Blesok no. 60, May-June, 2008
Dimkovska's Hidden Camera
(a review about the exile, writing, woman and "pure" through the diary and camera of a nomadic poetess)
What do Sylvia Plath, Marina Tsvetaeva and Virginia Woolf have in common? All three of them were well known writers and all three of them committed suicide. What makes the women writers decide on this kind of “self-homicide” (let us use Lidija Dimkovska's term from her book of poetry “Nobel vs. Nobel”). Is it because they are unable to fully fulfill themselves in the world of writers that has been known as a “male” one or because of the deeply complex nature that is independent of gender and social circumstances. Is the deep ingeniousness the reason for the death or fragility of the “sweet-melancholic” nature of art and the artist. When looking into their biographies we come to different conclusions. But are biographies always valid? There are mean mouths that would say that their biographies are more valuable and more interesting that their written works. The well-known Romanian unsystematic philosopher nihilist Emil Cioran says in his book “A Short History of Decay”: “Biographies of poets were invented to replace the life they never had…” Are the prosecution and exile of Cvetaeva guilty for her fate? Are the frequent infidelities of Ted Hughes to Sylvia Plat hand her inability to get out of the “poetic shadow” of her husband the reason for her death? If the split in Woolf's soul, her concealed lesbian feelings and the fear of war the things that brought her closer to her decision to drown? We will never be able to fully penetrate the psyche of these talented women writers.
Women writing (if the division of the logos to men's and women's exists at all?) has more that definitely been established at the Macedonian literary science for several decades, and if we go back a century earlier one could see that it existed, even in a blurrier form, in the stories and songs of the “sources” of the collectors of folk work, such as: Grigorovič V; Verkovič S.; Miladinovci brothers; Šapkarev K.; Gjinovski P. and a number of other people from the canonized Macedonian folk literature. The women rhapsodists as Depa Kavaveva, Dafina from Prosinek, Gjurgja Koteva, etc. appear as the most important informers on the folk tradition and folklore. It is not by accident that we called them “sources” (the “nature” of the woman is the same as the one of the source and the land – she gives birth and recreates). The old stories, songs, customs had practically passed through the “creative filter” of these famous singers and as such they were canonized in the collections. However, it seems that there is a marginalization of these “interpreters” and the women authors in general until the period of 70es of 20th century. In one of the most important studies on the Macedonian women authors, prof. Jasna Koteska reveals the scandalous and miserable 2.7% women names in the book “History of the Macedonian Literature of 20th Century” by Miodrag Drugovac; some of these names and mothers and sisters of Macedonian writers, and some of the names are reserves for the “muses” of the authors. Why has the literature created by women authors been marginalized? The explanations are in Koteska's study. The long lasting, even millennium long domination of the men's writing has created a field in which the women authors are marginalized or present in a very small number. The woman is removed from the libraries and it seems that she has no predecessor of her own; for a long time it was considered that every woman author was born by her own “phoenix”, without predecessors and influence of her ancestors. This is the thesis of Virginia Woolf in her most famous work, the essay “A Room of Their Own”. Looking for herself on library shelves, the woman loses herself and she is a witness of her own exclusion. Developing the story about the potential Shakespeare's sister, Judith Shakespeare, who is as talented as her brother, but can not reach a third of his glory and productivity simply because of the patriarchal code that obliges her to give birth to children, and not to books, obliges her to clean the kitchen rather than “cleaning” the sentence and to mend clothes rather than “mend” dramatic dialogues. To show that beautiful literature does not know of sex and gender, we have decided to analyze Lidija Dimkovska's novel “Hidden Camera” for which she received the Stale Popov award of the Writers' Association of Macedonia in 2004 (this novel was also in the closest competition for the “Novel of the Year” award of “Utrinski vesnik”). It is not by accident that we started this review with the names of Plath, Woolf and Tsvetaeva. These women writers appear as part of Dimkovska's obligatory reading when she asks the question of exile, writing and woman in her novel. This triad is constantly observed by the main narrator in the novel, the hidden camera.
The complete novel is a made in a form of a mélange of two plots, one of them led by the narrator, the hidden camera, stored in the right toe of Lila Serafimovska (the main character of the novel), whose task is to write a novel about Abroad in her writing and life, to make a diary fiction or a fictional diary, upon the “order” of an Austrian foundation; the other story is practically the diary records of Lila, made during her numerous poetic events and studies abroad. In the novel, there are almost all of Lila's travels: the study and lector stay in Bucharest, the poetic events in Sweden, the USA, Taipei, Amsterdam and many others. Practically, numerous characters who also tell parts of their life stories appear in the novel, thus enabling the novel to “branch the tree of plots”. Instead of a diary, Lila offers a fragmented biography that depicts her fears, frustrations, anecdotes of her life, all of them deeply contemplated and poeticized as a result of the abundant reading. The choice of the author is really interesting. Why was the toe chosen as the main narrator and spectator of all events and meetings, even the most intimate ones? Was it because the toe is the most remote part of our body and our heart, and thus being more objective in presenting the “real life story of Lila”? Is it because it is on a spot where the people do not keep their eyes? Why did not the author choose her breasts, her hair, her belly button as the narrator? According to the dictionary of symbols, the toe symbolizes power, but it is also brought into relation with the phallic symbol. Is this male symbol necessary for the author to keep the necessary duality to create an “androgynous literary product”. But the author is not one of those women writers who pay attention to sex/gender of their writing. The camera appears after the small surgical intervention that Lila had as a small child, when careless during her bath, her mother cut her with the stone of her ring. The camera has existed since then and it marks all events that happen to Lila. The camera through the novel addresses with We taking into consideration its owner as well. The title of the novel itself corresponds to the task given to her by the foundation. “Write a book about that!… about all of your countries, about the spirit of nomadism with rough feet! Therefore, one of the explanations about the selection of the toe as a spectator is maybe because of the nomadic nature of feet. The eye observes the “newly discovered” city or state, and the foot (leg) is what walks on them. The metatextuality of the novel is interesting: Lila should write a book to justify her scholarship. The book is made of a diary A.-fictional writing, which is inserted in the integral narration reserved for the camera. The omniscience belongs to the camera, but it is a seeming omniscience only. Even the camera has a “subjective” note in its story telling at moments. So, Lidija Dimkovska's novel about “abroad” entitled “Hidden Camera” has the task of Lila Serafimovska to write a novel about “abroad” that would be like a hidden camera, and it is helped by her diary records about the past and her fellow traveler the “hidden camera”, Several of the plot lines in the novel are built on the basis of the poems that Dimkovska has published before in her poetry collections “Bitten Nails”, and “Nobel vs. Nobel”. This is the case with the poem “A Punjabi Addresses Jin in His Dream” which is related to Joseph's (one of scholarship roommates in Vienna) dream and the poem “Hair Conditioner”, where there is the conversation of Lila with a person in charge at a hospital in Greece, when she finds out about the death of Edlira (the third member of the apartment for paid artists of the Austrian foundation).
This book follows the life trail of Lila, who lived and is fascinated by her home, but even more by her abroad; however, she is not torn at all as it is the case with big part of the Macedonian books, where the distinction here : there is most often deadly for the characters. She does not fear her I and her Home in the European metropolises; on the contrary, the absence from Home helps her find it in: the discussions on Romanian literature in the breaks between the lectures in Bucharest, in the rice bowl in Taipei, in the smell of Lenor softener in Vienna, in the hotel room in Stockholm, in the body of her beloved husband A. from Ljubljana. Nevertheless, there is an ironic opposition between the West and Lila's “country”. In the first part of the novel, Lila's hidden camera tells about the first encounter with Vienna, where the children from the Balkans, Lila and her friend Vesna have a tour around Vienna with the couple Vera and Ismet who are small smugglers of coffee for Yugoslavia. The opposition between their clothes made by “Crvena zvezda” and “Čik” (the official trademark at that time) and the clothes coming from the West, Slovenia, as “Slovenia šport” and “Montka 501” is given. This opposition of there and here is accompanied by the comments of the adults, who utter the phrase “rotten capitalist society” when they speak of the western European countries in the novel.
