Condemned to Waiting and Faithfulness
The soil has nowhere to go from itself, nor do I from it. It gave me, it will take me back. The most difficult slavery is the one we unconsciously carry. Danger begins where the path of self-denial starts, the trap of the ”Stockholm syndrome”. Those in power used to keep their subjects in illiteracy, while the present ones understood that semi-literacy gives better results. Pop culture is a spice of the consumer view of the world. Intellectual servants constantly rush to the one who is currently strongest. Our basis is beyond time, in the invisible, in the beyond-historical

Text: Vesna Kapor and NR Press
Photo: Guest’s Archive

Serbia, real and integral, beats in his sentence. The warm and open one, with both feet on the ground, full of ancient images and poems, bareheaded in the wheat, craving for St. George’s Day rain. The one that studied good schools, constantly visiting the library, knows that Homer and gusle players were hammered on the same fire. And the oak tree one, bringing the sun in its bosom, looking up towards the heavens, with roots in its depths. Thus he can sing both a lullaby and a requiem, both in Poitiers and in Ivanovac near Ljig.
Milovan Danojlić (Ivanovac, 1937), one of the most significant Serbian writers today, answered the questions of National Review with ancient solidness, as if incising his words in stone.

In your poetry, the deep cosmic acts together with the personal, which often disintegrates and lives in the collective. That is your path: from the ”cope of heaven and starry arch”, in a romantic manner, it descends into the depths of the personal and flies above the collective?
Personal experience and feeling of things in literature is effective as far as it is able to be shared with others. Ever since he began to sing and narrate, verbally and in writing, a human has been asking a few existential questions and replying to them in different ways, without any final conclusion. The most personal things are at the same time expressed as universal, whilst the reader, in difficultly communicated secrets, recognizes with joy his or her own intimate states and feelings. There are, certainly, different levels of satisfying the same spiritual thirst. Some drown their sorrow for the irreversible transience of life in a kafana, listening to the song ”Take everything life has to offer, today you’re a flower, tomorrow a withered rose”, while others do it in a concert hall, enjoying compositions of Tchaikovsky and Brahms.
Homer, Ovid, Horatius, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Pushkin and Chekhov – who could list them all? – are our contemporaries, more actual and more interesting than the daily newspaper bought this morning. Able to transfer us to faraway lands and even further away époques faster than any jet plane. A human is an ancient cosmic animal; he has seen, experienced and expressed all sorts of things.

What is the kind of time when ”everyone fed their own wolf”?
The wolf is, I suppose, the voracious everyday life, into which jaws we have to throw a piece of our life, in order to get permission to continue our journey. Time is a badly determined, in a certain way nonexistent category. With our presence and activities, we fill and design it, sometimes make it beautiful, sometimes pollute it.

In today’s world, within which forms of art are multiplied and new artistic means discovered, what does it mean to be a Writer?
A writer is a human being, who mediates between life and its possible meaning, an observer and a witness, a spectator who compensates his inability to participate in real events by transferring them into the area of imagination. Writers are neurotic, frustrated beings: we are all missing something, so we write to overpower the lack, to fill the fatal emptiness. The means are technical jests, more or less inspiring. The same objective is reached through very different paths. Everyone is the creator of their own values, the parent of their own readers.
I succeed, or fail, in the degree of achieving my aspirations and possibilities, not someone else’s requests: I consider them only incidentally and artificially. Writers are badly paid, sometimes even free of charge filters of the spiritual and social situation of a land.


It seems that the neoliberal corporative manipulation rests on excellent knowledge of literature and philosophy. Most of those who produce mass entertainment programs, meaning stupefying things, are highly educated. What do you think about this paradox?
The practice of the ruling class to keep their subjects in ignorance and illiteracy is very old. The present day rulers of the world saw that semi-education and semi-literacy give better results, while pop culture is a convenient spice to the consumer view of the world. The exploiting classes always have educated staff on their side, willing to defend and justify the enslavers. Intellectual servants often rush towards the strongest ones. So it happened that the sixty-eight leftists became advocates of American military, economic and geostrategic interests. It is sad, but not paradoxical.

