Blesok no. 31, March-April, 2003
Communicative Status of the “Cobweb Novel”
Goce Smilevski, Conversation with Spinoza, Dijalog, Skopje, 2002 “Novel of the Year” Award of Utrinski Vesnik
Goce Smilevski is a representative of the youngest generation of Macedonian novelists. He is an author who is exceptional refreshment in the Macedonian literature. With his novel Conversation with Spinoza, Smilevski slowly but surely establishes himself as one of the future leading names of the Macedonian novelist map. Therefore, not without an occasion and not without a reason, the Macedonian critics have called this novel “something other, something different”. It was evaluated as “a novel with sources in the area of ideas” and as a “ novel – intellectual biography of the lonely man”, this latest book of Goce Smilevski opens a possibility, among other things, in our case, also free “idea” interpretations of the readers that will bring the weaving idea in the foreground (initially, our inspiration on this is based on the basis of the title of the novel, by the author himself, as a “cobweb novel” and on the idea of “dialogue form”, as well as its projections and results in its narrative structural scheme. Let’s hope that it will touch upon the key points that make this novel other and different.
In the beginning of the elaboration of this unusual idea we will mention as a warning the view from which we will start the interpretation, and it is that the starting point in the elaboration will be the symbolism of weaving a cobweb, (the one of the spider, and, in general, the one that the author guides us through in the text). In the latter view, the text is understood in a symbolic way through the prism of the Latin term, which is, as a matter of fact, its etymological embryo: textus = weaving, that is, more precisely, textura = weaving that marks the way the threads are interwoven in the “fabric” – the text. This way, of course, determines the look and the tangibility of the “fabric” – text, which is the carrier of the artistic effects.
Therefore, at the very beginning of the cobweb novel, the author will let us know: “The threads of this novel are woven from the conversation between You and Spinoza”. This directly indicates that, understood in a symbolical way, the author waves his cobweb just as the spider throws his threads, he weaves it starting from the “centre” (with the first thread, which, as a basis, is also taken for the final part – the Centre of the cobweb) and finishes with it. The purpose of his weaving is thus resolved in the point from which there is nothing on: the centre (which, in our case, questions Spinoza’s death).
The question that we found intriguing is how the spider’s weaving perfectly fits, that is, projects itself, just like in a mirror, in the author’s weaving of the text.
The narrator-focalizer, on his side, gives his own view and an appropriate “argumentation” on this in one place in the novel: “Spider cobweb was dearer to me that all forms that expressed the loss of the petty things in Universe. Indeed, the spider cobweb has some kind of closeness with the labyrinth and the tree of life, but the differences are much bigger than similarities…
Spider cobweb is really made by God. Who stretches that thread out of the spider’s body, who carries the wind that carries the spider and helps it connect one thread to another, who, who if not God, if not the eternal substance, teaches the spider how to weaves the cobweb?…
If you follow the real trails that will take you to the exit of the labyrinth, you can continue your existence, if you choose the wrong trail – you can find death. And the spider’s creation, although it has its centre – it is not the most important place: every bit is the centre of the cobweb… Wherever you start on the cobweb you can also arrive everywhere – every point there is both an entrance and an exit. (pp. 167-8).
And really, what is the unique, what is the original in this parallel that the narrator draws? The answer, at a symbolic level, lies in the fact that the cobweb makes the spider unique. The cobweb model maintains the life style, and it often also influences it. Therefore, the spiders weave their existence in different ways. For the spider, the cobweb threads are a vibrating continuation of its senses. Because it is very efficient, the spider “calculates” the size of the cobweb precisely according to the reserves of weaving material and its glands. Thus, the adequate behavior guide is the type of cobweb.
At a textual level, the novel is divided into six threads and the centre of the cobweb. This is, of course, an individual weaving model, a “textual cobweb”, a mark of an original, individual style. Every type of spiders, on the other hand, has its own specific model of cobweb, and with the individual spider weaving is always special – as the fingerprints are with man. This is even more so, taking into consideration accident and reality, spider’s threads are a product of the six types of glands, each of which gives its special weaving material. The workshops for processing the liquid from the glands are the (again!) the six nipples on the spider’s abdomen, that is, the weaving places. When coming in contact with air, the material secreted is immediately hardened into thin threads, which merge into a harder one.
Following this way, we can already redirect the symbolic code directly into the textual one. There, in the text itself, we encounter a textual structural cobweb of six threads that eventually end in the centre of the cobweb. They harden in this way and merge into a harder thread, that is, in their centre, in the point from which there is nothing further (moments of Spinoza’s death). And as it is with the spider – the cobweb is most often, placed vertically in a way that the spider first pulls a strong transversal thread, and then it weaves the cobweb; also, in the textual context, the narrator first starts with the moment the character of Spinoza dies, and then he “weaves” in detail to reach it, that is, to come to the centre of the cobweb, where the moment of death is the final instance. Seen in this way, the analogy on the size of the reserves of the weaving material that unites the two codes: the symbolic and textual one perfectly match. An even bigger proof of this is the round way of the novel that leads to the uniting centre!
Another aspect, at a meta-level, in the same direction, is that the philosophical essay Conversation with Spinoza, as a “cobweb novel” has been interpreted by our critique (rightly so) as an “intellectual biography of the lonely man”, man in general “torn between living his life (unable to live it passionately and to the core) and thinking through this life, and being torn in this was is the essence of his drama, all the tragedy of his fatal loneliness”.
And just as the lonely man (in this case, the main character – the fictional character of Spinoza) is constantly torn, in discrepancy when “passing the cobweb”, the cobweb that is selected by the individual-spider also perfectly matches his life. Regardless of whether he will anchor in the centre of the web or in some hidden shelter, its legs are in a constant contact with the transversal that leads to the spirals. And as the hero of the novel is captured in the cobweb of his loneliness, the loner spider, when it builds its first cobweb, becomes intolerant and loses every interest in company. Therefore, the cobweb in both cases (we are first of interested in the text itself, as the symbolic code is only an “auxiliary road” to it) is a key for the social behavior. And although in the circus show with five acrobat performances – Conversation with Spinoza, Jahve offers Spinoza “protection” if he gives up his “loneliness”, Spinoza remains in his cobweb which, as with the spider, is a selective transmitter of the signals: it silences some, and amplifies others. Therefore, Spinoza remains in it until the end, to the centre. The cobweb that provides protection to the spider provides protection to Spinoza for his next life.
As a conclusion of this view and approach, we would mention that the novel Conversation with Spinoza captures, like pray, our readers’ attention in its cobweb. And as the experts recognize without difficulties their experimental spiders according to the cobweb they weave in their laboratory cages, the readers of this exceptional novel will recognize Goce Smilevski as one the names that promise, in the courses of our future novel production.
At the very beginning of the novel Conversation with Spinoza we encounter the following suggestion of the author: “The threads of this novel are woven from the conversation between You and Spinoza. Therefore, whenever you find a blank in Spinoza’s speech, pronounce your name and write it in the blank” (p. 8).
This comment will undoubtedly determine the built of the narrative procedure itself that follows the comment: the procedure of “dialogical novel”. Conversation with Spinoza is also, as a whole, dialogically set, split into three completely separated wholes. First: Conversation with Spinoza (cobweb novel); second: Conversation with Spinoza (circus show with five acrobatic performances); and third: Why Spinoza (instead of an ending) – which is really an auto-poetic text – a rare occasion in our literature.
Smilevski actually applies the cortasarian (Hugo Cortasar) strategy that says that the “reader is the only thing that interest him and therefore he should create a text that will not limit the reader but transform him into an obligatory accomplice”… Thus, horizons interchange in Conversation with Spinoza shaping and changing incessantly: the one of the character of Spinoza and the one of the “real reader”. In the communicological status of the text, this is a YOU-relation of narrating that implies “contact”, that is, collaboration. In this way, the conversation with the text usually implies transformation of views and therefore it expands. This novel is, par exellance an open text because of this degree of innovation that it brings to itself, because the collocutor (reader) is not the same: with various readers who should be written down in the blanks, he has various suggestions. As a mater of fact, that is also why the context of reading and critical evaluation is “dialogical”. To interpret the book means to tell the story about the reading.
On the other hand, this conversation, this debate, as it is stated, in an authentic way concerns “both eternal and endless things and the temporary and limited ones”.
The character of Spinoza in the novel, unlike the specific reader, is primarily directed towards his internal side, towards the intimate “reality” of his identity and towards all that strives to be “I”, everything that is qualified as “I” in the world, everything that becomes a subject:
“Who I, what I? Where from and where to I? Why I? But first of all: who I? This I who rubs his sweating hands from his pockets this morning; this I who steps on the road leading outside The Hague and continues somewhere in the flatland, where the blue of the dawn falls after the snow that has covered the fields; is I Spinoza the I who looks at the shapes made by the birds on the gray skies; who I, is it this I who walks on the bends made by some cart in the snow…
How to find the I while I remember the morning when my mother explained me how to breathe in and now to breathe out, and I wonder: was it exactly I? (p. 153)
Obviously, the subject here is not completed but it is chopped up, divided, multilayered (and of course, also dramatized in the second part). He is also de-faced, crossed, parallel, examining:
“Which I to chose of all I-s scattered in time and space, or should one turn his head away from all the scattering and chopping and move in the opposite direction, to look for an only I that maybe exists in spite of all divided I-s, somewhere not on the side opposite to wind, but where there is not even a side opposite to wind, where there is no wind and space?
Or, still, I is in all of those I-s, in all passed I-s, I is in that kid that for the first time hears from his mother what breathing in and out is, I is in the words of the mother, and I is in the breathing in and out; I is in my cheeks, but also in Clara Maria’s fingers on those cheeks, and in her words: “Feel how cold they are”; I is in the one who had to leave his home and walked in Amsterdam, I is in the one who cleaned the graves overgrown in weed.
How to reach that moment when all those I-s will be joined, how to be in that moment of uniting, and then I know, although that moment feels so unreachable, I know that then I will be in what I have always wanted to be, then I will touch part of eternity and endlessness, maybe because, by experiencing all passed and irrevocable things at once, I will be more aware then I have ever been about the sticky pain of the temporariness and finality” (p. 154)
This is, most explicitly given, the “comparative identity” of the philosopher and man Spinoza, the identity made of his philosophy and his life story, identity realized from antitheism, according to the concept of the multiplied, dialogic subject of the novel.
This novel still, although initially and seemingly is “historical”, is actually based on the clash of “serious” philosophical postulates, processed and combined with the shrewd author’s “game” – the author Goce Smilevski himself testifies about its inspiration and conception in his auto-poetic prologue. Here Smilevski mentions the sources he used when shaping the character of Spinoza. These are: “Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza” and “Spinoza: Practical Philosophy” by Jules Delez, as well as “Anatomy of Melancholy” by Robert Burton, indirectly reviewed via “Black Sun – Depression and Melancholy” by Julija Kristeva.
Therefore, regardless of the part of novel’s chronotope that allows that it is treated as “historical-philosophical”, this is a complex and multisided dialogical entrepreneurship in its genre, based on the dialogization of the history and its opening towards and for the present. This “historical meta-fiction” is typical in its dialogical aspiration to rewrite the past in a new context, both the historiographical and literary and artistic past. This is confirmed by the author himself in one of his interviews: “I started from the belief that the man who wrote Ethics did not live by the rules given in it. Looked from this aspect, Spinoza was open for “shaping” for me with the “blanks” in his biography on one hand, and on the other, with his philosophy which could be opposed by a completely different life… This division in his nature, this possible fight between what the person is and his ideal, was the real challenge for a conversation with Spinoza… According to this, both philosophy and life story were motivating enough to write this novel… I believed that there was something on the other side of the factography. Because Conversation with Spinoza is built on the questionability and openness towards the universal dimensions of loneliness and death, it is a novel that could communicate both with the eighteenth and the beginning of the twenty-first century” (Utrinski Vesnik 15-16 March 2003, p. 27).
Precisely because of this, this is a confirmation that the meta-prose writer is very much aware of the basic dilemma: if he undertakes to “present” the world, he very quickly understands that the world, as it is, can not be presented. Therefore, this novel of Smilevski is an exceptional proof that in the literary prose, basically it is only possible to “present” the discourses of that world.
Meta-novels (Conversation with Spinoza being one of them) try to maintain the construction base don the principle of basic and assumed opposition: the construction of a fiction illusion (in this case, “cobweb novel” and “circus show with five acrobat performances”) and the unveiling of the illusion (auto-poetic prologue “Why Spinoza”). In other words, the smallest common denominator of the meta-prose is to create prose (cobweb novel) at the same time with creating an expression of the creation of the prose (“Why Spinoza”).
“Reality” in this sense is “fictional” and it can be understood through an appropriate reading process.
Therefore, because of everything stated above, this novel Conversation with Spinoza by Goce Smilevski is something different, and it is a novel that seemingly separates from the Macedonian literary milieu. Still, we think that in its own way, it follows the development line of the Macedonian literature that strives to make an inter-discursive connection between literature and historiography (Slavko Janevski, Slobodan Mickovik, Danilo Kocevski, Venko Andonovski, Dragi Mihajlovski…). Of course, it does this in its own, original way, being distinguished and recognizable, and it is supported by its enormous qualities and high artistic achievements.
Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska
1. First of all, according to the meta-fiction theory of Patricia Woe.