Blesok no. 83, March-April, 2012
Acting Beyond the Visible
Aco Gogov’s Personal Identification Number (Antolog, Skopje, 2012)
Aco Gogov, known to Macedonian reading audiences for his collection of short prose The Geography of Humbleness (Antolog 2010), has once again brought forth a different kind of freshness with his new prose manuscript called Personal Identification Number. The short stories of this collection have been grouped into four cycles, namely, “Notes from the Playroom”, “Personal Identification Number”, “A Married Couple” and “Finding a Camel”. The short stories from the first two cycles belong to the genre of short fiction, whereas the narratives from latter cycles, although stories, are distinguished by a more developed narration and plot, as opposed to the former, which are elliptical, marked by an extraordinary semantic density. Regardless of their apparent differences, they are all at the core of Gogov’s original poetics, one that may be regarded as a continuation to the poetics from The Geography of Humbleness.
One of the most noticeable, and perhaps semantically most productive, aesthetic strategies in these short narratives is their metaphorical quality, a technique which often turns the narrative time of the story into a synchronized time or a time that does not recognize division and distribution into units. The narrating persona in Gogov’s stories when telling the story of small things, the story of humbleness - through poetic images and metaphors - touches upon the eternal and the archetypal. If we borrow terms from Indian philosophy, we can freely say that the short stories by Gogov are metaphors of reflecting the Brahman into each atman, that is to say, they are metaphors about reflecting the great and the all-comprehensive into the seemingly tiny, small and insignificant. Thus, in “A White Landscape”, the glass of water by the patient’s bed is being reconstructed into a sea; while in “Game” the eyes and sight (passing features) are perceptibly equalled to a pencil and the act of writing (durable features).
Furthermore, in the narrative strategies Gogov employs we can see allegorical traces (“Head”), traces of the bizarre and the grotesque (“Obituary”), traces of the fantastic (“Who art thou?”) and the ironic (“Personal Identification Number”). Therefore, both semantically and aesthetically the mythical and the poetic temporal cycle is present and productive, i.e. the disappearance of the barriers of linear time is evident, as shown in the extraordinary bit of a narrative titled “Dogs”, where dogs cross all possible borders, and from the time of prophets come into contemporary days, with a silent look that resembles an endless kiss, like the crumb given at the end of a church service. In “Dogs”, the endlessness, the eternal returning and immortality are being actualized; however, death too in the short stories of Aco Gogov is something often present as a subject matter: “Obituary”, “Brother”, “Advice”, “Girl-lover”, “I Forgot to Tell Him”. In different ways, and in different stories, for Gogov, death is not the absolute end, but a disappearing which later turns into a dense semantics of an absence, an emptiness full of signs and meanings, like a fragile weeping face that hovers in the air.
Ostensibly, The Other and Otherness are inevitable categories in the prose of Gogov, especially in the short stories with the subject matter of love, just as the secret, mystical and inexplicable presence of a Third Person (“Chant”, “Someone's Adorable Weeping Face”, and particularly in the excellent piece “Who art thou?”). In Gogov’s prose there is no lack of the social dimension either, so that the theme of power is present in multiple ways: the power that is being imposed on the humble, who is only a passenger (“Passenger”), or the face that becomes simply an ID photo (“Personal Identification Number”). The humble person, though forced to be only a passenger, never gives up; his acting is refined, it is an acting beyond the visible, for he will never cease to find seas into a glass of water, even when he has his head turned aside, so that they might use it as a playball, after which they put it back again. The characters (dramatis personae), taken down to personal identification numbers or ID photos, would still retell their stories; they would go on telling, articulating their truth and their voices, even if it may sound as the single, flat, short “E”, “like a resounding letter in the midst of the noise of peoples”.
On that note, Personal Identification Number is indeed a collection of semantically polyvalent and narratively skilful short stories that bring a desired freshness into contemporary Macedonian prose.