Life, Novels

A Poet Is Not Allowed Mediocrity
There is an ”enormous minority”, which will, despite everything, maintain the peaks of culture and meaning. There are still such devotees, even if they are not aware of their feats. They are ”the guardians of the fire”. Highways are not for them, their side roads are narrow, their fate is to ”burn on the cross” and repent sins, both theirs and other people’s, with their striving. Without them there is no general regeneration. Provided, of course, that they do not give in under the burden they are carrying and end up in Herbert’s ”museum of boredom”

By: Branislav Matić
Photo: Private Archive

Longing for wholeness, he passed oceans and arrived at the depths of polar nights, testified about the hum of the millennium. He researched Truth, Beauty and Meaning, all their faces, names and changes. He held lectures at more than ten universities, on three continents. His poetry is recited in fifteen languages. We find him between two towers in Pančevo, where ”the Danube flows into the Tamiš”, where he set off into the world from and, luckily, returned.
Milan Orlić (Pančevo, 1962) – poet, writer, publisher, scientist, lecturer – in National Review.

Epoch of the Mass. We are witnesses of a time that reduces culture to cheap and easy entertainment, which has never been more commercialized in the history of civilization. Literature, art and culture in general are becoming less creative, less critical, esthetically and intellectually scarce. The impoverishment is planetary and thriving like a malignant tumor. Genuine environmental disasters are an everyday threat to already pathologized, psychologically and sociologically more and more wrenched human communities. That world is poisoned with the state of constant war mobilization, masked with, for example, the so-called fight against terrorism (which does not mean that terrorism does not exist). We are living, if we paraphrase Cicero, in ”difficult times” in which ”children do not respect their parents” and ”everyone is writing” poetry and books. Thus, it is no wonder that, instead of the power and wisdom of knowledge, our lives are ruled by the supremacy of ignorance and dishonor. In it, the hypertrophied consumerism of post-neoliberalism, lo and behold, is devouring its own children, like the pig from the anticommunist propaganda. This summarized description of the spirit of time is leading to an obvious conclusion about the position of not only elite culture, but culture in general. However, according to Newton’s third law, there are forces which balance the state we are speaking about to a certain extent. But it is a complex story, for some other occasion.

Book. Although it seems at first glance that our time is the golden age for books, when the most luxurious and selected editions are published, exactly due to publishing hyperproduction and its antispiritual commercialization, books are a medium fighting for survival, both in its developing and elementary sense. The picture is not black and white, because all printed and electronic media (books, art comics, film, animated film, various electronic formats, etc.) are mutually not only competing for the sympathy of the public, but are also, paradoxically, complementing and supporting themselves creatively and marketing-wise. (...)
The fact is that finally, the reading field of ultimate literature is narrowing. From supreme literary contents and forms, literature is more and more tending towards lower genres, towards popular and commercialized editions.

Authors’ Status. The reasons for the depicted situation are numerous and causes multiple. Both crucial concepts for the creation of a literary work and scientific work – author and text – are essentially made meaningless with the destruction of the quality of education, by the devaluation of the spiritual environment, by systematic commercialization and alike. Authors and editors are marginalized in terms of media, economically and in other ways, while secondary and tertiary parts of the system (printing houses, bookshops, technical logistics, book delivery, insuring works of art) are taking over primacy over the basics. The legitimate consequence is the decline of the quality of texts of detronized authors, regardless of literary genre, type of work of art or scientific work.
Author is, as Ian Parandovsky emphasizes, ”the most honorable title that can be given to a writer”. (The noun author originates from Latin – auctor, from the verb augure, which means ”increasing”, ”multiplying”.) Being called authors in ancient Rome was the privilege of political leaders and army commanders who expanded the borders of the Empire. Analogously, a writer could be highly rewarded with the title author only if, as Parandovsky emphasizes, ”he is a genuine multiplier of spiritual heritage and conqueror of new territories of the beautiful”. In that sense, there were four kinds of ”artists of the word” (artifex): orators, poets, philosophers and historians. Only after World War II, literature was reduced to the area marked with the word ”fiction”.
In the meantime, essential changes emerged. First, God was killed. In The Gay Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, 1882), by claiming that God is dead (”Got ist tot”), Nietzsche explicates the idea which Hegel dealt with in his Phenomenology of Spirit (Phänomenologie des Geistes, 1807) and Nietzsche himself popularized it in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Also sprach Zarathustra: En Buch fur Alle und Keinen, 1883–1892).Heidegger further elaborated such way of thinking with his thesis about the death of metaphysics (Nietzsches Wort ‘Gott ist tot’, 1943). Although Nietzsche wanted to contribute to creating a new man with his book Ecce Homo (Ecce homo. Wie man wird, was man ist, 1888), believing that he was liberating man from what he thought was the burden of Christianity, the further development of those ideas not only led to ”death of man”, but also to ”death of author”, to use the term of Roland Barthes (”La mort de l’auteur”, 1968).
Similar to Derrida, Barthes excludes human subjectivity as criteria of truthfulness of cognition and proclaims the absolute authority of ”language”, expressed with the sovereignty of ”discourse”. Thus, instead of ”author”, his surrogate ”scriptor” arrives to the scene, a kind of ”signifier” (Fr. significant), who uses instances of narrative structure (language, text, narrative and discourse) to mediate between the former concept of author and the reader. Both author and text are misplaced somewhere in the labyrinth of numerous structuralist and poststructuralist theories, not only Barthes’ and Derrida’s. It is a long, complex and infamous story.

Tradition as Dialogue. Regardless of whether talking about poetic, prose or scientific creative work, besides Tradition (Heritage, Legacy, although the terms are not the same) Dialogue is necessary as well. Because, if dialogue was missing in, for example, aircraft industry of telephone industry, we would not move further from Dedalus and Icarus or pre-Pupin’s era. Principally, the same rule is valid for poetry, prose, science. ”Taught to reject tradition in the name of contemporariness”, reminds Zoran Mišić, ”many do not notice that the antitradition stand stopped being contemporary everywhere in the world.” So, neither traditionalism nor antitraditionalism, but the dialogue of heritage and contemporariness is the condition sine qua non of development and advancement in any field.
In our cultural and academic community, in a critical historical period when Serbia was overwhelmed with essential challenges, the trend of so-called postmodernism prevailed. It arrived to us several decades late, from the West, although (paradoxically) our modernism between the two wars as well as high modernism after World War II, had already conquered those criteria and standards in the best sprouts of Serbian literature. Imported postmodernism was transferred from secondary sources, without real insight in primary sources, without essential or even elementary knowledge of languages and literatures, cultures, societies and historical context it was taken over from. With a provincial view from ”frog perspective”, it was taken uncritically, ”as granted”, without any insight in the meaning and purpose of that planetary process. Such excitement with postmodernism was transferred by poorly educated but, compared to local media and the gray zone of the academic and cultural environment, well organized group of pseudointellectuals, not big and dedicated to their own selfish goals.
Even things which were good and advanced in the planetary ”postmodern state” were not properly understood and applied in our environment. The real measure of influence is accepting what is valuable and useful and rejecting the invaluable and harmful.

Real Measure and Deep Wisdom. But, let us go back to Zoran Mišić. Although essential, heritage and dialogue are not sufficient. Genuinely great authors, regardless of whether they are poets, novel writers or scientists, always build an authentic voice and world they are remembered by and written in the fund of heritage with which contemporaries and later generations begin dialogues with. In our environment, however, there are ”self-grown” poets, ”wild” prosaists, scientists who gained their titles without real competition and under specific, protected conditions, critics who, with academic, media and political favoritism took places in public which do not belong to them. With such biographies, they are a kind of ”autodidacts” in a narrow or wider sense, who, with non-literary motives, enter the arena of daily passions and fighting for positions like gladiators. With that, they are doing a bad favor to everyone.
I would again remind of Nietzsche who, realizing the unavoidable value and significance of tradition, reached clear and correct awareness about ”past” and ”history” (to stick to his terms) in his discussion ”On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life” (”Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie für das Leben”,1874). The past or history (Tradition, Heritage, Legacy) must not be the ”gravedigger of the present”. The role of a real man is not to be a mere guardian of inherited values. Being an active creator of ”monumental history”, taught by examples from the most important epochs (classical antiquity and renaissance according to Nietzsche) and activities of extraordinary people (for him those were Cesare Borgia or Napoleon), history and heritage should serve as a road sign towards the future. Such a stand is an expression of real measure and deep wisdom.

”Great Minority” and ”Miniature Majority”. A state of nonproductive chaos has been ruling Serbian culture, art and literature for a long time. Obvious is, for example, the syndrome of ”provinces” and ”provincial leaders”, similar to the 1830–1839 period, before and immediately after liberation from the feudal way of life under Turkish occupation. Future traditional values of the Serbian civic society had just begun appearing and establishing on the social and historical horizon, already with the Civil Code from 1844. Such development resulted in general flourishing in the first years of the XX century and blossoming of civil values, legislative activities and way of life – until World War I broke out. The ”golden age” of Serbian society (last decade of the XIX and first two of the XX century) brought advancement in all areas. Today, unfortunately, the phenomenon of ”provincialism” in literary and cultural life exists and acts as an auto-destructive force of regressive self-oblivion and has been lasting for decades. Causally and consequentially, it is an expression of civilizational regression, although in planetary terms, independently from our specific historical situation and problems imposed from the outside, the destruction of civilizational values is also obvious.
However, the ”enormous minority” exists in culture, both in its centers and in the margins of cultural institutions and circles. Members of that ”enormous minority” are more or less lonely individuals or small groups of authors who, mostly without connecting and relating, seem to follow the imperative of Quintus Horatius Flaccus that ”poets are not allowed mediocrity”. This is Horace’s understanding of poetry as the most beautiful flower of spirituality, heart and mind. Analogous with giving a specific significance to poetry, thereare authors – not exclusively poets – who are ”guardians of the fire”, a kind of guarantors of general renewal, impossible without autonomous creative work in culture as catalyst of advancement. Of course, provided that they endure such pressure and, for example, for existential reasons, life and esthetic disorientation as consequence of enduring troubles for a long time, they do not yield, allow themselves the luxury of mediocrity, and end up in Herbert’s ”museum of boredom”. Or lose the cruel match in a tougher way than ending up in corners of the mentioned museum.
We have clear historical examples for it in Serbian literature, those that illustrate the fate of members of the ”enormous minority”, such as Crnjanski, ”the beloved Father and Teacher”, as remembered in one of the verses in my poem ”Letter to Miloš Crnjanski” from the book The City, Before I Fall Asleep. It is easy to notice that the fate of Crnjanski is tragic in terms of biography, artistically, culturally, and politically. However, he always succeeded in overgrowing those merciless ”strikes of fate”.
Perhaps the stated verse and description of his ”case”, especially taken out of context, would seem archaically pathetic to someone ignorant or ill-intentioned. However, if there is just a particle of truth in the anecdote or apocrypha from the salon of Countess Begiojoso – a lady allegedly shouted at a charity concert: ”Thalberg is the first pianist in the world. List is the only one” – the mentioned verse understands Crnjanski as a genius ”convened through centuries” in a Nietzsche-like manner. There are still devotees, even if they are not aware of their feats. Highways are not intended for them, their side roads are narrow, their fate is to ”burn on the cross” and repent sins, both theirs and others’ with their great deeds. They provide invulnerability and reproducibility of the ”enormous minority”. They are road signs to ”guardians of the fire”.

Towards the Purity of Glance. The past lives in the present, and the future is active in it as well. ”Little is unchangeable in man”, says Guy de Pourtales, Franz List’s biographer, ”perhaps the least changeable is his heart.” When I first read this sentence, I was certain that the very immutability of the human heart, or, in other words, the internal nature, is a subject that influences my unvoluntary and voluntary selection of styles, literature and influences, shapes my optics and stylistic and narrative procedures, conscious and accidental selection of literary techniques.
Therefore, the way of living, nutrition or dressing change through history, means of transportation or medical techniques are evolving, but the most important – human heart and mind – are least subject to alteration. Confronted with this ancient but still actual truth, an author cannot remain indifferent. Even more if he is a poet. Because, the privileged glance into the depths of human and divine creation and activity is possible – with philosophy, religion, music and mathematics – only from the heights of poetry. Of course, not exclusively poetry in the narrow sense of the word, but in the classical antique, wider sense.
Achieving the ”purity of glance”, which significance is indicated by Zoran Mišić, is an unattainable ideal. I have become aware of that ideal subsequently, although I have already begun practicing it in my creative work. It sharpened my optics, sentences, way of imagination and fabulization, a kind of privileged narrative. I have researched Truth, Beauty and Meaning, mainly with poetic aestheticization and with the impartiality of a scientist, especially in the light of their changes in time. And I immediately think that my previous statement is not entirely true. Because, besides the Valery-like literary laboratory, a spirit of controlled and uncontrolled, creative improvisation also influenced what I have done and created.

Sun in Belgrade. Belgrade had a crucial influence on my development. For example, starting from the fact that I used to come from Pančevo as a seventeen-year-old boy to lectures and concerts in the Grand Hall of Kolarac Endowment or to the National Theater. In my student days, besides the Department of Philosophy and Sociology of the Faculty of Philosophy, I also attended lectures in other departments (art history, psychology, classical sciences) and faculties (Philology, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Political Sciences, Law). Such were the times, gaining knowledge was a virtue itself.
Later, as a young author with only one book, a story-novel About the Un/Real, which won the Literary Youth of Serbia competition (in the competition of authors from entire Yugoslavia) for the first book in the famous ”Pegaz” edition, I was elected youngest editor in chief in the Literature magazine published by ”Prosveta”. This publisher was the most important in second Yugoslavia and the Balkans, relevant even in European proportions. (For example, it had the honor to publish Andrić’s Bridge on the Drina on March 10, 1945). Although ”Prosveta” was already facing problems due to the threatening disintegration of Yugoslavia, for me it was an opportunity for development one could only wish for. I gained important experience as editor and publisher in ”Prosveta” in Belgrade. It is also valid for my author status, because I published my second book and first novel Momo in the Polar Night in ”Prosveta”, when publishing in this house was every author’s dream.
Without any doubt, the Sun always rose and set in Belgrade. Of course, it does not mean that you cannot notice, respect or love other cities, their particularities and beauties. But Belgrade is Belgrade is Serbia is the World is Belgrade. Belgrade is Belgrade.
Just like daily ”experiencing” Belgrade, ”storytelling” and ”singing” is a never-ending process, because Belgrade itself, always a metropolis, in constant development and growing, is necessarily untold and unsung. Of course, there is an abundance of books (one of them is the two-volume Anthology of Belgrade Stories) with the subject of the eternal city. It never stops ”growing with the clear morning star”, like in Miloš Crnjanski’s poem. I have also dedicated several poems to the White City which ”further sing about it”, for example ”At Careva Ćuprija”, a poem from my book The City, Before I Fall Asleep (which I filmed at the Hippodrome for ”Studio B” TV), or ”Conversation with a Taxi Driver”, ”Down Prince Miloš’ Street”, ”Ochi Chorniye” from the Hum of the Millennium. The cover pages of that book present the motif of Terazije from the time trams were passing through it (the 1920s), taken from a Russian color postcard, painted by hand.


Short Biography
Milan Orlić (Pančevo, 1962). Writer, philosopher, scientific researcher. He completed his basic and master studies at the Belgrade University Faculty of Philosophy (Philosophy Department). He gained his PhD degree at the Monash University in Melbourne, on the subject . He held lectures at universities in Prague, Brno, Gdansk, Poznan, Vrotslav, Opole, Krakow, Bucharest, Melbourne, at the Sorbonne (Paris 1 and Paris 4), in Belgrade. He participated in about thirty scientific conferences and as many poetic festivals across the world. His poetry and essays were translated into fifteen-odd languages. The numerous awards include: ”Milan Rakić”, ”Branko Miljković”, ”Isidora Sekulić”, ”Prosveta”. ”Seal of the Town of Sremski Karlovci”, ”Marble and Sounds” plaque, ”Pegaz”, ”Jug of the Kosovo Girl”, City Library in Pančevo award…
He lives in Pančevo and he is editor-in chief of the ”Mali Nemo” (Small Nemo) publishing house and ”Sveske” (Notebooks) magazine.


Books of Milan Orlić (first editions) published up to now: ”About the Un/Real” (story-novel, 1987); ”Momo in the Polar Night” (a small poetic novel, 1992); ”From the Polar Night” (poems, 1995); ”Notes from the Polar Night” (essays, 1997); ”Hum of the Millennium” (poems, 1998); ”Pančevo, a Town at the End of the World” (literarized monograph, 2004); ”The City, Before I Fall Asleep” (poems, 2005); ”Longing for Wholeness” (poems, 2009); „Ardent desir d’unite” (poems, bilingual French-Serbian edition, Paris, 2013), ”Pančevo, the Town where the Danube Flows into the Tamiš” (literarized monograph, 2015), ”Andrić, Crnjanski, Pekić: The Narrative Structures of the Serbian (Post)Modern Novel: The Disintegration of the Narrative Subject and Re-construction of the Narrator Figure (adapted dissertation, author’s translation from English).


Size of Belgrade
Famous are urban legends about Belgrade as an excessively big head on an excessively small body of Serbia. Although there is some truth in those exaggerations, to be honest, it is not a typically Serbian phenomenon. Most countries in the world are faced with the phenomenon of metropolization, discordant centralization of capital cities. For example, based on international standards and surveys, Melbourne has been one of the most livable cities for decades. More than five million people live in it, in a territory larger than Vojvodina, in the federal Australian state of Victoria, with a population of about 6.800.000. Just imagine the ”demetropolization” or ”Demelbournization” there?! So, Belgrade is no different from most corresponding cities.


Cyrillic Alphabet
There are so many wonderful and life-giving languages and alphabets in the world! And all are legitimate, only Cyrillic alphabet is contested that natural and legal right. Is it not strange? And certainly wrong? Questioning the crucial identity and cultural mark of any nation, even Serbian – and that is exactly what this is about – is compromising that nation’s right to exist. Furthermore, the proven Serbian openness, philanthropy and developed feeling for respecting other people and nations are cast aside. That way, using methods of treacherous media and political engineering, Serbian culture and state are requested to, by giving up their Cyrillic alphabet, give up their healthy, uncorrupted, unharmful for anyone, self-respect. And that is the precondition for any kind of respect.


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