You never deny the personal in prose, regardless whether it’s labeled as pantheistic, evocation-lyrical, or on the border of daily-realistic. How much was your life a basis for fiction?
Although I have seen and experienced many things, my knowledge of life is restricted, and my will to transpose the experienced into fictive situations and characters is very weak. I feel phenomena and people intuitively, on a blurred, lyrical level. I am often astonished by the insights and assessments of my friends and acquaintances. Such things would never cross my mind. It’s only that I feel myself and nature a bit deeper and have a more trustworthy knowledge about them, so this is what I liked to write about most. Speaking about others, I was mainly speaking about myself. How Dobrislav Ran through Yugoslavia is my autobiography. I am in everything and the entire world is within me. I am no exception in this aspect; it’s only more visible in my case than with others.

Is the so often mentioned freedom a replacement for the world fate, or is it only another word convenient for manipulation?
My freedom is determined by the consciousness about general circumstances and own limitations, or, as Hegel said, the recognition of objective necessity. The most difficult slavery is the one we unconsciously carry. There is the public and there is the inner freedom. The latter does not need the possibility of holding speeches at demonstrations. If I cleared things inside me, I can breathe and think freely even though I am enslaved. Danger begins from the point when we start down the path of self-denial, when we succumb to pressure. There are numerous traps. The one featured by the ”Stockholm syndrome” – the tendency of hostages to accept and defend the logics of the kidnaper – is especially dangerous and can be noticed in a part of our would-be elite, the part supporting our accession to NATO.


”Even if not identical, the senselessness and mystery of existence are equally sublime”, you wrote in Snake Slough?
I don’t remember the mood I was in when writing it. Senselessness covers unreachable vastness of the material and spiritual worlds, everything that is out of reach of our sensual intellectual experiences. The secret of the transcendental horrifies, but also offers the possibility of dreaming. Besides the religious interpretation of existence, which requests faith, not proof, who can say that he found any meaning in what is surrounding him? We are born, we fight for survival: biological self-purposefulness is sufficient itself, it doesn’t aspire towards meaning.

Finding a connection with the ancient and permanent is a necessity, inevitability. What is the place of our literary ancestors there?
Long gone, permanent being was buried in the pre-conscious, pre-historical époques. A large part of vital energy is still flowing to us from that jungle. Our basis is beyond time, in the invisible, in the unreachable.
With our birth, we are given once and for all: nothingness has thrown us into the world, through a volcano crater. What comes later is shaping within a given frame, with a series of additions. I have read and studied a lot, yet I still have more trust in my unknowingness. I fight to leave it and to return to it. It is my immovable and reliable stronghold.

”The nation cherishes what no one can ever take away from it: its language, my consolation and joy”, you wrote. Is it possible to preserve the language, cherish it as an identity, in such a century?
Of course it is! The language is our powerful weapon, the last line of defense. It is the encouraging sign of healthy collective life. No one can take it away from us without our approval. It has been cherished and perfected for centuries, in smoky huts, by gusle players, narrators, weavers and spinners. You have taken everything away from us, but we won’t give our language, yelled Petar Kočić, defying Austro-Hungarian aggressors in the Congress. As long as we love and keep enriching it, we will be alive as a nation. That fortress is inaccessible. See this Davenport, high representative of I don’t know what or who, trying to speak our language, in order to conquer us. He learned it to the degree of bureaucratic correctness, but hasn’t entered its soul, because he does not wish us well. The language needs full freedom of development, the right to be wrong and, at the same time, discrete supervision and warnings. If it is alive and strong, even foreign words cannot hurt it: they are harmful only at the time its health is weak.


”The world is collapsing in the way it was created”, you write. Through your prose, you followed the disintegration of a world, moving of the patriarchal into the so-called new, communist era, and then a repeated harangue (from the nineties to the present day) of traditional values. However, in your poetics, humaneness was never brought into question?
The understanding of some contemporary philosophers about the cyclic development of cultures and civilizations is close to me. Progress develops in circles, in a winding and unwinding spiral, in amplitudes. There are upward and downward phases of the spinning in circles. It seems that we are currently in the downward department, so we believe that this is the end of the world. There were many such ends of the world in history. The world breaks down and recovers in the same swing.

