Blesok no. 24, January-February, 2002
Theatre Reviews

Particular drama readings in the Balkans

Nada Petkovska

    Within the recent Macedonian dramatic literature, especially those determined as postmodern, very interesting outlooks emerged – certain new readings in the Balkans. Postmodern perception, with emphasized principle of the quotation and communication to the tradition and the inheritance, which from its aspect comprehends a free merging to entire world treasury, gave very interesting attempts to re-evaluate the Balkans myth perceived from the wider perspective, enriched with many experiences, used as bounding material, as evidences and specific attachments to the most different experiences collected in the world huge library. Satisfactorily would it be only to be mentioned, the already paradigmatic Balkans is not Dead, or even more impressive The Powder Keg by D. Dukovski, two typically postmodern texts depicting very core of the Balkan`s social trouble, which can not be-even with love-pulled out from the estranged relations, that is to say a situation of gunpowder keg, ready to explode any moment. Goran Stefanovski reads the Balkans also as double bottom, but also as endless bacchanalia where the fathers eat their children, initiating illogical wars, useful to nobody. Feminine Contribution for the Night, and Inarticulate Tongue by Blaže Minevski are atypical pictures of the Balkans. Nevertheless the Balkans also is portrayed in Who do You belong to and Sin or Scpritzer by S. Nasev. And in this case, we have decided for the dramatic reading of Balkans by Venko Andonovski, out of vast majority texts dealing the complex problem of the Balkans in different ways.
    Andonovski in the beginning starts somehow prophetic with one very actual problem – the dilemma of the terrorism, offering wider inclination in the Infernal Machine to one very important human interrelation, where everyone oppresses and terrorizes the other, seeking various excuses, whereby the supreme argument is the tradition (as in Powder Keg by Dukovski).
    The following play, Riot in the Home for Aged is a play about the rebellion, about the desire to change the states: riot for the dissent order of the things opposing the anarchic freedom of the elder generation, which brings to the total chaos only because of the personal interests. Under special attack is the weakness of the intellectuals and their hesitations to realize the principles of the freedom. This situation is used by the primitives to impose their comprehension about the order of the things. Regarding – the noble, but radical strivings of the idealists, customary always misused by somebody else, some primitive interpreter who simplifies the things to the final limits in order to reach his ultimate aim – to reach the power, but not the freedom. This topic is Balkan`s in as much as it is general and eternal (in certain occasion we made a parallel between the works of Mrożek, D Jancar and V. Andonovski).
[1] The key critic in this play is the conservationism and the traditionalism of our, certainly, Balkan`s settings, symbolically expressed through the stenography of the fridge where all protagonists are placed. This conservationism for Andonovski is not just political, but also cultural, and intellectual since the society through its institutions, fabrics the youth, suffocates their creative originality and freedom. (In other words, any war in Balkans, could start only because a verse change in a folk song as Andonovski says).
    In Slavonic Chest, the actual Balkan reality is expressed through the symbol of coffin. However, dissimilarly the previous knowledge of the traditionalism, now the significance of the coffin is not negative. It symbolizes, certain preceding world – Slavic mythological past, fairy tales and legends, but before all certain Slavic mentality, burdened with the desire to escape in the past dreams, a collision with the real, brutal world (extensively elaborated in the essay – dialogue of the two characters – Snake and Doll).
    One world seen as world of shadows and dust. The fable/myth about the Dragon who captures a girl is part of that world  where the whole play is based on. Accordingly, the fable is narrated on two levels in the play – in the original – mythological form, but also in contemporary way, revived by the main protagonists. One modern Dragon (Snake – nowadays drug dealer and pimp) misuses certain modern girl (Bella), furthermore the young man – the hero (Doll), tries but in vain to save her -. The second part of the fable – about the child, who found his real father with an apple – on one hand it reveals the future dreamer, the prolonger of the Slavic casket’s magic – of the Slavic tradition and Slavic mentality, reborn always, but on the other hand – revels our one (Balkans, Slavic) weakness – constantly searching for our father/idol, for the meaning but outside of us, in the world which always seems more beautiful then our own.
    It is a play about the decay of the typically old Slavic values, about the sensibility that leads to destruction, since the people who own such characteristics are not resourceful they are weak in a material and rotten world, striving for humanity and love.
    In the play, Candide in Wonderland, the already established postmodernist Andonovski rebuilds his dramatic text on one quite different base, that is to say he tries again to see Balkans through other prism. And now it is Voltaire’s Candide, one of the most famous  work of the French encyclopedist. Voltaire (Francois-Marie Arouet, 1694 – 1778) writes in the period when the idea of popularization the new philosophical ideas about the man and the society, is well spread among the philosophers, aiming to become efficient, i.e. to bring the science and the philosophy closer to people. They make literary  their views and meditation, connoting that the philosophers explain their ideas not only in the scientific disputes, but also in the novels, stories, letters and pamphlets.
    Voltaire wrote Candide in 1759, it realy went trough great success but also at same time trough great critics. Distinctive for enlightening philosophy, elaborated in this novel, is the fact that the problems of a man, his knowledge, moral and happiness emerge in the foreground. Dissimilar to former metaphysical approach, the philosophy is aked to be immediately useful to man, who is now utterly independent, becoming the core, aim and measure for everything. The science, the art, and the primarily existing society institutions are summoned to court of the conscience, and as far as their rationality could not be proved, they lose their right for existence. Enlightened rationalism led the people think that they could find safe ways for the world metamorphosis, thus the philosophy gained significant role – to rule restructuring of the reality.
    Even back in 1734 in The Philosophical Dictionary, Voltaire reveals the power of the book as a weapon in service to freedom, against the intolerance, the darkness and the absolute authority. Later on he exposes the original form of the philosophical fable/story (conte philosophique), genre were Zadig (Zadig L`Ingenu1748), Micromega (1752), and certainly, The Candide or Optimism (1759) are placed. His voluminous opus  consisted of military works, pamphlets, intense correspondence but the philosophical fable takes exclusive place serving as a mean to popularizate his ideas. In the novel Candide, Voltaire illustrates, i.e. parodies the philosophy of optimism through the schematic characters and the overall procedure. Through the structure of the novel, based on conventions, clichés and the metaphor– of that time novel ( adventurous, sentimental) – which represent a parody of the romanesque (widely used here the role of the event, the mystery, miraculously accumulated dangers and peripeteia, original décor, double recognitions, stylization of the characters and schematization of their reaction), i.e. through this attitude towards the genre and the style he hates, Voltaire parodies the poverty of this kind, but also some philosophical ideas.
    First on his strike exposed, would be the philosophy of optimism, whose bearer in the novel is Pangloss. Voltaire vulgarizes, so laughs at the Leibnitz`s theory using this character of raison suffisante, (sufficiant reason), meaning: every effect represents one unintelligible reason that explains it. The comic here derives from: “non of the reasons could be absolutely, sufficient”. (For Candide, the sufficient reason for all his actions is Cunegonde) Otherwise, as this idea is very picturesquely interpreted: the bayonet is sufficient reason for the death of thousand people in the war conflicts).
    Through the different situations and countries he passes – Candide, who was raised in “the best of all words “(aristocratic castle in Westphalia) – slowly the optimism based on the Pangloss teaching quakes. Beside the degradation of the novel and the romanesque, actually with it we end up to the degradation of the dream, of the optimism. It is an intellectual transformation of the young hero Candide, whose ideal bends on delusion. The parody of the sentimentally-adventurous novel is being  encircled with the scene of the eventual discovery of Cunegonde and his matrimony with her – yet this does not mean attaining ideal happiness – as Cunegonde not only has  stormy past but also is aged, become ugly and simply – unbearable. In fact, it is one completely different idea from the novelistic cliché: victory of the trivial reality over the novelistic presentation of the eternal love, which remains pure and unprofaned passing through peripeteia, thus the lovers remain eternally young and beautiful, untouched by the outdoor torments forced to go through.
    One of the key issues in the novel also precedes from Pangloss philosophy. According to him, there is no effect without the reason, then the question is posed – Why is the man created? Voltaire appoints the explanation of this question, by the end of his novel, with two key parables: the parable of the dervish and the parable of the gardener. The dervish thinks it is not a matter of man so he must not interfere in the God’s matters, since God has created the man and He is supposed to look after him, so the man should remain silenced, to live in peace eating his daily bread… to leave the world passing as it is, i.e. to reconcile himself to everything that goes on to him and not to search for answers. It is the lowest point of the Candidee`s pesimism.
    The parable of the wise man has the point: everybody should dig his own garden. This elder, giving example, is the single one who offers Candide life significance: to live from the fruits of his own labor, therefore overcoming the three evil principles that torture the man: the dullness (inactivity), vice and necessity.
    The moral of the garden of which Candide determines, means condemnation of the caricatured illusion in the heaven on Earth – the native Westphalia: nobility, love and metaphysic, and directing towards the economical and social role of the agriculture. Even Pangloss who has to subdue the Candide tries if not to change but at least to adopt his views to this new situation – trying also metaphysically, according to certain Biblical reference, to interprete the work necessity.
    Voltaire’s philosophical story/fable represents an original structure, exploited to express the imperfection of the world. Using the elements from that time actual adventure, piker and sentimental novel and their means, he achieves demystification of the genres, hence simultaneously of the life. Before all it proves the ideal/idealistic societies, also the happiness of the man are chimeras.
    Particularly interesting is the position of the narrator. There is a distinction between the author (Voltaire) and the narrator in the novel. The work is presented as a translation from German, hence it is erasing procedure of the author, equals the overcoming of  the classical taste: the fixation dares not to present itself as such, thus takes image of reality of (discovered) manuscript, introduced as authentic. The fictitious character of the work is erased in benefit to probability, thus accordingly Voltaire avoided the danger of censorship. From the current perspective here, we discover one typically postmodern proceeding.
    Thus achieving distance between the author and the work (third person presents the manuscript), it gives impresion that the narrator is not incarnated in the characters. Denotating that the fiction looks as the objective reality, pretending the authenticity of testemony (“there was in Westfalia…”) This effect of objectivisation allows inversion of the presentation and the reality.[2]
    The fantastic story of the novel is closely related to the political history, economy and the sociological circumstances of the century when the novel is created. It serves as collector of the idea, as a connection between the metaphysics and the forms of tyranny whose victims are the philosophers and Voltaire. He bands on the imaginary, on the utopia in order to pose many actual issues.
    The intrigue is atemporal, but Voltaire inserts many references directing the actual occasions. Such approach offers the reader unusual/strange way of perception after the recognized facts.
    Many “lectures”, teachings or decrees are comprised in Candide: first the quite actual conflict with the Church – clergy and the church institutions, the conflict of the Christians with the sects and other religions, with the inquisition, with hypocrisy of the Church, yet also underlining absurdity of the war, the revolt against the evil. Contradictory – emphasizing his striving for peace, tolerance and action.
    As most significant, usually is distinguished the message of the novel: to till our own garden, on other hand representing certain contraction of the Voltaire’s horizon, that is to say correlates not to his nature. In the last chapter of the novel a whole system of signs determine his inclination: common life for members of many religious groups (Muslims and Christians) – according to Voltaire, such tolerance is possible only when the dogmas will be abundant in benefit to the practical merits.

    Second message: work is a mean for man’s freedom, gaining life wisdom: opposite to the useless, “ideal” society of the baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, exactly as replaced with the productive society of Popontide. Candide is the only one who wants to make the life of the people better. The ultimate lesson from the story is: the man is created for action, as it is the only thing that makes the life bearable.
    Out of the other interesting ideas, we should mention the following, derived also from the subtitle of the novel – the idea of optimism. It is uttered through the dialogue of Candide and his companion Cacambo: On the Cucambo`s question What is optimism, Candide answers: Oh, (unfortunately) it is to claim everything to be good when is bad.
    Andonovski in his palimpsest of Voltaire’s Candide as if he starts right from this point, the common bind between their two worlds comprise– the optimism of Candide as result of his delusion he lives in the most ideal, of all societies (although in this society he is totally degraded because of his suspicious background as illegitimate son) also at Candide by V. Andonovski – the illusion for the best of all worlds, (Balkan’s variant), is the oasis of peace, under protection of UN. The most beautiful of all worlds (at Voltaire) – is the world where the philosophy of Pangloss rules.
    In The Candide in Wonderland (by Andonovski) – the world is in question where the logic has its rule (the king forbids any doubt). According the received education he is metaphisic-theolocigic– cosmolonigocologist – (same as Pangloss) – he defenses the idea: every thing has its cause– there is no consequence without the reason, in the best world of all worlds everything has its logical aim. Nevertheless – the problem is – “whenever you want to speak logically, you feel like saying a joke, pardon me, as if it wants to shit over your logic, as the devil at Cepenkov shitted over peasant’s door”.
[3] Only the illogicality is funny and humorous. As emphasized in the text, the logic is invented to justify the violence, to justify the own enslaved soul. People are perfidious: moan against the king, but they accept the slavery voluntarily, calculable. They are masochistic people. They all call upon the logic to find the alibi for their slavery reflex. The logic itself is dungeon according to Andonovski. Man enters the dungeon voluntarily, because it offers him masochistic security.
    For Andonovski it is also a temporal intrigue, nevertheless with many references to the actual events, which offer the reader an unusual/inexplicable viewing of the known facts. In Candide in Wonderland, the Voltaire’s famous hero “falls from the sky as Deus ex machine in the evil tragedy”[4] (carrying humanitarian aid from France).
    His reaction after his arrival is: the people from the Balkan live in an unseen tyranny, apart from their conviction that they think logically, they actually haven`t got any clue what is real logic.
    The king, according his education is metaphysic – cosmologokongologist – assumes that all things have aim, i.e. there is no consequence without reason. Thus, the Balkan (Wonderland), according that logic, is the best world of all worlds, that the things can not be better then what they already are, as everything is created with a certain aim (the best one). Nevertheless is it only according to authority (his highness), but according to Candide, the representative of the “holy honor of the west philosophy and democracy, and the graves of his French grandfathers the encyclopedists and his mother logic”[5], the tyranny rules here, and he in accordance to his principles, swears that he is going to liberate this people from the tyranny of the merciless grandmother, and the Cunegonde, from the sexual slavery and shameless credit.
    From his aspect – everything here is actually absurd. The authority, as the oldest thing in the world (shown as king – grandmother), does everything in purpose to swallow everyone (allusion of the wolf from the Red Ridding Hood – it has big ears to hear everything, a big mouth – to swallow everything that opposes it). Its strength is not in the power of giving orders, but in the inexplicable readiness of each miserable biped to obey the orders. Supplementary: the world is not full of torments because of the tyrants, but because of the fools fulfilling the orders. There is something dark in the man that forces him to be slave, to be worm, to creep to crawl. Even the God escaped from these people as a reason of their subduing to everything, even to the devil. There from, the logic, which everyone cites to, and the authority before all, are invented only to justify the violence, to justify own slavery soul, to acknowledge that the things could not be better then they already are. The logic is alibi for the reflex of the slavery; it is the dungeon where everyone voluntarily enters.
    Hereby, according to Candide by Andonovski, two options, two perspectives for this areas result from: tyranny (totalitarism) and democracy (madness, anarchy). In the first option, only one thinks logically, the others subdue. In the other: everyone thinks logically, and when everybody simulate wisdom, the world become mad house – there is no prosperity, here everyone rule – nobody in fact.
    Therefore, Candide poses himself a question: if this world is the best of all, what are the others like?
    According to Cucumbo, this is the world where there is not a legal state, not even the God, as disappointed in people He left them to a certain evil creature.
    As a consequence, one million killers are running from one to another end of the Europe, and disciplinary are killing and plundering all with the purpose to earn a living, because they know, not more dissent trade.
    In this kind of world – the intellectuals are eunuchs, gaining the civil service have not any responsibility of having their own point of view for anything. Thereof the curriculum policy is important to be set; that no one could surpass the king with the education (he finished only second primary class. Thus the alphabet constantly changes so no one could be able to pass the first primary class).
    As Voltaire, Andonovski also mentions the option of the garden (“We are going to buy a small house in a peaceful village. I will build a small garden. We are going to plant cabbages and potatoes. We will breed rabbits”, he says to Cunegonde). Nevertheless, it is retold as a calming fairytale, without assurance of its possible realization.
