Blesok no. 114-115, July-August, 2017
VLADA UROŠEVIĆ AND SURREALISM
Translated from Macedonian into English by Marija Girevska
VLADA UROŠEVIĆ AND SURREALISM
Vlada Urošević (b. 1934) is one of the most prominent contemporary Macedonian authors. Poetically, his discourse is being linked to the legacy of the European avant-garde, and Urošević undoubtedly exhibits deep affiliation with its experiences. In regards to the developmental pathways of the new Macedonian poetry, Urošević belongs to the second generation of Macedonian poets – the generation which marked the most innovative vision of the poetic language and the poetic expression after the World War II. This is the generation of poets who played a decisive role in the esthetic emancipation and affirmation of the Macedonian poetry as a poetry complementary to the modern European poetic experiences.
In his six decades of permanent presence on the Macedonian literary scene, Urošević, besides being a poet, has been equally successful as a novelist, short story writer, versifier, anthologist, writer of travelogues, essayist, literary and fine art critic. In each of the aforementioned spheres he succeeds in offering a new, exciting, impressive and imponderable adventure. In terms of contemplation, the works of this author conceal palimpsest traces of ancient cultural (preliminary mythic) strata (evident in short stories and novels), as well as matrices (aural perceptions) of certain magic word formulas (dominant in the poetic expression), and finally some symbols of archetypal significance in the Jungian sense of the word (in particular present in literary criticism and essay works, but also in his poetry and prose). The works of Urošević correspond intellectually to some other artistic (painting) and non-artistic works, primarily scientific (archeology, astronomy, physics, psychoanalysis), but also pseudo-scientific spheres (esoteric disciplines), and one of his constant obsessions, on a spiritual level, which is worth mentioning, is the dialogue with other writings (from Gilgamesh to Borges), as well as “selection by propinquity” of an entire pleiade of his literary predecessors who have passed through his translation laboratory (Gérard de Nerval, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Guillaume Apollinaire, Blaise Cendrars, Andre Breton, Henri Michaux, Allan Bousquet…).
As a writer, Vlada Urošević possesses an incessant spirit of such power that enables him to penetrate on the other side of the occurrent, to step on the other side of the probable, and as William Blake would say, to open “the doors of perception” towards new and unknown worlds. Even in the well-known, already familiar reality of “here” and “now” Urošević discovers some kind of magic and some kind of mysterious, unusual beauty. In this way he reaches the gates of Surrealism.
“Surrealism is my great love” – says Vlada Urošević in Vladimir Jankovski’s book Ogledalo na zagatkata (The Looking-Glass of the Puzzle, 2003) and adds: “Surrealism was a great school for me. (…) Surrealism taught me to see the magic of everyday life, just as the Surrealists themselves used to say, i.e. to discover the wonder of life around me in every moment of my existence. I think this is the greatest lesson that I have learned from Surrealism – to discover the wonder of everyday life even at times when ordinary everyday living seems dim and dull and it apparently does not offer any great excitements.”
The diving into “the underground rocks of surrealism” (as the title of one of the chapters of Vlada Urošević book Astrolab suggests) bears its pre-history in the early childhood of this author: “I did not know, I could not have known that there was somewhere something called Surrealism, but the objects, the images, the ideas that served the Surrealists as starting points for their humorous, vertiginous, provocative rising to the heights of the new and the undiscovered, have already been surrounding me” he writes in the text “Sentimental Panorama of Surrealism” (Aldebnaran, 1991) and continues: “Recognized, after many years, in the paintings of De Chirico, those objects that were part of the everyday surroundings of my childhood have created for me out of Surrealism something recognizable, already sensed, already familiar.”
Vlada Urošević made a step forward into Surrealism at a time when he began to trace his artistic (poetic) trajectory at the beginning of the 1950s in the 20th century. At that time, Surrealism as a movement officially existed, but the information about this movement is scarce and often mockingly critical in these parts of Europe. Therefore, a negative connotation embraces some of Urošević’s first writings on literary criticism: Dimitar Mitrev, the great arbiter of Macedonian literary criticism at that time, in a series of texts published in the literary magazine “Sovremenost” (“Contemporariness”, 1954-55) “accused” Urošević of being a “Dadaist”, whereas for Georgi Stardelov, Urošević was a “Surrealist”, a qualification which, in his opinion, was extremely “dangerous” for the younger generation of Macedonian poets (“A Warnings Against Ad Hoc Aesthetics”, Mlada literatura, 1955).
“There are many literary critics who would easily characterize Vlada Urošević as a Surrealist” – writes Roman Kisjov and justifiably assumes that “even though Surrealism has greatly influenced his poetry, that characterization, in fact, limits this poetry; it destroys it and even makes it a cliché, because this poetry is much richer, much more complex and multilayered, and it defies and resists any cliché whatsoever. The poetry of Vlada Urošević does not succumb to any definition, just as dream does not succumb to the traps of logic” – concludes Kisjov in the Introduction to the Bulgarian edition of the poetry selection entitled Mythology of Dream (Sintezi, 2013). Certainly, Urošević, as any other authentic and original author, in his work leads a dialogue with many authors, including the Surrealist poets.
In terms of his poetic work, it could be said that Urošević’s affinities towards the poetics of Surrealism, “the greatest artistic adventure of the 20th century”, at first were purely intuitive, not always conscious – inspired by some almost not sensed traces and almost by accident found trails. According to the author’s personal reminiscences, the first truly Surrealist texts he had read were samples of several Belgrade Surrealist magazines that he had come across in the Public and University Library in Skopje, outside of the officially recommended literature: “Albeit my sympathies with the Surrealistic group in Belgrade, I must confess that I was more inclined towards the Surrealistic group in Paris (…) and their affinities with the dream, with the riddle of consciousness, the mysteries of chance” – we read in “Sentimental Panorama of Surrealism.”
And indeed, Vlada Urošević is a curious and a passionate votary of dream as “the only life in us” (according to André Breton’s belief) or simply an irredeemable dreamer. In the aforementioned conversations with Jankovski, discussing the dream as an essential determinant of his eros creative, Urošević says: “Dream fascinates me because it is one of the ways in which our psychic being is trying to create another reality out of the existing reality. And that fascination is certainly encouraged, on the one hand, by the fantastique, and on the other hand, by Surrealism”. The possibilities of the dream for “expanding the limits of reality” and for “conquering the freedom of the spirit”, the understanding of the dream as an “end” of the known reality and as the “beginning” of an unknown reality, whether fantastic or Surreal, a reality that is succumbed to different laws and logic, and at the same time, a reality equally true and essential for our existence, unequivocally relates this author’s affinities to the fantastic and the Surreal as paradigms of the imaginary and oneiric experiences which are immanent in his entire creative opus.
Ever since his first volume of poetry, bearing the paradigmatic title – Another City (Еден друг град) (1959), Urošević chronotopically in a harmonic chord intertwines both the real and the imaginary, dream and reality, the familiar and the unfamiliar, experience and memory, Order and Adventure, life and creation… He spontaneously gives in to the “art of the promenades” (according to Guillaume Apollinaire’s syntagm), Urošević quite lucidly and from a stance of strangeness creates his observation in an unfamiliar or a strange way in order to enhance the perception of the familiar, of the city-labyrinth. The real topos – the city of Skopje – with certain deviations, of course, is designed in accordance with the Surrealist perception of the city: the author discovers “another city” within the already familiar city, a city “of which I am not quite certain/ that it is marked on the geographical maps” – says the lyrical subject in the poem published under the same aforementioned title.
A new chapter in the personal history of Urošević about his relations with Surrealism was opened by his first yearlong stay in Paris (October 1967 – June 1968): “I was in Paris when in May 1968 graffiti like ‘All Power to the Imagination!’ were painted on the walls of Sorbonne University, as if they were written by the Surrealists themselves”. The very next year, in 1969, Urošević published series of translations of Surrealist texts in the Macedonian literary magazine Razgledi – a magazine that held together writers who were fighting against the ideological chains that forbade freedom of speech. His translational laboratory will produce numerous anthologies of French poetry focusing on the Surrealist poets . This noble mission culminates with his book entitled The Great Adventure: French Surrealism (1993) – a book that nowadays is considered to be a cult classic in Macedonia.
“Vlada Urošević, exactly him ” does not conceal his spiritual communication neither with Surrealist painting, oftentimes even as a source of the poetic inspiration: “Surrealist painting has undoubtedly influenced my poetry (in some cases its influence was perhaps greater than that of the Surrealist poetry)”, he says. “The mysterious squares of De Chirico, the somnambulant perspectives of Dali, the enigmatic situations in the collages of Max Ernst, the unclouded dreams of Juan Miró, the menacing worlds of Yves Tanguy, and the hermetic actions on the canvases of Rene Magritte and Paul Delvaux (…) have time and again fed my imagination with new associations and new ideas.” The phrase “selection by propinquity” will result in another noteworthy intermedia study, Invented Worlds: On Surrealism in Painting (2003).
Vlada Urošević understands and recognizes the realms of Surrealist spirit, that “superb act of creative freedom” and he has provided a most powerful affirmation and interpretation of Surrealism in Macedonia. His amazement at and his sense of Surrealism, not only as an art movement, but as a philosophy of life, a way of living and thinking, have continuously been in the focus of his creative work, ever since the first mentioning of Surrealism in Macedonian literature, in his Introduction to French Poetry – XX Century (1972), to the more elaborate study of Glossary of Literary Theory (Skopje, 2007); ever since the set “precise sondes of the depths of the unconscious” as a denominator of the fantastic in Demons and Galaxies (1988), to his fascination of the “doubt of the reality of sensuous experience” as a creative method in the book Astrolab (2000). This “wonderworker from Kozle” enjoys retelling fascinating anecdotes related to the Surrealists, “how to cut a grain of pea and not reveal the secret” (Underground Palace, 1987), or the surprise awaiting him “one afternoon in the cabinet of André Breton”, or about the characters of the Surrealist “mythology of everyday life”, or about the “transformations of Surrealism” on the mysterious city of Paris that reveals the signs of “an interior that for the Surrealists is their Ariadne’s thread, leading not to the exit of the labyrinth, but to its heart” (Paris Stories, 1997)…
That permanent fascination of Vlada Urošević with the poetics of Surrealism very often is manifested in his auto-poetic statements, regardless whether they are explicitly stressed or implicitly present. In this way, in one of his latest books, The Seventh Side of the Dice: 121 short stories (2010), in the autoreferential text “Ars Poetica” we read: “Too much rationality damages poetry. In order for the poem to become or stay poetry a small amount of thoughtlessness is necessary – which can be achieved through game, through chance, through tingling associativity, through some kind of word trance, through humor – in order to reach the realms that cannot be entered by a rational approach“. This concept is in concordance with some of the key concepts of the Surrealists, especially with those of André Breton.
The map of propinquity to Surrealism was once again marked with Urošević’s exhibition of digital collages (Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, 2013), a feast of the freedom of imagination. I guess, we could say, “Surrealism is not dead” yet, as every meeting with Vlada Urošević is surrealistic.
1. French Poetry – 20th Century (1972), Modern French Poetry (1981), Andre Breton: Paradise Is Not Totally Lost (1989), Forests under Sea: Anthology of Short Stories in French Literature (1994), Seven French Poets (2001).
2. Allusion to the chapter “Surrealism, exactly it” in Urošević’s book Seaworthiness of the World (Selected Works, Vol. 9, Skopje: Magor, 2005).
3. Analogy to the Introduction of V. Urošević, “The Wonderworker from the Flea Market” in the Macedonian literary magazine SUM, a number dedicated to Andre Breton. Kozle is a settlement in Skopje where Urošević lives today.