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FEEDBACK Academician DRAGOSLAV MIHAILOVICH FOR "LITERARY BALKANS"

What is the destiny of fine letters now and what could this destiny be in the near and the more distant future?

It is difficult for a person who deals with fiction to answer this question. There’s always been some crisis, hardship and obstacles in the way but at the same time, if you are lucky to be gifted by God with some kind of talent for this sort of work, you will achieve good results. There has never been a happy time for belles lettres. All the times have been hard, yet literature have borne fruit. Today, we can’t even imagine the time _when the novels “Under the Yoke”, “War and Peace” or “Brothers Karamazov”, or “The Bridge over the Drina” weren’t yet written, but there was such a time. I, myself, have lived in the time before the penning of “The Bridge over the Drina” and didn’t feel such a book was missing. And then it appeared. But even then, as a teenager, I didn’t realize of what great importance it was for the world. Therefore, the crisis is permanent, unhappiness is permanent, as permanent as happiness, talent and creativity.

The cultural crisis of today has its causes and its signs, but it also has a remedy that is basically universal. Perhaps the purely Serbian specifics of this remedy remain out of focus?

There are indeed some specifics which differ from the one hand to the other, from one culture to another, from one language to another. What exactly are the Serbian specifics in regards to other cultures, I cannot clearly say. I think I have written some books, if I may say so, under God’s instruction. Whether they are good or not, significant or not, I cannot say. As I have already mentioned there is constant hardship when it comes to writing, and some people are destined by God to overcome it.

There are many secrets to a book and the author’s mastership tends to be among the most obscure. Have you reached a conscious explanation for yourself of everything you have created – as creative art, besides a pure will, is also the product of the artist’s instincts, of the artist’s enigmatic and mysterious self that he deciphers only partially in his text to the reader?

I wouldn’t say there is some kind of a secret in regards to writing skills. Writing skills are something which can be mastered, and something every writer can get by attending university. In the very core of writing, however, there really is some kind of mystery and this mystery is inexplicable, like the first impulse which drives a writer towards writing. These two things only seem to stand side by side, but in fact are quite different. A friend of mine often says culture is a constant enemy to art, which from the moment of its birth becomes a part of culture, i.e. art (and art of word, too, of course) must constantly aspire towards originality and novelty. The moment this is achieved in a work, no matter what the work itself is, the writer should not go on for fear of mannerisms and of becoming mundane.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the destiny of the Balkans and mankind? And why?

I am optimistic and pessimistic simultaneously but I can’t say which one and when will prevail.

Do you think that in these times when the path to the reader is difficult and uncertain, new names could emerge? Could the experience with your own public recognition be useful today? How did you gain recognition, was it easy?

I published my first book when I was 37. In other words I made my appearance in literature pretty late. This is not the most optimistic of examples for young writers. But when I appeared, I did it in the best way. It doesn’t mean other people should wait until they are 37 to publish their first book and be immediately recognized as writers.
The most common case is when a young person breaks through with a lot of difficulty, and his/her first book usually doesn’t achieve some artistic eminence. Things get complicated. I believe a writer who has a modest view of his work, who doesn’t plan to write the best book in the world (even though such intention would not help much in writing it) shouldn’t be doing this job. There is really no sadder fate in art and literature than mediocrity. It’s better to start doing something else.

What cultural and literary complexes can you discern in Serbs and their neighboring Balkan people? To what extent is that the result of the fact that the Balkan people missed the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Great Geographical Discoveries? How long will we continue to live as if we were alone in the world, as if nobody else existed but us?

I don’t have much experience in these issues, but since for many years I have written on the situation in Serbia in the dissolved Yugoslavian state, I’ve often spoken critically of the qualities of Serbs. One of their most serious shortcomings is that they don’t accept reality and don’t know how to listen to what life whispers into their ears. One of the truths they turn a deaf ear to is that the Yugoslavian idea failed and its realization in the Yugoslavian state leads to misery. Serbs should face themselves. Of course, first of all they have to strive for cooperation with their neighboring nations, as well as some nations outside of the Balkan Peninsula.

How do you assess the role of Balkani, the private publishing house, for the Balkan literary and cultural cooperation, especially the role of the Balkan Library Series? Such a comprehensive series of all Balkan authors has not been published in Bulgaria since 1878. What hatred, prejudice and ideological taboos, what loss of time…

I think this series is of great significance and it could expand to cover a greater territory, not only the Bulgarian cultural stage. I would like to see similar publishing enterprises realized by Serbian publishers. In any case, I am very pleased this series of BALKANI Publishing House included my “Villains”, a novel I have been writing for almost thirty years. I would also like to see in it other younger Serbian authors – and more specifically, I would like to see Milislav Savic, Miroslav Yosic-Vishnic, Vidoslav Stevanovic, and of course younger Bulgarian, Greek and other Balkan writers.

Questions: Georgi Grozdev
Translation from Serbian: Zhela Georgieva

 You can buy the books from the publisher here.

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