Blesok no. 70, January-February, 2010
Towards “The Geography of Smallness” by Aco Gogov
The book of short prose “The Geography of Smallness” by Aco Gogov, provisionally made of four parts (“Before-Word”, “Words”, “Before-Image” and “Images”) which covers fourty shirt prose pieces in total, in four cycles “Words” and “Images”, seems, paradoxically, to touch upon an epic theme which has been developed in another work, “Towards the Other Country” by Mitko Madžunkov – the otherness (self-knowledge via/by the eyes of the other / reader / the second self). The titles itself implies several questions such as: “who am I?”, “where is my space?”, “how can I describe it and write it down?”, and what is more important “how do I name it?”. Actually, as Madžunkov, Gogov thematises the otherness (the opposition “self” – “other” via the area/body of language), but he starts from the place when the main character in “Towards the Other Country”, Kiril, tells his son that he would write a book “not of words, but of what they were made of”, and he develops his “story”, asking what Kiril means by that: How can one write a book without words? What is specific about this book is that it first conquered the Internet space, in its unrefined shape, and then the paper! Reading “The Geography of Smallness” is indeed a literary competence in Culler's sense, where to interpret the book means to tell a story about the reading.
In his book of short prose Gogov does not say that he knows the answer to these questions, nor that he enters a direct dialogue with the given book, but all words and images in his description of smallness are one of the possible answers to the questions: “What was there before the word?”, i.e. “What is the word made of?” and finally “What made the word occur?”. The answer is maybe insignificant and arbitrary, and it does not only consist of the relations of the words with the images (and vice versa); maybe the search itself is the answer, the game itself is more important than the answer, because Gogov knows that it is not only an ontological question on the creation of things, language, text (language and text as a body and deed), and therefore he avoids philosophizing (but he is not un-philosophical when, for example, at the end of “Before-Word” states: “Say I exist!”). Thus he at the same times occurs as a Creator, but also as a (Biblical) Reader of what he has created!
In his writing Gogov states that he deeply belongs to the tradition which characterizes the connection between intellectualism and sexuality, in Barthes sense, where the reading is compared to Eros, the writing with seduction, the giving in with playing. At the very beginning of “The Geography of Smallness”, with the Before-Word, he addresses the reader seducing him and calling him to play: “You need to fill in the whiteness, reader”, not only introducing him as one of the doers in the text, as a “collocutor”, as an “implicit reader”, but at a formal level as well, as a genre convention, as a muse which is invited to help the poet, inspire him, tell the word, as an equal, somebody that the Author gives his throne, so that he can say what he already knows. This is also seen in the second part of the book, in the only “Before-Image” where he explicitly addresses the muse Calliope, making this work one with (at least) two beginnings, at the same time creating an open work, which, paradoxically, as Umberto Ecco says, as opposed to the closed text (i.e. one that is open for any possible reading), as an open text is closed for some readings.
When Aco Gogov plays with the conventions (i.e. with the beginning and the end) in such a seductive way, i.e. with “postponing” the end in a Ricker's sense, he seems inspired with what Mitko Madžunkov says on the Slavic world, Slavic space in his “Towards the Other Country” – that it is an empty space, a space of forgetfulness, a verbal dialogue, an oral tradition, a history that has many beginnings, and few endings, a history that has many “orators” and few “writers”, mapping a space which has been deprived not only of literacy, but also of memories, that make the knowledge of oneself and the other. Paradoxically, Gogov seems to agree that words are made exactly of this – the memories, which, if they remain unwritten, fade away, become unreal, incorrect and inappropriate (for oneself and the other), and the urgency to write them down is also imposed by their fragmentariness, thickness, condensability, as sort prose pieces in “The Geography of Smallness” itself. There, they function not only as “Images” and “Words”, but as a space that is inhabited, as words that obtain their full meaning at the moment of their creation, at the moment of their uttering and articulation! These words are not only images, they are not only an “imaginary experience ability to reach totality by using some centers” – they might be the centers themselves. In the beginning there was the word, and before the word there was the image, and before the image… chance?
In this way, noting these “memories”, Gogov comes close mostly to the short prose of Ivo Andrić, especially to the fragments of “Signs by the Road”, with their seeming passing-by, as an intimate diary, impressions on the occasion of an event of meeting, travelogue notes, portrait sketches, etc, and with their reflexiveness and their deep pensiveness these fragments impose as a mirror of his soul. Although the course of time in not crucial for the principle of organization of the texts in the book, both with Andrić and Gogov, but rather the spontaneous work of the soul which lively and sensitively reacts to everyday stimuli, and processes them in meditations and visions, in recordings of the areas and people, their joy, sorrow, loneliness. As Roland Barthes says – “Life is made of small bits of loneliness, and it is them that we record with the most sophisticated camera – our eyes”, Gogov, spontaneously and un-obligatorily develops his spiritual diary with curious eyes. The text in the book, unlike Andrić, does not grow and develop as an organic tissue: a fragment should lean on another, then the latter on another and so forth. All the texts are of approximately same length and do not make a whole. In that sense, there is a certain unresistance: the texts of the cycle “Words”, especially those that thematise the language with its parts (grammar, sentence, punctuation) do not have the force and persuasiveness of most of the “Images” cycle, because they do not reach a higher level of poetisation, but they more frequently function as a language game that ends with a point. With its composition of two parts (“Words” and “Images”) with two “fore-chambers” (“Before-Word” and “Before-Image”), “The Geography of Smallness” is actually a vivisection of a heart (with its chambers and fore-chambers), a cardiogram record of numberless small, but strong heartbeats, of a life piled in a space that is yet to expand and conquer until it becomes a geography of a hill, a river, a street, a love… a life!
For Gogov, like for Roland Bathes, the reading and writing are the two basic sources of happiness that reveal the only correlation between emotion and intelligence: we write not to materialize the idea, but to exhaust the task that our own happiness carries within. Writing is attempting to neutralize every power, to speak without arrogance. This is the tone of the narrator in “The Geography of Smallness”, also implied by its title: without arrogance, but powerful, sovereign, a writer that is self-confident, who knows, who is well read but also careful. The narrator in “The Geography of Smallness” is aware that everything has its predecessor, that nothing is created from zero, but he is also aware of his own deprivation, his own smallness, his own impoverished space that he has populated and fertilized already, i.e. as he says in one of the last segments: “There are no forests and hills”. This literary announcement is of course a new hill in this crumpled space, and a stimulus for a creative liberation for Aco Gogov, with whom we as readers expect more communication in the future.
Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska