C u l t u r a l M a g a z i n e

SYMBOL
Cultural Magazine
NO 10
Tirana-Pristina-Skopje
2017

Ag APOLLONI
Editor-in-chief

Agron Tufa, Albulena Blakaj
Sherif Luzha, Orjela Stafasani
Editorial board

Xhemajl Avdyli
Editor

Arben Januzi, Gëzim Arifi
Managing office

Liridon Zekaj
Designer

ISSN 2415-2749 (Online)
ISSN 2310-9998 (Print)

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CONTENT

Linda Hutcheon
Beyond Postmodernity 8

Raoul Eshelman
Performatism, the epoch after postmodernism 14

Gottfried Helnwein
The Art of Rebellion 22

Andreas Huyssen
THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF ART 28

Mieke Bal
Narrative is Our Best Tool 36

D.M.Thomas
I AM A SON OF OEDIPUS 46

Ismail Kadare
THE HISTORY OF LITERATURE IS A HISTORY OF HEIGHTS 52

Rexhep Qosja
LITERATURE IS A FLOWER OF EVIL 62

Rita Dove
POETRY IS A KIND OF DANCE 78

Ag Apolloni
THE END OF THE ERA OF ENDINGS 88
SYMBOL 10

This special number is a collection of interviews that I have realized with
theorists, artists, novelists and poets. The interviews have been published in the
previous numbers of Symbol, which was launched in 2013 as a part of OM
Publishing House. We were very honored to start our magazine with the interview
of the well-known Canadian theorist Linda Hutcheon, and then to continue with
other eight interviews: the German theorist Raoul Eshelman, the great contemporary
painter Gottfried Helnwein, the German-American theorist Andreas Huyssen, the
Dutch cultural theorist Mieke Bal, the British postmodernist novelist and poet D.
M. Thomas, the most famous Albanian author Ismail Kadare, the great postmodern
Albanian author and critic Rexhep Qosja, and the extraordinary American poet
Rita Dove.
I could talk more about the details of each number, because every Symbol
number and, especially, every interview published here, provokes debates and brings
information from their works and experiences. But, I suggest you to re-read the
interviews in this number and to think more about their answers, concepts and ideas.
Wishing you a pleasant reading, I promise you that our magazine will stay
consequent on his three criteria, declared in the first number: quality, humanity and
innovation.

Ag APOLLONI
Editor in chief
SYMBOL
Cultural Magazine

NO 10
Linda Hutcheon
Linda Hutcheon (1947) is the most influential theorist of
literary postmodernism and Professor in the Department
of English and of the Centre for Comparative Literature at
the University of Toronto. In 2000 she was elected the 117th
President of the  Modern Language Association, the first
Canadian woman to hold this position. Her most notable book
is A Poetics of Postmodernism. Her other books are: Narcissistic
Narrative, A Theory of Parody, The Canadian Postmodern, Irony’s
Edge, A Theory of Adaptation etc.
Beyond Postmodernity

- Prof. Hutcheon, in your book “A Poetics of but it is still very much a historical document
Postmodernism”, which will be published of my response—instinctive, subjective, if
soon in Albanian language, you wrote that scholarly!—to what was happening in what
postmodernism ironizes everything: master was THEN contemporary culture.
narratives, history, politics etc. Let’s start this
interview with an ironic question: postmodern - “A Poetics of Postmodernism” is focused only
fiction is a tangle of genres, domains, in prose (fiction). I know that a poetics can do
discourses, so why you decided to write poetics of it, but I’m interested to know how do you see the
postmodernism, knowing that it is the same like perspective of poetry now, or, especially, drama,
making rules from the chaos? therefore you even have used irony in a sense of
Brecht’s verfremdungseffekt?
LINDA HUTCHEON: What a wonderful
playful question to start with! You are LINDA HUTCHEON: Brecht’s modernism
absolutely right: in fact, writing a poetics of presages postmodernism in major ways, as you
postmodernism is a decidedly modernist, imply: its focus on self-reflexivity and irony
not postmodernist, act! While I find that I as distancing was a crucial prelude to what
am temperamentally totally postmodern, came to dominate later as postmodernism. I
the academic genre of the scholarly study have always argued that there are continuities
is a most modern enterprise. I’m guilty as and well as differences between the modern
charged, as we say in English. and the postmodern, and Brecht is a perfect
example of the continuities.
- As Genette said, poetics are not discipline, The other issue you raise is the focus of
but doctrine, which has two types: essentialist the book on fiction. In a sense, since I was
poetics (which is classic, canonic and objective) modeling postmodernism from postmodern
and conditionalist poetics (which is modern, architecture and its use of parody in
instinctive and subjective). You’ve studied many conjunction with historical echoing and
conditionalist poetics then, based on similar formal self-reflexivity, I should have been able
points, you made an essentialist poetics that now, to expand the theorizing beyond fiction (and
not only in Genette’s sense, is a classic, a classic in The Politics of Postmodernism the next year
work. Could you tell us how did you manage it? I did include the visual arts, photography in
particular). But, to be honest, I am a narrative
LINDA HUTCHEON: When I was writing scholar by training and inclination, so that was
this book back in the 1980s I had no idea my first love and first interest. Subsequently
it would become, as you say, an essentialist I have indeed written on postmodern poetry
poetics: it was never intended to be more (in The Princeton Handbook of Poetry and Poetics)
than a “timely” intervention in a debate that and postmodern opera, though not drama. If
was going on at the time in all the arts, and for I were writing the book today, I’d obviously
that reason, it felt like a conditionalist effort think about graphic novels, not to mention
from my point of view—especially because I the new electronic media and the new
was taking a perspective that very few others aesthetic forms being creating daily—though
were: that is, a more positive “take” on the they might actually be the start of something
postmodern, seeing it as more political and new, not the continuation of the postmodern.
interview

more contesting than did Jameson and the
others participating in the debates at the - Calinesku wrote that modernism has
time. Twenty-five years later, much to my abandoned intercultural dialog, whereas you
8 surprise, it has taken on a different function, insisted that postmodernism attempts to unite
what modernism separated. Is this attempt one When I was writing this book back in the
more reason to believe that we’re going toward 1980s I had no idea it would become, as you
an integral literature of the world, something say, an essentialist poetics: it was never intended
like Goethe’s weltliteratur? to be more than a “timely” intervention in
a debate that was going on at the time in all
LINDA HUTCHEON: Postmodernism’s the arts, and for that reason, it felt like a
“both/and” kind of thinking (that is, not conditionalist effort from my point of view—
“either/or”) is by definition more inclusive especially because I was taking a perspective
certainly makes connections between that very few others were: that is, a more positive
cultures as well as art forms, but I think what “take” on the postmodern, seeing it as more
you are describing is more the creation of political and more contesting than did Jameson
the diverse, rich, multicultural world that has and the others participating in the debates at
become our reality through mass migrations/ the time. Twenty-five years later, much to my
diasporas over the last decades, combined surprise, it has taken on a different function,
with the globalizing impulses of electronic but it is still very much a historical document
technology. In some ways because of both of my response—instinctive, subjective, if
of these major changes, the links between scholarly!—to what was happening in what
cultures today are perhaps stronger than was THEN contemporary culture.
ever, though I am not convinced that we are
really moving toward one single integrated
literature: our literary cultures do retain some opened up the serious examination of works
(considerable) integrity, I think. from Africa, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines,
etc. And there are other reasons too, such
- While literary work is made by a person, not as political/economic developments—
by a state, how can you explain that random things like the rise of China as a major
eminent critics preferred to study authors of, world power—that have led to many more
- excuse me for this economical terms,- First translations of (and therefore more study
World, almost never authors of Second (except of) Chinese works in the west. The other
Latin authors), or Third World, even those who change in North America, where I live and
are translated in English? Is this a criterion of work, has been a move to what is called
value, or something else? World Literature—closer to Goethe’s idea—
but usually restricted to what is available in
LINDA HUTCHEON: The power of translation. I’ve always seen this as a result
national canons in the academy is still strong, of the demographics of North America: the
as you note. But perhaps this focus on increasing variety of peoples from all over
the canon is a sign of the perceived threat the world now living in both the USA and
that your last question implied: a fear of Canada. But it clearly is also a move away
universalization through globalization and from the study of only canonical First World
thus a worry about losing national cultural writers, and a healthy one, I believe.
integrity? I suspect it depends on the country
and its academic culture, so there may not be - Doctorow said that fiction is a speculative
any one single answer—but my guess is that history, but historiographic metafiction, as you
none of the possible answers would involve called postmodern novels, is a parody to history,
matters of value or quality, but rather matters politics and religions. What do you think about
of ideology. the future of irony in this age of religious
In English-speaking countries, I do know, radicalism, even when, as you wrote, parody is
there has been in recent decades a move to not to destroy the past?
study what would once have been considered
interview

non-canonical literature, especially that from LINDA HUTCHEON: Historiographic
the former colonies of Britain and America. metafiction does indeed use parody and irony
“Post-colonial” studies is a very important to suggest that all the versions of history
area in North America, in particular, for it has that we know are precisely that: versions 9
Brecht’s modernism presages postmodernism looking backward at its colonial as well as
in major ways, as you imply: its focus on literary heritage and forward to its future as
self-reflexivity and irony as distancing was a a racially and culturally more diverse society.
crucial prelude to what came to dominate later But many nations around the world are very
as postmodernism. I have always argued that much still in the process of defining their own
there are continuities and well as differences “grand narratives” of nationhood and religion
between the modern and the postmodern, and and are not at all doing what the postmodern
Brecht is a perfect example of the continuities. European or American nations have been
doing. We can’t generalize, I am afraid.

(in the plural), not any one single “Truth.” - Against to the concepts of some critics, who
The postmodern and the religious do not claimed that we have two postmodernism –
sit comfortably together for this obvious engaged and not engaged, - you insisted that there
reason. But there’s another way to think is just one postmodernism and that is, naturally,
about your (excellent) question: irony is a critical engaged. Before ’80s, engaged fiction is
complex rhetorical strategy: it can indeed seen as “bad” by some, and as “good” by some
mock and ridicule, but it can also tease more others, but you ignored this type of distinction.
gently. Similarly, parody does not always work Could you explain what does it mean to you the
to destroy what it parodies: it can also show term “engage”?
reverence for it, simply by taking it seriously
enough to engage with. That said, however, LINDA HUTCHEON: When I was writing
I suspect you are correct, and that we are about postmodernism in the 1980s in North
moving into a time when irony will be less safe: America—coming after the 1960s and their
politicization of race, gender, and sexuality
(and the study of these in the universities)—I
clearly saw this kind of politicization as a
Fiction has always had a way of offering
positive, while many did not, even in my own
individual authors’ ideas of truths, just as
cultural context. In other words, I was taking
history has offered individual historians’ ideas
a political stand, in seeing this change from
of truths.
the dominant, apolitical and universalized
“liberal humanism” as a positive one in the
universities, first of all, and then arguing that
if irony entails saying one thing, but meaning the postmodern was politically or critically
another, it clearly depends totally on context engaged in the sense that it tackled serious
to make clear that hidden, but intended, political subjects (like race, gender, sexuality,
meaning. If an ironic remark is taken out of history). Again, it is a matter of cultural
context, it will mean the opposite of what context.
was intended and THAT is dangerous.
- Do you still believe that postmodernism is a cultural
- As Lyotard said, “l’incrédulité à l’égard des dominant, as Jameson once said? In the beginning
métarécits” has brought what you called ironic of this century there were many discussions about
dialog with the past. But, what kind of dialog altermodernism, metamodernism, rimodernism,
you expect from now and on, if you take into performatism, transhumanism, posthumanism
consideration literary works of the last decade? etc. Is there any other ISM, after postmodernism,
or we will have to wait yet?
LINDA HUTCHEON: In some parts
of the world, I think we are still witnessing LINDA HUTCHEON: There certainly
that “incredulity toward metanarratives” has been an explosion of new ISMs, as you
interview

that Lyotard described, as some cultures still say. Interestingly, no single one of them has
question the grand narratives of politics and “stuck” the way postmodernism so rapidly
national identity that constitute their own did in the 1980s. There are many possible
10 past: British fiction, for instance, is very much reasons for this difference. But perhaps these
new terms each describe something notable Historiographic metafiction does indeed
and significant, but maybe limited to one use parody and irony to suggest that all the
genre, art form, or philosophical perspective. versions of history that we know are precisely
Postmodernism had currency, as we say, that: versions (in the plural), not any one single
because its characteristics could be found in “Truth.” The postmodern and the religious
many different cultural forms at the same time. do not sit comfortably together for this obvious
The second part of your question—whether reason.
we have really seen a change yet or whether
we are still in the postmodern—is a difficult
one. In many ways, we are still in the modern literary and the musical (and I would add,
as well as postmodern—for they never obviously, the visual) are coming together
disappear, but become parts of our general in new and utterly exciting ways. But I have
culture. That said, and as I suggested earlier, become very interested in recent years in the
I do think we are on the verge of something art form that came out of the marriage of
new, or perhaps we are already there, and it literature and music (modeled on ancient
is going to have everything to do with the Greek tragedy) in the Renaissance: opera.
digital technologies and new social media
that are now part of our lives. I don’t worry
that we don’t have a label for it yet: we will.
I do think we are on the verge of something
But this feels like something new to me.
new, or perhaps we are already there, and it is
going to have everything to do with the digital
- You have suggested that “history and literature
technologies and new social media that are now
are both part of the signifying systems of
part of our lives. I don’t worry that we don’t
our culture,” so the literature that you have
have a label for it yet: we will. But this feels
canonized is art “within archive” (Foucault),
like something new to me.
an archive which is both historical and literary.
Maybe it sounds ironical, but I would like to
ask you, are we going towards the true fiction,
or towards the false history? With my husband (a physician and academic),
I’ve written three books on opera as an art
LINDA HUTCHEON: A truly form that brings together all the arts to teach
postmodern answer would be: both. But us about both the desires and the anxieties
part of the lesson of the postmodern is that of the cultures that create it.
we only have truths (in the plural)—which
some people would see as unacceptable and - At the end, I would like to know what your
therefore closer to lies. Fiction has always had next book will be about.
a way of offering individual authors’ ideas of
truths, just as history has offered individual LINDA HUTCHEON: Opera! Well,
historians’ ideas of truths. opera and creativity and aging. (I guess in
that sense it’s autobiographical!) It is a study
- In the Ancient era literature and music were of the last works and “late style” of opera
mixed, later they was separated, but in the 20th composers who led long and creative lives:
century the poet and musician Rabindranath Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi, Richard
Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Bob Strauss, Olivier Messiaen, Benjamin Britten.
Dylan is still Nobel candidate for Literature and We’re studying how the artists themselves
Leonard Cohen, whom you studied in your book felt about their creativity as they aged, but
“The Canadian Postmodern”, received The Prince also how their last works were received by
of Asturias Award for Literature. Do you think their audiences and what role their advanced
age played in that reception.
interview

that we are going back to the roots of literature?

LINDA HUTCHEON: That’s a great (Symbol, No 1, 2013)
question to ask in our digital age, when the 11
Raoul Eshelman
Raoul Eshelman (1956), one of the most influential theorists
after the postmodernism epoch, is a German-American Slavist
who has written extensively on problems of literary history
and postmodernism. He received his Ph.D. in Slavic literature
from Konstanz University and his Habilitation from the
University of Hamburg. He is author of three books: Gumilev
and Neoclassical Modernism (1993), Early Soviet Postmodernism
(1997) and Performatism, or the end of postmodernism (2008), as well
as numerous articles on Russian and Czech modernism and
postmodernism. At present he is a Professor of Comparative
Literature at the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. 
Performatism, the epoch after
postmodernism
- Prof. Eshelman, in “Performatism, or the end - After postmodernism, you described the new
of postmodernism” you attempt to define an epoch systematically analyzing literature,
alternative aesthetics of postmodernism. Few film, architecture, theory and visual arts.
months ago, in an interview for our magazine, What unites Houellebecq, Lars von Trier,
Linda Hutcheon, said that postmodernism Sir Norman Foster, Andreas Gursky and
has gone and we are in the new epoch, but we Vanessa Beecroft?
don’t have a name for it yet. This new epoch
you called performatism. Is it a right name for RAOUL ESHELMAN: Today we
this new paradigm? wouldn’t have any problem talking about
such different figures as, say, Pushkin,
RAOUL ESHELMAN: Naming epochs Beethoven, Novalis, Caspar David
(or anything else in the humanities) is Friedrich, and Wordsworth in terms of
a big gamble. There are a lot of names something called “Romanticism.” In spite
floating around now—performatism, of all the differences in personality, themes,
metamodernism, digimodernism, post- media etc. there are still enough common
postmodernism, to name just a few. factors that make it possible to place them
Probably it will take years before any real in a common framework, which we’re
consensus emerges. “Postmodernism” adjusting all the time. “Performatism” is
wasn’t generally accepted as a term until the nothing more than an attempt to do the
late 1980’s, after it had already been going same thing for contemporary culture. What
on for more than thirty years. We’re in about unites the artists you’ve mentioned? In
the 20th year of what I call performatism, negative terms I’d say they all are reacting
so I’m not holding my breath. May the best against the endless irony of postmodernism.
term win! In positive terms I’d say they’re all doing
it by using different kinds of framing
- What is the relation between Performatism techniques to create ordered spaces and
and New Historicism? enact “performances”—discrete acts of
transcendence that allow basic forms of
RAOUL ESHELMAN: There isn’t much trust to emerge between human beings.
of one. New Historicism was a kind of That may take place imperfectly and in
catalyst for my thinking about subjectivity, very different ways, but it’s a completely
though. The idea of self-fashioning meant different project than the postmodern one.
that it was possible to think about agency
and subjectivity in a positive way—the idea - You said that nothing human is alien to a
that you could actually “make yourself ” performatist, so can we take it as a call of
under certain cultural conditions. But the the human spirit to create without censure or
New Historicists, as far as I can tell, never prejudice?
thought about whether there could be a
successful self-fashioning as a reaction to RAOUL ESHELMAN: It’s not that easy.
postmodernism (which, of course, denies Performatism isn’t a simple celebration of
any form of autonomous subjectivity). I the human spirit. All human acts (creative
guess you could say that New Historicism ones especially) call forth some form of
interview

unconsciously highlighted one of resentment. And that resentment clouds
postmodernism’s major problems without even the most uplifting and transcendent
being able to offer a solution to it. deeds we perform. Performatist works
14
(which are aimed at giving us a feeling of
transcendence) always have a “down” side
that is intrinsic to the works themselves. “Postmodernism” wasn’t generally accepted
That’s what I mean when I speak of as a term until the late 1980’s, after it had
metaphysical optimism as opposed to already been going on for more than thirty
psychological optimism, which sees years. We’re in about the 20th year of what
the world through rose-colored glasses. I call performatism, so I’m not holding my
Performatist works are optimistic, but breath.
they’re not naïve. They hold out the promise
of redemption, love, transcendence etc.
but they don’t pretend that we can achieve
those things “just like that.” The whole it is that trying to create positive scenarios
idea of the double frame, which is the key within capitalism is preferable to the endless
concept of performatism, is paradoxical in ironic critique of capitalism that pretends
that regard. It means an outside constraint to be superior to it but can’t offer any
forces you to transcend, it means that workable alternative to it whatsoever.
whatever transcendent moment you
experience is already conditioned by force - Why is the authorial manipulation more
or even violence. important than physical facts in the art
of today?
- Is performatism really a post-ideological
epoch, as you called it, and what can you RAOUL ESHELMAN: Performatism
say about its political dimension? is like postmodernism in the sense that
it doesn’t offered much new in the way
RAOUL ESHELMAN: That’s a of style or what you call “physical facts.”
complicated question. Obviously, the That’s why it’s important to regain the
real world is still very ideological—you feeling of authorship or authoriality—the
only have to look at US politics to see it. feeling that there is someone out there
Obama’s “performatist” attempt to create who is able to create positive scenes or
a bridge between red and blue states didn’t frames we can or must identify with. We
work. Politics and economics are a lot have a feeling of being manipulated, but
messier and complicated than art and you of being manipulated in a positive way by
can’t simply mandate unity. But in terms someone with a set goal and a strong set
of world culture, I think we’re seeing a of values. This is what I sometimes call the
further breakdown of the old ideological phenomenology of belief: the artistically
oppositions. I think this is especially true of mediated feeling of believing or being
the Arab Spring. The binaries of East/West, forced to believe is actually more important
center/periphery, capitalism/socialism that than the content of belief in many cases.
are still so central to post-colonial theory
don’t work there anymore at all. A lot of - Is it possible to make a distinction between
the conflicts in the Arab world have to do postmodern irony and performatist
with political self-empowerment, creating sincerity, or it was just Boris Groys’s
frameworks for individual human dignity, mistake?
and negotiating a balance between secular
and religious freedom, and those are RAOUL ESHELMAN: Groys says
very “performatist” topics. The theory that we can appear to be “sincere” by
of performatism and performatist works doing something paradoxical, like being a
interview

can help us address these conflicts more conservative espousing liberal ideas. That
clearly, but they don’t deliver any clear-cut means that sincerity is just another deceitful
ideological solutions. If performatism does strategy that can be cleverly exposed by an
have an overarching ideological position, ironic observer like himself. I don’t believe 15
something that escapes Groys—like all
other postmodernists he just wants to
Today we wouldn’t have any problem talking have the last, ironic word about everything.
about such different figures as, say, Pushkin, Performatism doesn’t shut out that irony
Beethoven, Novalis, Caspar David Friedrich, entirely, but it provides a free space where
and Wordsworth in terms of something called you can experience things like sincerity,
“Romanticism.” In spite of all the differences love, transcendence etc. under certain set
in personality, themes, media etc. there are still conditions provided by art.
enough common factors that make it possible
to place them in a common framework, which - How do you explain your point of view that in
we’re adjusting all the time. “Performatism” is performatism, the medium is more messenger
nothing more than an attempt to do the same than message?
thing for contemporary culture.
RAOUL ESHELMAN: I said that a long
time ago, and I never really developed the
idea further. But I think what I meant is that
performatist works create the impression
that sincerity is a trick. But I also don’t that there is an author behind each work
believe in “authentic” sincerity, either— and behind whatever media are being used,
sincerity that is somehow unmediated and and that this apprehension of authoriality
“natural.” My standpoint is that sincerity is more important than the media or even
is possible within a certain frame, under a the message. I guess that’s why I’m not
certain artificial set of circumstances set up that much interested in analyzing how
by artistic works. Pi in Life of Pi isn’t sincere different media are affecting us after the
end of postmodernism—that’s the project
of my friend Alan Kirby, who calls it
“digimodernism.”

