Blesok no. 90, May-June, 2013
The Fairy Tale and the Magical: The Chronotope of the South-Slavic Balkans
The fairy tale and the magical, within Macedonian contemporary literature, always emerge as a kind of ‘magic formula’, whose genre matrix helps express the turning points and social crises. The social prerogatives about the presence of the fairy tale and the magical in Macedonian literature can be found in the presence of orality and the oral-poetic code within the context of the current communicative practices of the Macedonian community. Reaching out to the simple forms of narration, in a nutshell, can be traced back to the pragmatics of storytelling in ‘a neighborly context’, as such preferring the texture of narration shaped though the use of familiar oral codes. The orally codified forms of narration get constantly transformed, productively speaking, through their intersection with the artistic methods of the art of the fine word.
The presence of the fairy tale in the contemporary Macedonian literary production could be most directly pointed out through the emergence of the first, explicit auto/biographical testimonial in Macedonian literature in regards to the theme of “Goli Otok”, namely, the fairy tale for children by the poet Dushko Nanevski, The Boy with the Starfish, published in 1993. It is comprised of narration consistently driven by the paradigm of the folk fairy tale. As with all fairy tales centered on people, this one too examines the ‘I versus the world’ theme. ‘I’ is always right; the antagonistic world is always wrong. It is a question of the magic the ‘I’ possesses, which in the end proves victorious over the twisted world. However, when the ‘I’ is too weakened, too frail, and at the end of its tether, by the perversion of “Goli Otok – The Devils’ Island”, its morals are helped by the good spirits who dwell in the realm of the Magic Mountain: the fairies, the clever forest birds, and the like. The given realist paradigm of narration, until then seen as the dominant one, which takes the magic of the word (a change in the planes of narration) and the dream, in the chapter titled “Dreaming in the Road”, introduces the realm of the magical, the supernatural, and the exit from the ordeals experienced on the island, no matter that a dark shadow keeps on following the boy with the starfish as the shadow of the man adorning black. Indeed, we are presented with a fairy tale granted in the spirit of its folk counterpart, which tells children of the life-story of Darko, The Boy with the Starfish, and the history of the Island of the Red Devils, whence the adult reader easily recognizes, on many an occasion, the theme of “Goli Otok”, set within the context of the Yugoslav socialist society. The texture of the fairy tale has been presupposed by the consensus of the community, that is to say, the commonly-held social knowledge.
The novel by Petre M. Andreevski, Locusts (1984) has been constructed as a multiplication of individual narratives, based on the singular quality of their (historic) framing. The multiplication of the rumors amidst the population – all sorts of anecdotal or supernatural, fairy tale-like narratives given in the neighborly context – in their multiple semantic break at the level of a framed narration, begs a reading which resembles anagram-solving. The anagram (riddle) can be interpreted at the level of the framework rumor about the attack of the locusts, vermin which need to be exterminated, and as an action asks for us to recognize in it ‘the purge’ of 1948. Each one of the magical narratives in the novel marks a given aspect in time: the story of the man who is rejected by the earth during his burial is in fact a story motivated by his estrangement from the land during the period of its collectivization in the form of farm cooperatives. The fairy tale’s motif of transformation (the metamorphoses of people into animals) has been put to use so as to mark the inexplicable “over night” disappearance of people from the village, who seem to have the eyes of the locusts, “the vermin which need to be exterminated”. The senselessness of the ideology of the letter which announces the guidelines for fighting the vermin, on the one hand, is the impetus for the telling of several fairy tale-like stories about the inexplicable, magical events in the village. The entire novel is in fact an unprecedented composition, which interprets the inexplicability and mystery of the social turn in 1948, the Informbiro period, through the language of folklore, in the riddle of a series of magical events. The short narrative form is the core also of the novelistic narration in the novel Hrapeshko by Ermis Lafazanovski, a writer from the younger generation, which in 2006 was the Macedonian nomination for the Balkanika Award. The odyssey of the titular character in the novel is rendered through a series of fairy tale-like experiences. In it, the author, quite skillfully, and with a good deal of invention, puts to use his own knowledge of Slavic folk takes (the author is a folklorist by training), so as to construct a magical novelist narration about the life and events of the titular hero, Hrapeshko, a Macedonian man from the region of Tikvesh, who resides in the mid-1800s. With this novel, Lafazanovski returns to the intention to juxtapose the worlds and the cultures of the East and the West, through the narration of Hrapeshko’s life and experiences. This novel by Lafazanovski is, like his other ones, marked by a basis which stems from the pragmatics of the current social communication. It comes as an artistic answer to the current situation of a split within the Macedonian social subject, somewhere between the worlds of the Orient and the Occident. The fairy tale-like narration, however, is a method of basing the narration in “the language of all”, “the language of orality”, within the framework of the totalizing plan for the imaginative confrontation between the East and the West.
While concluding with this introductory part, I’d like to mention that auto/referentiality in Macedonian literary narration also makes use of the folk fairy tale. Along those lines, I’d like to mention the cult classic by Goran Stefanovski, the play Jane Zadrogaz, whose premiere production marks the beginning of Postmodernism in the Macedonian theatre, and as such, has been composed according to the motifs of Marko Cepenkov, a collector of Macedonian folklore from the 19th century, published in 10 volumes. The tales of this collector set the basis, or better, the manner of narration in this year’s novel by Vlada Uroshevikj, The Bride of the Dragon, whence the two opponents are the clever and resourceful Denko and the dwellers of Lower Lands who had abducted his sister (certainly, in the novel, we come across many familiar characters from the stories of Cepenkov’s). The term Lower Lands, presents a subtle reference to neighboring Greece, as a possible answer to one of the proposals for the change of the Republic of Macedonia’s name into Upper Macedonia.
In the Labyrinths of Chronotope and Narration
In the second part of my paper, I’d like to focus on less apparent occurrences of fairy tale elements, namely on the Balkan model of the world and the labyrinth of its structure, as found in the novels The Damned Yard (1954) by Ivo Andrić and Variations on Ibn Pajko (2000) by Olivera Nikolova. The interest in this reading lies in the fact that, from an imaginative viewpoint, they are striking vocalizations of the prose of our time. In these novels, the magical, the mystical does not appear, therefore, we are to examine the framework stories rooted in them within the context of the novelistic stories according to the Aarne-Thompson classification system (AT- 850-999). Still, the reader is left with the impression of the magical their narration relates. This is the second point of interest in this kind of a reading, which will attempt to answer this very question
One of the suppositions in comparing these two novels is the world they depict, which I also see as the Balkan model of the world. In Andrić’s novel, the realm of the prison, erected on top of the hill behind Istanbul’s docks, and known as – The Damned Yard, weaves out the separate and distinct destinies of the novel’s characters into one unified narration. Depicted as a hub, made out of people from various creeds, languages and nationalities, this fenced off space (a microcosm) represents all of the imperialist sprawl of Turkey. At the same time, nonetheless, seen in particular from the viewpoint of the novel’s main characters, this space coincides with the multicultural model of the Balkans, as a crossroads between the East and the West. Next to Fra Petar, we encounter here the Turk Latif-aga, the melancholic inmate Ćamil (a Greek and a Turk, or, neither Greek nor Turkish), the two Bulgarians, etc.
The depicted world in Olivera Nikolova’s novel is the one of the Old Skopje Bazaar, which during the timeline the novel centers on, at the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century, is experiencing its golden age, so that Evlija Čelebi, in his travelogues, compares the Bazaar to the one in Baghdad and Aleppo (2007: 13-14). Until present day, this Bazaar in Skopje represents a kind of a microcosm which marks the Ottoman period in the city’s resistance and it testifies to the meeting of Christianity and/with Islam. Nikolva portrays the openness of this market place in the city during its high days, as a result of the Dubrovnik road of commerce being opened at the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th, as well as the strengthening of the Ottoman state rule in the city, while at the same time depicting its guarded and exclusively divided structure when it comes to the world of Islam (the Turks) and Christianity (the Slavic population).
Without getting into the current debate over the Balkan model of the world, I’d like to take the time here to point out that its presence in these novels can be supported by Tatjana Civjan’s claim (1990), who while defining the “Balkan model of the world” through the existence of clearly ascertained oppositions which include many ontological categories: space/time, life/death, male/female, inside/outside, culture/nature, particularly focuses on the constitutive nature of the anthropological binary opposition ours-theirs.
The image of the Balkans as a crossroads has often been pointed out, indexically speaking, through the example of Andrić’s novel The Bridge on the Drina, which appears an the icon of/at the crossroads, a constant in the change of time, through the contact between peoples, uplifted and illuminated in the mystic underworld of sacrifice. The anthropological binary opposition ours-theirs in the novels I am examining here, however, has been internalized by the identity of the leading characters: the melancholic inmate Ćamil (a Greek and a Turk, or, neither Greek nor Turkish) and Ibn Pajko (or the son of Pajko).
In Andrić’s novel, in fact, the two characters, their two storylines provide the foundation, as heads and tails, or as the face of Janus (Ianus) standing for the embodiment of the chronotope. The prison warden, Latif-aga, and the melancholic prisoner Ćamil, are presented as culprit and victim, sharing the weight of an existential two-sidedness (duality). The conflict between the world of crime and the world of the law and justice has been resolved through Latif-aga’s life choice; however, widened by the psychological plane of this character’s portrayal. He oversees the prison as an actor at the stage of life, a Karađoz-character from the theatre of the shadows, at the same time, maddeningly identifying himself with this role of a lifetime. Concurrently, his artificial conduct as prosecutor (inspector) stands as an index of the artificiality, backstage dealings and the decadence of the East (the products of the Ottoman Empire). Unlike him, Ćamil lives out the duality of his life (neither a Greek nor a Turk) in solitude. He does not manage to find a solution for it, except by attempting to study and identify with the tragic historical fate of the always alien, proud in exile and captivity, Djem-sultan, the brother of the Sultan Bayezid. While Latif-aga’s role of a lifetime is realized as an articulated “madness”, the action of the ruckus on the public stage (metaphorically: the play of the street theatre), Ćamil’s enlivening through the tragedy of Djem’s historic role is an entirely antagonistic choice, to escape all of that “noise” and lunacy of reality. Equating the two, however, is a choice which erases the difference between reality and fiction. In the tragic division between the two irreconcilable worlds of his origins: the Greek one, on his mother’s side, and the Turkish, from his father, Ćamil is presented as a tragic and poetic hero of melancholy, dedicated to science and solitude. If Latif-aga stands as the embodiment of oppositions on the public stage in the depicted world, Ćamil is their embodiment at the level of the private, the intimate, which in the end, gets sacrificed by the “madness” of the public stage.
The existential duality of these two characters is at the same time an illustration of the existential duality of the novel’s chronotope: at the edge between crime and the law, between reality and the fiction of the backstage dealings of social communication and the closed-openness of the multicultural inmate community.
The crossroads of personality in the novel by Nikolova is also linguistically realized through the acoustics of the name itself: Ibn Pajko (the son of Pajko). Starting with the magic of this character’s name which can be associated with fairy tales, Nikolova develops the karma (destiny) of the identity of this historical person, through the criss-crossing of the Turkish and Slavic identities, which otherwise stand as indexes of a whole spectrum of oppositions: Islam/Christianity, Enslaver/Enslaved, and the like, while taking into account the other, few in number, bits of data that have remained somehow about the son of Pajko; thus, Olivera Nikolova constructs an unparalleled novelistic composition, which, trice multiplied, unbridles and expands the potential latent instability of this character-crossroads. Through three variations, fairy tale-like, the personality and life story of this character’s conversion into Islam are considered, based on bits of pieces of remaining data from the collective memory: 1. about his conversion from Christianity into Islam; 2. his commissioning of Pajko’s Mosque; and 3. his Christian burial, provided by the citizens of Skopje.
Polyfunctionality within the Frames of Narration
The magic of the stories about Latif-aga, Ćamil, and the three variations of telling the story of Ibn Pajko, lies in the enrooting of the labyrinth of narration. None of these stories appears as a whole, and “in one unified piece”. Their parts are scattered throughout the labyrinth of narration much alike to Scheherazade’s labyrinth of the narration of 1001 nights, which leads the readers through the backstage, stony pathways of the tales about the First Eunuch, the Second Eunuch, the Third Eunuch, before letting them enjoy the ending of the core story. With that, we question the problem of the polyfunctionality of the frames of narration in these novels. The framework of the novel The Damned Yard depicts the death of Fra Petar (“the fresh wound” on his grave). Next to the framed depiction of Fra Petar’s death, the framed text of the novel is a telling of what he experienced, saw and heard as an inmate in the city prison of Constantinople (Istanbul). This experience of being imprisoned he would re-tell many times over, and “now” he gets to remember one of the younger Fraters in the Brotherhood. At the moment, when the Fraters count off the things Fra Petar had left behind, in the cell of the deceased, his stories about the people he had met and the fates he had witnessed inside the prison – are his only real legacy. Thus, the novel stands as a kind of a story about the stories of Fra Petar. Just like the framework novel of Thousand and One Nights is a story about the stories of Scheherazade.
The narrative is related by an omnipresent (authorial) narrator, who by following the thoughts and recollections of the boy, adds to the stories of Fra Petar while at the same time modifying them according to his will. Thus, the once-told stories of Fra Petar, which the boy must have heard first hand, are reshaped by the boy’s memories, and through the records of the storyteller – presented to us in the third person.
