The November/December on-line supplement of “World Literature Today” has brought out the most comprehensive interview with Zoran Zivkovic so far. It was conducted by Professor Michael Morrison and is reprinted here with the kind permission of WLT.
Michael A. Morrison Part I
Fantastika and the literature of Serbia
MM: You have said allied your fiction to the literary tradition of Middle-European “fantastika.” How do you define this tradition? Which of hits authors have influenced your work?
ZZ: The literary and geographical areas of “Mitteleuropa” (“Central Europe”) don’t coincide. The former is much wider, encompassing the European part of Russia. In the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century it was culturally, intellectually, and artistically rather united, particularly when it comes to literature. Valery Bryusov’s novel The Fiery Angel (1908) is very illustrative in this regard. It is set entirely in sixteenth-century Germany, but if you didn’t know that it was written by a Russian, you could never have guessed it: the novel seems so authentically German.
The term fantastika—used in slightly different ways in many European languages—doesn’t seem to have a satisfactory English equivalent. It could have been “fantasy” if that term hadn’t been reduced to a marketing label that means “Tolkienesque” fiction. Fantastika is by no means limited to that narrow section of the spectrum. It is, in fact, the spectrum itself—all non-mimetic prose. Nearly seventy percent of everything written during the past five thousand years is non-mimetic and belongs to one of many forms of fantastika: folklore, oneiric, fairy-tale, epic and so forth.
“Middle-European fantastika” was never a literary movement amalgamated by a common poetics. It was, rather, a tradition that shared some traits but was otherwise heterogeneous. Its most common trait was its minimal fantastic content. It features only slight deviations from reality, never large-scale dramatic events. Its protagonists are not heroes, but marginal individuals trying to find their way in a changed world.
I owe various debts to grand-masters of Middle-European fantastika. From E. T. A. Hoffmann I learned how to discreetly introduce fantastical elements, from Gogol how to increase the symbolic value of a fantastic story, from Bryusov how to achieve authenticity, from Bulgakov how to make the most of the humor in a fantastic context, from Kafka how to handle absurdity, from Lem how to search for new paths of fantastika.