- You talked about dumb, naive, dazed,
I think what is happening, though, is that simple-minded subject in the movies of Jean-
subjects are now entering into what Peter Pierre Jeunet, Sam Mendes, Lars von Trier,
Sloterdijk calls a “bipolar intimacy” with who is, perhaps, the most extreme cinematic
others. By this he means scenes or frames (he “provoca(u)tore”1. Why is the art of today so
says “spheres”) that encourage individuals to much focused on sexuality and the idiocy of
overcome their isolation and achieve a sense the subject?
of trust towards another person. Performatist
narratives tend to focus on developing these
RAOUL ESHELMAN: Postmodernism,
bipolar relationships, which are both supra-
which was a product of the freewheeling
individual and sub-communal. Performatist 1960s, has always focused on sex, so
narratives aren’t grand anymore, but they’re
that isn’t really anything new. I guess you
also not a return to romantic individualism.
would have to say that the way sexuality is
being treated has changed. If I’m correct,
sexuality is being portrayed as a corporeal
rather than as a social construct (gender).
I haven’t written too much on this myself,
but a doctoral candidate of mine, Yuan
in literal terms (in fact, he’s obviously Xue, has just finished a German-language
lying). But given the circumstances that dissertation on how sex is constructed in
interview

he was in he is being sincere, and anyone performatist works and I hope excerpts will
reading the book or watching the movie
understands that intuitively. That’s 1 Provoca(u)tore is an Italian portmanteau  for
16 provoking author.
be available in translation soon. Regarding Is parody of grand narratives replaced by
idiocy, I’d like to point out that performatist something else, totally personal and intimate?
heroes and heroines aren’t always simple-
minded. You also have “genius” heroes with RAOUL ESHELMAN: Good question! I
major limitations, like the neurosurgeon in wouldn’t use the term “totally personal and
MacEwan’s novel Saturday or the Nobel- intimate” though. That sounds a lot like
prize-winning mathematician in the movie some kind of New Romanticism or what
A Beautiful Mind. But simple-mindedness the Germans call “neue Innerlichkeit,”
works well as a strategic reaction to some new, privileged kind of inner life. That
postmodernism because you can’t argue would imply that subjects now have a high
with it—it’s just there, and it doesn’t degree of autonomy and a personal space
understand any of the irony thrown at it. of their own. I don’t believe that. I think
The archetypal performatist hero/heroine
is autistic, i.e., someone who’s both smart
and dumb at the same time and who creates
a kind of strange force field that we identify
with. Performatism isn’t about idiocy for The binaries of East/West, center/periphery,
the sake of idiocy! capitalism/socialism that are still so central to
post-colonial theory don’t work there anymore
- Is performatism return of the phallus’ epoch, at all. A lot of the conflicts in the Arab world
or return of Dionysian art, unbounded by have to do with political self-empowerment,
ethics? creating frameworks for individual human
dignity, and negotiating a balance between
RAOUL ESHELMAN: If performatism secular and religious freedom, and those are
is anything, it’s Apollonian (I’m writing very “performatist” topics. The theory of
on that now for an essay collection on performatism and performatist works can help
classicism). The defining characteristic us address these conflicts more clearly, but they
of performatist works of art is that they don’t deliver any clear-cut ideological solutions.
are constrained or restrained by artistic
frames, and that is very Apollonian indeed.
By “return of the phallus” I didn’t mean
we’re in for wild Dionysian orgies. What
I wanted to say is that we can expect to what is happening, though, is that subjects
see symbolic forms of constraint relating are now entering into what Peter Sloterdijk
to the human body (especially genitalia) calls a “bipolar intimacy” with others. By
rather than to socially constructed gender. this he means scenes or frames (he says
That means that there are symbolic phallic “spheres”) that encourage individuals to
and vaginal forms that can be appropriated overcome their isolation and achieve a
by both sexes to achieve some form of sense of trust towards another person.
sexual or emotional transcendence. Yuan Performatist narratives tend to focus on
Xue, whom I mentioned earlier, suggests developing these bipolar relationships,
that in performatist works, bodies appear which are both supra-individual and sub-
as unified signs that act as ideal projection communal. Performatist narratives aren’t
surfaces for different characters. This grand anymore, but they’re also not a return
whole notion of unity-through-projection to romantic individualism.
is very Apollonian too.
- Performatism has the story of an idiot
interview

- In performatism, the art has no intention to perspective contrary to postmodernism’
break taboos, or to be dissident, it seeks just erudite narrators. So, can we say that
to narrate, often by idiot’s perspective, the the birth of “idiocy” is the death of
individual story in social or historical context. “erudition”?
17
RAOUL ESHELMAN: Certainly not to
Regarding idiocy, I’d like to point out that the type of (Lacanian) psychoanalysis that
performatist heroes and heroines aren’t always dominates academic writing today. There
simple-minded. You also have “genius” heroes are certain structural parallels between
with major limitations, like the neurosurgeon performatism and Jungian psychoanalysis,
in MacEwan’s novel “Saturday” or the which is based on fixed archetypes
Nobel-prize-winning mathematician in the (anima/animus, that sort of thing) that
movie “A Beautiful Mind”. But simple- Jung says are universal and are realized
mindedness works well as a strategic reaction through individuation. In performatism,
to postmodernism because you can’t argue with the archetypes “float,” they arise more or
it—it’s just ‘there’, and it doesn’t understand less spontaneously in artistic contexts and
any of the irony thrown at it. The archetypal don’t have any previously fixed status. I’ve
performatist hero/heroine is autistic, i.e., called these structures “archetypologies” in
someone who’s both smart and dumb at the an article that will appear soon in an essay
same time and who creates a kind of strange collection on planetarity. But generally, I
force field that we identify with. Performatism am not much interested in psychoanalysis,
isn’t about idiocy for the sake of idiocy! which in present-day academia is used to
empower the analyst rather than to provide
any sort of therapeutic relief.

- Today, more than two decades of performatism,
RAOUL ESHELMAN: Ever since is performatism accepted as theoretical term,
Erasmus of Rotterdam, idiocy has been or as an aesthetic concept?
used as a device to undermine erudition
and wisdom. The performatist return of RAOUL ESHELMAN: Performatism
the idiot certainly isn’t going to put end to hasn’t been universally accepted as a term,
erudition, I think it’s just meant to destabilize but it is now at least being acknowledged
the ironic conceits of erudite people (who and referenced in discussions of
are very often postmodernists). contemporary culture. The problem now
is that there is still no academic discourse
on post-postmodernism in the way that
there is discourse on, say, post-colonialism
or gender. In other words, there is no
consensus in mainstream academia that the
Ever since Erasmus of Rotterdam, idiocy has phenomenon of post-postmodernism even
been used as a device to undermine erudition exists. Right now, what we have are a lot of
and wisdom. The performatist return of the scattered individuals (mostly young, mostly
idiot certainly isn’t going to put end to erudition, beginning their careers) writing about the
I think it’s just meant to destabilize the ironic topic. It will probably take quite a while
conceits of erudite people (who are very often before the idea takes hold that we are in an
postmodernists). entirely new cultural paradigm.

- Finally, what are you writing about?

RAOUL ESHELMAN: You’ve already
- Regarding “Lola rennt”, “Our America” touched on some of my present interests
etc., you said that performatism encourages in your questions. One thing that interests
interview

self-therapy. Can it connect performatism to me now is authoriality and how that
psychoanalysis? works as a matter of principle. Another
is archetypologies, which are the free-
floating symbolic forms and categories
18
that are now shaping culture in a positive give me enough time to write!
way. I hope to have another book out in a
couple of years if my teaching obligations (Symbol, No 2, 2014)
Gottfried Helnwein
The icon of hyperrealism, Gottfried Helnwein (1948),
is an  Austrian-Irish  fine artist, painter,  photographer,
installation and performance artist. He studied at the University
of Visual Art  in Vienna.  Helnwein was offered a chair by
the  University of Applied Sciences  in  Hamburg, which he
declined. Rudolf Hausner, recommended Helnwein as his
successor as professor of the master-class for painting at
the  University of Visual Art  in Vienna, but Helnwein left
Vienna and moved to Germany. In 1998, he bought castle
Gurteen de La Poer in Ireland where he lives with his wife
Renate and with their four children who are all artists.
Photo by Stefan Jermann
The Art of Rebellion

- Mr. Helnwein, last year while I was walking are usually broken, and their magic is gone.
around the streets of Vienna, I saw an image Ready now to be citizens, soldiers, clerks,
of child’s bloody head that shocked me suddenly. psychiatrists, politicians, bankers, undercover
Child seemed like a photograph and also blood agents, prostitutes and other useful things.In
seemed so real. I approached to see who could be my work I try to see the world through the
the author of this “crime” and then I saw your eyes of children, and I am taking their side.
name there…in that poster of your retrospective
exhibition. After I visited the exhibition, I saw - Is it more attractive to be a leader of a revolution,
that you are not a criminal, but the denouncer member of Rolling Stones, as you dreamed to be
of crime. How hard is to keep this role, when when you were young, or a painter, what you
we know that your works have been attacked really are? Do you think that you have chosen
many times? the right job?

GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: I don’t really GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: Political
have a choice.  From very early age on I was revolutions always fail, usually they make
looking for a way to deal with the questions things worse. But in the fields of art and
and issues that haunted me and one day I aesthetics revolutionaries can create a new
realized that Art was my only chance. It gave renaissance. As a kid I had the unattainable
me a voice, it allowed me to formulate my dream of being a rock musician, but over
questions and to speak out and to express the years I realized that being a painter has
what was burning inside me.  it’s advantages. I am independent and on my
own, I make my own rules, I don’t have to
- Why the child is the central theme of your make any compromises, and in my studio I
works? am the ruler of my own universe,  a serene
and solitary sanctuary.
GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: In a child
the full potential of human values and - Leitmotiv of your art is violence. Why is so
virtues, of innocence, trust, love, compassion much violence in your paintings?
and creativity is intact.In childhood, for a
very short time,  humans are in a state of GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: When I
purity, almost sacredness. But children are learned about the crimes that my parents’
vulnerable and defenseless and depending generation had committed during the
on our fairness. And it seems that adults Nazi-regime, and how most of the mass-
tend to betray that trust. In the sixties, murderers got away after the war and
long before mass media ever mentioned made big careers in our new democracy–
child-abuse, while I researched into that everything stopped for me right there. I lost
subject, I saw forensic photographs of dead my trust in the world of grown-ups and
children’s bodies, fragile, skinny, broken and their system of values.What always upset me
sometimes deformed beyond recognition; was how children are getting abused simply
tortured to death – often by their own because they are physically weaker and not
relatives. These pictures travel now with me capable of defending themselves – how
and I can’t get rid of them. Unfortunately it’s they get raped, enslaved and killed. I never
interview

the grown-ups that rule the world and make understood why some people seem to have
the laws and all kids have to go through so much fun causing pain to someone fragile
their demolition-program called education. and small.Ever since my earliest childhood I
22 Once they come out on the other side they have seen violence all around me, as well as
the effect of violence: fear. I absorbed any It is the function of the artist to evoke the
piece of information I could get hold of on experience of surprised recognition: to show the
persecution and torture like the Holocaust, viewer what he knows but does not know that
the Vietnam War, tyrannical regimes such as he knows. Helnwein is a master of surprised
that of Pinochet’s Chile, the Inquisition… recognition.
and finally, the general mistreatment of
children. The obsession with inflicting William Burroughs
maximum pain on others, in particular on
the defenseless, that runs throughout human
history has always been a mystery to me. The response, your own feelings and sensations
creativity that people develop in committing and deal with it.Or with the words of Lucian
such atrocities is startling.I guess that’s what Freud: “What do I ask of a painting? I ask it
Goya tried with his “disasters of War series” to astonish, disturb, seduce, convince.” 
- to force us to confront all this senseless
violence, pain, despair and death that we - You said that the school to you was like a
cause, so that we may not be condemned to concentration camp. What were you thinking
repeat the same tragedy over and over again. when you said that?

- Like in ancient tragedy, you insisted that the GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: Exactly
paintings must generate a catharsis. This that. I felt like a prisoner, I was forced to
therapy is just for spectators, or also it is the obey the commands of strangers that I didn’t
part of your artistic process?  like. I was forced to do things I didn’t want to
do, I was squeezed into an oppressive system
GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: Art can only that made no sense to me. But buried deep
have an emotional impact on the onlooker, inside me there was this burning craving to
when it was a cathartic experience for the get out of that, to break free.
creator to beginn with.
- Do you really think that you learned from
- Your paintings look like photograph, but they Donald Duck more than from your teachers?
are more meaningful, because you play with
colors, ideas and techniques. Being like that, GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: Duckburg
your paintings show something that is impossible still makes so much more sense to me then
to be fixed by camera or to be told by words. this piss-poor job of what we call reality,
It seems like you choose to have as a motto knocked together by some bloated, self-
Bacon’s sentence: “If you can talk about it, appointed authorities. 
why paint it.” So, you do something breathless,
which would be no theme of trivial conversation, - How important in your formation was Salvador
‘cause primarily it is destined to be felt and to be Dali, John Heartfield and Carl Barks?
understood. Have you ever answered with words
about your image-questions? GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: I don’t think
that any artist had a significant influence on
GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: I would me, when I started to paint. I was like an
agree with Bacon on that. Whenever an artist autistic child, and was not really interested in
tries to explain his work, it’s usually bullshit. any aesthetic information from other artists
It doesn’t help.And listening to critics is even or authorities of the official art-world. I
worth. Kandinsky said: “You must never was a proud to be an abandoned, primitive
believe an academic (art-historian, critic, and street kid. Carl Barks was an exception; his
so on) if he declares that he has detected an work did have a deep spiritual, aesthetic and
interview

objective fault in a work of art… the art- emotional impact on me. If it did inform my
critic is the greatest enemy of art.”  Look work in some way, I don’t know.
at the painting and see what it’s doing to
you. Accept and trust your own emotional 23
Helnwein is one of the few exciting painters there was also a dark side to Romanticism,
we have today. often referred to as black or dark Romanticism
- both in literature and art - dealing with
Norman Mailer melancholy, insanity, sexuality, night, death
and evil. Lord Byron comes to mind, E.T.A.
Hoffmann, Ludwig Tieck, Edgar Allan Poe, 
- Are you influenced more from painters, or from The Dark Romantics adapted images of   the
writers? personification of evil in the form of Satan,
devils, ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and
GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: As I said, I ghouls”, as metaphor for the dark side of
don’t know of any direct influences on my man’s inherent nature. Think of the Gothic
work, but writers were always very important novel: Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, Bram
for me. In the beginning I didn’t care much Stokers “Dracula”, or Jekyll and Hyde by
about other painters. It was much later in Robert Louis Stevenson, Vathek by William
Florence in the Uffizi where to my utter Beckford , but there is also Victor Hugo ,
surprise, I had my Damascus experience. Charles Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Antonin
The impact of these renaissance paintings Artaud and so on…  In Fine Art we have
shook me to my very foundation, I was Goya, Johann Heinrich Füssli, Caspar David
totally overwhelmed, shocked. I had tears in Friedrich, Kubin, Edvard Munch, Balthus, or
my eyes and from that moment on I have think of Arnold Böcklin’s  “Toteninsel”. That
an intimate almost religious relationship with all reverberates in the culture of the 20
the great paintings of our culture. century, in the films of Fritz Lang, Murnau,
Bunuel, in Comics like Batman or in music
- You don’t believe in Parnassian inspiration as the - Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson and others.
romantic painters did, although you like some of  
them. You paint the inspiration which flow out - By the way, what was this experience of
from reality, the comics, movies, music, literature, collaboration with Marilyn Manson?
internet etc. Is the inspiration a spiritual act that
leads a physical act of painting? GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: I really
enjoyed the collaboration with Manson. From
GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: the first moment on I met him in Los Angeles,
Romanticism was one of the most important I had the feeling I know him since 1000 years.
movements in Art-history - artists were Everything about him was so familiar to me.
turning to the spiritual and mystic side of Most people I meet are strangers to me, and
life,  outside of organized religion, which nothing they say or do, makes much sense to
me, but this guy I understand and I can see
the world through his eyes and I can think
his thoughts and I can suffer his feelings, I
If anyone from Austrian fine art of the last am conversant with his home universe.He is a
fifty years could be called a star, then there brilliant mind, very educated, poetic, inspiring,
is only one person who meets all the criteria: of a rare dark elegance, decadent, spoiled,
Gottfried Helnwein. vain, radical and excessive, considerate and
gentle, arrogant and caring, evil and innocent
Stella Rollig at the same time. He is as multifaceted as
Kali, the goddess of blackness, change and
death. He can be a child at one moment and
morph into a man or a woman in the next or
still has an enormous influence on popular he can be an androgyn angel or demon. We
interview

culture today. It comprised music, poetry, had lots of fun working on the “Golden Age
literature, painting, sculpture, fashion, design of Grotesque” cycle.
and architecture. But besides the idealization
24 of the landscape and the cult of Biedermeier, - How counterculture influenced on you?
GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: I am the Well, the world is a haunted house, and
counterculture. Helnwein at times is our tour guide through it.

- Is a polemic character of your works the reason Sean Penn
that you called your art a weapon?

GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: My art gives and rest and picking them up later again. It’s a
me the ability to strike back. When I started fluid process that can take a year or more. So
to paint I suddenly realized that I didn’t have it’s not easy to say how much time I spent on
to accept the impertinences of this society Epiphany or any other painting.
anymore, and I recognized that art was a
weapon and that I had found a way to fight - Goya said that “the act of painting is about
back. one heart telling another heart where he found
salvation.” If any spectator asks whether you
- Your paintings are against amnesia and they found salvation, what would you say to him?
contain many political, historical and religious
references. What is relation between your art and GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: It’s a great
politics, history and religions? quote by Goya. Well, I definitely found
something through my work, that is something
GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: It’s curiosity, like salvation.
inquisitiveness, I am obsessed to find out
what’s really going on. Where am I ? Where - Knowing your works, I would say that your
are we coming from, who are we? where are painted violence aims peace. I want to know what
we going? Different then most people who are kind of dream are you still painting on, and
happy to accept the fairy tales that authorities would you say that your dream will become true?
tell them, I really want to know. That’s why I
constantly research and ask and look and dig GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: I think
and I try to learn and keep learning as long as that every artist has just one central motive,
I breath. Between that and my art there is no purpose or request, desire, obsession or dream
difference. or however you want to call it. And each of
his work is another more or less successful
- You look like Goya and Bosch in topics, but you
are completely different in techniques. You paint
in hyperrealist style, so violence in your works is
more shocking than elsewhere. Have you been Gottfried Helnwein is my mentor. His fight for
always hyperrealist? expression and stance against oppression are
reasons why I chose him as an artistic partner.
GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: I was An artist that doesn’t provoke will be invisible.
never very much interested in the subject Art that doesn’t cause strong emotions has no
of technique. I try to express and formulate meaning. Helnwein has that internalized.
something that is essential for me and I chose
the technique that seemed the most adequate Marilyn Manson
for my purpose. Technique is just a tool, albeit
an important one, but it has to serve a higher
cause. 
attempt to get closer to his basic theme, to
- How much time have you spent painting the make it visible, to grab it, give it shape and
“Epiphany”? form and make it comprehensible while it’s
immaterial and therefore it has no form and
interview

GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN: It’s hard to will never be comprehensible. The purpose of
tell, because I always work on 10 - 20 or more a dream is to be dreamt, not to be fulfilled.
paintings at the same time, switching between
them, letting some of them sit for a while (Symbol, No 3, 2014) 25
Andreas Huyssen
Andreas Huyssen (1942) is the Villard Professor of
German and Comparative Literature at Columbia University,
where he served as founding director of the Center for
Comparative Literature and Society (1998-2003). He chaired
the Department of Germanic Languages from 1986-1992
and again from 2005-2008. He is one of the founding editors
of  New German Critique (1974-).
Huyssen has published widely in German and English and his
work has been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, French,
Swedish, Danish, Slovenian, Hungarian, Polish, Turkish,
Japanese, and Chinese. His books include  Drama des Sturm
und Drang, After the Great Divide, Twilight Memories, Present Pasts,
Miniature Metropolis etc. He is known as influential thinker on
modernism, postmodernism, also as intellectual concentrated
on discourses of historical memory, human rights, urban
culture and globalization.
THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF ART

- Professor, three decades ago you have published 1969, I had simply found my vocation with the
two books: one on so-called “the epoch of genius” added dimension of now doing comparative
(Geniezeit), which preceded the sacralization of work between Europe and the United States.
literature, and another on “the epoch of irony” To begin to answer your question about
(the postmodernism), which desacralized the literature today, I would simply say: it lives
literature, taking creation as a chaotic bricolage, on. It is no longer the medium in which a
suggesting combination instead of inspiration. national class culture establishes its history,
Considering these facts, how do you see literature traditions, and cultural identity as it was in
today: as a progress, a regress, or just as a change? the 19th century. It is liberated from having
to serve canonical claims and it can explore
ANDREAS HUYSSEN: The book on the its boundaries with other media and with the
drama of the German Sturm und Drang social world in ever new ways. Literature has
concluded my publishing in German before not been made obsolete by the iconographic
I turned to writing almost exclusively in turn nor by the internet. It is especially its
English. I read the brief Geniezeit of the story telling powers that can be marshalled
1770s historically as key to creating a modern today against a digitally induced historical
notion of aesthetic autonomy (against the amnesia and the foreshortening of temporal
censorship of church and state) and as an experience.
expansion of the affective range of a still
limited form of rational enlightenment in - Is the postmodernity a kind of museum of
Germany, an expansion of the poetic faculties modernity and premodernity’s relics?
of the German language itself. The Sturm
und Drang also created a series of plays ANDREAS HUYSSEN: In the influential
that remained influential in the trajectory of account of Fredric Jameson, postmodernity
German drama and tragedy. The problematic is a historical period in its own right, clearly
sacralization of literature you refer to came distinguished from the period that produced
later when literature became a key component modernism. As you refer to premodernity’s
in creating a cultural identity for the nation relics, I presume you have in mind that unlike
in an at first progressive, later increasingly modernism, postmodernity is not adverse to
reactionary environment in Germany. incorporating and rewriting a variety of pasts
Irony, of course, was already a privileged aspect into the present. And that indeed marks its
in the writings of the Jena romantics who are difference from the modernity of cultural
often cited as forerunners of modernism modernism. At the same time I would argue
and who had been central in my dissertation that we still live under modern conditions:
on romantic theories of translation and “modernity,” a very flexible and open-ended
adaptation. Even though my academic career term, describes a process that constantly
started with work on the literature of the 18th expands its range, undergoes shape-shifting
and early 19th centuries, I have always been transformations, and has remained tethered
a modernist at heart. Modernism, however, for centuries to capitalist development and
was not yet fully established in the university to technological and scientific progress. No
curriculum in the early and mid-1960s; it was a need to claim that modernity is over and oh,
marginal field. But it was modernist literature so yesterday. Postmodernity, in Jameson’s
interview

and art that had driven me into my field of argument, is perhaps just another such stage
study in the first place. So when I turned to of transformations of capital and culture.
the study of modernism, mass culture, and In the arts, postmodernism in its critical
28 postmodernism after coming to the US in practices was not a rupture, but a radicalization
of modernism itself, a radicalization that
overcame the high modernist dogma of the
Cold War which was dominant in the United To begin to answer your question about
States more so than in Europe. In its neo- literature today, I would simply say: it lives
avantgarde instantiations in Europe and the on. It is no longer the medium in which a
United States, postmodernism created new national class culture establishes its history,
forms out of memories of the historical traditions, and cultural identity as it was in
avant-garde, as in happenings, pop, concept the 19th century. It is liberated from having
and minimal art, later on installation and to serve canonical claims and it can explore
performance art. And it was linked from its boundaries with other media and with the
the 1960s on to the new social movements social world in ever new ways. Literature has
and their rejection of the universalist ethos not been made obsolete by the iconographic turn
of classical modernism. My emphasis on nor by the internet. It is especially its story
the critical dimension of postmodernism telling powers that can be marshalled today
of course stands against those who simply against a digitally induced historical amnesia
identified it with its other side: the affirmative and the foreshortening of temporal experience.
postmodernism of the anything-goes variety.

- In “Mapping the postmodern”, first published Late in the postmodernism craze came
in your New German Critique, you have 1989 and a few years later the invasion of
said: “No matter how troubling it may be, the the internet into everyday life. Some have
landscape of the postmodern surrounds us. It described 1989 as the global turn, beginning
simultaneously delimits and opens our horizons. with certain art exhibitions and publications
It’s our problem and our hope”. Later, you in 1989, which created a new framework
said that postmodernism is over. What were much expanded beyond the intellectual and
the circumstances that brought the end of
postmodernism, which by its side brought the end
of modernism? And, how we should call our In the arts, postmodernism in its critical
epoch now? practices was not a rupture, but a radicalization
of modernism itself, a radicalization that
ANDREAS HUYSSEN: Postmodernism overcame the high modernist dogma of the Cold
in the 1970s and 1980s was not an entirely War which was dominant in the United States
new period in culture. It was a specifically more so than in Europe. In its neo-avantgarde
North American reactivation of critical media instantiations in Europe and the United
and artistic impulses inherent in modernism States, postmodernism created new forms out
itself (think Duchamp), the type of avant- of memories of the historical avant-garde, as
gardist artistic strategies that were written in happenings, pop, concept and minimal art,
out of modernist dogma in the post-1945 era later on installation and performance art. And
as articulated by Greenberg or Adorno. But it was linked from the 1960s on to the new
postmodernism was geographically limited social movements and their rejection of the
to the Northern Transatlantic and thus, in universalist ethos of classical modernism.
retrospect, rather provincial. The frequent
identification of postmodernism with French
poststructuralism was an American delusion
of the “post”. The two “posts” coincided geographic horizons of postmodernism.
in the United States, but the French master The rise of postcolonialism made critiques
thinkers either avoided the term entirely of Eurocentrism de rigeur in the United
(Derrida, Barthes, Althusser, Foucault) or States. Just as Paris had lost its claim to
interview

ironized it like Lyotard. Thus my suggestion in legislate the arts after World War II, New
After the Great Divide to read poststructuralism York lost its claim as center of the arts
primarily as an archeology of an expanded from the 1990s on. That is, indeed, why we
notion of modernism itself. need a new name. The current situation is 29
Just as Paris had lost its claim to legislate the the Berlin Wall in 1989 and its political and
arts after World War II, New York lost its cultural aftermath in Germany, a topic which
claim as center of the arts from the 1990s I pursued further in the later book Present
on. That is, indeed, why we need a new name. Pasts. It was the transformation of Berlin
The current situation is too “unübersichtlich” after 1989 that got me increasingly into urban
(a term Habermas already used to describe and architectural studies, a topic I pursued
postmodernism 30 and more years ago) to beyond Germany and beyond the Northern
encapsulate it in a single term. Transatlantic with my edited volume Other
Cities, Other Worlds: Urban Imaginaries in a
Globalizing World.
too “unübersichtlich” (a term Habermas
already used to describe postmodernism 30 - You used a concept of “historical memory”,
and more years ago) to encapsulate it in a comparing it with Assmann’s “mnemohistory”,
single term. Just look at the multiplication of and you noticed that the abuse of memory ends in
biannials across the world. There are “other an ideology. What is relation between “memory”
stories” of modern experience, polyvocal and “history” and how people can escape from a
interventions, a cacophony of styles, practices, potential ideology?
media experiments for which it would be
presumptuous to come up with one name. ANDREAS HUYSSEN: The battle
There is no such thing as ‘global literature’, between history and memory (history
or Weltliteratur, least of all literature written in as objective and reliable vs memory as
English. The most common name by default, subjective, fuzzy, and unreliable) has been
as it were, has become “contemporary art.” over for some time. Memory studies, which
But maybe we should forget the issue of are always also studies of forgetting, are
naming and instead focus on the differently now established as a legitimate subfield of
historical investigation. Jan Assmann argued
forcefully for this outcome years ago. But
memory studies, like historiography, which
Memory studies risk getting lost in an
has often served state and class interests, risks
ahistorical fascination with trauma and an
falling into ideological traps. Memory studies
unwarranted over-privileging of the live witness risk getting lost in an ahistorical fascination
(especially on television) over against the with trauma and an unwarranted over-
document and the archive. It also risks losing privileging of the live witness (especially on
an imagination of the future in its obsessive television) over against the document and the
focus on trauma. Historians and memorians archive. It also risks losing an imagination of
need to work together and memory needs to be the future in its obsessive focus on trauma.
mindful of its responsibility to the future. Historians and memorians need to work
together and memory needs to be mindful of
its responsibility to the future.
situated narratives of art and literature, on
certain nodal points in a world wide web of - According to you, Holocaust memory is a
lived experience and its translations into art universal trope for traumatic histories. Which
and literature. are states that kept this discourse alive and how
this discourse challenges their future?
- What kind of feeling encouraged you to write
“Twilight Memories”? ANDREAS HUYSSEN: After a decades
long battle, Holocaust memory is an
ANDREAS HUYSSEN: The diverse essays established fact of public life in Germany.
interview

of TM on politics, literature, media and the Because it is such a well-researched field and
arts were all written in the late 1980s and early because of its “popularization” in the mass
1990s. The core of the book is its first part media, it has migrated into other cases of state
30 on time and memory. It deals with the fall of violence, ethnic cleansing and genocide where
its images and tropes have been influential - You said that military intervention in Kosovo is
in creating public debate: after apartheid justifiable, whereas in other countries you noticed
in South Africa, the military dictatorships that military interventions undermine sovereignty.
in Latin America, the religious and ethnic What is the problem of national sovereignty in a
violence in India, the break-up of Yugoslavia. globalizing world?
Other European countries have increasingly
come to terms with their participation and ANDREAS HUYSSEN: National
role in this Europe-wide genocide as well. sovereignty remains an important principle
The future is challenged when such histories in international relations, but we know
of mass violence and ethnic cleansing are how badly it can be abused when internal
not dealt with, thus preventing reconciliation
necessary for life to go on without festering
resentments and calls for revenge. The future is challenged when such histories of
mass violence and ethnic cleansing are not dealt
- You have said that the violent break-up of with, thus preventing reconciliation necessary
Yugoslavia “illustrates the paralysis of the for life to go on without festering resentments
Europeans when faced with a murderous conflict and calls for revenge.
in Europe”. What is the real conception of
Westerns on East Europeans, especially on
Balkans?
national populations become victims of
ANDREAS HUYSSEN: It took West crimes against humanity. From my point of
Europeans far too long to understand that view, this was the case in the disintegration
the break-up of Yugoslavia was not a return of Yugoslavia, a tragic development pursued
to a pre-modern violence allegedly typical of by an unscrupulous government hell-bent
the Balkans and set loose after the collapse of on maintaining power after the end of
communism. It was a fundamentally modern communist rule. But crimes against humanity
development with Milosevic turning rabid were also committed in Rwanda where there
nationalist and trying to legitimize his rule was no military intervention though perhaps
by creating an enemy image that mobilized there should have been. It seems clear that
historical memory. What happened in Bosnia
and Kosovo was a clear case of military
aggression and modern ethnic cleansing. That What happened in Bosnia and Kosovo was a
is why I thought the military intervention clear case of military aggression and modern
of NATO in 1999 was legitimate, though ethnic cleansing. That is why I thought the
not, as the saying goes, quite legal, i.e. military intervention of NATO in 1999 was
not unambiguously blessed by the United legitimate, though not, as the saying goes, quite
Nations’ Security Council. legal, i.e. not unambiguously blessed by the
The relationship between Western and United Nations’ Security Council.
Eastern or Central Europe remains a
problem, especially visible today in relation
to the Ukrainian conflict. The European
Union has made great strides in incorporating an ethos of non-tolerance of crimes against
Eastern European states into the union, humanity was nurtured by the massive
but has trouble deciding where its borders debates about the Holocaust and genocide
should be. All this needs time. After over four that had developed in the Western world
decades of living with the iron curtain, there since the 1980s. But it never led to consistent
still are growing pains, misunderstandings and international policy. The adoption by the UN
interview

different cultural imaginaries in Eastern and of the principle of R2P, the Right to Protect a
Western Europe, all visible even within the few years after the intervention in Kosovo was
united Germany 25 years after unification. no substitute for policy. It cannot be enforced
and has shipwrecked entirely in Syria. Military 31
humanitarian interventions remain deeply are acknowledged. I don’t know the current
problematic because of their inconsistent situation in Kosovo and Serbia well enough
usage and the reliance on bombing campaigns to suggest solutions. I understand why it may
which, as we’ve learned, often have limited be especially hard on Serbia to recognize
value or are counter-productive in the long Kosovo; but the process of a critical self-
evaluation of Serb politics under Milosevic
and his successors still has a long way to go.
Recognizing national responsibility for crimes
Living with present pasts that close to the committed in the past is by nature hard to
present is especially painful. In the long run, come by, but unavoidable in the long run.
reconciliation in political and personal terms
will be necessary. - The cultural industry based around Holocaust is
considered by you as a fashion for nostalgia, and
it’s called “nostalgia for ruins”, “mass marketing
of nostalgia”. What is the real problem of our
run; also problematic is the simple fact that time with the past?
it is always the same powers that execute the
campaigns. National sovereignty it is not the ANDREAS HUYSSEN: Even though there
only problem. We are far from solving the may be naïve and exploitative dimensions in
conflict between national sovereignty and the some of the Holocaust discourse, I would
legitimate pursuit of human rights. not simply want to speak of a homogeneous
Holocaust industry. As a major marker for
genocide and crimes against humanity, the
Holocaust as a “non-unique” phenomenon
I understand why it may be especially hard on remains too important for the future life of
Serbia to recognize Kosovo; but the process of Human Rights and their institutionalization
a critical self-evaluation of Serb politics under in international law. Holocaust memory is not
Milosevic and his successors still has a long way nostalgia. How could it be? My point in the
to go. Recognizing national responsibility for memory debates was to draw attention to the
crimes committed in the past is by nature hard fact that the Holocaust memory discourse
to come by, but unavoidable in the long run. arose together with a culturally changing
relationship to the past in Western societies.
The digital revolution and the internet made
the cultural availability of various pasts a
- Even, long dialog after the war between common everyday phenomenon. Films,
two states, Serbia doesn’t want to recognize photography, music of past decades came
independence of Kosovo. People in two states to be reproducible and available in ways
still live with memories of conflicts, violence, heretofore unknown. A lot of energy went
and trauma or, to say with your words, people into creating one’s own archives of everyday
here live with “present pasts”. What would you life, first with camcorders, now with selfies
suggest Albanian and Serbian readers of this and the social media. At the same time, the
interview? And what kind of examples would future imaginaries of the 20th century—the
you bring to artists of these states, knowing that utopias of communism, fascism, and liberal
memory of historical trauma has a strong power modernization—had for good reasons yielded
to create works of art? to imaginaries of the past in anti-modernist
historical architecture, retrofashions, and
ANDREAS HUYSSEN: Living with present nostalgias of all kinds. Whether the nostalgia
pasts that close to the present is especially for ruins and the heritage industries with
interview

painful. In the long run, reconciliation in their restoration mania are merely superficial
political and personal terms will be necessary. cultural phenomena or ciphers for an inability
This requires that not everybody can claim to imagine the future other than catastrophe
32 victim status and that collective responsibilities remains to be seen.
- In your last book, Miniature Metropolis, you have The human need for story telling and narration
explored the history and theory of misrecognized is an anthropological reality. No doubt the
achievement of literary modernism. Your study forms it takes in a digital environment will be
brings and analyzes an exciting material on different from the past, but it will not disappear.
relation of Baudelaire, Rilke, Kafka, Benn,
Benjamin, Musil, Höch, Kracauer, Jünger,
Adorno and Keun’s literature with photograph, turn has become dominant: images prevailing
painting and film. How this literary exploration over words. As all theories of major such
has changed your opinion towards these writers turns accompanied by eulogies on an earlier
(and critics)? medium (the linguistic turn, the death of the
author, the end of art, the end of history, etc.)
ANDREAS HUYSSEN: It has not changed have proven to be short lived, this one will
my opinion, it has expanded it in the sense follow suit. Miniature Metropolis shows that the
that I think I have acknowledged in this book pressure exerted by image media on literature
a genuinely new mode of modernist writing is nothing new. Photography and film had
that had been hiding in plain sight. The a powerful effect on literature itself in a
collections of miniatures I read closely have period in which literature was driven to major
been known for some time, but they have innovations such as the feuilleton miniature
never been put into a comparative conceptual or the new city novel. Hard to generalize how
framework. Frankfurt School critical theory literature today will be transformed by its
was key to my argument. It was the writing negotiation of the digital image world. Let me
of miniatures by Kracauer, Benjamin, and conclude with a quote from Alexander Kluge
Adorno that led me to make the link to who said this about the new media several
those other canonical authors of literary years before the rise of the internet: “In this
modernism. Much of critical theory, after all, age we writers of texts are the guardians of
was a theory of modernism and of classical the last residues of grammar, the grammar
modernity. of time, i.e. the difference between present,
future, and past, guardians of difference.” The
- As a comparative literary critic, what can you say human need for story telling and narration
about the present and the future of literature? Is is an anthropological reality. No doubt the
it endangered from other mediums and, if there forms it takes in a digital environment will
is a competition of arts, which of them will be be different from the past, but it will not
cultural dominant? disappear.

ANDREAS HUYSSEN: Some argue that (Symbol, No 4, 2015)
literature has become obsolete, that a pictorial
interview

33
Mieke Bal
Mieke Bal  (1946) is a Dutch  cultural theorist,  video artist,
and Professor Emeritus in Literary Theory at the University
of Amsterdam. Previously she also was Academy Professor
of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and
co-founder of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis at
the University of Amsterdam.
Bal has published more than thirty books on a wide range of
subjects. Her research interests include biblical and classical
antiquity, seventeenth-century and modern art, contemporary
literature,  feminism,  mental illness, and migratory culture.
Her works are: Narratology, Lethal Love, Murder and Difference,
Reading Rembrandt, Quoting Caravaggio, Travelling Concepts in the
Humanities, Thinking in Film, Endless etc.
University of Chicago Press published A Mieke Bal Reader in
2006, while in 2008 John Wiley & Sons published About Mieke
Bal, a collection of essays celebrating her work.
In addition to her academic work, Bal is a video artist whose
films and installations have been exhibited internationally.
She made several videos that mostly revolve around issues of
migration. With Michelle Williams Gamaker, Bal directed the
feature-length film A Long History of Madness and Madame B
(2015).
Narrative is Our Best Tool

- Professor Bal, when you sit down to write a us to “do theory” in order to understand
book, do you think that it will compel the public them better. Telling and showing collaborate
to reread or re-think the works that you are to make events, including aesthetic events,
treating? present, understandable, and gripping.

MIEKE BAL: That’s more or less the idea. - You and Chatman, based on the structuralist
It’s not to force the readers but to alert them tradition, turned the literary discipline founded
to possibilities different from what they know, in late of ’60, into film analysis. What are the
or think they know, and get them excited narrative challenges in visual culture, especially
about it. Usually I get myself enthusiastic in film?
about some text or artwork or film, because
it seems so powerful for reasons I only dimly MIEKE BAL:I think that in terms of our
understand. Describing the artwork is my respective strengths, Chatman was primarily
first step. Then, when I describe it, I get a film analyst and I was primarily a literary
more clarity myself, and see the power and one. We met halfway, so to speak. I came late
importance of it. That insight, and access to to film, under the impact of collaborating
the artwork itself, is what I try to convey to with brilliant film theorists such as Kaja
my readers. By the way, I don’t sit down to Silverman, when we created together the
write a book. Most of my books have grown first interdisciplinary program in visual
out of a field of interest. They start with culture at the University of Rochester. Now
some articles, and my interest brings them such programs exist everywhere, but it was
together. Then I develop them into a book. a novelty then. Your question, however,
concerns the presence, or activity, of
- Your “Narratology”, which has become an narrative, in other media. As I have already
international classic book, offers helpful concepts written in the introduction to the first edition
for analyzing both written and film narratives. of Narratology, narrative in itself, as a cultural
While the film is “showing” (mimesis) and the mode, is medium-independent. In each
fiction is “telling” (diegesis), what is the relation medium it takes different forms, because it
between them? embeds itself in the medium. In film, the
audio-visual dimension is different from
MIEKE BAL:The millennia-old distinction the textual one in literature, although both
between telling and showing remains are time-based. I find it more challenging to
helpful, but I don’t think you can simply explore the narrative dimension in still painting
divide media by labelling them accordingly. and drawing, sculpture, photography... But
All narratives in whatever media, are both narrativity - the emergence of events and
telling and showing, often the one through their actors seen from a specific angle- is
the other. Narrative is the mix of those two everywhere. Even in abstract sculpture, as I
modes of connecting. I see it as two aspects have argued in my recent books on political
of communication by means of cultural art. The challenge is to avoid projecting
codes, languages, genres; whatever you name narrativity as representation. Looking at
them. In the new edition of Narratology I history painting, for example, is easily turned
am currently preparing, - also in the second into solving the puzzle of what the story
interview

and third editions - many films, paintings, is of which we see a still frame. But that is
and even video installations will serve as not what I find interesting in narrative. It is
examples - or rather, “theoretical objects”. rather the movement between the tableau
36 Those are objects that help, and even compel and its details towards the viewer, who then
becomes a participant. I have written on Narrative in itself, as a cultural mode, is
this as “second-person narrative” on the medium-independent. In each medium it takes
American abstract painter David Reed, for different forms, because it embeds itself in the
example. medium. In film, the audiovisual dimension
is different from the textual one in literature,
- What is an adaptation/“translation” of although both are time-based. I find it more
a novel into film and what are the relations challenging to explore the narrative dimension
between narratology and iconography? in still painting and drawing, sculpture,
photography... But narrativity is everywhere.
MIEKE BAL: These are in fact two Even in abstract sculpture.
questions. The well-known problem with
“adaptation” is that this word is fraught
with normative assumptions. Even if by everyone. Moreover, using a male voice-
many of these have been critiqued and over erases Emma’s focalisation, while that is
dismissed, I am not sure the word best the point of the sentence. The fidelity, here,
indicates the relationships between texts in leads to gross infidelity.
an interdiscursive, intermedial, international,
and intertemporal perspective. This is what - But what is your approach to“Madame
I have just explored, in practice with the B”?
film Madame B, which shows it, rather than
telling it in a few sentences. And in theory, MIEKE BAL: What we (Michelle Williams
I explored it when wrote an article about Gamaker and I, as co-directors of the film)
that film, and how it is “loyal” to the literary did, instead, is very different. In order for
modes of Flaubert’s novel, while avoiding an artistic object, such as this sentence, to
the kind of “faithful” adaptation that makes become a “theoretical object” that nourishes
such endeavours often very problematic. thought, the content of the sentence matters
That article will be published in a volume less than its narrativity. It is famous for its
edited by Thomas Leitch, one of the best economy of means, the comparison, and the
adaptation scholars. power to image routine. It is devastating for
I feel the need to be concrete at this point. Charles in Emma’s eyes - her focalisation.
Just one example, from that film and the This sentence cried out for inclusion not
article about it. A desire for fidelity makes only as a narrative expression of a non-event
Claude Chabrol in his film Madame Bovary - what Gérard Genette called “Flaubert’s
reluctant to let go of the famous narratorial silences” - but also as a trigger of the
sentence “La conversation de Charles était boredom that will kill Emma. But this could
plate comme un trottoir de rue” [Charles’s not be done, we felt, by the intrusion of a
conversation was flat like a sidewalk]. I Chabrolian narrator. Once it is understood
sympathise. The narrative sentence is superb. in its narratological implications, it causes
So Chabrol makes Charles say something a reversal in the narrative economy and its
silly, like “It’s going to rain . . .” Since dynamic between narration and description
Flaubert doesn’t quote Charles, any platitude - for us, between literary and cinematic; a
is as good as any other. Then the narrator, reversal that must be retained in order to be
who has no business being present at the loyal to the novel by apparently betraying it.
scene, pronounces the famous comparison, So, this is how we did it. Thomas Germaine,
and Charles continues: “. . . I think.” We all the French actor playing Charles, proposed
laugh. Ridiculing Charles is one thing, even to hold these iterative conversations on
if it is already a misreading, but making four subjects, spread out over four evening
the narrator overrule the character in this dinners, marked by different outfits: the
interview

intrusive way is another. Interrupting weather, the project to build a shed in the
Charles’s boring remark, thus taking ironic garden, a patient, and the tasteless quality
distance, is obliterating Flaubert’s relentless, of the raspberries this year. One sees the
continuous reiteration of clichés as uttered boredom coming. Marja Skaffari, the Finnish 37
MIEKE BAL: When we decided to title the
The well-known problem with “adaptation” film “Madame B” and not “Madame Bovary”
is that this word is fraught with normative we made the gesture of relating it to a wider
assumptions. Even if many of these have been audience than Flaubert aficionados, and at the
same time, of bringing it closer to home.
critiqued and dismissed, I am not sure the word
Don’t forget that with my name, “Madame
best indicates the relationships between texts in
B c’est moi” is literally true. Also, Emma
an interdiscursive, intermedial, international,
wears our clothes and jewelry, and every time
and intertemporal perspective. This is what I
I screen the film and talk about it, I make
have just explored, in practice with the film
sure to wear something that is visible in the
Madame B, which shows it, rather than telling
film. If Flaubert ever said “Madame Bovary,
it in a few sentences.
c’est moi” (the quote is not authenticated)
he surely meant something like “I belong to,
come from this culture where these things
happen” but I am not sure his identification
actress who played Emma, needed only to can have been more precise than that. For
sit tight and keep her mouth shut, showing me, I do want to make the point that indeed,
in her face the visual echo of Charles’s this can happen to all of us, and if my name
discourse. The auditory image created by is (happens to be) Madame B, which is
these two charactersfunctioned like a visual coincidental and I do feel both empathy and
performative image. This was our form of criticism towards the character Emma. 
loyalty, not to follow Flaubert but to learn
about cinema from his prose. - What are your future plans with this film?
We filmed the scene with two fixed cameras,
each focusing on one of the two faces. MIEKE BAL: The future for the film
But we decided to edit it with Emma’s depends entirely on the question if we can
face almost exclusively. That is where the find a distributor. But there is a great demand
boredom inscribed itself with more and in the educational sector. The DVD package,
more exasperation, and where an audio- with the film, a book with essay and photos,
visual Free Indirect Discourse (FID) can and a DVD with extras - among which a
take shape, precisely because Charles is the visual explanation of “emotional capitalism”
one who is talking. Instead of his face, we see will be distributed at a workshop of a project
his blurred shoulder in what is called a “dirty called Art-Based Learning, directed by Jeroen
close-up,” looming over Emma like a dark Lutters, in which many educators as well as
shadow. Like the contact that has emerged art workers participate. This gives me great
from two socially dubious looks – voyeurism hope that the film and the installation pieces
and flirting – in the first piece encounter, can be useful in both sectors. The art world
the two characters together produce the has responded very well so far. We already
boredom, ending in horror. This is an audio- have had quite some exhibitions, complete
visual image. Iconography would not cover it. (19 screens) and also smaller ones (13, 6
But I contend that between Flaubert’s short and 5 screen versions). In 2016 we expect
sentence and our rather long scene, there is two exhibitions in Mexico and Argentina,
a perfect match. Iconography traces images, and in 2017, one in a museum in Turku,
or motives in images, from later works back Finland, and one in the Munch Museum,
to earlier artists in the visual tradition. The Oslo. The latter may be an “interventionist”
interaction between novel and film is, or exhibition, integrating the screens with the
must be, of an altogether different order. Munch paintings. I was invited to curate such
an exhibition. Hopefully, more will come.
interview

- I like the way you approached “Madame Meanwhile, I have started a new project,
Bovary” and I hope you signed your authenticity Reasonable Doubt, on Descartes and Queen
in this movie. So, referring to this, can you say: Kristina of Sweden.
38 Madame B, c’est moi?
- What was your experience as a video artist? and “la focalisation zero”), who replied that:
“unlike the director of movie, the novelist is not
MIEKE BAL:I have never learned so compelled to put camera somewhere”. I don’t
much as in that endeavour. It has been, know if you responded him, so can you explain
and is, fabulous. The teamwork, the something more about this polemic?
collective creativity, and the depth of
analysis it facilitates. I have begun to MIEKE BAL: I think Genette was projecting
make videos when I sought to understand on the concept of focalisation a desire for
contemporary culture better. One reason the possibility of neutrality, or objectivity if
was that the really contemporary is not yet you prefer. I think a novelist is absolutely
documented; documentation always lags compelled to put the camera, or another
behind. Another reason was that I wanted instrument of perception, or perceiving
to avoid the inevitable domination inherent agent, somewhere. The novelist cantry to play
in information gathering. So, I started to God, but that is only a pretence. Jonathan
make experimental documentaries where the Culler has decisively undermined the idea of
people in the film were also partners of sorts, the “omniscient narrator”. The best example
developing an ethics of documentary making. of the ideological consequences of the idea
They got to discuss the concept, criticise the of zero focalisation is Genette’s example
draft edits, to speak for themselves without of Passepartout looking at his master
coercive probing–, staying silent if they so
wished. The result was more accepted in the
art world than in the media; I never got a film
on television, for example, because television
required an explanatory voice-over, which is I think Genette was projecting on the concept
precisely what I did not want. In the art world of focalisation a desire for the possibility of
- museums and galleries. - the videos were neutrality, or objectivity if you prefer. I think
better received. So, slowly and reluctantly, I a novelist is absolutely compelled to put the
had to concede I am (also) an artist. camera, or another instrument of perception,
After witnessing, in making one of those or perceiving agent, somewhere. The novelist
documentaries, how a three-year old girl can try to play God, but that is only a pretence.
was able to use fiction to escape from or Jonathan Culler has decisively undermined the
undermine the pressure she was under to idea of the “omniscient narrator”.
develop a cultural identity, my partner in the
filmmaking, Michelle Williams Gamaker and
I decided it was worth trying to use fiction.
The first fiction was a “theoretical fiction”,
developing a view of psychoanalysis in its PhiléasFogg, and the novelist pretending that
capacity to help psychotic people. This was it is a neutral description. Genette repeats the
based on a theoretical-fictional book by obscuring gesture of the novelist, who strikes
French analyst Françoise Davoine. This had the servant dumb. Instead, an analyst’s task it
to be a fiction, also, because ethically it seemed to show the hidden mechanisms of narration,
inacceptable to make a documentary on the and demonstrate that the description is,
subject of madness. Again, this was quite in fact, focalised by Passepartout who
well received in art circuits. With Madame B is intimidated by his master. The social
we tried to explore something closer to our relationships can thus become apparent. This
own lives and contemporary culture, the is necessary if narrative is to be more than a
madness called “emotional capitalism” (a tool for intimidation and the reiteration of
term coined by Eva Illouz). social inequities. External focalisation can
interview

be problematic in similar ways, but can be
- As a theoretician, you have seenfocalization as recuperated under a different term, more
a motor of narrative and you rose against two systematically bound to the underlying
concepts of Genette (“la focalisation externe” narrative system. So, there the problem is of 39
a different order, emerging from the need for then the whole again, as it takes to read, for
systematic analysis, so that the latter can be example, a poem.
both adequate to the text, and critical of it. I wanted the works by Rembrandt to gain in
depth and interest, but an original perspective
- Some seemed the birth of cinema as the death of the role of visuality in our culture also
of literature, and others say that cinema has emerged, which ultimately has consequences
extended the reign of literature. What do you for our views of gender, artists, and the act
think about relationship between film and of looking as reading. To put it succinctly,
literature? with “reading” I meant and mean something
like engaging profoundly, so as to do justice
MIEKE BAL: I think it is silly to declare to the artwork’s power to speak, and speak
new inventions the death of an older one. back if we try to subject it to a methodology
It is true, rather, that through film, literature that is reductive.
has been revitalised. Film has both a
- In “Quoting Caravaggio” you have seen
echoes of intertextuality in a number of late-
twentieth-century artists who “quote” the
I think it is silly to declare new inventions the baroque painter in their own works. How
death of an older one. It is true, rather, that important for contemporary art is this dialog
through film, literature has been revitalized. between centuries?

