Blesok no. 74, September-October, 2010
The novel “Sense” by Rudolf Sloboda in Serbian
(Rudolf Sloboda: Reason / Razum; Novi Sad, Agora 2007
Translated by Zdenka Valent-Belić, Bratislav Belić)
There is a substantial deficit in the Serbian and Croatian translation of Slovak literature. Thanks to the pro-western literary orientation of the former Yugoslavian countries even before 1989, a number of their prominent authors were translated and positively accepted in the Slovak literary community. Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Bosnian, Montenegrin and Macedonian writers were perceived in Slovakia as a window to the world, as writers with a firmly rooted intellectual independence not subject to demand of the society, or its expectations. The then Czechoslovak literature was interesting for the former Yugoslavian context only in terms of dissent and manifestation of the freedom of speech. It is no surprise that only the works of authors such as Kundera, Havel and Mňačko (rather sporadically) were published and played there. Since the 1980’s there has been an increase in the interest in Slovak poetry. Even though currently Serbian and Croatian literature is present in Slovakia, the numbers are also starting to be in favor of Slovak literature there. The Centre for Information on Literature has contributed to this substantially by supporting the publication and promotion of books by Slovak writers in the former Yugoslavian countries. This led Michal Harpáň, an expert on Slovak and Yugoslavian literature, and professor at the University in Banská Bystrica and University in Novi Sad, to translate the greatest of Pavel Vilikovský’s novels A Horse in the Upstairs, A Blind Man in Vráble (Kôň na poschodí, Slepec vo Vrábľoch), The Cruel Engine Driver (Krutý strojvodca) and The Last Horse of Pompei (Posledný kôň Pompejí)). Harpáň’s significant translating feat is followed up on by his former student from Novi Sad, Zdenka Valent-Belić, who together with her husband Bratislav Belić translated Hrušovský’s novel Man with a Prothesis (Muž s protézou) and Rudolf Sloboda’s Reason (Rozum). Reason was published by the Agora publishing house last year, with the support of Centre for Information on Literature (Bratislava) and the Ministry of Education and Culture of Vojvodina (Novi Sad).
In the afterword, the translators and publisher inform the Serbian reader that it is a controversial cult novel, written in a difficult era of the 1980’s and had to overcome many obstacles on its way to be published (1982). The Belićs further caution that it was an era unfavorable towards existentialist themes and works which “reveal a personal search for purpose amidst a seemingly unchangeable everydayness”. In his latest literary analysis, Viliam Marčok places Sloboda’s novel in context of a “gradual regeneration of courage for alternative views” in the setting of dissident prose and the definite upcoming of postmodernism. Marčok cites that it is a work dominated by “the drama of a person who persistently fights for the right to his view on life (Reason), but surrounded by people who do not understand, he cannot defend the truth of his experience, grows away from it and gives up his fight”. The interpretation of the novel’s finale – giving up the fight – can be dealt with in a mobile point, as was noted by Peter Zajac in 1983: “And so I would not say, that his protagonist fails, it is rather just one round which he does not win. The words ‘killed man’ at the end do not mean physical death but the fact that the protagonist does not succeed in being human at this moment.” On the backdrop of this observation the ending of the novel in its Serbian translation comes off as too clear. The translators used the words dead man (mrtav čovek) for the syntagm killed man (zabitý človek), which (regardless of the complexity of the semantic interference) leaves little room for the interpretative ambiguity emphasized by Peter Zajac.
The introduction of Sloboda in the Serbian cultural context is an important feat. We hope that the enthusiasm apparent with the Belićs does not fade away and that along with the future activities of Michal Harpáň it brings more Slovak literature into the cultural sphere of the former Yugoslavian countries.
Translated by Saskia Hudecová