    The rationalist Candide fits very difficult into the system in the land of logic, i.e. of wonders, and has to be executed. But the salvation comes right from the defect of the system – or as “the illogic came again, pardon me as well as at Cepenkov, climbed the timber and shitted the logic right into the…”[6], i.e. as the suspension of the investigative judge, accused for irregular working, as typically Balkans way of people`s behaving towards the authority – the moment they have the authority in their hands they violate it i.e. do not respect it. Thus, suddenly Candide gains double role – of a prisoner and of their own supervisor. After the suggestion from the voice of the democracy the supervisor liberates the prisoner – i.e. liberates himself. Hence the end at Andonovski obviously suggests the activistic principle – the liberation of the man/individual/intellectual has to result from the personal engagement, of personal choice, that leads towards an existential comprehension you can become man only through the accomplished act, not by the various mimicries who will hide himself behind the established authorities (No matter from the logic of the authority, false optimism or the servile intellectualism).
    In his expressive postmodern action, Andonovski takes not only the main hero from Voltaire and his same named novel, but at the same time builds his text with one masterly performed citation, which provides additional aesthetic satisfaction for the audience. Thus in some way all the lines are double coded – from Voltaire, but also from Andonovski. In Candide the auto-referent expressions of this kind are frequent: “Cunegonde: Haven’t we met before, maybe in some other worlds, some film, some play. As I know your name”.[7]
    In the text scenes/dialogues from Dostoevsky are used – from his The House of the Dead, for example the idea of God’s nonexistence by which everything is possible (for the shallow minds). It is a procedure of typically postmodern frittering with the world literature – from Red Ridding Hood to Cepenkov, through Alice in Wonderland, till V. Urošević (“comiti” – haiduks are models in the landscape), K. Čašule, and others.
    Conclusion: The world literature abundances the descriptions of violence, of tyranny, of slavery mentality, so that Andonovski, using the frame of the Voltaire’s Candide, uses this sources in his play all in purpose to emphasize his speaking about the very famous, old truth, discovered long ago, about the relationship of the individual and the authority, of the terrorism and the freedom, of the false freedom, of the intellectuals` weakness, achieving drastically their dimensions right in the Balkans, so it can simply not be transformed into the oasis of peace. (Accurately – it is a false oasis of peace, so that the authority can calm its conscience and without any obstacle to rule – in a Balkans way it means – without obstacle to use public goods as it own).
    The dominant view/aspect in the play by Andonovski is the aspect of Candide, as a view of the other one, of the representative from the western world, determined as democratic, free, rational and anticlerical, totalitarian towards the other one. Although it is the view of a man two ages ago, simultaneously enriched by the views of many thinkers and literary authorities from the recent date, its truths coincide with the present: Candide in his strivings to acknowledge the world, to acquire new philosophical picture, he just discovers the primeval truth about the imperfect picture of the world, especially deformed in the Balkans. Hereof instead of the idea about the modest happiness possible without many thinking about the meaning, the decision is the active principle of personal rebellion, some kind of possible exit from the dead-end of logic. Candide by Andonovski – accidentally felt in the Balkans winches, clearly perceives all his inconsistencies, but after all he sees the ultimate exit in the action rather then in reconciliation, although he revises that option too.
    Some dramatic consequences: Taking as base a rather rich romanesque text, besides, finding some interesting materials for the given issue at the other authors also, Andonovski found himself in hardly unenviable position because of the abundance of the material that can be “endured” by a single dramatic text, having rather different technology then the novel: while the novel is gaining its objectivity, all-exclusivity accumulating many details, the play is summing up, i.e. generalizing, omitting everything that has descriptive character. Following his inspirational source, hereof Andonovski reserves the way of extensive descriptive wedging of the parts (there are 15), so that the stage performance needs inclusion of a narrator – he says – it is an episation of the dramatic structure, used with the abundant speech, hardly to be followed by the corresponding dramatic play.

Translated by: Margareta Ivanovska


1 N. Petkovska: Rebellion against the order of the things in the plays “Tango” by S. Mrożek,”The Great Brilliant Waltz” by D. Jancar and “The Riot in the Home for the Aged” by V. Andonovski. Slovenian-Macedonian conference, Ljubljana, 25-26.10.2000
2 Michel and Jeanne CHARPENTIER: CANDIDE. VOLTAIRE, Paris, Ed. Fernand Nathan, 1989


3 V. Andonovski: Candide in Wonderland, Kulturen Zivot, Skopje, no.4/2000, 68
4 Ibidem, 69
5 Ibid, 68
6 Ibid, 101
7 Ibid, 73

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