo-yo that moves up and down, forward, backward, left and right, and in a game that no one has invested in, no one can lose anything.”13 Finally, Mladen Kožul frames his book Salvation and Other Stories by commenting on how it is a kind of reply to a letter from someone who has changed addresses in the meantime, and it ends with an epilogue in which he invites the reader out for a drink. Both literary illuminations indirectly indicate Kožul’s intention to pull the reader into the game of writing and correspondence, that is to make the reader a co-author of the texts he writes. Chaos and the paralogical nature of his narration, which creates numerous fissures in the textual structure, are the results of an awareness of the fact that each of our utterances is already “bespoken,” that is the inevitability of “the compromise between the narrator’s and the reader’s desires.”14 It is in this very “crowdedness” that conceptual prose recognizes the border it needs to cross so that writer and reader can take on an active position, reaching an unknown language, structure and world together. The thematization (“fictionalization”) of the very act of writing is perhaps at first the expression of the author’s impotence, but it consequentially turns into the story’s superiority over the world. True textual awareness is not only an awareness of creativity act but also an awareness of the particularity of the world which is shaped by the creative act.

 

Urban landscape prose

 

Urbanity (as well as minimalism and conceptuality) is characteristic in the writing of almost all of the Quorum generation prosaics. In their prose the city appears directly and indirectly on the level of theme and style. Their stories often take place in cities, and cities are the subtheme of the stories. However, in addition, sudden shifts in the narrative perspectives, discursive practices and the intentional fragmenting of the story and its meaning can be interpreted as the metonymic expression of a narrative subject who sees the city as a place of the chaotic and unpredictable interweaving of the most various sensations. In spite of the city being a symbol of a civilization which stopped being nomadic, a symbol of stability and “a symbol of settling... that begins with true cyclic crystallization,” 15 by the syntagm urban landscape I mean something entirely else here: the city is a place of modern nomadism, unsettlement and the scattered soul. The urban landscape is like a labyrinth inside which a human being – if he/she wants to preserve their individuality – is forced to resign to a paradoxical solitude in the middle of a crowd. Such people are forced to accept the position of the outsider. The mass media give a glow to the urban landscape. The mass media inhabit the cities and the city dwellers. Peter Sloterdijk literally says that cities “are nothing more than constructed mass media, overarched by the grid of traffic and signs, that control human rivers.” He then gives a pictorial portrayal of the metropolis and human selfhood: “The metropolis looks like a giant rapid water-heater that drains subjective plasma through its systems of tubes and signs [...]. Selfhoods, conversely, also function as rapid water-heaters, filters and channels for currents of information which reach our senses in various areas of transmission.”16 Even though Croatian cities are not metropoli in Sloterdijk’s sense, I believe this comparison can extend to them also. Urban landscape writers, closed in a square city, give up their attempts at utopia to frame the city with meaning, to create order and meaning there where order and meaning cannot be manifested. Their narration is fragmented, initiated by some unexpected associations. Their narrator speaks in the first person, cites and marks down the events he/she partakes in; by desperately trying to reach their own experience, the narrator is “sentenced to oscillate between irreconcilable wishes and claims.”17 The characters are carnevalized eccentrics that feign spontaneity. The characters of the urban landscape prose style feature those very characteristics that David Lodge attributes to postmodern prose: contradiction, permutation (the coexistence of narrative currents that abolish each other), the interrupted sequence, coincidence, excessiveness and short circuits (that abolish the border between the text and the world, art and life).18 Among the writers of the Quorum generation the most explicit representatives of urban landscape prose include the following authors: Edo Popović (b. 1957), Mate Bašić (b. 1958), Velibor Čolić (b. 1964), Dragan Ogurlić (b. 1964), Delimir Rešicki (b. 1960), Krešimir Mićanović (b. 1968) and Zoran Ferić (b. 1961). In Edo Popović’s story collection Midnight Boogie, the main character wanders the city, letting events pass him by like shadows, like projections of some long-forgotten chaos. His city (undoubtedly Zagreb) is a huge labyrinth in which one is slowly and unnoticeably dying, which you cannot exit or escape because its streets lead nowhere. We constantly find this hero in a bar, engaged in conversation with his friends, with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. Sex is what this hero yields to most intensely: through movements and reactions of his Nana / Alice / Eve / Snježana..., he affirms his existence and the hallucinatory world he constructs. Sex is the referential motif of the stories, a place of selfaffirmation and reckoning with the official world. Besides sex, he often refers to names of writers, musicians or movie directors in whose works Po po vić recognizes experiences similar to his own (for example, Bukowski, Ginsberg, Waits, Morrison, Fassbinder etc.). In Popović’s story there is a continuous interchange of dialogue, cited internal monologue, the narrator’s autocritical remarks, poeticized fragments, etc. His hero’s acceptance of the outsider’s position ocurrs through a radical fictionalization of empirical experience. Popović equates the story’s hero, the narrator, with the name on the book cover and the same name which exists outside of the literary context. The characters in his stories are, amongst others, writers he associates with (Bašić, Čegec, Valent, Begović). By the directness of his speech and broken literary conventions, Popović opposes “the symbolic, eternally deferred meaning of the world”19 and opts for a mystification of the literalness of the present moment. Seventeen prose texts by Mate Bašić, collected in the book Ice & a Long March, correlate with Popović’s prose experience on the levels of theme, motifs and style. Bašić also ‘writes life’ and ‘lives literature’; he too is “a transcriber of the street and its fundus of experience.”20 Admittedly, as Branko Čegec noticed in a side remark, Bašić’s literature, unlike Popović’s, “comes close to the thread of pathos and the tragic which is one part of modernis modernistic literary practice.”21 Namely, Bašić frequently (by fictionalizing the everyday) ‘forgets himself ’, and instead of continuing to count beer bottles or ‘spent women’ – he starts talking about basic existential questions. For example, in one story his hero is at a party where he suddenly starts thinking about fear:

FEAR

– of neglect

– of war

– of loneliness

– of hatred

– of death

– of completed thoughts

– of self

– all of the fears in one selfmeaning, autonomous, one’s own, the fear of suicide and

– a wish for annulment. 22 

The pathos of this excerpt emerges in contrast with the story context, which it is additionally reinforced by the grapho-stylistic independence of the ‘fears’ mentioned by Bašić’s hero. Besides, the last story in the collection ends with the message that “There is nothing more. Not even for the story.” In the novel Special Shoes by Dragan Ogurlić, the city is represented as a demon that inhabits its dwellers. It is a novel about childhood and friendship in the city, about city eccentrics, myths and the human destinies produced by the city. The novel consists of six relatively autonomous narrative sections. In the way he structures the text, and by certain details in the text, Ogurlić sets up a direct intertextual relationship with a cult book of Serbian prose of the 1970s – A Tomb for Boris Davidovič by Danilo Kiš. Among others, Ogurlić’s narrator names the main protagonist Davidovič, and at the very beginning of the text he provides a provocative sentence: “I was conceived, as my father confessed, on the way from Vaclav to Hodeneš, in a truck of a transportcompany owned by Kiš who transported our furniture for a small sum.”23 However, a more serious analysis of meaning and intertextual provocations (for example, the comparison of the two narrative consciousnesses, or the well-foundedness of the two literary concepts) would be at the expense of our author. I will thus abandon such an analysis. Special Shoes shows Ogurlić’s artfulness in storytelling and the composition of the novelistic text (especially the way he incorporates the ‘discovered’ chronicle of the city into the novel’s main narrative course). The prose experience of Velibor Čolić is in a certain sense close to the experiences of Edo Popović and Mate Bašić. He published two books in the Quorum library – a poetic novel entitled Madrid Granada or Any Other City and the collection of stories St. Peter’s Renunciation. He was thus the first to explicitly do what most of the writers of the Quorum generation merely hinted at, more or less discreetly, as a final possibility – he connected prose and poetic experiences, the prose and poetic imagination, prose and poetic textual composition. The main stylistic characteristic of Čolić’s book Madrid Granada or Any other City is the chiastic: a unique narrative thread on the one hand, and lyrical organization on the other; ‘the language of the street’ on the one hand, and accentuated rhythm and metaphors on the other... In this book chaos is the source of Čolić’s literary cosmos. Chaos/chosmos is an iconic symbol, comparable to the age and literature that consciously ignores it. In St. Peter’s Renunciation, however, Čolić returns to the classical prose form, creating bizarre stories about the lives of great artists and their works. The lightness with which he constructs these texts and the lapidarity of style with which he writes about Baudelaire, Lorca, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, etc., is fascinating. The discourse of this book is marked by the techniques of fantasy and carnival.24 Čolić’s euphoric erasure of the borders between the poetic and prose in his first book indirectly hinted at the appearance of similar literary projects. As radical an attempt as his never ocurred again. However, more discreet versions of poeticized prose appeared. When I say this, I mainly have in mind Delimir Rešicki and Krešimir Mićanović. They both first published poetry, and in 1994 they published their first prose works. Their prose displays traces of poetic thought and speech, poetic mythems, and even already written verses. The textual ‘condensation’ and compression of prose discourse, observable in most of the writers of the Quorum generation, is best evident in the texts by Rešicki and Mićanović, where it leads to an inextricable interweaving of two distantly expressed modalities. It is especially visible in the ‘prose’ of Delimir Rešicki. In the book Sagrada Familia there is frequent usage of metaphors and semantically condensed expressions (the years ate the face), explicit comparison or elaboration of poetic mythems (snow, whiteness, Sven), graphic fragmentation of the prose sentence that is reminiscent of versification, the explicit introduction of blank spaces in the text, etc. Moreover, Rešicki simply copied his earlier published poetry collection Silence into the end of the book, after the seven stories, in a part entitled “The appendix.”25 The narrative structure of his stories is lyrically associative, while the sensibility of his narrator noticeably lyricized. Perhaps the most beautiful text in the book A Fairytale intertextually addresses poetic and prose discourses. There is a quote by Emily Dickinson at the beginning, and Damir Miloš appears in the text both as a character and also as the author of the novel The White Clown. This skill of colour differentiation, which the old blind man teaches Miloš’s clown, becomes the main character’s symbolic point of gaining experience and recognizing one’s own existential position in Rešicki’s Sagrada Familia. Such a subject understands that escaping the city also means escaping the self: “All of my life I’ve wanted to travel somewhere. However, real problems would start if I really undertook that step.”26 In the prose of Krešimir Mićanović a “poetic manner” of expression is suggested by elliptical sentences, quick interchanges of narrative perspectives and the unexpected “skipping” of story parts. In the poetry collection While I’m Crossing the Asphalt from 1988 there is the following line: “the eyes are movable. they are eventful”.27 I believe that this verse of his lyrical subject corresponds to the experience of his narrative subject. The places where the events of Mićanović’s stories happen are full of city ambience (the street, the deceased painter’s luxurious house, a student room, the river that awakens the memory of childhood spent in the countryside). The narrator’s position is characterized by an awareness of how by leaving the trace behind oneself, along with the characteristics of one’s personality, how by building a story, he builds his own topography and biography. His texts are interspersed with lyrical episodes, fragments of dialogue, and the renewal of images and sentences which are consistently and mysteriously incomplete. The linear narration of an event is not something that interests the imagination of Krešimir Mićanović. He offers, fragmented through the narrator’s consciousness, elements of urban ambience and sensibility formed into prosaic snapshots of its important manifestations. “Harold Groff Transports Food” is a characteristic story which ironizies every attempt to construct a portrait. The surname of the main character is shared by another character, individual protagonists of the story exchange names daily, and the narrator uses a number of conditional statements to distance himself from the information he provides about the characters in his own story. The fictional world he creates thus becomes more or less an informal discursive creation which some other view would probably shape differently. The introductory sentence of the second story, “Enformel,” highlights this impression even more: “City plans loaded with information say nothing about especially exciting streets and first loves.”28 Following this sentence is the story about a young man’s encounters with the wife of a deceased painter. Mićanović confronts two types of sensibility: a young man who wants to buy one of the paintings from the widow (and views her house as a carefully ornamented gallery), and a widow who thinks that the disappearance of each painting would also cause the collapse of the wall it was mounted on, and thus that the temple of memories she inhabits will be desecrated. Two people thus see different things while looking at the same thing; they both imprint their own desires, memories and their corresponding fabulations onto their view. In order for them both to preserve the appearance of having an identity, in the end the buyer takes away the painting and the widow mounts a frame of identical dimensions in its place. Because, as the poet Mićanović said: “the eyes are movable, they are eventful.” The last author I will mention is Zoran Ferić. His first prose work, Walt Disney’s Mousetrap, was published at the beginning of 1996 as the 59th book of the Quorum library. The book had a rather positive critical reception (Užarević, Crnković, Lokotar, Šimpraga, Sever, etc.). Ferić loves using literary parabolas. By insisting on a surprising story, he reduces his characters to the function of the story (for example, in the story “Legend” we do not even find out the main character’s name – we only have his narrative role: “a tourist in Prague”). An implicit polemics with the disease of our age is present in all of Ferić’s stories. In constructing absurd and grotesque narrative worlds he allegorically paints the space surrounding the reader. His stories have a complete form: the story is gradually presented, stylistically ordered, convincing in its dialogues and conveyance of atmosphere, and thus they prove that they are the result of a well thought out and relatively autochtonous prose concept. The urban landscape prose of the Quorum generation was thus first realized in the provocative annulment of the gap between life and literature, moment and eternity, literariness and deferred semantics (Popović, Bašić), and in the paradoxical synthesis of poetic and prose discourses (Čolić, Rešicki, Mićanović). An initial position of protest was substituted with irony and melancholy, in other words, an initial directness was replaced with discreetness. The vast amount of various sensations of the city was fittingly expressed in this prose, in the totalization of the literary text and literary communication, which is in the placement of artistic forms and genres in parenthesis. Unfortunately, I have excluded some of authors here (who are probably not less important). For example: Miro Gavran, Borislav Vujčić, Vjekoslav Boban, Zoran Mašović, Josip Cvenić, Sanja Marčetić, Sanja Škarić and others. The reasons I did not include them are various – from basic typological reasons to my value judgment and the dubiousness of the affirmation of their prose in Quorum magazine and its library. However, I do not intend to apologize to those not included because I believe I would have had just as much reason to apologize to those authors I included in this essay. Ihab Hassan once said that “People master reality with the aid of their own constructions, and literary history provides the most well known construction with which literary experts master literature.”29 

 

Translated by Jelena Mrkonjić

 

 1 Aleksandar Flaker, Izabrana djela, Pet stoljeća hrvatske književnosti, NZ MH, Zagreb, 1987, p. 301.

2 cf. 64 priče na 29 redaka (edited by: Ivan C. Kustić, Branko Čegec and Vjekoslav Boban), Pitanja, Zagreb, 1983.

3 cf. Živa Benčić, “Infantilizam,” Barok i avangarda, ZZK FF, Zagreb, 1991, pp. 175-179.

4 cf. Mihajlo Pantić, Aleksandrijski sindrom, Prosveta, Beograd, 1987, pp. 144-146.

5 cf. Julijana Matanović, “Pojmovi spašavanju pojave,” in: Matanović, Bogišić, Bagić and Mićanović, Četiri dimenzije sumnje, Zagreb, 1988, pp. 72-75; Branko Maleš, “Vječne reklamacije paralelnih svjetova,” afterword to Između zidova i preko njih, pp. 123-126.

6 Hrvoje Pejaković, Prostor čitanja, Matica hrvatska, Dubrovnik, 1991, p. 129. 7 Boris Gregorić, Teorijska gramatika, Quorum, Zagreb, 1989, p. 81.

8 Vladimir Biti, Pojmovnik suvremene književne i kulturne teorije, Matica hrvatska, Zagreb, 2000, p. 27.

9 Damir Miloš, Smrt u Opatiji, ICR, Rijeka, 1988, p. 94.

10 Ibid., p. 94. In the essay “The author and grammar,” Quorum 6:7 (1987), p. 105, Miloš also claims that accepting the grammar of a certain language means accepting to write previously defined content.

11 Ljiljana Domić, Šest smrti Veronike Grabar, Quorum, Zagreb, 1984, p. 149.

12 cf. Nikola Petković, Priče iz davnine, Quorum, Zagreb, 1989, p. 11.

13 Ibid., p. 107.

14 cf. Hrvoje Pejaković, Prostor čitanja, Matica hrvatska, Dubrovnik, 1991, p. 12.

15 I. Chevalier and A. Gheerbrant, Rječnik simbola (second edition), NZ MH, Zagreb, 1987, p. 174.

16 cf. Peter Sloterdijk, Kritika ciničkoga uma, Globus, Zagreb, 1992, translated by: Boris Hudoletnjak, p. 488.

17 cf. David Lodge, Načini modernoga pisanja, Globus/ Stvarnost, Zagreb, 1988, translated by: Giga Gračan and Sonja Bašić, p. 272.

18 cf. David Lodge, Ibid.

19 cf. Branko Maleš, “Nježni luzeri dragovoljno putuju u nebo,” Pitanja 3:4 (1985), p. 253.

20 Branko Maleš – Ibid, p. 252.

21 cf. Branko Čegec, “Pet jahača apokalispe,” Republika 11:12 (1987), p. 160.

22 Mate Bašić, Led & dugi marš, Mladost, Zagreb, 1989, p. 60.

23 Dragan Ogurlić, Specijalne cipele, Quorum, Zagreb, 1987, p. 10.

24 cf. “[...] Čolić gives us his own view of the European cultural history, by using fantastization as the basic literary device; namely, if history as an exact science is interested in works, the writer is alwayrs interested in the background of the work, thus everything that was happening behind our backs.” (Edvard Popović on the back cover of the book St. Peter’s Renunciation, Quorum, Zagreb, 1990)

25 Silence was first published in 1985 in Osijek.

26 Delimir Rešicki, “Bajka,” Sagrada familia, Meandar, Zagreb, 1994, p. 11.

27 Krešimir Mićanović, “Muha,” Dok prolazim asfalt, Quorum, Zagreb, 1988, p. 26.

28 cf. Krešimir Mićanović, Vrtlar, Naklada MD, Zagreb, 1994, p. 69.

29 Ihab Hassan, Komadanje Orfeja, Globus, Zagreb, 1992, translated by: Ljiljanka Lovrinčević, p.11.

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