No One Else Writes That Way
Already as a young man, he realized that Beckett and Faulkner reside in the magical reality of our world. He arrived from the linguistic volcano of Upper Morača, where his ancestors settled from Gacko, Herzegovina a few centuries ago, with a rosary of names and legends, warrior souls and philosophy of memory. He researched modernity, absurd, irony, games with literary procedures. With a manifold easiness, he succeeded in what the stars of Serbian prose at the time achieved only with effort. It seems that that’s why a much steeper and shadowed path awaited him. He irrevocably arrived to the right and deserved place in 2016, through the Serbian Literary Cooperative ”Kolo”. He is one of the rare writers whose sentences you will always recognize

By: Dragan Lakićević

An authentic figure of Serbian literature in the last decades of the XX and first decades of the XXI century, Labud Dragić published his first stories in the Belgrade based Književna reč (Literary Word) in the 1980s. His first books Those Without a Seal and Shame in the Cathedral were published during the ninth decade of the previous century in ”Rad’s” edition ”Road Signs”, reserved, at the time, for ”new forms of irony, eroticism and fantastic”: Albahari, Tadić, Petković, Nešić, Velikić, Aćin…
Among them, Dragić was something different and special. Each of his colleagues from the edition had someone or something that favored him – a program or procedure… an editor, a magazine, a jury or trend of the critics. Labud was alone, except for the service – his publisher.
However, his extraordinary talent flashed.
He was young when he realized that Beckett and Faulkner are residing in the magical reality of our world, not only the Belgrade one, but also the one of the homeland, in the vertical landscapes of the Morača and Rovac mountains, and in the depth of the ambivalent legends. Labud came from the linguistic volcano of Upper Morača, where his ancestors settled (fled) from Gacko, Herzegovina a few centuries ago, with a rosary of names and legends, warrior souls and philosophy of memory. In that refuge called Uskoci, they took over, like all other clans, the defense of all local sanctities, from fields and herds to sabers and icons, united by the Morača monastery, lavra of the Nemanjić family from the XIII century. The thought of St. Sava, the feat of Prince Lazar in Kosovo, the encounter with Karađorđe in 1809 in Sjenica… all started burning in Morača. They were also attracted by the sanctities in Cetinje, where Petar I is still praying today, where Petar II, poet of Light of the Microcosm sings hymns to God Almighty… That thought kept dream and reality alive, the purpose of enduring on earth.
He went to school in Morača, Titograd and Sarajevo, studied world literature in Belgrade, with Vojislav Đurić, Nikola Milošević, Dragan Nedeljković, Vladeta Košutić, Ivo Tartalja, Nana Bogdanović and other professors taking turns at the general seminar department. Humming at the cathedra were translations of classics into Serbian – written by Miloš N. Đurić, Đorđe Popović, Rista Odavić, Simo Pandurović, Dragiša Stanojević, Stanislav Vinaver, father and son Živojinović… And that cathedra instilled pride and self-confidence in its students.
In the Sarajevo gymnasium – as told us Labud at the time – it was customary to write the name of the subject, before the beginning of each class, in the upper right corner of the blackboard. It was the duty of the student on call. When he was on call, young Dragić wrote the short, commonly used name of the subject: ”Serbian” – in order to leave as much free space on the blackboard as possible. That made the ”Serbian” teacher angry – something was bothering him or missing, certainly ”Croatian”; in those happy times, groups of politicians and agents couldn’t invent their own language.


Originating from the source of oral tradition and a linguistic mine, with an abundance of epic heritage and molar colors of the skies above horrible nocturnal mountains, Dragić first aspired to modernity – he learned from contemporary western literature. He was close to Novalis and Poe, Nietzsche, Kafka and Joyce. He was challenged by the absurd, he researched games and possibilities of procedure. His early prose was intonated by poetry, but he sporadically tried himself in poetry as well. His ironic temper and dense lexical layers directed him towards prose. His early books were collections of stories: Those Without a Seal, Shame in the Cathedral, Down the Valley of Shadows. His syntax was marked by unique artism. The magic of narration radiated from every sentence. Poetic images were merely elements of prose scenes. Labud’s anthological story ”A Boy Named Tony” was written at that time, where the scene of the absurd world of an army (any including ours) reflected pathology and suffering at the same time.
Critics most often left Labud’s prose aside. In a time when a young writer, with one or two books, would get dozens of reviews and interviews, they were hesitating with Labud, we should think why. It was probably because of his unusual gift – expressiveness of the language and masterly narration. What many achieved with efforts, even the stars of Serbian prose of the time (Kiš, Kovač, Savić, Stevanović, Beli Marković), seemed to be achieved effortlessly by the new, nobody’s one. On the other side were masters of realism – Mihailović, Jovan Radulović, Bratić… Labud couldn’t be classified with them either.
The injustice was sporadically undone when Labud’s novel In the Lochs of Leta was published in the Serbian Literary Cooperative – he won the ”Branko Ćopić” award, given by the Endowment of the great writer in the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Only then it was evident that Dragić has a refined, internal collusion with the poet of Bosnian mountains, writer of the ”gunman with a dove’s heart”. This wasn’t an incentive for the critics either, but Labud’s name fitted the classical covers of the Cooperative’s ”Atlas” edition well.
His two new powerful novels were published during the first decades of the XXI century by reputable Serbian publishers: ”The Official Gazette” – Blood and Water and Zavod za udžbenike – White Nights of the Gray Hawk… Even though Rajko Petrov Nogo and the writer of this reminiscence spoke about the novel Blood and Water in Kolarac’s Endowment, critics still didn’t have the will or motivation, sense or cheek to consider Dragić’s worlds – the approach to the rage of history in the rage of man’s soul and land, with the philosophy of evil and fate in the first novel, and the dense coloring of Belgrade and its ethical and political flipside, darkened by war and defeat.
Case, however, changes the inertness and imperfection of our literary life. It is definitely no accident that Dragić’s new novel, entitled Cuckoo’s Chicken, was published by the Serbian Literary Cooperation in 2016, the oldest and most reputable publishing institution, accustomed to paving and changing, announcing and shining, in its blue ”Kolo” edition. Then it seemed that the blue ”Kolo” was exactly the frame of Dragić’s world and language.


The world of the novel is political and historical: in the first years after World War I, when the Serbian states Serbia and Montenegro were united, accomplishing the centuries- long need and aspiration to joining the same nation, a group of political opponents of the unification, desperate because of their personal losses in the oligarchy of the last monarch of the Petrović dynasty – are preparing a rebellion: a series of political, military and terrorist actions for demolishing the country established in 1918. Under the auspices of Italian centers of power and money, the group starts their path of evil. Besides personal motives, passions and weaknesses, fear of competition in the big state, they are also initiated by the echo of glorious warrior and cultural traditions of the Petrović dynasty, including saint Petar I and the greatest poet Petar II Petrović Njegoš. King Nikola, ”emperor of heroes”, celebrated by famous poets Zmaj and Laza Kostić, is already politically dead, but recklessness in dealing with him upon his departure from his homeland, revolted his self-proclaimed proponents. The ferocity is so great that the fact that the longstanding monarch was one of the greatest Serbs and supporters of the unity of Serbiandom in the XIX century slipped their mind, and they, his proponents, request separation from Serbia and Serbiandom in Montenegrins in all aspects… Anticipating that they are doing something indecent, opposing logics, nature and their own being, the negative heroes of Dragić’s prose experience deep ethical and psychological shocks of their consciences and falls.
The first part of the novel takes place in Italy, when the group prepares for the demolition of the united state, and the biggest part of it in the wasteland and territory of Montenegro, where they arrived as armed foreigners and outpost of the occupier. Their words and thoughts, especially their language, are like the land they are in – the land of Lubarda’s stone and mountains – all colored with onomatopoeias, alliterations and spasms of the cruel climate and life. The center of the novel is the dramatic scene depicting King Nikola in the underground treasury of the European bank, which offered him to safe keep the state money and gold. At a certain point, the aged author of the anthem Onamo ‘namo replaced the entire tradition Montenegro has survived upon, from Balšići and Crnojevići to Mountain Wreath and Examples of Philanthropy and Heroism, with that money and gold. The lines of the European loan shark to the aged monarch illustrate the timeless dialogue between Montenegro and its ”friends” and ”benefactors” from the West, from the praised stay of Voivode Draško in Venice and Kanjoš Macedonović in the prosperity of Europe, to the very day… Thus another big dictionary of Serbian language appeared, created by Dragić in the novel tissue and at the end of the book. It is a valuable contribution to the abundance and meaning of the lavishing, discarded words, disappearing together with the disappearing of the world they depict.
The novel and dictionary were recognized by as many as four different juries. For his Cuckoo’s Chicken, in just one year, Dragić won four literary awards: ”Isidora Sekulić”, ”Svetozar Ćorović”, ”Momo Kapor”, ”Seal of Time”.
The second edition of the novel Cuckoo’s Chicken was published in the Divot-edition of the Serbian Literary Cooperative, and there were about twenty linguists, professors, critics and writers participating at the scientific conference organized by the Serbian Literary Cooperative Serbian Language Board in June 2017. The collection of works from the scientific conference represents a small compensation for the silence or hesitation of critics in the previous years.
Labud Dragić is one of the rare writers whose sentence or page you will always recognize – no one else writes that way.