”I believed that free societies exist somewhere in the world”, you note in Rabbit Traces. After many visits to foreign lands and long journeys, is it, after all, just an illusion?
Yes and no. Living is easier in systems of formally based and respected civil liberties than under authoritarian and dictatorial regimes, although an easier position does not necessarily mean it is essentially better. Yes, it is more comfortable in the West, since we don’t have to think about certain things, but in the state of non-thinking, we are more susceptible to swallowing various tricks. Tyranny initiates clearer and more courageous thinking, while formalistic liberties make people grow lazy: brainwashing mechanisms are perfect and economic compulsion has the last word. At the time of the personality cult supremacy, we overestimated the advantages of western democracy, but they, with a grain of salt, do exist. Until recently, the West has maintained its health with the support of self-criticism; such awareness is declining nowadays, and that is not good.

In Rabbit Traces, combining documentary material with your own observations, you perfectly told the story about the Rabbit-Human or about Rabbit and Human, universal both on personal and collective level. (We know, it’s no use. Still, it’s better to run than to be still, more interesting and more exciting.) What are we supposed to do in this moment, in such a world: be a Rabbit or be a Human?
The two-legged creatures are weak, frightened individuals; identifying them with rabbits comes naturally. However, a clear awareness of the sources of fear partially liberates us from anxiety. Diving into fear is a form of courage, while avoiding confronting it is, certainly, related to cowardice. I am not a brave man by nature, but I was bold in some situations, thanks to fearless thinking.


From your books we see that the society and state is one thing, while the world and life are something completely different. How can an ordinary human find a measure?
It seems simple to me. If you’re not fighting for power, for excessive wealth, for social importance, you are on a way of conquering peace of soul, so the state also, to a certain extent, leaves you alone. It is important that everyone draws a line between oneself and them. Under the communist regime, apart from a few unpleasant situations, I was generally fine, exactly because I did not thrive for power. Those in power unmistakably feel it and leave alone those who don’t wish to replace them. However, I was privileged, due to the nature of my job: by waiving wealth and power, I was able to live decently. It’s much more difficult for those whose bare existence depends on the mood of those in power. They have nothing to waive.

”The soil is condemned to waiting and faithfulness.” The homeland is a grain of salt in each of the rows you have written. Both a gift and a suffering. Many writers stay away from it. Would you write following the same traces again?
The choice happened independent from my will. I was born in the heart of a peasant land, I observed the downfall of the rural civilization from my early age and overcame that process. The soil has nowhere to go from itself, nor do I from it. Even here, where I have been living for years, it is constantly within me. I feel it, alive, both when I love it and when I don’t. It gave me, it will take me back. It’s not a matter of choice, it is destiny.

You have evaluated a turbulent century through your pen, left traces deep and recognizable, observed the world from different geographical points. Are there any answers or just repeated questions: about meaning, history, about God and the universe, about the individual and nation...?
I don’t have an undisputed answer to any vitally important question. Even I don’t strictly adhere to the conclusions I have reached, so how can I recommend them to others? I attempted to express, sincerely and convincingly, what had been bothering and torturing me. I hope that, at the final judgment, my openness and intellectual honesty will be taken into consideration. That is all I can say in my defense.


Ballad of...
Born in Ivanovci near Ljig in 1937. Graduated from the Faculty of Philology, Department of Romance Languages, in 1973. Published more than seventy books of belletristic in Serbian, covering all genres, from children poetry to novels (”A Kind of a Circus”, ”Ballad of Poverty”, ”Personal Things”, ”Liberators and Traitors”…). Winner of numerous reputable awards. Translated important works of Shakespeare, Baudelaire, Pound, Yeats, Cioran, Claudel… into Serbian. Lives in Poitiers, France since 1984, where he worked as lector at the University and associate at the Paris radio. Member of Serbian Academy of Art and Sciences since 2000. Regularly spends a part of the year in his native village.


Everyone Has Fed His Own Wolf
– I don’t take myself too seriously. I was a writer of proses with unclear genre, chronicle writer of daily events, and felt most natural when writing poems for children. If all that has some higher meaning, others should say so. I am not satisfied with what I’ve done, but I’m also not unsatisfied. I regret for my mistakes and imprudence towards others. I lived, and that is always a sin, more or less.


– Whether I wanted it or not, I shared the destiny of my compatriots, whenever and wherever they lived. Unlike romanticist patriotism, I am not thrilled by my connections and belonging, but I also don’t deny them. In situations of crises, when the community is in danger, I am ready for more active forms of solidarity.


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