There is also intense irony in the Hamlet-like dilemma of Lila when she wakes up in Vienna for the first time, that is the second time, not as a child, but as a professional writer, who was founded to stay in Vienna to write a novel about “her abroad”. Her dilemma is “Good morning, Vienna? Ajvar of jam, that is the question?” This dilemma of the selection between the Balkan ajvar or jam, as a “synecdoche” of the cultivated western European meal put Lila before a choice, to remain herself or to put on a stranger's skin. From her previous experience we know that you can feel the new home a home only if you melt in it and in the crowd. That is why she chooses jam. This dilemma of hers seems to be borrowed from the Slovenian movie “Kajmak in marmelada” of 2003, directed by the well known dissident Branko Gjurić – Gjura (Top lista nadrealista). There too, the “Balkan mentality” in the Slovenian “Europocentric” codex is shown in a comic way.
Besides Lila, there are two more fellows of the foundation in this Vienna apartment, the Pakistani ethno-musician Joseph and the Albanian photographer Edlira. The main “link” of the Vienna foundation, the Austrian Klaus, who takes care of his fellows, starts asking questions at the very beginning about their family histories of dissidents and the reasons for their coming to a western European state. The depersonalization of the artists is obvious with Clauss, for he is more interested in the origin and the political background of the grandfathers of the fellows then in themselves. Lila does not remain uncritical about this. Joseph is the only one who has somebody in is family who had left for France for political reasons, while Edlira is a granddaughter of a close associate of Enver Hoxha, the big Albanian communist dictator, who kept his land in a severe isolation until the 80es of the 20th century, when Albania was opened for the world after his death. But this girl only seemingly enjoyed the privileges of the communist system among the elite. With Lila, the story is even more frustrating that he she can not choose a side if Yugoslavia or Macedonia after the independence was better. At a deeper level, it is seen that she is still not indifferent about this. Her teachers on couple of occasions made her write a poem about the healing of comrade Tito, and after her child's surprise about why not writing about her grandmother and grandfather who are also sick, she is “deservingly” published and insulted. In another occasion, they made her read the poem “Jama” by Ivan Goran Kovačić, not dressed in her long expected pink clothes, but in a black dress and white shirt, as ordered by her teacher, which leads to interruption of the event. The hidden camera even gives episodes from the childhood in a kindergarten, at the time when the cars drive in odd and even days, and the children went to the kindergarten in odd and even days. It seems that Leibniz “binary system” was also present in the kindergartens. On the day of grief on the occasion of the death of comrade Tito, on 4 May 1980, the dentist refuses to take out little Lila's sore tooth, telling her that she should not have had a toothache on that day, since everybody is in grief, and that tooth is supposed to hurt, when everybody is in grief and sorrow because of president's death. These small episodes make Lila be lot a large extent critical about the former system, but she does not do it by choosing a “quasinationalistic” side (typical today for a big part of the yesterday's devoted communists who became nationalists and capitalists via an incredibly “expedite mimicry”, such as the case with Lila's father, who becomes a devoted opponent to the communists after the 1991 independence, although he was a sworn communist); on the contrary, she does it with a cosmopolitan patriotism, certain enough about who she is. Only such a person is practically capable of cultural exchange and cooperation, of meetings with cultures and civilizations. For Lila, home is any place where literature and her A. are. The home of the poet is where his/her verses are. That is why the poets live their exile as a creation. Therefore her fascination with the works of Cvetaeva, Brodsky, Nabokov and many other poets who found their literary “sanctuary” in exile. In an occasion, Lila says: “If somebody asks me about a definition of poetry, I shall say: Poetry, my dear brother, is a memory inflammation, nothing more or less”. The nomadic nature, the encounters and people met are the things that create the arsenal of our writing. Almost all characters that Lila encounters in her travels are open people, who on their free will learn about Lila and the Macedonian culture. But there are also examples of xenophobia in the novel by some characters.
The paid art of the Albanian Edlira in Vienna is to photograph the coffee grounds from the emptied cups. This modern type of art for her comes from her childhood. If we cite the “abject art” (with which I was acquainted in the book Sanitary Enigma, which helped me make some “new readings” of the novel), to find the artistic in the rest, we shall agree that the coffee grounds with Edlira is related to the episodes of her early childhood, when she was forced to go to another room with her sisters and be quiet, while her communist grandfather (collaborator of Hoxha) was sitting with his collaborators discussing politics. After these suspicious guests left, only the cups with the coffee grounds would remain on the table in the guest room. Deep in her psyche, the grounds was related to the “dirt” of the acts of these people, and in this way her liberation from the communist regime resulted in a fascination with the dirty coffee cups. The childhood prohibition to touch the coffee grounds is now replaced with the freedom to photograph them. After the end of communism, the grounds is already a democratic abject that can be reviewed, and even treated as art. The parallel is clear:
– drunk coffee grounds with
– the rage that is left after the “important” guests have left with
– the stains after the “feast” of the people whom nobody has seen, except being warned about their presence.
There is another review of abjective in the episode of pumpkin seed nibbling. The pumpkin seed nibbling (in the novel) is experienced as a reflection of the societies in transition. This unhygienic pleasure is a ritual of cleansing, via nibbling and spitting the seeds, talking and gossiping. Just as coffee cup reading, the nibbling of seeds is an interesting ritual. This is most present in the episodes of the stay in Romania, which accounts for most of the dairy records of Dimkovska.
On several occasions in the novel Lila discusses washing powders and bleach. She likes the scent that reminds her of the tidiness of her home and returns her to her childhood. An episode is related to the cleaning of stairs of a building during the first stay of Lila in Vienna, together with her friend Vesna. They had to clean the entrance of the building to have a rewards from aunt Vera, who would trick them anyway. In a western European environment cleaning and the other sanitary works are reserved for those coming from non-western European countries. It is interesting how the ultra right wing nationalism (present in some countries even today) aspired to “clean” the country from those who work on and exist from cleaning the toilets and entrances of their countries.
The aspect of the pure is present in the scene with Lila, where the small child, as the camera “states”, when she was at her grandmother's in Šlegovo (the Eden place and tie of Lila) was wrapped and left in bed. The taste of milk attracted many ants which surrounded her body, but none entered her diapers. The ant, if we look into the interpretation of the Dictionary of Symbols, symbolizes: hard work, patience, modesty, far-sightedness. The ants symbolize order and the restlessness according to Chinese interpretations, and benevolence according to Biblical interpretation. Lila's grandfather is the one with the bitten (by snake) finger, who chanted on Lila indicating her being special, protected and famous in the future.
The story of the Pakistani musician Joseph is also interesting. With him, the infantilism and ignorance of the rough and practical side of the world come to the surface. He is an expression of the ultimate honesty and naiveté, a true Pakistani Myshkin, who finds love in the erotic sense in Vienna. In the short love affair with Edlira (who is later forced to return home and be treated in the neighboring Greece because of damages on her liver as a result of Hepatitis C), Joseph finds love, but he constantly has a catholic pang of conscience, that he had betrayed God and would not go to Heaven. With Lila, the belief in God is also present, but there is a different representation of God. According to the Orthodox code, God is not revengeful, but he is forgiving and merciful. A dream of Lila is even presented in such a strong outburst of images which are very chaotic, but deeply related, which makes this dream remind of one of the opening dreams in the novel “The White Hotel” by Donald Michael Thomas. In her dream, the Orthodox church in Ljubljana has been turned into a public toilet, where all of her friends and their families waited in line, and when she finally managed to enter and to go to the bathroom, she saw that instead of a toilet seat there were candle holders, which she had to extinguish with her own urine!!! After such a dream, there is the question on where the relation between the church and the toilet is. Do both, in a deeper level, help a man get rid of his “burden”; of course physiologically in the toilet and spiritually in the church. Or, are the church and the toilet places where we can only be alone with ourselves. The popular Bulgarian poet and prose writer Georgi Gospodinov who often takes toilet and flies as the light motif in his work says that the only place where we are totally alone and free of others watching us is the toilet. The situation with the feeling of dedication to God is the strongest when a person is alone in the church (here we exclude those mass gatherings on Christian holidays, which are more live carnivals then celebrations of God). Although this is not our research theme, but more of a psychoanalysis provenance, we still feel it necessary to mention briefly the episode with Melissa Fondakowski, a poetess that Lila met at a poetic event. This poetess, in the poem dedicated to her girlfriend, equalizes the hole in a tooth with a yearning for joining.
In this review, we managed to analyze but a part of the episodes in the novel and its issues from the aspect of the topics given in its subheading. Of course, it is far from covering everything. Such a complex, erudite novel written in a post-modern manner with an expressed symbolism and at times strong metaphors and interesting intertwining of several stories opens a broad specter of new readings and interpretations.
Вулф, Вирџинија: Сопствена соба, Сигмапрес, Скопје, 1998;
Димковска, Лидија: Изгрицкани нокти, Култура, Скопје, 1998;
Димковска, Лидија: Нобел против Нобел, Блесок, Скопје, 2001;
Димковска, Лидија: Скриена камера, Магор, Скопје, 2004;
Котеска, Јасна: Македонско женско писмо,– Теорија, историја и опис–, Македонска книга, Скопје, 2002;
Котеска, Јасна: Санитарна енигма, Темплум, Скопје, 2006;
Котеска, Јасна: Постмодернистички литературни студии, Македонска книга, Скопје, 2002;
Сјоран, Емил: Оглед за распаѓањето, Култура, Скопје, 1996;
Шевалие, Жан; Гербран, Ален: Речник на симболите, Табернакул, Скопје, 2005;
Freud, Sigmund: Uvod u psihoanalizu, Matica Srpska, Novi Sad, 1979.
Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska
1. Димковска, Лидија: Нобел против Нобел, Блесок, Скопје, 2001.
2. Сјоран, Емил: Оглед за распаѓањето, Култура, Скопје, 1996, стр. 133.
3. Котеска, Јасна: Македонско женско писмо,– Теорија, историја и опис–, Македонска книга, Скопје, 2002, стр. 26.
4. Димковска, Лидија: Скриена камера, Магор, Скопје, 2004
5. Димковска, Лидија: Скриена камера, Магор, Скопје, 2004, стр. 8
6. Димковска, Лидија: Изгрицкани нокти, Култура, Скопје, 1998, стр. 27.
7. Димковска, Лидија: Нобел против Нобел, Блесок, Скопје, 2001.
8. Тука интересно е даден детскиот аспект на „полигамијата“. Во еден од оние денови (во периодот познат како „стабилизација“) кога Лила не смеела да оди во непарен ден на училиште, затоа што претходниот ден бил „нејзиниот“ ден за на училиште, ја чувале разноразни тетки и комшики, кои според нејзините кажувања, секојдневно ја „ветувале“ за своето комшиче или внук. Интересно е како преку ваквите шеги во младоста полесно се преминува преку „ бенигниот промискуитет“ кој дури и се одобрува, за подоцна моралот и јавното мнение во патријахалните средини ја гушат оваа во младоста антиципирана „слобода“.
9. Димковска, Лидија: Скриена камера, Магор, Скопје, 2004, стр. 206
10. Котеска, Јасна: Санитарна енигма, Темплум, Скопје, 2006
11. Мораме да имаме и предвид дека талогот од кафе и фасцинацијата од него, е присутна и во голем дел од муслиманскиот свет, но и Балканските држави кои долго време биле под турско – ориентално влијание. Гледањето на кафе е важен ритуал и ден денес, како еден вид на домашен секојдневен Тарот, за фрлање поглед во блиската иднина, најчесто кон темите на љубов, пари и здравје.
12. Но дека белилото не секогаш успева да донесе Чистост, укажува еден расказ од бугарската писателка Елена Алексиева, наречен „Синот“, каде една група научници сака да го клонира Исус Христос, за да го спаси светот. Користејќи го како генетски материјал велот со кој Исус се избришал пред Св. Вероника, и со тоа го направил својот лик на истиот, оваа група научници се стреми кон репродукција на еден нов Исус. Но, куќната помошничка на главниот научник, не знаејќи за вредноста на велот, го става за перење и потоа со белилото ја уништува и последната трага од Божјиот Син.
13. Шевалие, Жан; Гербран, Ален: Речник на симболите, Табернакул, Скопје, 2005
14. Ова е интересно во една симболичка смисла, заради фактот што Лила низ целиот роман укажува на својата кратковидост и диоптрија од околу – 13/- 14. Далекувидоста би ја поврзале со профетската улога на уметникот, во нашиов случај тоа е поетеста Лила.
15. Freud, Sigmund: Uvod u psihoanalizu, Matica Srpska, Novi Sad, 1979.