In a recent encounter with students of art history I quoted an old Croatian poet (Mihalić) who said that if you can live without writing poetry then don’t write. Same with this retirement of mine. Let me show you how I cope. Secret art ahead:
In 2010 Ljubljana was a World book capital and I was asked to propose a gallery project for a small literature place in town. Since that place was named after Trubar (a Slovenian reformator who’s books were publicly burned in 1600) I decided to suggest a book burning project. Oddly enough the concept was approved.
All that remained to do was decide which books would the current conservatives burn in my country. I chose the following:
Slavoj Žižek: Language, Ideology, Slovenes
Even if Žižek is the most prominent Slovenian cultural export (ever) he is universally labeled as a bad guy or even worse: he is being ignored. Mainly because with his existence he is reminding the others about their deficits. In a great interview (don’t click, it’s in Slovene) couple of years ago Mladen Dolar (yup, the face to the left on this page) explained: “Since Žižek got famous with ‘The Sublime Object of Ideology’ in 1989 there are two dozen books about him in the West … And hundreds of articles a year … plus the International Journal of Žižek Studies. In Slovenia where he is being around for forty years (40 years since his first book) we have practically nothing… Here everybody would simply drown him in a spoon of water because of this or other particular statement. Anything that goes beyond instant reaction, requires effort.” That is a good enough reason to burn.
Peace Institute: The Erased
Slovenia gained (the illusion of) independence in 1991 and the climate of historical progress gave space to xenophobia. In their infinite wisdom our politicians then managed to literally erase approximately 20.000 Slovenian residents of non-Slovene background from the books. Some of the victims of this most miserable episode in local history were consequently deported to wartime Croatia and killed. This triggered a huge human rights fight that ended only recently at the Strasbourg court with Slovenia being sentenced to pay the damages to the Erased. Still today nobody was ever held responsible for administrative ethnic cleansing of roughly 1% of population. Instead we would prefer to burn all reminders of that so I had to burn this book.
Miha Mazzini: The German Lottery
Miha is a good friend who happens to have three irreparable flaws: his name is non-Slovene, he is a successful writer and he is writing opinion pieces about the local xenophobia and other trivia. He has invoked the wrath of book burning gods on himself.
Roald Dahl: Revolting Rhymes
We need to protect our young. Slovene translations of Dahl by the great Milan Dekleva are equal to Umberto Eco italian translation of Quenneau’s Exercices de style or that of Danilo Kiš to serbo-croat (that was the name of that language before the cannibals created their nano-different tribal versions). Milan’s truly gifted re-write of super-popular Dahl in Slovene is amplifying original misfit ideology and poisoning our youth. I think it is only the question of time when some god fearing parent group will pick one of these for excommunication. We had that here before so I thought I’d give them a signal.
After selection (yes, this should be pronounced in German, as in Mengele) I proceeded to find the 2 copies of each and burn one. I must immediately say that with Žižek I cheated: it was hard enough to borrow one copy from the library that I decided to display other ashes and pretend it symbolically holds.
I discovered it is not easy to cremate a book and keep it’s ashes. I used the wok I bought in order to cook in a cyberfeminist thing at 1997 Arse in Linz (Eichman and Hitler went to high school there). If you have a choice what kind of books to burn, avoid hard covers but also the plastic covered paperbacks.
I then used small easels and hung the originals plus the ashes in small transparent urns. Done.
I later had a small lecture about book burning, nothing unexpected there, but in the slides I’ve just noticed that I have also mentioned Ka-Tzetnik (Please click on that link and read about an incredible person, the name of Joy Division and all). The reason I mentioned him in the book burning talk was an episode not mentioned in the Wikipedia article: in a radical reaction to ‘poetry after Auschwitz’ he decided to destroy all copies of his pre-war poetry book. I remember reading somewhere how he finally managed to take the last surviving copy from Library of Congress, burning it and sending the ashes back to Washington. What a story.
Obviously, Ka Tzetnik is interesting for us in this blog also because he is using a pseudonym based on his identity received at the KZ, which not so dissimilar from the Janša idea. The straightforwardeness is such that it’s almost confusing, as you can see in the Catherine Soussloff giggle here: