Wednesday, 29 May 2013

the lute and the scars [daniel kis]

So then. A Serbian writer whose father died in Auschwitz, who lived in exile in Paris, who namechecks Calvino, Cortazar and Koestler among a host of other little known Central European writers, who is an admirer of Borges and who, to this reader’s mind, is the missing link between the Argentine and Bolano.

Bolano again. He recurs with nagging regularity. Bolano’s short stories, the ones that helped garner him attention, blend the cotidian, the personal, the everyday, with the global. They are also obliquely autobiographical. Lo and behold, here is the avowed Serbian Borghesian who, somewhat before Bolano’s time, is writing in exactly the same vein. With the same off-the-cuff, anecdotal brilliance. Converting the world and his life into a compendium of stories, with all the rag-tag connections of history interwoven.

There are only seven stories in this collection. But that’s enough. Two at least are minor masterpieces. The title-piece effortlessly manages to encompass fifty years of Soviet tragedy in a few, seemingly throwaway pages. Jurij Golec is a more Borghesian meditation on death, framed within a Bolano-esque context. The Stateless One tells the life of Von Horvarth in 26 brief chapters. The other brief tales conjure the life of post-War Europe, the frontiers collapsing and retrenching, Russia, Serbia and France all over-lapping. Kis’ genius lies in his capacity to make something transcendental out of a seeming nothing, to turn water into wine.

The joy of reading is to stumble across a voice which comes out of nowhere and somehow speaks across time and geography. There’s no time for theory in the world anymore, at least not the kind of theory that makes any sense, but if there were I’d try and pin down the secret donation of late 20th C literature: as the scale of the global seemed to become evermore immense, all-encompassing, overwhelming, the writers realised that it was only by using the micro of their own experiences as a prism that the world of the macro (the death camps, the wars, the torture chambers) could begin to be discussed. That these subjects might be removed from the discursive terrain of political rhetoric and re-positioned within a context where their real effects could begin to be grasped. Real being defined as something that can be phenomenologically experienced, as opposed to being intellectually contemplated. This, more than Borges, is what binds Kis with Bolano, and their fellows. In essence, they are writers who seek to reclaim history through the existence of the everyday, which is after all, all that history is. Reclaiming it from the preachers and the politicians and the theoreticians who have annexed language in a bid to sever the common Brechtian from his or her own experiences.

There’s no time for theory. Which might be just as well. On an overcast Montevidean morning. There is time for that failsafe of modernity, a google search (Kis Bolano) which reveals that I am not the only one to have made the association. Three others, in fact, including Vila-Matas, who lists Kis alongside his friend Bolano, Koetzee, Pynchon, Antunes and Perec in order to refute Vargas Llosa’s argument that literature has become too “leve, ligera, fácil”. Which puts Daniel Kis in some fine company and also suggests that there is indeed a possibility that the Chilean Borghesian was aware of the work of the Serbian Borghesian.

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