MIEKE BAL: I think it is extremely
important for contemporary artists to
“Hollywood” branch and a sophisticated, interact with earlier art. I also think the good
artistic one (some of the works of which artists do precisely that. If they try to be
have been made in Hollywood). Part of totally original, they get caught in Oedipal
the film industry is dumbing, manipulative, “anxiety of influence” (Harold Bloom).
or otherwise culturally damaging. But so is, Instead, if they dare speak back to the old
as we well know, part of literature. I would masters, they can achieve an “intimacy of
not judge an entire medium on the basis of influence” (Catherine Lord). Therefore, I
certain bad examples, nor would I praise it contend that we cannot understand old art
because of some outstanding examples. without understanding contemporary art.
This is as true as the opposite.
- In “Reading Rembrandt” you focuson paintings. According to the philosophy of the image
Everyone knows how to see Rembrandt’s of Henri Bergson in Matter and Memory, a
paintings, but how can we read Rembrandt? theory I find of the greatest importance,
perceptions of images “happen” in the
MIEKE BAL: What I tried to do in the book present, but without the memories that fill the
was actually something different than map perceived images, they would remain empty
the relations between the two media, or arts. of meaning. Also, the dialogue between
I tried to take visuality as just as complex as present and past art is part of what I have
literature, without making it “like” literature. called “preposterous history”, which is a
I don’t think everyone knows how to see non-linear relation to time and history. Other
Rembrandt’s paintings. These paintings are took this up but then called it anachronism.
inexhaustibly complex. But because of the This, too is important, if only to get rid of
ideology that says images can be seen in the tenacious ideology of progress. If we
one glance (coup d’oeil) people assume they keep thinking that “later” means “better”
know it in a few seconds. With “reading” because “more developed”, we remain
interview

Rembrandt I meant to indicate that looking stuck in a disavowal of the past that makes
at a painting so as to engage with it, takes us repeat the mistakes of the past, as well
as much time and interpretation, looking as in a contemptuous attitude towards other
40 at details, colours, shapes, brush strokes, cultures that only appear “underdeveloped”
because they are different from our own. A With “reading” Rembrandt I meant to indicate
preposterous dialogue with the past can be that looking at a painting so as to engage with
a great help in overcoming those hang-ups, it, takes as much time and interpretation,
which do so much harm in the world and its looking at details, colours, shapes, brush
cultures. strokes, then the whole again, as it takes to
read, for example, a poem.
- You wrote some studies about art installations,
which exemplify a Deleuzian concept of
abstraction. How does this art draw participant from Chantal Mouffe, On the Political. Jacques
viewers into experiment? Rancière, whose terminology I do not adopt,
has a very effective term in the same vein
MIEKE BAL: You are alluding to the studies as Mouffe’s distinction: mésentente. That
that ended up as the book Endless Andless. French word is untranslatable; it means both
“misunderstanding” and “disagreement”.
- Exactly. The English “disagreement” forgets the
misunderstanding part, which is just as
MIEKE BAL: This is a dialogue with the crucial, if not more. So, political art is art that
work of Belgian artist Ann Veronica Janssens. intervenes in the political in that social sense,
Her works are enormously “drawing” in the because it makes people discuss, debate, and
sense of your question. People queue up yes, disagree. That keeps a culture alive, and
patiently to enter her mist installations, for makes change possible.
example. This is because the experience
of the works is so unlike anything one has - In “Travelling Concepts in the Humanities”,
experienced before that the novelty of it you insist that interdisciplinarity in the
persuades in itself. And yet, in terms of the humanities “must seek its heuristic and
previous question, these works allude to older methodological basis in concepts rather than
works, such as the long tradition of depicting its methods”. When we can consider a concept
clouds as separations between the earthly meaningful?
and the beyond. If you keep that in mind,
Janssens’ works do not lure you to religious MIEKE BAL: A concept is meaningful if
feelings but to explore what it means to be it helps understand a (cultural) phenomenon
in a different world, if only briefly. It helps (object, artefact) more adequately within
the visitor to be bold, daring, to experiment, the social realm from which it emerged and
and to imagine different possibilities for the in which it functions. Concepts harbour
world, for sharing space, for living together, ideas, mini-theories, but unlike the kind
for example. of methodological theories that can be
“applied”, they do not strike the object
- What is relationship between art and politics dumb. Instead, because they are only
and how art can be politically effective? partially explicit and explicated, concept can
be brought to bear on objects and establish a
MIEKE BAL: Do you really think I can dialogue with them. But concepts, although
answer this question in a few sentences, they must be made in intersubjectively usable
after having written three books about it, ones - meaning provisionally the same thing
with a fourth on the way? I have examined, for all participants - are neither fixed nor
through the oeuvres of three artists, how stable. That is why I call them “travelling”.
art can be politically effective while not But objects, too, are always-already engaged,
being about politics. I even argue: because as interlocutors, within the larger culture
it is not about politics. Art about politics from which they have emerged.
interview

becomes propaganda. Art that stays aloof of Cultural analysis aims to articulate how the
propaganda intervenes in the social domain object contributes to cultural debates. Hence
where “the political” takes place: where people the emphasis on the object’s existence and
discuss and disagree. I take that distinction functioning in the present. It is not the 41
MIEKE BAL:This question cannot be
If we keep thinking that “later” means answered. I feel best when I am somewhere
“better” because “more developed”, we remain in culture where I feel addressed, challenged,
stuck in a disavowal of the past that makes us and engaged. This changes, not because I
repeat the mistakes of the past, as well as in change all the time but because the fields
a contemptuous attitude towards other cultures we have developed are artificially delimited.
that only appear “underdeveloped” because they This may have been useful, when the need
are different from our own. A preposterous of specialization was great. I, too, have
dialogue with the past can be a great help in specialized. If asked, I’d say my specialization
overcoming those hangups, which do so much is narrative. My choices are made in function
harm in the world and its cultures. of the object I seek to understand.

- After you wrote about literature, film, painting,
photograph, sculpture etc., can music be the
object in your subsequent works?
artist or the author but the objects they MIEKE BAL:The answer here is simple.
make and “give” to the public domain that No. I don’t understand music and will not be
are the “speakers” in analytic discussion. amateurish in my approach. I do think I have
The concept-based methodology became inspired others a bit in pursuing a narrative
necessary because of the development understanding of music. Please don’t present
of interdisciplinarity, which made cultural me as someone who does anything. All my
analysis anchor-less. Without the admittedly choices have been motivated.

- Yuri Lotman called art and science two eyes of
human culture. How does it look to the artistic
eye today?

MIEKE BAL: Although I am not a
...art can be politically effective while not
scientist at all, I do not accept a drastic, rigid
being about politics. Art about politics
distinction between art and science. I have
becomes propaganda. Art that stays aloof of
worked with a theoretical physicist, Evelyn
propaganda intervenes in the social domain
Fox Keller, but primarily on her discursive
where “the political” takes place: where people
analysis of science, not on the science itself.
discuss and disagree.
- In all your works you analysed narrative as an
expanded concept, so what wouldyou say about
small (local) narratives which replaced grand
narratives?

MIEKE BAL: I think small narratives are the
only ones that matter. The Grand Narratives
rigid methodologies of the disciplines, how that Lyotard wanted to get rid of won’t go
do you keep analysis from floundering into away, but they remain what they always were:
sheer partisanship or being perceived as ideologies packaged as narratives. They are
floundering? of no interest to me as narratives. If I want
to critique those, I’d rather critique their
- As one of the pioneers who expanded the contents; unpack the narratives and look at
interview

discipline of narratology, you have touched the ideologies, and say why they are wrong.
many fields with many critical methods. In But the small narratives that emerge every day,
which field you feel better? which you call local, are the ones that often
42
pass unnoticed. I don’t think they replaced
the Grand Narratives. Rather, I think they
were always there, as means through which a
thriving culture as well as an oppressed one, I think small narratives are the only ones that
facilitate the communication of ideas, but matter. The Grand Narratives that Lyotard
also of such things as ugliness and beauty, wanted to get rid of won’t go away, but they
issues of responsibility and guilt, desire and remain what they always were: ideologies
hope; private language and symbols. They packaged as narratives. They are of no interest
can take all forms and operate in all media. to me as narratives. If I want to critique those,
They constitute the cultural moment. I’d rather critique their contents; unpack the
narratives and look at the ideologies, and say
(Symbol, No 5, 2015) why they are wrong.

interview

43
D.M.Thomas
Donald Michael Thomas, known as D.M.Thomas (1935) is
a British novelist and poet. He was awarded the Los Angeles
Times Fiction prize for his novel “The White Hotel”, an
international bestseller, translated into 30 languages; a
Cholmondeley award for poetry; and the Orwell Prize for his
biography of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He lives in his native
Cornwall, England. He wrote twenty-seven books: fiction,
poetry, play and nonfiction. He also translated Pushkin,
Yevtushenko, Akhmatova.
Many attempts were made to make The White Hotel into a film.
These included attempts by Bernardo Bertolucci with Barbra
Streisand, by David Lynch with Isabella Rossellini, by Simon
Monjack with Brittany Murphy, by Emir Kusturica with Nicole
Kidman etc.
I AM A SON OF OEDIPUS

- I don’t know what would be the adequate relationship, you erected a monument to your
question to begin this interview, but if you agree, wife, like Dante, Petrarch and Poe did, but in
let start with Cornwall, which appears in your a different form which is called postmodernism.
first novel,  “Birthstone”, where you talk about While postmodernism is not nostalgic, and you are,
Cornish speech, Cornish people and about your can we see it like a challenge to postmodernism?
family. You have lived in America and Australia
too, but you have turned back to your birthplace. D.M. THOMAS: As a writer I am incapable
Does it mean that everyone belongs to his Ithaca? of thinking in theoretical terms. People say
my writing is often or usually postmodern
D.M. THOMAS: Yes, I think it does. Cornwall especially my novels, not my poetry. I think
is a Celtic land, as you probably know, a kind of my poetry is very traditional, you know I still
sister to Wales and Ireland, and for Celts there rhyme, I still use meter which is kind of old
is always a strong call back to the homeland.  fashion to the rest of people. Yeah, my novels
I returned to live here about 25 years ago. try to move more widely.  I don’t think of
So, yes, it is my Ithaca. But I also feel that I myself as a postmodernist I just think myself
have other homelands, emotional and mental as a writer. And in the case of the books that
homelands and you mentioned two of them, you mentioned “Dear Shadows”, still is elegiac
Australia particularly where I had a part of my and “Not saying everything”, the title of that book
adolescence-very influential in many ways, and the whole of which contains poems to Denise.
also Russia which I learned to love through its It is really, because in life, in relationship there
literature and its art in general. is stress and you may row a lot, and then if the
beloved dies you feel you’ve never concluded
-  So you call Russia your homeland, too? the conversation and we would row at the early
hours in the morning over wine, whisky and
D.M. THOMAS: Homeland yes, emotional, at the end the entire walk out and she say I
like homeland as well, which give an added haven’t said everything, and I feel in the same
dimension to my writings, of course. way I hadn’t said everything in her life, so that
  is the title of that book.
- Your family is object in some of your writings.  
Even the best of your poems (moving elegies) you - In your latest collection, “Flight and smoke”, is a
dedicated to your mother and to your wife. Seeing poem named Barbecue, where is an indignation to
literature as a bridge which helps you to be near destiny which doesn’t offer you the chance to take
your deceased beloveds does it feel like you are both your four wives in barbeque. How important
communicating with them? are women in your life? In your works you have
explored the female psyche. How the experience
D.M. THOMAS:  Yes, it does very much. with women in your life has helped you in your
In my forthcoming book of poems,  “Family works?
Bible”, I actually write letters to my father and
to others in my dead family and also it’s a kind D.M. THOMAS: I supposed to answer the
of obviously a one way conversation but then last part first. Women in my life enormously
in terms of my late wife Denise, who died help in my writing in one sense because a
of cancer  in 1998, at age 53, she lives in my woman is a muse and my inspiration, and there
dreams.  can be more than one muse, for example the
interview

Russian poet Ana Akhmatova is a muse to me
- “Dear Shadows”, and especially “Not saying as well. But in my life Denise was my muse,
everything”, includes poems dedicated to your and there have been others, and I have been
46 wife Denise, who died in 1998. Focusing in your married four times, so that choice had play
a considerable part in my life and there were
two divorces and one bereavement and now I
am married happily to a Canadian lady, much [White Hotel is] a novel of blazing imaginative
younger than me, as the most of them were, and intellectual force.
and when she moved in, I thought how sainted
if we were having a barbeque, a rare English Salman Rushdie
summer sunny day and I thought why can’t all
be here, why can’t  everyone get on together,
and then I decided that my first wife wouldn’t because  my sister who unfortunately died the
like my second one, there my second one last year she was ten years older than me, so she
wouldn’t like my third one, and also the first was almost like a bridge between my mother
one will get on well with the fourth one, and and me. And she was also when I was growing
unfortunately this was impossible. This was an up ten-eleven, she was very attractive very sexy
amusing reflection on marriages and breakup. 20-21 year old. So besides my very attractive
I suppose also, of course times if you are in mother, forty, I had also, sort of the another
a kind of desperate relationship  you can feel erotic figure, in my sister, so every powerful
too disturbed to write, because Pushkin said influence of women and of imagining, all the
that for a writer calm is more important even sexual imagining wanted to … I don’t know
than ecstasy for inspiration. that I want to kill my father exactly. But the
  jealousy certainly  me unconscious jealousy
- What would it be better if you will be single for and I used to make sure that I slept in her bed
your literature? as often as possible. Because I said that were
ghosts and I was frightened so I were going in
D. M. THOMAS: No, I couldn’t imagine it. her bed, unfortunately my mother gone to the
  other bed, goes to my bed and I was left sleep
- Why not? with my father, which might have made me, I
suppose, gay, but it didn’t!. I think it’s all I want
D. M. THOMAS: I must have a woman in to say about that.
my life.
- Freud is always present in your works: as a
- Because women are your muses? character, or as a deeply writing method. Why you
are so obsessed with him?
D. M. THOMAS: Because they are my muses
and also  I’m of the generation where I was D.M. THOMAS: Because I think when I
used to a woman a kind of doing cooking, first read him I was reading English literature
even practically it will be very difficult. But is at Oxford and I loved the way he told he
mostly that feeling women is the anima is the wrote his beautiful writings. He wrote stories
other side of one’s personality and part one of of unconscious sexuality and because I was a
myself, as everyone is part of the opposite self. very rare sexual being he kind of explained the
But I actually need a physical presence. universe to me.  I still feel that he told a lot of
  truths which are still for people uncomfortable.
- Let’s go back to your childhood! If any
psychoanalyst critic would ask you about eventual - Russia and Russians are other important objects
references in oedipal fantasies of your childhood, of yours. They are presented in your poems and
how could you answer to him? fictions (“Ararat”, “Swallow”, “Sphinx”,
“Summit”, “Lying together”), also you wrote
D.M. THOMAS:  I will say that I am a son of a biography of Solzhenitsyn and translated
Oedipus, that I am extremely oedipal. I know Pushkin, Yevtushenko and Akhmatova. What
Freud talked about the romance of childhood. is their influence on you?
interview

We all create a sort of fantasy over childhood.
Memory is partly made up later on, but I D.M. THOMAS: Profound influence. I had
lived in a small working class home, my older to do national service as soldier when I was
sister that I am a kind of double here oedipal, 18 and I was fortunately enough to be chosen 47
about a woman. Freud is interviewer, is treating
her. So it, very quickly, if all do my minds start
[White Hotel is] astonishing . . . elegantly with poetry, with end very bleak prose, in the
experimental yet quite warm . . . A forthright middle will be the Freudian cerebral intellectual
sensuality mixed with a fine historical feeling study. So I actually started the writing it with
for the nightmare moments in modern history, great enthusiasm and it was until about half
a dreamlike fluidity and quickness.” way thru the book when Freud started treating
her and I found who she was like (built in her
John Updike background). So it’s a sense of discovering for
me as I went through the book. The American
poet Robert Frost says:  if there is no surprise
to go in Russian course, and all over the time in the writer, is no surprise in the reader. And
I found the language terribly difficult and still I think one of the aspects that I like about the
do, but, gradually, because we had Russian book is that it always kept for me my surprise.
emigrants speakers teaching us. I fell in love  
with the language and I loved the sound of - “White Hotel” is the novel which turned you in
Pushkin poems. And when later I started to a classic writer. Two great Freudian themes, Eros
translate Akhmatova first before Pushkin and Thanatos, haven’t been treated better than in
I found such… such power, such music you work. Even woman’s death is represented as
in Russian. And the novels of Tolstoy and a morbid combination of these themes, raping her
Pasternak just seems to be going into life with with a sword-bayonet. What do you think about
the depth that  English writers in the late of feminist critics who, irritated by this described act,
twentieth century don’t seem to, so yes they accused you as “devilish misogynist”?
have been enormously influence.
  D.M. THOMAS: What do I think of it? I
- The climax of your professional carrier, “White think they’re wrong. I think none loves women
Hotel” which talks about Freud and his patient, more than I do.
translated in 30 languages and admired by  
Salman Rushdie, Graham Greene, John Updike, - Yes, you have proved that with four marriages.
Linda Hutcheon etc., is one of masterpieces in
postmodern literature. How did you find the idea D.M. THOMAS: Ha-ha-ha. Indeed. I think
and the form for this novel? they misinterpreted but obviously as I said
to you, I agree with every word they say, you
D.M. THOMAS: It was an idea which came would think I was mad, I’m not quite mad,
to me literary in few minutes. I had written a no, I think it’s because they have been bonded
poem with the fascination for Freud, I wrote by something else, while saying it they were
this long poem “The woman to Sigmund unwilling to believe that I dare, to think as a
Freud” and I spoke in the woman’s voice, for woman or trying to think as a woman. One
which the lot of women, all of feminists feminist attacked me in reading ago, and said:
have accused me of doing this, saying: you The poem, it is nothing like I think, she said: I
don’t know how the women feels. But I tried don’t feel that way, women don’t. And, about
to imagine how woman feel. And then I had twenty other women in the audience cried
to be reading a long novel by Kuznetsov, in out and said: I feel like that. That’s me. So, I
the end of it is a historical document of one said: well, it’s not you, but other women, one
woman who escapes from the BabiYar, when woman, my heroine.
the Nazis were executing all of them, a quarter
million. I thought this woman who is just part - In 1982, the republished “White Hotel”, in
in that poem, she is that woman. So her life was paperback wrote: “soon to be a major movie”. But
out of erotic reveries, and also with a kind of still it is one of the greatest never made movies.
interview

violent reveries to dying in Holocaust and then As you say in Bleak Hotel, Bernardo Bertolucci,
I thought I know I wanted to write a kind of David Lynch, Hector Babenco, Emir Kusturica,
novella in style of Freudian key study and so I Pedro Almodóvar and David Cronenberg are
48 can put that in the middle. I will create a novel some of directors who were interested to turn it
into the screen, therefore Liza would be portrayed D.M. THOMAS: Singers? Well, the heroin of
by Meryl Streep, Isabella Rossellini, Juliette “White Hotel”, is loosely based in part on the
Binoche, Nicole Kidman, Lena Olin or Emily great Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya,
Watson, while to portrayed Freud was chosen by an odd coincidence, there is much
Anthony Hopkins, Dustin Hoffman or Ralph coincidence in involving her, I was in Milan,
Fiennes. After more than three decades, is there assigned into the a hotel where I was going to
any hope to see soon “White Hotel”movie? be there for a long shot, someone told me that
thereis assigned also a great Russian, Galina
D.M. THOMAS: This spring I did have hope Vishnevskaya, she was in Milan at the same
myself because the people who hold the rights, time in the same hotel and I turned just in
an American financier and his lawyer, after ten time and I saw her. High heels clicking on her
years they hadn’t start to making movie so way into the hotel. She had to come there for
the rights legally rewritten to me, and there another performance or to receive the prize.
for I could be free to sell. Unfortunately, this So Vishnevskaya influenced me a great deal,
financier refuses to accept it and more or less, but more generally, I think where music has
I know, none will take it done because they influenced me is in form, the symphonic form,
would be afraid of being sued by this man, very much in my mind in the way of different
and he has sued a great many people, and he movements of the White Hotel, e.g., where
has money and I don’t have the money. Less, there are like six movements, all of different
I’m still comforted, it’s very upsetting, but the kinds of moods like allegro, and some andante.
book is there and one day maybe it would be  
made, perhaps fifty years times who knows. - I read that you never re-read your works after
Too late for me and maybe too late even for publication. Does it mean that writing for you is
you. It’s a shame. just a therapy for which you have no reason to
  come back, after you have finished it?
- Being a psychological novel, are you ready to
accept an eventual failure on the screen, because, D.M. THOMAS: When you write in it and
as you know, the great psychological writers like you re-read it so many times, so you know
Dostoyevsky and Flaubert weren’t lucky on screen? that  by heart for a while. And when book
comes first, when I first hold the book in my
D.M. THOMAS: I would be not terribly hand and I read it and I enjoyed it, but after
unhappy if fail on the screen, because I can that I’m out of next thing. It’s not so much
still say: but you should read the book. And therapy, it’s just creation. I love creating. I don’t
the book is good. If it’s a failure, I can point want to dwell on a past note, or sometimes you
to the book, if it’s success, more people can have to talk about it later into interviews and so
read the book anyway. I can only win. But for on. But on the whole I think that’s gone, what
the moment, I can’t win because I cannot get matters is the blank page I’m trying to write
anyone to dare to dive in United States who is next. Once I get over the block which comes
preventing it for making a film. after every novel, so it’s always the next book
  that I’m into. But, I did also, I re-read all my
- How the others arts have influenced you: painters novels about a year ago. I have been curiosity
(you wrote a novel about Munch’s pictures), at some might happen into twenty years, and
directors (your novel “Summit” is compared with that was interesting and I think how those was
Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove”), or musicians (you in there, and that was pretty good, and less was
have said that you like Rachmaninoff)? not so good, it’s interesting experience to re-
read. But of course it is always the next page,
D.M. THOMAS: Yes, I think influence is less next novel or the next poem which obsesses
tangible, but I think music is very powerful me, because I’mpretty obsessive writer.
influence on me. I love all music, but I suppose
interview

classic music is my first love. (Symbol, No 6, 2015)

- What kind of musicians, concretely? Which
singers?  49
Ismail Kadare
Ismail Kadare (1936) is an Albanian novelist and poet. He
has been a leading literary figure in Albania since the 1960s.
His profile rose significantly in 1963 after the publication of
the novel The General of the Dead Army. In 1996 Kadare became
a lifetime member of the  Academy of Moral and Political
Sciences of France, where he replaced the philosopher Karl
Popper.
In 1992, he was awarded the  Prix mondial Cino Del Duca;
in 2005, he won the inaugural  Man Booker International
Prize; in 2009, the Prince of Asturias Award  of Arts; in
2015, the Jerusalem Prize, and in 2016, he was  Commandeur
de la Légion d’Honneur  recipient. He has divided his time
between  Albania  and France since 1990. Kadare has been
mentioned as a possible recipient of the  Nobel Prize in
Literature several times. His works have been translated into
more than 40 languages.
THE HISTORY OF LITERATURE IS A HISTORY
OF HEIGHTS
- Mr. Kadare, half of your prose is written enjoy the fortune of having any great novels.
under dictatorship and the other half in times It turned you into the leader of Albanian
of democracy. Which of the two periods do literature and as such you then emerged into
you think enabled you to write your best work? the globalliterary scene. When you first wrote
it as a shortstory, did you ever think that your
KADARE: Without wanting to sound name would forever be linked to that title?
pretentious with a“both of them” type
response, I sincerely think that the best of KADARE: No, no I didn’t. As I’ve
my works, just like the less good ones, were mentioned it elsewhere, it was a close friend
written, fortunately, during both periods. I of mine, Drago Siliqi who, by expressing
said fortunately because that is a good sign his awe at the some 30-40 pages long
for literature. version (as the story had first appeared)
also voiced his discontent of my rushing to
- In times of democracy you have published consumethe topic withina novella. Weather
several works that you had written during this was fair or not, one thing is for sure: in
dictatorship. Apart from official censorship, literature, the novel as a genre has gained a
was auto-censorship a reason to not publishthem special aura.
earlier?
- As you have done with other novels, you have
KADARE: Auto-censorship might be a constantly revised The General of the Dead
reason to refrain altogether from writing a Army, yet without ideological retouching.
work, not a reason to not publish it. I’d even Should such stylistic interventions be viewed
daresay that the decision not to publish a as attempts toperfectthe work or are they
work, should it not emerge from artistic somewhat similar to the interventions of
deficiencies, proves your awareness of the Greek aedos who changed their songs with
lack of auto-censorship. every singing?

- You have also written poetry, drama and KADARE: Obviously, any intervention in
essays, yet gainedinternational acclaim as a literature occurs naturally,purely for reasons
storyteller. Does this imply that when you write of perfecting the work. Interventions
poetry, drama or essays, you’re addressing an based on other grounds, whatever you call
Albanian audience, while through your prose them, are forceful and not normal. As for
you appeal to an international one? the Greek aedos, they would dodge this
conditionality, simplydue to the lack of
KADARE: No, there are no grounds for writing. However, forceful retouching, due
such a claim. A normal literature, in any to non-artistic reasons, cannotbe excluded
case, being written for the people of your even in their case.
country, (in their language), is automatically
written for all people of all languages. - Although The General deals with events
Literature knows nomegalomania. What is following a conflict (war), you have created
thus termed for other fieldsis forliterature many psychological conflicts in it. The readers
its merenatural state. enjoyedthis, but the official critics have
interview

condemned you for not sticking to the socialist
- Your first published novel, The General of the realism paradigm and for not showing any
Dead Army, came as a quake to Albanian hatred against the enemy. What was and is
52 literature, which up until 1963 did not the impact of criticism on your work?
KADARE: Literature, like any other art, culture with temporary values, nor chaos
is created to as readers, who are viewed as or anarchy.
“our audience” can welcome it.Obviously,
their acceptance of itand a work’s artistic - Similar to The General, The Castle is another
valuesdo not always correspond. In some novel without a hero. Why did you avoid heroes
cases they are quite separate. The same goes in these novels?
for criticism.
It is natural for the writer to always aspire KADARE: Rather than be specifically
towards a positive pact with theiraudience. done, this most likely came as a natural
Yet there are cases when the opposite effort that otherwriters also employ to
occurs. This is because the audience is avoid the annoying subjects of socialist
also constructed. In totalitarian countries,
for example, a part of the audience, once
aware of the semi-officialcircles’negligence
of the writer’s work, will also opt to remain
negligent. Meanwhile,for another part of The best example of creativity and originality
the audience, it will be this very negligence in contemporary Albanian letters is Ismail
that will stircuriosity, and even a liking for Kadare, still the only Albanian writer to enjoy
the same writer. a broad international reputation.
I believe that in those famous “meetings
with readers,”namely the Q&A sessions Robert Elsie
with audiences, most of the Albanian
writers of the time have felt this.

- While The General is somewhat linked to realism, such as the cooperative,factory life,
Aeschylus’ dramas, The Chronicle in Stone socialist competition, “positive” characters
portrays your passion for Shakespeare’s work. in a way. The latter, from simple people
How was it that you got bound to these two to the party’s model secretaries and labor
writers, about whom you have also written heroines, had become so burdensome for
books of essays? literature that it seemed as ifsalvation could
only come from negative characters. When
KADARE: Being attracted to the classicsis it came to more complex characters, such as
by no means a merit for anyone. Quite the castle commanders or partisan groupings,
opposite; it is the right thing for everyone. it all became even more difficult. Greek
antiquity or Shakespeare usually provided
- Aeschylus and Shakespeare can also be felt in top ranking characters that would give one
your novels with political topics such as The goose bumps. The assumption was that the
Great Winter, The Concert, Agamemnon’ laws of great art were conditioned through
Daughter, The Successor, etc. Do you consider them.
those writers to be safe aesthetic shelters from
which to treat such political topics? - Unlike links to earlier literature, The Palace
of Dreams resembles the dystopian novels of
KADARE: As I just said, this is all natural. the 20thcentury. How did your dystopian novel
Literature, like other arts, has a great come into being at the same time when the
fortune: it is esteemed only from the peak. utopian doctrine was being proclaimed?
Ordinary writers and even mediocreones
are unavoidable, numerous and useful, KADARE: Literature naturally leads
but are spontaneously removed from to freedom. I was often surprised by
interview

literature’s long journey. In brief, the the opacity of some of our critics’ and
history of literature remains the fortunate researchers’ minds that failed to understand
history of its peaks. And this is a miracle how it was possible to write works in the
for the world, as it does not burden its midst of communist austerity, which, at the 53
same time transcended it. I would not use KADARE: The fate of the novel itself
the word naïve for their questions because was perhaps more unusual than that of
it is too innocent. Their questions are quite its protagonist. As I have said elsewhere,
guilty. These critics are often 45-55 years old, the manuscript of the novel, together
which means they parted with communism with Agamemnon’s Daughter and a novella,
duringtheir 20s or 30s. They ask today emerged abroad in the mid 1980s, from my
how was it possible for some authors to French publisher. You know that sending
understand what was going on and express manuscripts abroad was prohibited by
hesitation about the regime?We are also law. The French publisher made a trip to
entitled to ask: how was it possible that you Albania specifically for this. It was the only
understood nothing? To be 20 years old way to preserve the work from a sudden
and not understandthat there is something raid. Publishing it in Albaniawas out of the
question. The novel itself was written not
to be published as long asAlbania remained
communist. Like everyone else, prior to
1990 I did not believe that communism
Ismail Kadare’s world is a sort of antimatter. It
would collapse soon.
destroys ours. Except that, unlike the example
The manuscript was dangerous, so I
from particle physics, it also complements ours
thought of coming up with another one
and to stark effect.
before the arrival of the French publisher.
Apart from the author’s name, the German
Richard Eder
Siegfried Lenz, which replaced my own, I
also changed the names of some characters
and environments. So alongside Vienna
and Innsbruck the reader would encounter
wrong with your country called Albania Hanses and Helgas and Tirana street names
means you either belonged to families and ending in “Strasse”! I had the opportunity
the machinery serving the regime, or your to tell Siegfried Lenz about the grotesque
mind has a deplorable lack of development. episode at an international meeting of
Sometimes such types, spellbound before writers. He said he felt very pleased to have
writers who despite censorship managed to been able to helphis colleague from remote
uncover parts of the Albanian misery, come Albania, albeit while having been unaware
up with “theories” that one should have of the conditions there.
made at least one trip to the Western world
in order to understand something! And they - After the novel about the fate of a filmmaker,
go even further, doubting that a work was you wrote a novel about the fate of an “actor.”
written during that period to begin with. With a Shakespearean composition and a
They claimthat its date is changed, thus Freudian psychological depth, Life, Play and
sinking into ordinary slanderers. Literature, Death of Lul Mazreku marks the culmination
as I said above, is inseparable from freedom. of your post-communist literary career. The
irony of the novel is visibleat the end, when the
- In your novel The Shadow you talk about a character that survived the vicious regime gets
filmmaker who enjoys the privilege of going to killed in the democratic mess. How important
Paris. Allegorically, this novel, which contains is the novel for you and what’s your takeon
autobiographical references, equates communist the silent treatment it received from Albanian
Albania to the world of the dead. Together critics?
with interceptions in Spiritus and the fabulous
sinking in The Eagle, the plot of The Shadow KADARE: The book was written in Paris,
interview

causes anxiety. The fate of the filmmaker is after the fall of communism.Its final title
described in the novel, but could you tell us wasThe Actor. As for the silence, I do not
about the fate of the novel before it reached know what to say.
54 the readers?
- The plots of novels such as The City with was even noticeable in Tirana. Apparently,
No Advertisements, Chronicle in Stone, the reprimand of Stalin’s crimes allowed for
Generations of Hankonats, A Question of certain liberalism. Unfortunately, the period
Lunacy and The Fall of the Stone City take was short-livedand Stalinism re-emerged.
place in your city of birth which, thanks to
these works, has become a literary attraction - Recently you published two books (“Tirana’s
for the entire Albanian writers. The frequent Mists” and “The Doll”) through which you
focus on this location, is it a conscious choice or appear closer to the readers, who, knowing you
a subconscious return? foran author of grand subjects, were surprised
by such “minor” ones. Why is this opening
KADARE: Again, I find it hard to explain. occurring so late?
Or perhaps there is no genuine explanation,
and thus it should not be sought. Early on I
had made a simple discovery (so simple that
it probably does not deserve to be named
such) that the distance from my hometown, Kadare mapped a culture, its history, its passion,
where I lived until the age of 17, has been its folklore, its politics and its disasters. He is
the main motivation to write about it. So a universal writer in a tradition of storytelling
the first novel, The City with No Advertisements that goes back to Homer.
I wrote in Moscow in 1959, at a distance
of some three thousand kilometers. The John Carey
Chronicle and The Hankonats were written in
Tirana, in different years, but with a modest
distance, about three hundred kilometers.
Perhaps it would seem a made-up answer KADARE: I don’t think that in literature
if I were to say that during a several weeks there is a set time for grand or minor
stay in New York, where the distance from subjects. It often happens that as an
my hometown peaked (about six thousand adolescent you are more attracted to cosmic
kilometers), as if not wanting to lose this themes than real ones, which are commonly
opportunity, I wrote A Question of Lunacy. called “minor.”
The Fall of the Stone City was written in Paris.
You may laugh. Me too, yet this does not - You kept your first novel in a drawer only to
help me find a different answer. publish it after more than half a century later.
Why wasn’t it published when written, and
- As you have mentioned several times in why is it published now?
your essays, the fellow Albanian students in
Moscow stirred your interest in Gjirokastra KADARE: What you call “my first novel” I
after you once described to them the geography still hesitate to call it that. In my conscience
and the architecture of your hometown. it has never been that, as I never thought of
This means that the magic realism of your publishing it. It was not due to censorship
birthplace conquered your socialist education, or a moral problem. It was simply pre-
which you have described neatly in the Twilight literature, if such a word can be used.
of Eastern Gods.
- Your recent story, The Doll, is a tribute to the
KADARE: When I went to study in mother. Unlike with usual tributes, in it you
Moscow, in 1958, not only me, but generally mix nostalgia and irony, creating a somewhat
the students coming from different nations naive and very loving portrayal. While writing
were conquering, as you put it, their socialist The Doll were you focusing more onexploring
interview

education. Unlike what occurs today what Stanislavsky calls emotional memory,
through memories, it was a brief period in or were you focusing on the subject the way a
the history of socialism, when a somewhat puppeteer focuses on his puppet?
softened spirit appeared. The same spirit 55
that in the history of Europe none of its
ten, eleven founding languages have been
prohibited by decree, as was the case with
[Ismail Kadare is] one of the most compelling Albanian. Apparently, it was this dramatic
novelists now writing in any language. ban that gave rise to hymns, the nostalgia
and the sense of guilt towards it.
Bruce Bawer Today’s nihilists in our midst, insensitive as
they are, use every chance they get to show
their lack of reverence toward Albanian,
certain they will thus look more modern
and cosmopolitan. This obsession takes
KADARE: The ways, or secrets, of the art them so far thatthey end up as vulgar
of writing are endless. It’s hard to say that slanderers, like one of them, who recently
some of them are automatically inciting accused the writer who is now answering the
while others automatically hindering. questions of your interview that, in order to
establish the glory of the Albanian language
- The socio-political context has often conditioned he juxtaposed it toa noble lady next to a
the literary text, and in the past few years Gypsy handmaiden, namely Serbian. This
works have appeared on religious extremism, defamation from Albanian nihilists would
given thatit has returned as a key political then be sent to be published simultaneously
topic, which is why it is likely to turn intoa in the Romanian press, the Serbian one,and
literary and artistic one. Philip Roth, Orhan other provincial newspapers of the Balkans,
Pamuk, Don DeLillo and Michel Houellebecq in order to spread the idea that Albanian
are just some of the famous names that have literature is ruled by xenophobia and racism.
turned their pens against terrorist guns. Do
you think writers have a sort of obligation to - You sensed the risk of fanaticism, extremism,
react in times of political unrest? and terrorism three decades ago with the
Bringer of Misfortune. Also, in some recently
KADARE: Accustomed for quite some published essays you put an emphasis on the
timeto expressions like “art for the matter, which is now a global issue. As you
people,”or “art for the brotherhood of know, religious fanatics had also attacked
nations,”for “emancipation,”we find it hard Dante, asking that The Divine Comedy
to accept that literature need not serve any be withdrawn from school programs, and
such needs. Yet, it is not a blasphemy or fanaticism has prompted assassination attempts
something worth getting alarmed about against prominent writers. What do you think
should someone stipulate such a thing. of this aggressiveness towards culture, perhaps
In recent years, for example, it has become starting from your own experience with fanatics
custom to hold a grudge against our who threatened you with death, calling you
national Renaissance for its commitment to “pro Catholic”, and burning your books in a
awaken the Albanian nation. It is true that mosque in New York?
this cultural and literary movement, due to
its direct engagement, more accurately its KADARE: Aggressiveness to culture and
sacrifice, suffered artistic deficiencies, but literature in particular is known around the
this is understandable. We were an enslaved world.
nation, which is why freedom, the number Unfortunately it is reviving at present timeas
one motif of the Renaissance, was not a seldom before. However, weAlbanians
luxury, but a precondition for existence. should not be comforted by the fact that the
If I were to compare ours with other problem is planetary. Our country belongs to
interview

literatures of the continent, I do not believe those specific areas where such animosities
that in any one of them one can find as may have dangerous consequences.
many hymns and praises for the language, The courage to propose, in the time of
56 as we find in ours. We should not forget the UN,the ban of Dante Alighieri from
schools, the greatest poet of Europe, and Given that the history of literature and
no doubt of the world, shows how cruel the arts is, as noted above, a story of heights,
evil be when it finds ways. it automatically creates a spirit of positivity
and light.These positive and bright features
- What is your comment on the Albanian can lead to the wrong idea that letters and
intellectuals’ silence vis-à-vis religious arts are more tolerable to serious moral
radicalization? flaws. In fact I think the opposite happens;
it is precisely the higher spirit that does not
KADARE: There are many silences for allow for any generosity towards writers who
which the Albanian intellectuals, especially politically denounced their own colleagues.
the people of letters, are blamed. The A chemist, a bridge-builder, they can
accusations are often fair, though not continue practicing their profession after
always. First and foremost the purpose such a discovery. A writer cannot. Perhaps
of literature is to perfect itself. Naturally, you find this view too radical, and I cannot
this then radiates in all that constitutes the persist that it isn’t. However, I was surprised
spiritual wealth of a people. to read the interview of a writer who,after
With regards to the role of the spiritual
dimension, namely culture, there have been
different opinions.  Returning to the cult
that Albanian Renaissance formedaround
the Enlightenment, coming from Culture, [Ismail Kadare] has been compared to Gogol,
more precisely, from Europe (from where Kafka and Orwell, but his is an original voice,
the “the sun sets”), thisis understandable universal but rooted in his own soil.
for a movement developing under the
darkness of Ottoman slavery.  What is not Shusha Guppy
understandable is the mockery of this trend
by our nihilists.
Obviously, it is not culture that determines
some basic developments of a country, such
as the economy or war against corruption, having been talked about by the press as
but its role in other matters, such as a former collaborator of Security forces,
justice, is very sensitive.The links between instead of putting his head down in shame,
literature, justice, and awareness ofguilt are expressed satisfaction that many people
well-known, consequently with daily issues (with pseudonyms of course) supported
which affect the Albanian society today, him. This shows that writers who denounced
such as the opening of secret archives or others dream of the return of their time.
allowing pseudonyms to be used in the As not to leave room for misunderstanding
press, this tragic farce of the freedom of regarding this delicate issue, I must highlight
thought. that by “spying writers” I do not mean the
By perfecting itself, literature can stand as ones who found themselves under special
a great example for the whole society.The dramatic circumstances and have later
persistent presence of former Security confessed their own drama.
collaborators in today’s literary life, not only It should also be added that ithas become
creates an unprecedented confusion, but it fashionable in Albania to express frustration
is a public mockery of morality. There are against the much-needed explanations of
many intolerable things in the world, but as complex issues. I think that this misbehavior
we are in the sphere of literature, let’s say against explanations, willingly or unwillingly,
that it is difficult to find something more is due to the fear of the opening of archives,
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disgusting than spying writers; those who files, and pseudonyms.
once used to have their own colleagues
arrested, and are now hiding behind
pseudonyms, trying to confuse everything. 57
- In your wife’s Memoirs, I encountered the the formula: “Albania will make it” or the
“blasphemous” conclusion that says you believe opposite “Albania will not make it” is widely
in literature more than a religious fanatic does known. The essence of the formula itself
in God. Can you tell me what you think about depends on the faith or lack thereof for the
the frequent findings of critics who claim that future of this country. There was an abyss
the novel is dead, or that literature is dying? that our language seemed to be heading
towards following the ban. One of the
KADARE: I have never concealed my fundamental components of the nation was
unlimited faith in literature. Nor my love affected. And besides, given that an Indo-
for it. It seems customary to do so, not only European language was affected, Europe
for writers but also for all readers. On the was thus put to the test because one of its
contrary, I am surprised by the pedantic languages had been separated from it.
attitude of some writers and scholars, who This country will make it, in the sense that
find animosity to the values to be as harmful it should make it, has been the number
as the exaggerated love (worship) for them. one maxim of our Renaissance. The full
I find it hard to understand what harm meaning of the formula would be: Albania
there is in exaggerated love for literature, will make it without fail, where the verb
arts, books, particularly when compared to “make” proves all the enigmatic strength
animosity, or rather hatred, towards them. and depth of the language.
It is needless to mention that the spiritual As for statements such as “death of the
values, language, music, and literature of a novel,” or some other deaths, they are not
people, are, among other things, the reasons serious, so it is better not to deal with them.
for its being. For the Albanian case this is It is a story that has been repeated since the
more than understandable and separatefrom time of Greek aedos: now that we have the
“nationalistic discourse,” the bugaboo that theater, your ballads are finished;and after
is appearing more often in our literary the invention of print: now that we have
environment. In all discourses that debated books, we won’t need theater; and so on
whether Albania should or should not be, and so forth with the end of the novel, the
or whether Kosova should or should not cinema, and the internet.
be recognized, the pseudo-arguments that
this is a people without culture, without - In 2007, according to the current prime
literature, or even without language are not minister of Albania, the Albanian political
absent. How often should we mention that parties had come to an agreement and humbly
the Albanian language, one of the main requested that you become President of the
and founding languages of Europe, is the country. Was devotion to literature the reason
only one to have been banned for several why you were so indifferent to the adamant
centuries by decree? request of the politicians?
However, in the Albanian press, it is
particularly the pro-Ottomannihilists who KADARE: If the reason that you mentioned
insist that the ban of the Albanian language were not the only, it was certainly the
is a mere Albanian paranoia, for there primary one for that rejection.
hasn’t been one;there has only been a ban
on writing it! This persistence is surprising, - As the President of the Albanian Republic
yet what is most surprising isthat in Albania of Letters for decades in a row, how do you see
there may still be scholars who do not know the future of this Republic?
that the ban on writing a language (namely
a language that had reached a high level of KADARE: My reply as a writer, in spite of
written form), coupled with the prohibition the title I have been given, is, in this case,
interview

of Albanian schools is twice as dramatic unchanging. The Albanian Republic of
compared to banning its spoken form. Letters is doing well. If there is something
I use the opportunity of your question not doing well, it is our eyes, or even worse,
58 to repeat that in the Albanian mentality our mind. For you need to have bad eyes,
and especially a bad mind, in order to since long entered the European family of
persist that Albanian literature is the most letters, even before Albania itself entered
backward and non-translated literature of into the family of nations. And this is not a
Europe. Without wanting to linger on a small gain for literature.
totally verifiable matter, I will answer that
this is simply a fabrication. Translated from Albanian: Gazmend
So as to not conclude our conversation with Bërlajolli
the not very pleasant word “fabrication,” let
me add that Albanian literature is not only (Symbol, No 7, 2016)
widely recognized and translated, but has

interview

59
Rexhep Qosja
Rexhep Qosja (1936), novelist, playwright and critic, known
as one of the greatest Albanian writers and representative
author of Albanian postmodernism, also as a critic who
overturned Socialist Realism method in Albanian literature.
Besides many non-fiction books, Qosja has written four
novels (Death comes from such eyes, One love and seven sins, Night
is our day and Nobody’s sons), four plays (Living Sphinx, Beselam
why am I sacrificed, Death of a queen and Bardha) and a satirical
novella (The Regretful Resurrected).
LITERATURE IS A FLOWER OF EVIL

- Professor, you start your diary “A Witness REXHEP QOSJA: I grew up in a family
in Historic Times” with 1966, meaning you consisting of my mother, my father, three
decide not to narrate the first thirty years sisters and four brothers. We had enough as
of your life, not even by rebringing them as to not starve and could afford some modest
memories. I know it is not in your nature clothing; modest, yet clean. My mum, as I
to narrate briefly but would you agree to an was growing up, bathed us with ashes and
exception for our magazine and start with this later textile soap. I was an outstanding
very “silent period?” pupil at school, in terms of cleanliness and
learning alike, and indeed a nerd is what
REXHEP QOSJA: In the foreword of this they’d call me then, and later even. I have
compilation of diaries which I am publishing never heard my father raise his voice to
under the title A Witness in Historic Times, I offend my mother nor have I ever heard my
point out that even prior to 1966, when I had mother raise hers. Unlike my father, who
started writing the very first volume of my would at times scold us gently, our mother,
diaries, I kept notes on what I’d experience, when we’d be disobedient and refused to do
see, hear, read, understand or not, love and the chores we were assigned, would punish
not, for at least a few days a month. They’re us with slaps or with a withy, thinner at
some naïve notes of a youngster studying times, and at times, slightly thicker. I might
in a Prishtina High School and later in the say, therefore, that I grew up in a happy
Department of Philosophy, which was part family, happy under those circumstances,
of the University and offered a course on which might be called circumstances of
Albanian Language and Literature at the poverty and lack of so many basic things.
time, for which I had enrolled. I did record I only possessed a pen and a notebook after
notes, deeming them not very valuable or completing the fourth grade of elementary
worthy I did not insert anything from them school. During those first four years we’d
in the diary I am publishing. write in old, rectangular boards with chalk,
I’ll publish here a tiny little passage hard as stone, scratching the boards and
from that youthful diary of mine: thus making them unusable after a little
“May 6, 1958. It’s time to learn more than while.
I have until now, as teachers will now start
to turn in the final grades. I do not wish - What are the first books you’ve read?
to come out this year worse than I did the
previous one. So I put my notebook inside REXHEP QOSJA: The first books, in
my jacket’s inner pocket and head towards fact the first verses and prose passages
Gërmia Park, where nobody bothers me that I read in my youth were verses from
and I can repeat aloud what I read. I learn Naim Frashëri Summer Flowers and Flocks and
the answers I need to know for the teachers Farming, as well as some excerpts from Haki
by heart, and don’t feel bad when classmates Stërmilli’s If I were a boy.
call me a nerd! Let them nerd me all they like, Yet the first foreign book, in fact the first
but I get straight As from those answers foreign novel I’ve ever read is The Adventures
remembered by heart!” of Samuel Pingle.1 Never again have I come
across that novel or have I learned anything
interview

- What do you recall of those early family years about its author. He might have been a
in your hometown? Russian, American or an English author
1  The author in the question is S. Beliaev, Semiuelia
62 Pinglia (1945).
living perhaps in the 19th or the 20th century. love, more than from the eyes, is awakened
The other books I read in my childhood and from their ears: good words please them.
my early youth, while attending the seven
year Primary School in my hometown, were - Was it difficult to detach from your birthplace
mainly books by Russian and Ukrainian and forever live in Kosova?
authors: Tolstoy, Gogol, Maxim Gorky,
verses from Mayakovski and Yesenin, as REXHEP QOSJA: For me it was not easy
well as prose and verse by Yugoslav authors: to detach and come to study in Kosova.
Branko Čopić, Desanka Maksimović, At that time – namely the 50s of the 20th
Radovan Zogović, Ivan Cankar, Vladimir century – great organized social efforts
Nazor, Ivan Goran Kovačić and others.