The fragmentary structure of the framed narration supports the numerous orally given stories and recollections of Fra Petar’s about individual episodes from the overall experience. It corresponds to the “according to” narration, that is to say, based on the recollected from the numerous retellings. The narrator, namely, interchanges the “panoramic” (from a removed perspective) images of the prison space with the situations depicting Fra Petar’s interlocution as part of the prisoners’ conversations. To a degree, the panoramic images of the Yard, which time and again follow the story about some prisoner’s fate, are announced as a kind of refrain, which, in the multitude of human destinies, underlines the same within the context of the depicted chronotope, within the causality and limitedness of space and time. I’d like to correlate once again this refrain with the one from Thousand and One Nights, which in turn, constantly brings us back to the situation Scheherazade is in, whence she fights for her life through the power of her storytelling skill. The stories of Scheherazade are conditioned by her struggle to remain alive. The stories of Fra Petar are conditioned by the causality of the depicted chronotope. The characters of Ćamil and Latif-aga are the embodiment of its oppositions, while Ćamil is their private victim.
The thing which makes the weaving off the narration in the narrative script of Olivera Nikolova possible, about the uncertainty of the Balkan identity, is the postmodern dynamic use of the frame: 1. the composition of the novelistic narration as a triptych, consisting of three separate, different narratives about the identity of Ibn Pajko or Ibn Bajko or Ibn Tajko; and 2. the additional montage of the composition through the successive change in the parts of these three fairy tale-like narratives. The three variations of the reconstruction of the historic identity of Ibn (or the son of) Pakjo, or Tajko, or Bajko, that is to say, Marko, Sandri, and Petre, are with little time-shifts set within the framework of the period between the 15th and the 16th centuries, as three different stories about the son of Pajko, a goldsmith with his own store in Skopje’s Old Bazaar, Ibn Bajko as a villager who used to be a monk, then later a slipper-maker in the Old Bazaar who through marriage becomes a wealthy man, and Ibn Tajko, a fisherman from Struga who falls tragically in love with Atidje, the wife of Sandjak-beg, when he is called upon to heal the burns she gets as the result of the fire in the Chifte-Amam in the Old Bazaar.
The three stories are developed in the labyrinth of the space that is the Old Bazaar, which constantly pleats out new intimate, backstage or secretive folds. At the same time, it is a space of the mysterious interplay of times and spaces, a meeting ground for the East and the West. In each one of the three stories, about Ibn Pajko or Bajko or Tajko, that is to say, about Marko, Sandri and Petre, they are the unsung victims of the space’s causality.
The novel by Olivera Nikolova examines the power and powerlessness of narratives and memory to reconstruct historical identities, suggesting with its fragmentary structure that Balkan identities are an open topic about the openness of the story’s labyrinth for constantly new re-figurations. In fact, Olivera Nikolova herself narrates, that is, time and again re-figures “according to” hearsay (the narrative of memory) just like Fra Petar disseminates the rumors which surround Ćamil’s destiny, which he in turn receives from the unreliable storyteller Haim. Bottom line, within the triptych of a type-centered re-figuration of the variations on account of the story about Ibn Pajko, what remains is the fact that he too is a memory projection of the tragedy of the conversions that have ensued in the Balkans in the last few centuries, forged on the dominant type of the Islamisation of the Christian population. Such a solipsistic suggestion, though discreet, advocates for another kind of premise, connected with meta-historiographic fiction – that the powerlessness of the subject and the narrative to reveal the historic identities (truths) is not that absolute, that the act of approaching the historical truth is already a form of a referential truth. The trice multiplied re-figuring is built on the resonance of the one story about the tragedy of the conversions, i.e., the convergence in the case of Ćamil in Andrić’s novel. In front of the obstacle about the division of the world into ours and theirs, the fairy tale-like magic of the “I” stands powerless. In fact, much like the short expressionist fairy tale by Albert Ehrenstein, “Der Knecht seines Schicksals”.
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Translation: Bela Gligorova
1. During the Informbiro period, the island of Goli Otok, located off the northern Adriatic coastline, served in the capacity of a prison-labor camp run by the authorities of FPR Yugoslavia, alongside with the nearby Sveti Grgur island (a similar camp for female prisoners). The imprisoned population was comprised of political dissidents, what the system labelled as known and alleged Stalinists, together with other Yugoslav Communist Party members or even ordinary citizens accused of exhibiting any sort of sympathy or leanings towards the Soviet Union. (Translator’s note).
2. From the auto/referential aspects of this novel, here, I’d like to point out the fighting roars of the two minor characters in the novel: “The Terrible”, yells the Dragon with his mythic voice (also the title of a poem by Aco Šopov), to which, Moose Ratus answers with “Palimpsest”.
3. The labyrinth on the grounds of the Old Bazaar in Skopje is the site for the fantastic short stories by Vlada Uroshević from the collection Skopje Tales. These stories too would fit within the frame of this conference’s theme.