A Sketch for the Biography
Labud Dragić (Ljevišta, Municipality of Kolašin, Upper Morača, 1954).
He published novels: ”In the Lochs of Leta” (2003, ”Branko Ćopić” award), ”Blood and Water” (2007), ”White Nights of the Gray Hawk” (2013), ”Cuckoo’s Chicken” (2016, ”Isidora Sekulić”, ”Svetozar Ćorović”, ”Momo Kapor”, ”Seal of Time” awards).
Books of stories: ”Those Without a Seal” (1985), ”Shame in the Cathedral” (1990), ”Down the Valley of Shadows” (1994), ”In the Eve of Third Roosters” (1997), ”Wild Angel” (1999), ”Pandora’s Winds” (2004).
Translated into Russian, Italian, Spanish and English.
He translates from Russian and Italian.
Lives in Belgrade.


Mood and Memory
”I don’t believe that any mood lasts long enough to write a decent story. Of course, if mood doesn’t imply a balanced working condition. However, certain moods can cast a shadow on the text in amateur writers or beginners. Those who are not in a decent working mood shouldn’t sit at the desk. My problem was most often in being thwarted in really writing down what I’ve been writing within me. Thus my frustrations, which were my regular state at the time we lived in students’ homes, where the environment changed daily, sometimes even hourly. We lived and grabbed each moment of solitude to do something meaningful. Holidays were the most favorable moments for breaks and writing.
Mood should be insignificant, because it always lasts shorter than the work on any text. (…) With our writing, we actually transfer images and moods from another time, resurrected in our memory. (…) With writing, we are trying to give a new meaning to everything. When a story or similar literary work is created, it becomes independent from everything and gains its own meaning.”
(Labud Dragić, from his interview for National Review”)


General Seminar in Takovska
”I remember an honorary lecture of Professor Raško Dimitrijević. I had an impression that he is falling into a kind of rapture. His enthrallment was easily transferred to the audience, and a surreal, elevated atmosphere was created.
I haven’t forgotten a single evening when the ”Collection of Works” of professors and students from World Literature was promoted. The large classroom was filled with people, including Danilo Kiš, Matija Bećković, Brana Šćepanović, Milan Komnenić… It was packed with participants and students.
At the beginning, Dragan Nedeljković announced Kiš as the first student who graduated from that department. I had an impression that Kiš was mad at someone. He read a part of his essay, where he mentioned the grunting of pigs. He obviously debated with someone, but we still didn’t know it then (at least I didn’t)… The famous Kiš’s ”Tomb for Boris Davidovič” still hadn’t appeared at the time, there wasn’t even a hint of the scandalous literary affair, but some high intensity charge, very negative, was floating above this conference, as if it held the first signs of what shook literary (as well as non-literary) Belgrade a few years later.
Matija read a part of his poem ”Signature” (it later appeared in his book ”Border of the Mad Wolf”) and caused sensation. The atmosphere became brighter and a good spirit overmastered the entire conference again. (...)”
(Labud Dragić, from his interview for National Review”)


Visual Landscapes of Mountains
”(...) My intention was to describe the landscape, make a kind of a synthesis of geographical knowledge, travelogue experience and poetic vision of a magical space, whereas it seemed to me that the description is escaping me, however much I attempted to catch the comprehensive picture through the prism of poetic experience. (...)
I remember dawns most clearly. With every waking up in my house of birth in Zalom, I greeted many mornings, dawns, sunrises… I can still clearly see the reddish peaks marked by the morning gold of the sun, and I could follow the dawn slowly flowing down the rocks and cliffs of mountain tops. On the psychological plane, there is a paradox here: the more distant in time those scenes are, the clearer and more vivid they are in the memory. (...) Just like I followed the birth of the sun over the peaks, I also saw it off following its red reflection in the heights, watching the red ball sinking behind the distant cliffs on the horizon. The day was gone forever with the disc, which, even when departing, seemed grandiose with its horrifying bloody-red, fiery glow. I would then make wreaths of the most beautiful mountain herbs and crown myself with it, greeting the departing Sun and the day I will keep in my memory. (...) Now I see the peaks bathing in the sun in my dreams: they are always covered with the silver whiteness of snow, unfathomable, distant, but I’m climbing towards them again.”
(Labud Dragić, from his interview for National Review”)


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