- Were you debating what your calling in life
would be, or was literature your first choice?
Rexhep Qosja is one of the most eminent and
REXHEP QOSJA: I wanted – as it was prolific literary critics in the Balkans.
my father’s wish – to study medicine and
I did prepare for the entry exam, but, as I Robert Elsie
had studied at the Pedagogical School and
not the Gymnasium or the Medical High
School, I was not allowed admission in
Medicine, in Belgrade of course. I enrolled
for the first ever Department to open up in
Prishtina – The Department of Philosophy, were put to educate the young boys and,
which housed a Section of Albanian partly, girls too. My parents did their
Language and Literature. My father was utmost for me to continue my schooling, to
disappointed by my failure to enroll in become knowledgeable, a doctor – my father
medicine, but I can say that for me it was a would say; a doctor or a professor – my mother
delight; I enrolled for the course that would would add. Due to the devotion of my
enable me to study what I had liked most in parents I was inspired to get schooled. And
High School – literature. As a High School where would I continue my schooling? In
student I wrote several articles that my dear Kosova of course – because only Kosova
and loving teacher, Ali Hadri, published in had secondary schools available in the
Përparimi (Progress) Journal. Albanian language and willingly admitted
many young Albanians from Montenegro
- Was that when you met your wife? and other territories outside Kosova, who’d
come here for education.
REXHEP QOSJA: My wife, Shpresa,
deceased ever since May 20, 2012, I knew - I recall reading in your diary about your
while I was in my third year of High complaints against the Kosovar society that has
School and she in her first, but we started repeatedly seen you not as its own citizen, but
a relationship once we became university as a foreigner, a settler.
students; me a student of Language and
Literature, and she a student of English at REXHEP QOSJA: There was a somewhat
the Department of Philosophy in Prishtina. provincialist stance, expressed by an
Our relationship was crowned with a occasional resentment against “settlers” as
marriage almost two years later, in 1962. newcomers were called, that I encountered
It was something I said to Shpresa that neither as a High School student, nor in the
interview

cemented the relationship between us: “Do university, but when I began to indulge in
not rush, pretty one, your waist is so thin, writing. Though, this was not a widespread
you might break it with that quick walk!” provincialism. It was not the provincialism
It is not in vain when they say that women’s of the Kosovar Albanian society – not by 63
any means. This was the provincialism of that will have its own language, its literature
some mediocres who, through it, showed starting from Pjetër Bogdani, stand several
how much they “loved” Kosova, while in groups working in cultural, scientific and
fact harming it. political institutions.
I would like to stress here that we who There is no doubt that behind some people
came from Montenegro and I believe those who for many years have been hindering
coming from Macedonia, or the Presheva the co-operation between Albania and
valley area, enjoyed support from Albanian Kosova, saying that Kosova has nothing
politicians and intellectuals, whose numbers to learn from Albania, saying that Albania
in Kosova, back in 1966, did not exceed imposes on us an intellectual lead we should
600 people. For instance, in the final year not follow, saying that Albania cannot be
of High School I was given a scholarship our benchmark, saying Albania should
mind its own business rather than ours –
as if Albania is really attempting to be a
benchmark for all the Albanians – there is
no doubt at all that behind individuals who
A true discovery, this is a great writer... how produce this propaganda erecting it on the
can we qualify this novel [Death Comes from so-called separatist ideology, stands some
Such Eyes]? It is impossible to qualify it, it sort of a feudal party, or scientific, cultural
escapes any qualification or, which is similar, and political institutions with their own
it is multiple… Altogether a great tale, a loyalists.
philosophical fantasy, a longing chronicle of a Provincialism as a restrictive and backward
small town in Kosovo. mentality is not prompted by origin, but the
different interests of those who show it and
Frédéric Vitoux use it in everyday life. Differing personal
benefits are the ugly reason why today
provincialism determines one’s judgments
and opinions in politics, as well as in the
field of arts and sciences, and it determines
in Mitrovica by Professor Vahide Hoxha, judgments as well as critical, aesthetic,
the wife of politician Fadil Hoxha, whereas political, ideological and other perceptions.
during the university studies, as I was late to I have raised my voice before and continue to
apply for scholarship, I was able to support do so against provincialism, not because as
them by working for Radio Prishtina. It was some people exercise it, it could personally
the Director of the Radio, Ismet Mula, who hurt me, but because provincialism in my
made this possible for me. conviction is a phenomenon generally
Today there is more provincialism than prior affecting the democratic and cultural dignity
to our democratic way of organization. It is of the environment in which it manifests.
often said that democracies are where so- The provincialists forget, meanwhile, that
called parochialisms thrive, namely different their feelings expressed as “patriotism” for
forms of provincialisms. And these their own neighborhood often promote
parochialisms, these different forms of the support of many others for the very
provincialisms, are present and expressed in opposites. It often happens in this life: the
our social, political and cultural life. Once the small-minded try to do evil, yet unwittingly
provincialists were mostly lone voices, later do well.
they organized themselves in clans, and now
form larger groups, sometimes in cultural - With your work you have become the main
and scientific institutions, sometimes in intellectual not only in Kosova, but also in
interview

political parties and institutions. There is Albania, and you are considered the compass
no doubt that behind those individuals who showing the nation the direction to follow in
preach – some covertly and some blatantly perilous times.
64 – the idea of establishing a Kosovar nation,
REXHEP QOSJA: There was a period League – that I become its leader. We spoke
when I, for many years, alas alone, raged a at length and on different aspects of the
battle against the Serbian chauvinism, which new party, its composition and its political
had turned into the policy of the Serbian possibilities under the conditions in which
intellectuals and their state against the Serbia had seized our 1974 autonomy. At
Albanians, against our history, our creative the end of our conversation I told Jusuf
spirit, our traditions and our present. It was that I cannot accept to become the leader
at this time when, for years in a row, alas of the Democratic League. There were
alone, I disputed the anti-Albanian policies several reasons why I could not accept to
of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro become its leader.
in my writings published in the Croatian The first and the main one was its program,
and Slovenian daily or weekly press. The which Jusuf brought to me and I read in
Albanian people awarded this activity with
the honor they showed and still show
everywhere I go and appear.
But this political and cultural engagement
of mine was not the only reason they
considered me such. The biggest reason
Rexhep Qosja is the greatest writer among
why I was viewed – and for many Albanians
Albanians living outside the country, who
I am still viewed today – as “the compass
make up more than half of the Albanian
showing the nation the direction to follow
nation.
in perilous times” is my never betrayed
commitment to truth and justice, in fact
Ismail Kadare
my never betrayed commitment to the
powerless and my disagreement with
the powerful, who exercise power not
by considering everyone, but by primarily
focusing on themselves and their own.

- In the early ‘90s, the initiators of the Kosova
his presence, there in my office. It was
Democratic League asked you to sign the a program for Kosova’s autonomy, yet a
charter of the party. Did you refuse simplymuch more limited autonomy than in 1974,
because there were two people who had been in fact very much like the “autonomy” the
campaigning against you in that party, one Serbian Parliament envisaged for Kosova
of whom would be elected the party leader aafter the changes it introduced to the 1974
month after your rejection of that program, or
Constitution, endorsed by the Kosova
were there other reasons? Assembly in the session of March 23, 1989.
I could not accept that Program for Kosova’s
REXHEP QOSJA: From what I recall, autonomy because I had different ideas,
the Founding Assembly of the Kosova ideas about freedom and independence
Democratic League was held on December – in fact freedom and unification with
23, 1989. Some weeks prior to this date Albania – ideas expressed in my writings
there were rumors that some journalists of and the conversations that I presented for
the Rilindja daily would establish a political several Croatian, Slovenian or even foreign
party to be called the Kosova Democratic newspapers and radio-stations.
League or something of the sort. The second reason was that the party
On December 20, the journalist and author concerned, the Kosova Democratic League,
Jusuf Buxhovi, who was said to be the first in order to get legalized, as Jusuf said, would
interview

to initiate the formation of the party in have to register in the relevant Ministry,
question, came to me, to the Albanology and I don’t remember now whether it
Institute, and proposed on behalf of his was a Ministry of the still-not-dispersed
peers – founders of the Kosova Democratic Yugoslavia, though it was falling apart, or a 65
Ministry of the Republic of Serbia. eagerly welcomed. Your going to Rambouillet
The registration in the Ministry of was good news for everyone, because between
Yugoslavia or Serbia made it possible for those lacking the courage to oppose and those
LDK to act politically, but at the same time lacking the patience to reason, you created a
obliged it to act in accordance with the rational balance. The peace accord that was
policies of Yugoslavia and Serbia. signed there, for the bloody peace as you termed
The third reason why I did not agree it, brought another war, a war that unified
to become the leader of the Kosova the two opposing sides to benefit at Kosova’s
Democratic League was because among its expense. How do you see and how do you
founders and members who were already experience this?
enrolled, there were people with a political
biography of the sort that made their REXHEP QOSJA: The merger of those
political sustainability unreliable. two sides that were in total disagreement and
I cannot say that those two writers who had greatly opposed each other, those sides that
campaigned against me were among those lead opposing and conflicting politics before
and during the war for liberation, united
today “to benefit at Kosova’s expense”,
I do not experience comfortably as does
not, I believe, the majority of the Albanian
[Rexhep Qosja] often has solved vital problems people in Kosova. I feel much remorse
in literature. over the corruption, nepotism, organized
crime, embarrassing privileges of people in
Ibrahim Rugova politics, the purchased diplomas for Masters
and PhD degrees, the reemergence of some
political apprentices of Milosevic’s regime
in Kosova’s political institutions, the revival
of the semi-intellectual apparatchiks that
are nowadays compromising and insulting
with whom I did not want to be in the same the mission of the intellectuals, loading
party. those political and state institutions with
These were the main three reasons, lies, resentment, jealousy against those who
sufficient in my view, why I could not accept think differently and with their own head.
to be the leader or a member of the Kosova
Democratic League. The period between - Let us talk of literature! You are acclaimed
late December 1989 until November 1997, as a leading critic in Kosova. According to
when the KLA, the Kosova Liberation Sabri Hamiti2 you have inverted the method
Army, emerged publicly, proved me right of socialist realism; according to Ibrahim
exactly because the LDK, with its miserable Rugova3 you have resolved vital issues for
politics of so-called “free and democratic” literature; according to Robert Elsie4 you are
elections under the Serbian occupation, one of the biggest critics in the Balkans. What
demobilized people both spiritually and critical models have you followed and adopted
morally, which is why it suffered a total to create your own integral criticism?
political and moral fiasco on the day the
International Conference for Kosova in REXHEP QOSJA: When I began with
Rambouillet was organized, this itself owing my literary criticism I was at the same time
to the KLA war. trying to learn about the different ways
2  Sabri Hamiti, Studime letrare, ASHAK, Prishtina
- Although you did not accept the post of 2003, p. 7.
interview

political leader, you kept the role of the nation’s 3  Ibrahim Rugova, Interpretime metodologjike e teknike
të kritikës letrare, in Jeta e re, Prishtina 1974, No. 6 p.
spiritual leader. The last decade of the previous
1102.
century was the decade of your veneration. 4  Robert Elsie, Histori e letërsisë shqiptare, Dukagjini,
66 Your books, interviews and statements were Peja 2001, p. 444.
criticism was written not only in Yugoslavia, of meaning, works of great significance,
mainly Serbia and Croatia, but also Europe. artistically built with exceptional creative
By learning how criticism is approached in genius flair. Such thoughts, such beliefs
Europe I learned enough about how it was made me become a critic of the so-called
tackled in the United States. My Masters integral criticism.
studies in Belgrade also enabled me to By acknowledging individual criticisms,
learn about extant literary theories and the specific methods of literary studies, I
scientific methods, about what constitutes learned that one single method would not
the science of literature, and what critical suffice to write the history of literature.
genealogy, critical morphology and literary I am a literary critic, yet a literary critic
periodization were. with the awareness, the formation and the
I managed, more or less, to understand commitments of a literary historian.
impressionist criticism, biographical
criticism, sociological criticism, structuralist - I believe you found the pleasure of writing in
criticism, Russian formalism, linguistic fiction rather than criticism.
criticism, stylistic criticism, reception
criticism, phenomenological criticism, REXHEP QOSJA: You’re absolutely right.
thematic criticism, psychoanalytic criticism, Literary criticism and literary studies in
etc. I would say I was greatly impressed by the general, are more or less restrictive, in the
Czech researchers who were the first to deal sense that they restrict freedom of opinion
more broadly and deeply with the structure of
a literary work. The Polish scholar Roman
Ingarden who popularized his theoretical
opinion about the multilayered character
of the literary work, the Croatian scholar
Ivo Frangeš who dealt with the study of Qosja in the late sixties overturned the method
the writer’s style and, finally, the German of socialist realism.
scholar Hans Robert Jauss, who dealt with
reception, namely the current and historical Sabri Hamiti
reading of the literary work, also influenced
me greatly.
I started to believe that it is important and
even crucial for a literary critic, namely a
literary scholar, to know first and foremost and expression, freedom of imagination.
that a literary work is written so as to Creating a linguistic work of art, namely
state something and, secondly, to show a work of literature, brings forth this
through its interpretation, explanation and freedom. While creating a literary work
evaluation, how the author’s intentions are you’re full, thorough in mind, imagination,
artistically expressed. A literary work is a understanding and feeling. Creating a work
work of art not because something is stated of literature makes you substantially enjoy
in it, but because it is stated in an artistic the value of freedom in human life, the
manner. The more artistically the author’s unlimited freedom.
intentions are expressed, the better and
more valuable the work. Aware of this, I - How do you feel when starting a novel and
also became aware of another truth, related after you have finished it?
to the former.
A literary work is great not only when it is REXHEP QOSJA: When I start a novel
artistically well constructed, but when what I am full of different opposing thoughts
interview

is treated by the author is meaningfully and feelings, full of thoughts and feelings
important. Oedipus King is a great work of characterized, on the one hand, by a certain
literature, The Divine Comedy, Hamlet, Faust joy that I am creating a new life, a life called
as well, because all of these are works literary work of art and, on the other hand, 67
a concern as to whether I shall be able to - The novel ‘Death Comes from Such Eyes’ is
create it the way I truly want. the most morbid and pessimistic in Albanian
When I finish a novel I feel somewhat empty, literature. How can this be explained within the
like a wide long tunnel, in which, even the ‘happy’ system, within which socialist realism,
most muttered of voices can be heard. Yet although an alternative method (thanks to
a muttered voice is not devoid of a silent Krleža, of course) was the preferred one in
joy that you have achieved something, you Yugoslavia, while unfortunately mandatory in
have created something in your life which Albania?
you hope will live.
Several days need to pass before that void, REXHEP QOSJA: After the political,
that spiritual emptiness is filled with new including the ideological and cultural
thoughts, new feelings, a new imagination. relations, namely after all state relations
with the Soviet Union were cut in 1948,
- Most characters of Vajazani are based on the scientific, artistic and philosophical life
Prishtina prototypes. Is this related to that in Yugoslavia was relieved of the official
well-known strategy of Dante, whereby he obligation to adhere to the doctrine of
would place people he did not like in hell, those socialist realism. This does not mean,
who were “improvable” in purgatory, and the however, that there were no writers and
best in paradise? other creative people who more or less
obeyed this “realism” in their creativity. As
REXHEP QOSJA: The character named an opponent to socialist realism and any
Trashe and another one from the novel Death dogma in creative work, I was first formed
Comes from Such Eyes are based on prototypes under the influence of literary critics,
from my birthplace, while the protagonists theoretical thinkers, and writers, especially
and most of the other characters are based the French ones. I love the French national
on Prishtina prototypes. I cannot deny that literature more than any other, and I love
in the great literary genres, like drama or the it so much, of course, because I have read
novel, authors sometimes free themselves many works of that literature for a long
of certain opinions, judgments, prejudices time and continue to read them to this very
or feelings that already exist and sometimes day. I think the summary Flowers of Evil by
Charles Baudelaire is the most beautiful
and most significant lyrical work in world
literature. Contained in it is a special
meaning for literature, which I call aesthetic
Academic Qosja is undoubtedly one of the and theoretic: literature is a flower of evil.
great figures of Albanian literature and I cannot and know not how to write about
culture, but also one of the most influential the good in social and human life. The good
personalities in the social and political life, not in life for me is obvious, it is natural. I am
only in Kosovo but also in Albania. encouraged and inspired to write about
the cons, the unbearable, the limiting, the
Agim Vinca humiliating, and the offensive in life: these
are unnatural to human life. It is from
here that what we call pessimism comes to
my first novel, and more or less, in other
novels, plays, and monodramas. It might
express such acquired opinions, judgments, be that by nature I am a bit of a pessimist.
assessments and feelings. Perhaps this is the reason why I appreciate
What you call Dante’s strategy, which can Nikos Kazantzakis as one of the greatest
interview

also be called Dante’s Ethics, is a strategy European writers of the 20th century. You
and ethics of many few writers in my view. know what epitaph he wrote to himself ? It
Mine is most certainly one of them. is an epitaph that contains a whole novel:
68
I hope for nothing. demands for the future, for freedom and
I fear nothing. independence of Kosova that will one day
I am free. inevitably unite with Albania.

- Your first novel is the most translated Kosovar - A French critic, André Clavel, had called you
novel. Why did it take you almost three decades in the 1990s ‘Kosova’s rebel.’ You remained a
before you wrote your second novel, ‘One Love rebel in the time of peace. Apart from many
and Seven Sins’? political writings, your third novel, ‘The Night
is Our Day’, as a conclusion of the trilogy for
REXHEP QOSJA: Although the novels Prishtina, came with a dose of rebellion. After
I wrote after Death Comes from Such Eyes the intellectual, wise and patient protagonists
are, in my belief, better than it, they have of the previous two novels, the emergence of
remained under its shadow for a variety of the rebel protagonist in the third novel came as
reasons, the explanation of which I do not a surprise. As someone who did not agree with
consider necessary for this conversation. the endurance of violence under occupation,
Almost three decades have passed before your postwar rebellion is related to the current
the publication of my second novel, One misuse of democracy, isn’t it?
Love and Seven Sins, because I was overtaken
by political, social and national events in REXHEP QOSJA: Since Kosova after
Kosova after the historic demonstrations the war is no longer the same as before
of 1981. the war, since Kosova after the war has
changed a lot from the pre-war Kosova,
- Did you write any prose during this interval? it is understandable that novels on the life
of Kosovar characters and protagonists
REXHEP QOSJA: Yes, of course, but I cannot be what they were before the war.
could not publish novels, because I felt a The protagonist of Night is Our Day is so
spiritual, political, national, and moral need disagreeable and revolted because, after
to deal with writings about the situation returning to Kosova from an asylum in
and the fate of Albanians in Yugoslavia, the Europe sees, lives, and realizes a reality he
violence against them and their legitimate never and in no way expected.
historical and natural rights.
And so, rather than continue to appear
in public as a writer or a historian of
literature, I emerged as an analyst and wrote
about five thousand pages on everything
that the Albanian Kosovars suffered and
everything that they wished at the end of [Qosja’s fiction makes] the deepest treatment
the twentieth and the beginning of the and most complex to date in our literature.
twenty-first century. And I do not regret
it. It may well be that with that writing I Ali Aliu
completed a political, ethical, national and
democratic mission, more important than I
would with my novels or historical literary
studies. Those writings of mine, once
translated, reached European and American
chancelleries, where indefinite words of In many meetings I had with foreign
political parties often would not reach diplomats and politicians from 1981 until
Diplomats and European politicians alike the end of the war of liberation, I repeated
interview

used my book, The Albanian Question: History to them that famous opinion of the notable
and Politics, translated into French, as a British philosopher John Locke: it is a sin
compulsory text to understand the Albanian to exercise violence against another but it
issue, the situation of Albanians and their is also a sin to endure the violence. Let me 69
add, however, that the evil exercised by a moral, for the rich, the poor, the merchants,
foreigner and that exercised by one of your the thieves, the victims, the arrivistes, the
own are equally called evil. The evil coming naughty, the yes-men and all the crooks and
from one of your own hurts even more heroes of our slave democracy.
than the one coming from a foreigner. The
protagonist of my novel Night is Our Day - Your fiction is considered postmodern; a model
may not have heard this opinion forged later followed by many famous Albanian
and implemented for centuries in European writers such as Vath Koreshi, Zija Çela,
countries, but pretends to know it because Ridvan Dibra, Bashkim Shehu and many
the evil he sees and experiences in post-war others in Albania, Kosova and Macedonia.
Kosova brings much heartache, pain and If we believe T. S. Eliot’s opinion that the
resentment to him and his family. importance of a writer depends on the impact
he or she has on later generations, then the
- After finishing this trilogy, which lasted 33 importance of your works is indisputable.
years, you published a novel in two volumes, Tell us who were the postmodernist authors
‘Nobody’s Sons’, which is a continuation of you read before starting to write your own
the same poetics, but not the same project. postmodern works?
This novel, which expands the geography
of the narration, argues in a quote that REXHEP QOSJA: When I started to
“Communism has fallen, but its habits will write a novel, I had come to believe that
continue for as many years as communism a novel should not be written the way it
reigned.” Since previous novels were contentdid at that time in our literature back in
with Vajazani only, what were the impulses the ‘70s, namely I had come to believe
to write about Albania, presenting an autopsy
that a novel should not be written the way
of the communist system, paying homage to a traditional realist novel or the socialist
the persecuted of that system and whipping the
realism novel was written. My conviction
“Albanian democracy” so hard? came from the novels, stories and plays I
used to read. And I read and continue to
REXHEP QOSJA: As my creative urge read to this day novels, stories and plays of
after the war did not come only from Vajazan, many writers, among whom critical realist,
not only from Kosova, but also from a modernist, avant-garde, postmodernist
broader and more general Vajazan, namely writers such as Thomas Mann, Hermann
Albania, it is understandable that I would Hesse, Franz Kafka, Cesare Pavese,
expand my, as you called it well, “geography James Joyce, Albert Camus, Robert Musil,
of narration.” By expanding my geography Margaret Jursenar, Saul Bellow, Jean-Paul
of narration I was able to report on our Sartre, William Faulkner, Natalie Sarotte,
democracy that in moments of despair Michel Butor, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Samuel
might be termed a “slave democracy.” By Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Günter Grass,
extending that geography of narration Umberto Eco, always Umberto Eco, Don
I have greater and wider opportunities, DeLillo, Philip Roth, Carlos Fuentes, Mario
more numerous and different views open Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, Julio
up to me, that are more rooted and more Cortázar, Witold Gombrowitz, Max Frisch,
convincing to present that democracy not Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Friedrich
only as it is enjoyed by its privileged ones, Dürrenmatt, Paul Auster, Salman Rushdie,
but also as it is seen and experienced from Jean d’Ormesson, Kurt Vonnegut, John
former victims of communism and others Barth, Michel Turnier, Donald Barthelme,
deprived of its benefits. I imagined the novel John Gardner, Robert Coover, Cormac
Nobody’s Sons as a way to settle a score with McCarthy, Richard Brautigan, Gilbert
interview

the users, abusers and humiliators of our Sorrentino, Danilo Kiš, etc.
democracy. If I were younger I would write I can say that no less than from literary
a series of novels, a series of analysis, which works I read, my creative tastes and
70 Balzac would call social, psychological and inclinations were always determined from
aesthetic, philosophical and theoretical REXHEP QOSJA: I used to frequent
works, which I read as a professor of the theater; I would say there was no theatrical
course “Introduction to Aesthetics” in performance I’d miss. My younger brother,
the Department of Literature and the Isa Qosja, was once an actor in what was
Albanian Language for almost forty years. then called the Provincial Theater. Then, he
The authors of aesthetic, philosophical and studied direction and worked as a theater
theoretical works I read continuously during director and in the Faculty of Arts. I had
this time are René-Marie Albérès, Wayne C. a very good relationship with a range of
Booth, Käte Hamburger, Cecil Maurice actors. Some of them, like for example
Bowra, Viktor Shklovsky, Northrop Frye, the famous Istref Begolli, an extraordinary
Étienne Souriau, Władysław Tatarkiewicz, actor, would “pressure” me to write plays.
Roman Jakobson, Roland Barthes, Mikhail Thus, for example, the monodrama Death of
Bakhtin, Yuri Lotman, Michael Riffaterre, a Queen I wrote after the repeated request
Jean-François Lyotar, Hans Robert of the renowned actress Melihate Ajeti. The
Jauss, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Living Sphinx is also a result of my frequent
Wolfgang Welsch, Brian McHale, Steven conversations with some of the actors and
Best, Gianni Vattimo, Frederic Jameson, my brother Isa.
Georges Bataille, Jean Baudrillard, Janko I can’t say I’ve read the works of many 20th
Kos, Aleš Debelak, Ivo Frangeš, Miroslav century playwrights. No. I believe that as
Beker, David Simpson, Gilles Deleuze, the majority of those who have completed
David Lodge... regular education and studied language and
When I wrote novels and plays I wanted literature, say Albanian, French, English,
them to unfold in a way that is sudden Italian or German Language and Literature,
and surprising to the reader. I believe in I’ve mostly read the plays of previous
incorporating in my literary art the fruit centuries. I read the plays of great ancient
of my imagination and knowledge, as wide Greek playwrights, those of Aeschylus,
a knowledge as possible, give as much Sophocles, Euripides, the tragedies and
imaginary and concrete, documented dramas of Shakespeare, the comedies
data, encourage readers’ curiosity as of Moliere and dramas of Corneille and
much as possible, but encourage it with Racine, dramas of Schiller, Chekhov, Henrik
data preferably presented in the most Ibsen, August Strindberg, Nikolai Gogol,
artistic manner, be it by quoting literature, and George Bernard Shaw, who belongs
philosophy or science of different times, be both to the 20th and the 19th century alike,
it by merging the cinematographic imagery Alfred Jarry, who also belongs to both these
with the story, be it by turning the prose into centuries (albeit with more works in the 20th
the theme of the novel, or by adding satire, century), and many others.
irony and parody, by deconstructing the The playwrights of the 20th century are
constructed, by mixing the literary genres, too many. From all those playwrights of
by making the story or even the language this century, some of whose works, I have
unusual. This is what I have wished, but even read two or three times, I most prefer
of course, what is desired is sometimes the American playwrights Eugene O’Neill
achieved and sometimes not. and Edward Albee, the French playwright
Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, the
- Besides novels you also wrote four plays German playwright Bertolt Brecht and the
(“Living Sphinx”, “Beselam, why am I Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt.
sacrificed?”, “Death of a Queen”, “Bardha”), These are the playwrights whose creativity
which I think suffice to view you as the Camus corresponds to my mind the most,
of the Albanian Theatre. What was your corresponds the most to my sensibility.
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connection to theater and what playwrights of There are also some other playwrights
the 20th century do you appreciate the most? of the 20th century that I appreciate very
much, not because the world of their plays
corresponded to my thoughts and sensibility, 71
but because they are extraordinarily original, - Now that many postmodern works are declared
because through their creative innovations classics and the end of postmodernism is being
they have enriched the possibilities of discussed, are you pleased to have represented a
drama and, consequently, of theater. And model that has helped the Albanian literature
these playwrights are the Irishman Samuel mature aesthetically, or are you still writing
Beckett, the Romanian Eugène Ionesco - novels and seeking new avenues of narration?
both affirmed and turned big artists in Paris,
the generous, open, sympathetic Paris to REXHEP QOSJA: I feel good that my
many literary creative minds from abroad, literary oeuvre is being read, dealt with and
and the Frenchman Jean Genet. I have tried evaluated as it is. Furthermore, the way
to learn from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and you state it is. I have been impresses by
Endgame, from Ionesco’s Bald Soprano, The the way in which scholars have treated my
Lesson and The Chairs and less from Genet’s work, noticing and acknowledging in them
plays The Balcony, The Maids and The Blacks. the poetic idiosyncrasies and those creative
Maybe my plays show that I have not learned novelties brought to the Albanian literature.
what I should have from their plays. Sadly. Should I be blessed with more years of life
I may return to writing another novel, yet
- Which of your plays do you consider the best? could I go back to narrating like I did in
my previous novels or would I be “seeking
REXHEP QOSJA: I think my best play, new avenues of narration”? Each new
the best and the most difficult one is Beselam, literary work – and it is especially so for a
why am I sacrificed? new novel – will inevitably change in some
ways from the previous one. This perhaps
- In the 20th century there was much talk means I will narrate as I previously have,
about the impact that literature had on though trying to bring a new viewpoint,
cinematography, but in the recent decades construction, a novelty in the story and the
there is also talk about the impact cinema has stylistic linguistic expression, generally in
on literature. Is there a filmmaker, or more the creative technique.
specifically, a film that has influenced your Since postmodernism, which, as you said,
novels in some form? was once regarded as the avant-garde in
literary and artistic realm in general on one
REXHEP QOSJA: The arts today are side, and on the other post-structuralism,
viewed and treated as less divided than which was once considered the avant-
they were before. The influences between garde in criticism and theory, are now both
them are greater than one might assume. viewed as a thing of the past, I do not think
The renowned French aesthetician Étienne I would write, should I manage to write
Souriau has published a work titled The another novel, “free” of the postmodern
Correspondence of Arts, in which he presents experience. No.
many examples of these relations. I believe I do not think I should give up on the so-
I have not ‘escaped’ the impact of film. called, as some call it, opposing ethos, or the
Hitchcock’s film The Birds I have watched revolt either, with which postmodernism has
more than once and with a notebook at hand. enriched my artistic oeuvre, characterizing
I also watched Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon more or less my literary artistic oeuvre also.
and Throne of Blood with a notebook at I do not think that I should refrain from
hand. That’s how I also watched the famous the so-called Messianic promise with which
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. postmodernism has also enriched the
Special ways of viewing life and death have artistic creativity, inheriting it, of course, as
inspired me in, say, Ingmar Bergman’s The scholars claim, from surrealism.
interview

Seventh Seal, Federico Fellini’s Amarcord, I do not think that I should give up on the
Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia. riches which quotations semantically and
sensitively bring to a novel, and I do not think
72 I should ever renounce the patches and the
patchwork that enrich it by deepening and skill, whereas in literature it is attained by
expanding the novel’s creative technique. Mind and Imagination - the gift of creating
I cannot forget and it would not be in order with Mind and Imagination – in which
for me – should I manage to write a novel the experience of previous generations,
– to forget the opinion of a well known namely that of the Tradition to which the
postmodernist scholar, whose name now I literary creator belongs, is contained. The
do not recall, who stated that the creation European literary standard, therefore, is
of the novel is by large a process of uniting not easily attained and this is because it
diverse elements. is a multidimensional standard and a very
When I write a work of literature or art I high one too. This is a standard set by the
often recall the saying of the great French geniuses of Dante in his Divine Comedy,
thinker Blaise Pascal, “Great distances and Cervantes with Don Quixote, Shakespeare
excessive proximities weaken the eyesight, with Hamlet, other plays and tragedies,
while speaking in excess or very briefly Goethe with Faust, Baudelaire with The
make the conversation vague.” Flowers of Evil, Flaubert, Balzac, Tolstoy,
And I often remember this saying by Blaise Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens, Marcel
Pascal when trying to get away and at times Proust, Thomas Mann, Robert Musil, James
approach the world I treat in my work, and Joyce, Nikos Kazantzakis, Michel Turnier,
speak about it at times for longer and at Jean d’Ormesson...
times in brief. I recently read the novel L’Art français
I do not forget that that world determines de la guerre by Alexis Jenni, published by
my shooting angle, the way it determines Galimard in 2011. To produce a novel of
the length of my discourse. such artistic and meaningful value we will
need at least another 50 years.
- Professor, some years ago you prompted heated There is no need to justify your question by
reactions with your claim that the Albanian saying that you do not want to aggravate the
literature has not reached the artistic standards issue any further with it and awaken those
of European literature. Without wanting to who voiced themselves against me some
aggravate the issue any further, I would like years ago when I first expressed the same
to know if you still hold this conviction and opinion. I do not fear that the fire coming
also where do you see the Albanian literature from the opponents of this opinion can
in the future? burn me, while I remain convinced that by
saying the truth about our standards, our
REXHEP QOSJA: I continue to believe literary and all other standards, I serve the
that Albanian literature remains quite Albanian people, culture and politics well,
behind the artistic standards of European justly, honestly, and creatively. And our
literature. standards, ranging from political to the
We do have very good writers with creative other ones, are frequently set by criteria
gift, but they are hardly writers whose work that I will call provincial, a consoling name.
represents a European artistic standard. Provincialism is an inseparable component
One could say we have artists of European of our mentality; it is its politics, ideology,
standards in performing arts: artists in ethics and aesthetics. The provincialist will
fields of music, theater, film. Inva Mula and turn even the tiniest thing into something
Ermonela Jaho may be artists who have huge, immensely huge! Watch and listen,
attained European artistic standard in the on TV, the two Academies dedicated to
art to which they dedicated their lives. various different anniversaries in Albania
In creative arts, such as literature, in order and Kosova, in which political, literary,
to obtain a standard perceived as European, artistic, scientific and other biographies
interview

the stakes are much higher than they are are so often falsified, erasing the cons and
for the same standard in performing arts. beautifying the pros.
In performing arts one attains such artistic You will see how much the adjective great
standard by extraordinary performance is used and abused. A great singer, great 73
football player, great performer, great the British politician and statesman
dancer, great writer, great politician, great Winston Churchill. In a session of the
statesman, great artist, great fighter. Our British Parliament, while he was a Prime
great ones are many and varied, ranging Minister at the verge of the First World
from twenty to a hundred years. Some of War, Churchill spoke to the Government
the frequent producers of these claims make ministers on the seriousness of the overall
their great ones even greater, turning them state situation, the British army being
into legends, myths or even giants. One unprepared for the war primarily due to its
such trivializer of our historical, literary, armament being insufficient and outdated.
scientific and journalistic thought was not The ministers voiced their opinions one by
sufficed by the dimensions of a legend, a one about what should be done to change
myth or a giant, and therefore called the that desperate state of affairs in the British
victim of his worship a world conqueror! army. The Minister of Culture proposed
God save the Albanian literature from such in his discussion that the financial means
banal fans. We do not hear, however, any allocated to the Ministry of Culture be
mentions of a great liar, great deceiver, transferred to that of Defense. Without
great thief, great ignorant, great destroyer, letting the “savior” Minister finish,
great fabricator, great bore, great servant, Winston Churchill answered: And what,
great flatterer. Mr. Minister, will Britain fight with if there
Once we have the true great ones we will will be no culture?
emerge out of the provincial mindset and The second example: the English literature
the abuse provicialists make of the adjective has reached a European standard or rather
great. it has turned into a literature to determine
How do I see the Albanian literature in the highest artistic standards in European
the future? Better than at present. I see it, literature, along with French, German,
at some point, reaching European artistic Italian or Russian literature, due to one
standards. But so as the time lapse until major reason: in the 16th, 17th or 18th century
such European standards are reached does (I am not sure about the exact century),
not become a long one, some changes writers were given a permanent salary that
should be made in our society and our financially secured them and their family
state policies. We first need to change the members. A lifelong salary was provided,
present attitude of political, social and but they were not asked to write what
state organizations – parties, associations, the government or the state institutions
non-governmental organizations – in both wanted.
Albanian states towards spiritual creativity Even among us, at the time of communism,
and culture in general. The present neglect a number of artists and scientific
of this creativity, the neglect of this culture, researchers were provided a salary without
should be replaced with the care towards it. doing any other work, but, alas, they were
This care needs to be proven not through told to write according to the party line.
empty rhetoric, but become palpable Despite this limiting government request,
and concrete: the miserable, demeaning the best artistic works in our literature have
percentage that the two Albanian states not written during these last twenty-five
today put aside for artistic creativity, years of democracy, or rather this crippled
scientific research, and culture in general, democracy of ours, but during those forty-
should be increased. five years of communist dictatorship. Why
I can present here two examples that in- and how did this happen are things our
spite of not saying everything about history has yet to answer scientifically.
achieving European standards in our Let us say in the end that the European
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literary creativity and scientific research, do artistic standards are a result of objective
say something nevertheless. judgment on the weaknesses, shortcomings
The first example is a statement by and achievements in all areas of creativity
74
and life, a result of the so-called critical necessary value in our intellectual, political,
culture to which Europe owes its splendor cultural and national life.
in arts, philosophy, science and civilization.
We will mature historically once we treat Translated from Albanian: Gazmend
that critical culture as an immeasurably Bërlajolli

(Symbol, No 8, 2016)
Rita Dove
Rita Dove (1952) is an American poet, novelist, playwright,
essayist and university Professor. She is United States
Poet Laureate, a member of the  American Philosophical
Society, the  American Academy of Arts and Sciences,
and the  American Academy of Arts and Letters. She
received  Pulitzer Prize, National Humanities Medal  from
President Bill Clinton, National Medal of Arts from President
Barack Obama and numerous literary and academic honors,
among them 25 honorary doctorates. The annual “Rita Dove
Poetry Award” was established by Salem College Center for
Women Writers in 2004. Her best-known works include: The
Yellow House on the Corner, Thomas and Beulah, Mother Love, On
the Bus with Rosa Parks, American Smooth, Sonata Mulattica etc.
POETRY IS A KIND OF DANCE

- I would like to start by asking you about RITA DOVE: I had no role models for an
your family’s background, because I see their artistic life, so the idea of becoming a poet
importance and their impact in your books, simply wasn’t on my radar screen. But from
especially in “Thomas and Beulah”. the moment I could decipher the squiggles
on the page, I became an avid reader; and
RITA DOVE: I grew up in a first generation later, when I couldn’t find characters in
middle-class African American family books that resembled me, I was driven to
in Akron, Ohio, which is in the northern create them. I remember finishing a story
Midwestern portion of the United States. in a science fiction magazine and picking
Ohio borders Canada, and my home town up a pencil to continue the adventure, with
was known as the “Rubber Capital of the a little black girl filling the hero’s shoes.
World” because all of the major tire factories Reading was my ever-expanding universe;
were located there. My family came up from but when I would get lost in a paragraph or
the South – that is, my mother’s parents passage because the sounds that the words
came from Washington DC and Tennessee, made and the lilt of the phrases wove as
and my father’s family migrated from rural much magic as the plot, I knew I wanted to
Georgia; my father was two years old when do that, too – which meant writing poetry.
his parents arrived in Ohio, in 1923. So Every summer vacation my brother and I
although I grew up as a Midwestern child, would start a little neighborhood newspaper,
there was a strong current of southern and every summer I would quit and launch
heritage running through greater family. My my own magazine, usually called “Poet’s
maternal grandparents were the inspiration Delight”, or something like that. Writing
for Thomas and Beulah. My grandfather came was play and joy and excitement, but I also
north as a young man, fleeing a Jim Crow believed that was all it was – something one
incident in his home town in Tennessee. He did for fun, a child’s hobby – and when I
had formed a musical duo with a friend who grew up, I would have to put away childish
died on the river boat that took them up games and become an adult. I didn’t actively
the Mississippi to Ohio. As a child, I was try to become a writer – that is, to write and
unaware of my grandfather’s past and indeed rewrite and strive for publication– until I
had never thought of him as anything other was in college. After that, it became a matter
than my grandfather— so that after his of trying to figure out a way to earn a living
death, when my grandmother began telling so that I could write – in other words, find a
me stories about his youthful adventures as job to support my passion.
a means of cherishing his memory, I was
haunted by the young man who had been - For many writers childhood is a kind of a lost
a stranger to me. Years later, when I began paradise. Is it the same to you?
writing Thomas and Beulah, those poems
became a way of getting to know the RITA DOVE: I was a painfully shy child
young Thomas in order to understand the and was bullied in school for being smart
grandfather I had loved. and black and not very cute, so childhood
was not a total paradise. Yet the delight of
- Did you know as a child that you wanted to discovery – the way a prism could break
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be a poet and what is the story of your first light into rainbows while mixing a rainbow
poetry? of pigments on the page would turn the
paper black, or how I could feel completely,
78 happily alone for an entire afternoon
watching clouds dance across the sky– RITA DOVE: Utterly, completely
was a kind of paradise that can never be important. But so is the language, and so is
reentered. the silence behind the language.

- What is your writing routine? - How do you include the emotional memory in
your poems?
RITA DOVE: I will work with lots of
fragments, from several different poems, RITA DOVE: This is a difficult question
for a long time before anything coheres. I – you might as well ask how I find the
may start with a line I instinctively know inspiration for my poems! Like many aspects
belongs in the middle of the poem, so I’ll of the creative process, it is a mystery I dare
write it down in the middle of the page. not try to explain too neatly. Including the
Other lines may gather around that first emotional memory is fostered by the drive
one; or I might skip to the beginning and to find words to express the inexpressible,
write until I get stuck, at which point I’ll
turn to another collection of fragments and
work on them until I reach a dead end there,
and so on. The process is like assembling
a jigsaw puzzle; in time – days, weeks,
months – a workable draft of a poem will On the Bus with Rosa Parks [by Rita Dove]
emerge, and then another, and another. is perhaps the first verse History of African-
Each draft is clipped to its fragments and American women’s achievements in the
filed in a colored folder; so that instead of twentieth century. It is a tale that transcends
organizing a poem-in-progress by a title, race, class, and gender divisons through its
which might change, or by theme, which razorsharp gaze that highlights the poetic in
can limit the imagination – I’ll start each politics, and the political in poetry. On the
writing day choosing a folder by its color. Bus with Rosa Parks is her homage to those
Following my instincts. Then the polishing who paved her way into political and artistic
begins, which can take months. It’s a nerve- freedom as well as her poetic integration of a
wracking process, but I’ve found it’s the best politically segregated world before her.
way for me to cultivate the subconscious
connections; though I find myself writing Therese Steffen
through a period of limbo for quite a while,
I frequently end up finishing three or four
poems in the space of a few days.

- Where does your inspiration come from? which means searching for words that not
only awaken the imagination but convey
RITA DOVE: Everywhere. Everything. I the music – the rhythms –an experience
never know what will ignite the spark. Even has generated. First I write out the actual
after all these years as a poet, I still find memory through detail – not always the
myself constantly amazed by the world – facts, but rather dreamed details. This
the slant of sunlight through a snow-laden reimagining opens up emotional pathways
branch, the crunch of dry husks underfoot, which I’ll follow like Alice in Wonderland
the utter fearlessness of a toddler exploring – blindly, boldly – until the poem gives me
her environment for the first time, the its answer.
things people do for and to each other.
- Once you said: “even a leaf falling from a tree
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- How important is the imagination in your is a pretty dramatic story… to the leaf ”. Is
poetry? the way to feel the other’s pain that made you
a poet?
79
RITA DOVE: Is it? I don’t know. It’s just this first book is the preamble of all your
the way I’m wired. Doesn’t every artist feel books. But, what does the first book mean to
the other’s pain? I believe every human you?
being has a natural capacity to feel another’s
pain, but it is the artist who find the way RITA DOVE: As a matter of fact, I have
to articulate that empathy. This kind of just been going over the manuscript for my
connection is one of the touchstones of next book, Collected Poems 1974 – 2004, so
all art; but I wouldn’t want to suggest that I’ve had the strange experience of reading
that first book again. You’re correct that
from this vantage point, it’s easy to see The
Yellow House on the Corner as a preamble to all
my later work. What I’ve noticed, however,
is how much of that first book was driven
Dove’s verse sequence re-creates the life of the by a search for meaning – or rather, a
biracial violinist George Bridgetower, best search for the engine behind my longing as
remembered for being the first performer, and an artist. Much of the surrealistic imagery
the initial dedicatee, of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” found in those poems is a reflection of my
Sonata. (Beethoven replaced his humorous frustration at not being able to find the right
dedication to the “lunatic and mulatto” after words for what I felt.
quarrelling with him, apparently over a
woman.) A virtuosic treatment of a virtuoso’s - To write a good poem, how important are the
life, the poems use all registers—nursery experience and the readings?
rhymes, diary entries, drama—and are stuffed
with historical and musical arcana. Yet the RITA DOVE: My love affair with poetry
book remains highly accessible, reading much started with reading: As a young girl
like a historical novel. Dove is fascinated by reading Shakespeare, I was astonished by
Bridgetower’s life as a black musician and all the worlds I could inhabit merely by
occasionally implies parallels with the world of opening a book, without ever leaving my
jazz and rap, but the issue of race does not chair. I wanted to explore those worlds;
predominate. then I wanted to step into worlds that I
had created myself. Experience can be a
Leo Carey trigger for the poem, but one needn’t have
had the experience oneself. Relating to an
incident from the inside out –inhabiting its
world – is a way of writing about something
one has not experienced personally. What
is crucial is to pay attention to the spark
empathy for only the painful side of life has that stopped me in my tracks in the first
made me a poet. Let’s just say that empathy place –an overheard phrase, a bird flying
for the human condition – the joys as well as back to its nest, a particularly brilliant shade
the sorrows – coupled with understanding of yellow – and then follow that impulse.
another person’s experiences and emotions It’s a way of tracking the subconscious
through the written word, is what I find so while using the tools of my trade, which
compelling in poetry. Still, the quality is are language, music, imagery. Music is a
not confined to poetry – think of Mozart’s pretty important element for me. When I’m
Requiem or Picasso’s Guernica, which can revising a poem, I will hear the lines in my
fill any of us, regardless of language or head, much the same as reading the poem
nationality, with terror and grief. aloud. The auditory component is vital,
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because a poem must use every resource
- Your sense of history and philosophical at its disposal in order to enrapture the
resonance was appeared in “The Yellow House reader, and that includes orchestrating the
80 on the Corner”. Now it’s easy to notice that very breath the reader takes as she reads
the poem. Intertwine the sound with the my father among the blurry images of the
sense, the meaning of the words with their crowd amassed at the Lincoln Memorial. It
melodic signatures, the story being told with was August 28, 1963, the day of the “March
the rhythm of breathing in and breathing on Washington”; I was proud, scared, and
out – and the poem will be more convincing just a little peeved that I had to share my
because it has aligned the reader’s body with birthday with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I
the poet’s consciousness. have a dream” speech! I’ve never lost that
acute sense of connection between the
- “On the Bus with Rosa Parks” is an interesting personal and the world, the elements that
book with living characters, deep reflections and constitute our notions of history and how
strong emotions about the oppressive political people come to figure in that narrative.
system during the Civil Rights movement?
How important was Rosa Parks for you and - In your poems you have consciously tried to
how did you create this panoramic imagery of put a narrative into lyric poems. Would you
contemporary American history in verses? tell us why you unite what the modernism had
separated?
RITA DOVE: I was three years old when
Rosa Parks refused to get up from her seat RITA DOVE: Modernism was forged
on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama; during a period when the world seemed
so for me she existed mostly as an icon, to be falling apart – “the center will not
a revered figure shimmering just beyond hold,” Ezra Pound wrote – because the
reality. And what an unlikely hero! She was rise of cities tore family structures asunder
a woman, she was petite; she looked like the even while wars tore nations apart. The
sweetest person on earth. I couldn’t begin
to imagine the amount of fortitude, of
grace under stress that she had to muster
in order to do nothing – that is, not to rise
from her seat when commanded to do so.
Such courage in the face of such intractable
Rita Dove appears to have blended the
hatred – how did she do it? As I grew older,
lyricism which derives from her musical
I found myself achieving things I had never
background with a fresh sense of movement and
dreamed myself capable of—speaking
rhythm within the poems that owes something
before thousands about poetry, holding
to her developed interest and participation in
press conferences as Poet Laureate of the
dancing. 
United States – and I began to understand
that sometimes being in the right place at the
Edward Byrne
right time makes you the right person; and
you find yourself doing the right thing, the
brave and difficult thing, because you cannot
imagine walking away from everything you
believe in. This is how Rosa Parks became
human to me; it was this human side of the
civil rights struggle I wanted to write about. separation of narrative and lyric was as much
As an African American I have an intimate a protest against romanticism, which used
connection to the wider world; it’s a the seduction of plot to float its emotional
necessary way of looking at reality, to be declarations, as it was an attempt to shake
able to conduct business in the natural writers and readers out a contentment
world while being able to see oneself as borne of a smug acceptance of traditional
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“Other”. History is personal to me. I spent forms; the reassuring cadences of rhyming
my eleventh birthday standing in front of quatrains, for instance. But what goes
a boxy black and white TV in my cousins’ around comes around, and Ezra Pound’s
house in Washington, D.C., searching for exhortation to “Make it new!” should 81
have also included the footnote “Repeat as we read carefully, we can feel the pressure
needed.” In other words, the new becomes of time on that poetic bubble; at some
old, and what used to startle us out of point the speaker will have to step out of
complacency becomes, in time, the New the charmed sphere and enter ordinary life
Complacency. We have become used to again.
seeing stark, short lyric poems describing a
brief moment; these lyrics are not expected - In “Mother Love”, you used the myth of
to explain their surroundings or defend Persephone as an allusion of contemporary,
their outbursts. Insisting on having a making myth as something ordinary. Do you
think that the hell of underworld is the same
as the hell of our world?

RITA DOVE: The hell of our world is far
worse than the Greek underworld! In Greek
mythology, Hades is a place of perpetual
darkness and pain; suffering is constant and
If you find memoirs more immediate than predictable, and you know why you’re there.
contemporary poetry, novels more compelling, In our world, we never know where the
history more vivid, then you haven’t read Rita violence or pain and suffering will sprout up
Dove. A former poet laureate of the United next. This unpredictability is coupled with a
States, Dove is at the height of her powers profound feeling of helplessness, rage that
in On the Bus with Rosa Parks. Her range is has nowhere to go because so much of the
extraordinary.  pain is unwarranted and undeserved. I’d say
that makes our hell a little more horrific.
David Laskin
- After reading “Persephone in hell”, it’s clearly
visible that the rhythm of your poems derivate
from your experience with dancing, singing and
cello playing. Would you describe the connection
between you and the music, and also between
the music and the poetry?

License to Be Sensitive means that poems RITA DOVE: I began playing the cello
can become self-indulgent, opaque, and when I was ten years old; music of all
sentimental. Narrative poetry was gradually types, from blues to classical, formed the
relegated to the camps of Anecdote and aural underpinning of my childhood and
Humor, and then generally disregarded, beyond. I learned to appreciate music from
looked down upon as not Real Poetry at the outside in – through listening – but
all. The very best aspects of Robert Frost also from the inside out, by creating it as
– his gift for rendering vernacular rhythms, a performer. My connection to music is so
his characters, the subtle intertwinings strong that if I had not been a poet, I am
of action and unspoken emotion – were certain I would have become a professional
lumped under the rubric “Rustic Interlude”. cellist. I believe a poem should sing; it
But narrative and lyric are really two sides should float on the music of its saying.
of the same coin. In a narrative poem, a
story is being told on the surface, although - “American Smooth” is infused with dance
the emotional states of those involved are rhythm, jazz atmosphere and different musical
throbbing underneath all the talk and action. titles: Fox trot, Lullaby, Soprano, Bolero,
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In a lyric poem a moment is frozen in time, Samba, Rhumba, Blues etc. Was it music the
and the speaker contemplates the details of first impulse to write this book?
his circumstances within that suspension
82 – it feels quite direct and intimate, but if
RITA DOVE: No, it was lightning! musical theme and form; also it is a poem, as well
Lightning quite literally struck – our as a novel and a drama. How did you write it
house, in 1998, during a rainstorm. The and how much time you spent on it?
house caught fire and burned down. Two
weeks afterwards my husband and I were RITA DOVE: “Sonata Mulattica” took me
still running around in borrowed clothes, about five years to write. If I had known
covered in ashes, recovering things out of at the outset how many years I would be
the debris, and our neighbors decided they committing to one vision, I may not have
wanted to do something special for us. So had the courage to forge on. As it was, I
they invited us to a black tie dinner dance had already written myself deep into the
that weekend and told us: “It’s formal, so book’s territory before I realize how large it
go buy yourself something grand.” Crazily would become. It began innocently enough:
enough, the first clothing we bought after one evening my husband and I were
the calamity was formal attire – an evening watching Immortal Beloved, a movie about
gown, a tuxedo. It was a miraculous feeling, Beethoven, in which George Bridgetower
buying a gown in the middle of all that makes a cameo appearance. My curiosity
misery. Our neighbors had inadvertently
given us the greatest gift of all—the gift of
beauty and grace.
So off we went to the ball. As we sat
watching couples waltzing across the
parquet, I remarked, “I’ve always wanted to
learn to dance like that” – and before we Mother Love is an unsparing book. . . . Rita
knew it, the entire neighborhood signed up Dove’s laser glance exposes and cauterizes its
for a free introductory lesson at the local subjects in new and disturbing ways.
dance studio. So we started taking ballroom
lessons. I wasn’t thinking about writing; I Helen Vendler
was relearning how to live -- no poems, no
thinking about poems, just dancing. And
then, when I was least expecting it, a poem
– about dancing, called “Foxtrot Fridays”
– just slipped out. I began to want to
write again. After all, poetry is already a
kind of dance: The play of contemporary
speech patterns against the bass-line of was kindled: Who was this man of color,
Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter gives the strutting around eighteenth century Europe
English language a kind of syncopation, a with a violin tucked under his arm? So
rhythm under the melody. Just as dancer I Googled him, which sparked my first
is limited by gravity and the capabilities of investigations into his life. At that point, I
the body, poetic expression is continually had no intention of writing a book; I merely
restrained by the dimensions of the page, wanted to understand what it was like to live
the capacity of the lungs, and the very as a black person in Europe at that time,
architecture of language. Ballroom dancing and writing became a means to exploring
helped me understand that poetry has a his state of mind. Very often I find myself
physical component – that the length of a writing poems in order to talk with the
line, for instance, influences how slowly or characters, and this case was no different.
quickly the reader breathes. I began writing, mostly fragments; and as
I grew acquainted with the world that had
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“Sonata Mulattica” referred shaped him I realized that what I actually
Beethoven’s “Kreutzer Sonata”, which was had to do was portray an entire cosmology
originally dedicated to a mulatto violinist George rather than one brief moment in history’s
Bridgetower. It’s like a novel in verses. It has spotlight. This man and his world were far 83
too complex for dabbling; I had to commit uses a different part of the brain to teach,
myself fully to the task. since one is tasked with articulating the
My routine was not very scientific, though mysterious process of creation. Much of
it worked for me: First I would do research, my teaching involves reducing the student-
following interesting tangents as they poet’s fear – after all, she is struggling to
appeared, all without trying to line things put into words what is essentially unsayable.
up chronologically. Then I would turn to Our emotional matrices are in constant flux,
the poems, writing without looking at shifting to accommodate our encounters
the research, for a period of about three on the physical plane of existence, and
months; then it was back to research, and translating these shape shifters into words
so on. I saved all the fact-checking until on a page is a daunting task. So I try to
the last six months, and only in the last turn my students’ focus to the tools of
three months did I finally put together a the trade. Most people readily accept that
timeline and tack a map on the wall in order a painter must acquaint herself with the
to track each character’s journey. I did not properties of paints and canvas; she must
write the poems in order; in fact, one of know what each brush is good for as well
the Beethoven poems (“Vienna Spring”) as understand the rules of perspective
was the very first to be completed. I needed and the musculature of the human body.
to embody the research; to become so The instruments at the writer’s disposal
familiar with his world that I was living in are grammar, vocabulary, and syntax;
it rather than referring to it. I can’t explain consequently, the young poet must build
any better; it all seemed rather enchanted. vocabulary, develop keen observational
I was in deep conversation with all of its skills and study grammar. Punctuation
characters – proud Haydn and haunted can be used to orchestrate the pacing of
Beethoven, prodigy Bridgetower and his a meditation; syntax is the musculature of
charismatic father, the chatty wardrobe the sentence as it is deployed across the
mistress and the paunchy Prince of Wales. blank page.

- All poets know the anxiety of influence. How - You have given advices to the students for a
do you see this anxiety in writing process? long time. What can you say to those students
who want to be poets?
RITA DOVE: My constant worry is that I
won’t realize when I’ve been influenced; I’m RITA DOVE: I ask them who they are
terrified I’ll subconsciously lift a phrase or reading. I really need to know what’s on
echo a cadence from another poet. Since I their reading list, just that it’s long and
am musical, I tend to perceive and organize varied. If a student claims not to like to
the world in terms of rhythm and sounds, read, I know that student will not last as
shades of meaning which emerge through a poet. A writer loves literature first and
the nuanced lilt of vocalization – and that writing second. Honor the art, not your
kind of musical mimicry is more difficult ego.
to detect.
- What are your writing plans now?
- As a poet and as a spokesperson for poetry,
how do you see the connection of teaching RITA DOVE: At the moment I am
poetry with writing poetry? involved in a project called “Reimagining
the Ghetto of Venice”. As part of an
RITA DOVE: Teaching poetry is the polar international roster of artists and writers,
opposite of writing poetry. One writes in I have been asked to reflect upon the
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solitude but teaches within a social situation; concept of the ghetto, past and present.
when creating a poem the writer lives silently (The word ghetto was first mentioned in
inside her head, whereas teaching requires conjunction with the establishment of
84 talking, explaining, before a public. One the Jewish enclave in Venice, 500 years
ago.) The city and university of Venice are I don’t know where it will end, but I’m
planning a commemoration later this year. happily following the Muse wherever she
Many of my recent poems have been part chooses to lead me.
of this project. My original idea – one long
poem, or a group of 5-6 shorter pieces – (Symbol, No 9, 2016)
has expanded into a much larger concept;
Ag Apolloni
Ag Apolloni (1982) is a Kosovar author and Professor at
University of Prishtina. His works are: “Zomb” (2009),
“Four Plays” (2010), “The Postmodern Parable” (2010),
“The Paradigm of Proteus” (2012), “The Howl of the Wolf ”
(2013), “Zazen” (2014) and “Konica’s suitcase” (2016).
THE END OF THE ERA OF ENDINGS

Postmodernism is widely considered to be the movement that has brought about several
endings: the ending of metanarratives as collective idealisms, the ending of history
as the end of totalitarian systems, the ending of reality as a simulated end, the
ending of seriousness as end of nostalgia, the ending of inspiration as the end of
literature’s sacredness, the ending of magic as the end of author’s magic trick, the
ending of creation as the end of originality and the ending of the novel as the end
of genre purity. Yet, in the 1990s, another ending was being talked about – that of
postmodernism.
Let us first view the endings brought about by this poetics, in order to then view its
own one.

Key words: Postmodernism, metanarrative, hyperreality, bricolage, performatism,
poioumenon, découpé, collage

THE END OF METANARRATIVES THE END OF HISTORY

Industry is increasing the pollution scale on In 1989, with the falling of the Berlin Wall and
daily basis, economy is powerless against communism, Francis Fukuyama published
world’s hungry stomachs, the overwhelming his famous essay The End of History, which
development of vehicle production helps the he later expanded and supplemented. This
increase in accident rates, nuclear weapons philosophical phrase that marked the end
forecast a thermonuclear war, which is why of history was preceded by some religious
modernism’s positivist epistemology based on and philosophical metanarratives. It is
the idea that knowledge and science will make unanimously accepted that precursors of
the world a better place, does not soundvery Fukuyama had been Hegel, Marx and Kojève,
convincing. Postmodernists were the first to according to whom “the end of history” meant
express their doubts about this epistemology, the coming of freedom for all, as a result of
viewing it simply as another metanarrative (fr. the Napoleon’s wars, after whom there will
métarécit) and insisting on the idea that just like be no more wars and revolutions (Hegel);
others, it was subject to abuse (Walker 1996). the advent of class equality which was seen
Postmodernism is thus not a tendency of as the end of the class struggle, the greatest
modernism, but quite the opposite. conflict in history (Marx); the advent of post-
Jean-François Lyotard’s notion of métarécit has revolutionary state as an ideal (universal and
become widely recognized as a metanarrative, homogeneous) one, which would bring an
encompasing the idea of grand narratives end to class and national conflicts (Kojève).
such as enlightenment, idealism, communism So, the end of conflicts is the beginning of
and others that postmodernism rejects by a peaceful life and the end of human history,
declaring its distrust in them: Simplifying to which becomes Fukuyama’s subject matter,
the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity according to whom the end of history means
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toward metanarratives (Lyotard, 1979: 7). In the coming of liberal democracy as the only
short, postmodernism brings about the end form of governance for all countries (see
88 of metanarratives. Fukuyama 1989).
Of course, Fukuyama’s thesis was questioned limited to the content, while the game
and criticized by various philosophers, as continues with the form (montage, collage,
it purports to convince people that the bricolage, etc.). Thus, irony is a postmodern
‘American style’democracy is the solegenuine filter of serious stories.
political system, although his thesis is
illustrated with examples from European THE END OF INSPIRATION
Union and proclaims democratic pluralism.
In antiquity, inspiration was viewed as a sacred
THE END OF REALITY act that preceded creation or writing. It was
assumed that the poet was during inspiration
In spite of its religious background, the in a divine drunken state and belonged to God
term simulacra (lat. simulacrum) is related (gr. enthousiasmos– belonging to God). This
to postmodern reality. According to Jean concept was maintained until romanticism,
Baudrillard who launches and represents the to be questioned in modernism, and denied
philosophy of simulation, today’s reality is no in postmodernism. The passage of literature
longer a reality, as it is dominated by virtuality. from degree zero to second degree is the
He bases his concept of simulation on the passage from inspiration to combination.
virtual world offered by the screen in the Thus, the entire postmodern literature is ars
simulated world of Disneyland, in the world combinatoria with a style of bricolage.
overwhelmed by the media transforming it In postmodern literature, inspiration is
into a hyperreality. It was thus expected of denied because the postmodern author
him to declare after the collapse of the Twin takes the subject from various books and
Towers on September 11, 2001“they did it, documents to structure the new text as
but we wanted it”, suggesting that we had a network of countless references and
been longing for something big and true to quotations. The author’s learnedness rejects
happen for real, as such things only occurred the inspiration by muses. The postmodern
as simulated. work is controlled by reason, not emotions.
According to Baudrillard, hyperreality as
a postmodern state has replaced reality. THE END OF MAGIC
Internet and media have created a media
reality that has brought the end of the banal For a long time, readers have read novels
reality. Consequently, as reality has become that were offered to them as a result, not as
a hyperreality, literature has turned from a process. Since ancient times theoreticians
fiction to surfiction (Spanos) or metafiction have spoken of the principles of literary
(Hutcheon). writing, but without the process of creation.
Creation was regarded as a kind of magic of
THE END OF SERIOUSNESS a writer who offers us only the result of that
magical process.
Even when dealing with serious topics, However, the explanation of this process in
postmodernism processes them in complex postmodernism turns into a creative principle
structures and filters them through ironic known as poioumenon (Alastair Fowler, 1989:
discourse. The irony is not articulated simply 372). The term refers to a specific type of
as a mockery, but rather as a rational proof metafiction which indicates the process of
vest protecting the writer from nostalgia. In creation, like in such cases when during the
order to combat nostalgia, postmodernism narration, the narrator is concerned about the
turns everything into an ironical game, which work being created and starts explaining how
is why the era of postmodernism is also (s)he started it, how (s)he will continue and
termed the era of irony. then end it. This phenomenon occurs often,
According to Linda Hutcheon, being a such as with Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire,
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historiographic metafiction, the postmodern Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Kurt
narrative is pastime with past time (1988: 105- Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five or Breakfast of
123). This leisure, as can be assumed, is Champions, etc. 89
The poioumenon phenomenon has become an when art is seen more as a combination than
identifying mark of postmodern novels, with a creation. The postmodern author does not
the reader somehow becoming a participant conceive originality as ex nihilo invention, but
of the postmodern text’s construction, or as a specific way of treating an object.
at least being allowed to participate in the As John Barth says, postmodern literature
workshop of the writer to see his magic trick. is a literature of exhaustion, which is why
it operates with previous practices, thus
THE END OF CREATION earning the epithet of the literature of
replenishment, and receiving within it all
Although all writers of a language deal with an previous literary practices, because it is an ars
equal amount of letters, some are considered combinatoria. Because the postmodern work
great and some small. Although all writers of is a bricolage, postmodern authors are often
a language use the same characters, they still accused of plagiarism. Among the most
try to be different. All writers of a language famous examples is D. M. Thomas’s novel
have one alphabet, meaning they have the The White Hotel, which imitates many styles,
same number of letters available. Logically, mixes many materials previously dealt with
the greatest creator of a national literature by others and contains several paragraphs of
is the inventor of the alphabet. Others are Anatoly Kuznetsov’s Babi Yar.
not creators (inventors), but combinators. Thus, creation comes to an end as originality
Paradoxically, the latter are considered and lives under the mask of authenticity.
creators, rather than the former, which
means that combinators, and not inventors, THE END OF NOVEL
are creators.
In this sense, Umberto Eco saw the alphabet According to two scholars, Wellek and Warren,
as the first combinatorial machine. Different theory of genres is a principle of order: it classifies
people combine the same letters. Different literature and literary history not by time or place
people combine the same letters differently. (period or national language) but specifically literary
In Orwell’s terms, we could say that all writers types of organization or structure (1984: 226).
are equal, but some writers are more equal than This theory of the three literary genres was
others. They are “equal” (the same) in tools launched at the time of romanticism. Lyrical,
(letters) they posess, but are “more equal” epic and dramatic genres are the arch-genres
(different) in the ability to use those tools. of the romantic triade (Genette, 1979: 70).
And the value of writers is not in creating, Goethe, being a romantic rebel, disobeyed
but in “combining differently.” the rules of literary genres, on the grounds
The alphabet is the invention. Everything that their combination can produce unlimited
else in literature is a combination of letters, variations of poetic genres. Aristotle was not
yet in postmodernism a novel cannot simply a follower of the genre purity either, while
be called a combination of letters, but a Plato included the epopee under the mixed
combination of signs. Images also enter the manner. Linda Hutcheon, having studied
novel through the method of montage, with the poetics of postmodernism, reaches the
techniques of collage, cut-up, or découpé (started conclusion that there can be no more talk of
by Dadaists and followed by postmodernists), pure genre of a postmodern work, because
which allows for the implication of photos, there is intertextuality and complex generic
pentagrams, paintings, drawings and sketches interaction (1988: 139).
in the text. Therefore, the terms novella and novel are
The potpourri (Walker 1996) in postmodern devoid of the genre determining meaning,
theory marks the work that mixes everything marking only what Genette calls manner (fr.
inside itself, the work built by the montage mode), which in these cases is a narrative
technique and resulting in a collage. Art manner, although within those literary works
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knows no geographical boundaries, so the one encounters a variety of forms, discourses
inclusion of different cultures within a work and styles that, in case of sticking to strict
90 of art is quite normal, particularly today, principles, should be left out.
In postmodernism, the novel is considered already been going on for more than thirty years. We’re
the dominant literary form. Yet, with poetry, in about the 20th year of what I call performatism,
drama, scientific, religious, political and other so I’m not holding my breath. May the best term
texts introduced within this form, the very win! (Eshelman 2014: 7). Andreas Huyssen
nature of the novel is questioned. The novel concludes that the priority of our time is not
has indeed dominated, but once the question to invent a term to name this chaotic era: The
is asked about what percentage of it has been current situation is too “unübersichtlich” (a term
a novel and what percentage other forms, a Habermas already used to describe postmodernism
suspicion arises about its dominance, and a 30 and more years ago) to encapsulate it in a single
need emerges to view it more as bricolage of term. Just look at the multiplication of biannials
genres than as a self-sustained form. Thus, across the world. There are “other stories” of modern
the novel has ended from the very punches it experience, polyvocal interventions, a cacophony of
received from other genres internally. styles, practices, media experiments for which it would
be presumptuous to come up with one name. There is
THE END no such thing as ‘global literature’, or Weltliteratur,
least of all literature written in English. The most
Postmodernism marked the beginning of a common name by default, as it were, has become
new sensitivity and the end of an old form, “contemporary art.” But maybe we should forget the
because it was written with ironic filters and issue of naming and instead focus on the differently
erudite capacity. Yet by the 1990s there was an situated narratives of art and literature, on certain
attempt to substitute it by other movements nodal points in a world wide web of lived experience
which consider it an ended period. and its translations into art and literature (Huyssen
Postmodernism has ended as a period, and 2015: 15). Linda Hutcheon, who created the
as an already finished project is has enriched poetics of postmodernism, confirms the
the golden fund of literary canons (like end of postmodernism but prefers not to
classicism, neoclassicism, romanticism, participate in the debate of naming the next
realism or modernism), permitting new era: I do think we are on the verge of something new,
movements and poetics to follow. Linda or perhaps we are already there, and it is going to have
Hutcheon, Ihab Hassan, Andreas Huyssen, everything to do with the digital technologies and new
Raoul Eshelman, Alan Kirby, Tom Turner, social media that are now part of our lives. I don’t
Mikhail Epstein, Eric Gans, Robin van den worry that we don’t have a label for it yet: we will.
Akker, Billy Childish, Charles Thomson But this feels like something new to me (Hutcheon
and others have spoken about the end 2013: 15). Meanwhile Ihab Hassan asks what
of postmodernism. Some have even is there beyond postmodernism, and then
suggested designations for the era following answers: we hardly know what postmodernism was
postmodernism: performatism (Eshelman) (Hassan 2003: 303).
digimodernism (Kirby), post-postmodernism For the time being we cannot know what
(Turner), trans-postmodernism (Epstein), term will name our era, but one thing is
postmillennialism (Gans), metamodernism certain: postmodernism that brought so
(van den Akker) remodernism (Childish and many endings, has ended.
Thomson) etc.
While the majority insists on protecting and Translated from Albanian: Gazmend
promoting their own designations, Eshelman Bërlajolli
insists on the end of postmodernism, leaving
the naming of the new era to time itself: BIBLIOGRAPHY
Naming epochs (or anything else in the humanities)
is a big gamble. There are a lot of names floating 1. Barth, John. The Friday Book. Virginia:
around now—performatism, metamodernism, John Hopkins University Press, 1984.
digimodernism, post-postmodernism, to name just 2. Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacres et simulation.
critique

a few. Probably it will take years before any real Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1981.
consensus emerges. “Postmodernism” wasn’t generally 3. Derrida, Jacques. Writing and Difference.
accepted as a term until the late 1980’s, after it had New York - London: Routledge, 2001. 91
4. Eco, Umberto. The searching of the perfect 11. Huyssen, Andreas. “The past, present and
language. New Jersey: Wiley Blackwell, future of art.” Symbol, No. 4, Tirana –
1997. Prishtina – Skopje, 2015.
5. Eshelman, Raoul. “Performatism, the epoch 12. Kojève, Alexandre. Introduction to
after postmodernism.” Symbol, No. 2, Tirana the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the
– Prishtina – Skopje, 2014. Phenomenology of Spirit. Ithaca and
6. Fowler, Alastair. The History of English London: Cornell University Press, 1980.
Literature. Cambridge: Harvard 13. Lyotard, Jean-François. La condition
University Press, 1989. postmodern. Paris: Minuit, 1994.
7. Fukuyama, Francis. “The End of 14. Singer, Isaac Bashevis. TIME, Vol. 122,
History?” The National Interest, summer No. 3, 18 July 1983.
1989. 15. Spanos, William. “The Detective and the
8. Hassan, Ihab. “Beyond Postmodernism: Boundary: Some Notes on the Postmodern
Toward an Aesthetic of Trust.” Modern Literary Imagination,” Boundary 2, 1: 147
Greek Studies, Vol. 11, Australia – New - 68, 1972.
Zeland, 2003. 16. Walker, Thomas. “Postmodernism and the
9. Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of study of the future.” Futures Research
Postmodernism. New York and London: Quarterly, 1996.
Routledge, 1988. 17. Wellek, René; Warren, Austin. Theory of
10. Hutcheon, Linda. “Beyond Postmodernity.” Literature. New York: Harcourt Brace &
Symbol, No. 1, Tirana – Prishtina – Company, 1984.
Skopje, 2013.
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92
SYMBOL
Cultural Magazine
NO 10
Tirana-Pristina-Skopje
2017

ISSN 2415-2749
(Online)
ISSN 2310-9998
(Print)

Format
A4 (21x29.7 cm)

Press run
500 copies

New Eurozine partner: Symbol (Kosovo)

The Albanian-language cultural journal Symbol has joined the Eurozine network. Established in 2013,
the magazine is published in Prishtina and distributed throughout the capitals of Kosovo, Macedonia
and Albania. The journal’s staff hails from all three countries.
Editor-in-chief Ag Apolloni, who is also an author, poet, playwright and literary critic, heads up the
team, whose members include the renowned Albanian poet, writer, critic and professor of literature
Agron Tufa.
Intended as a bridge between cultures and a forum where different artists articulate their
visions, Symbol features writings on literature, theatre, film, music, media and the arts.
The journal’s first issue set the tone for subsequent issues, starting with the well-known theorist of
postmodernism Linda Hutcheon responding to crucial questions of our time, and suggesting that
postmodernism is coming to an end as the dawn of something new begins.
Symbol’s webpages include free and complete access to all the journal’s issues, and every issue contains
a selection of articles in both Albanian and English.
Published 2016-08-01
Read more: www.eurozine.com

Sponsor

Republic of Kosovo
Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport
2017