A Key to Milorad Pavić's Poetics
(Landscape Painted With Tea)
In postmodern literature the work of Milorad Pavić occupies a special, although ambivalent place. On the one hand his novel-lexicon, novel-crossword, novel-horoscope, novel-tarot are among the highest achievements of so-called hypertext literature, suggesting new ways of reading literary texts and cardinally changing the role of printed and electronic books in culture. On the other hand, Pavić's works are based on the complex mechanism of a newly invented poetic language, which constitutes a modernist or even romantic, rather than a postmodern, development. Yet still, both of these aspects have one quality in common: they turn reading Pavić's texts into a complex non-linear dynamic system, unpredictable and indeterminate to a great extent. The system's behavior turns out to be complex on the levels of narrative and language, but remains stable and capable of self-preservation and self-organization. For instance, the reading of
Khazar Lexicon is not interrupted or undermined by the numerous references or unprecedented images. Moreover, it is these "destabilizing" elements that are most attractive for Pavić's readers, that is, they function as mechanisms of support and self-regulation for the system.
The invention of a new poetic language takes the form of a particular kind of linguistic behavior on the part of the system reader-text, and incorporates its non-linear chaotic character. A non-linear dynamic system will appear in literature as mythopoesis, and it can be expected that a new languistic invention would be amalgamated with other mythopoeic mechanisms. Pavić's special language is one of the most extreme manifestations of his mythopoeic activity. His language turns out to be an encounter with the miraculous ultramundane aspect of the sign, which hence becomes strange, unfamiliar, unknowable, and thus turns into a mythical personality. This event resembles an encounter with an unfamiliar culture, a mysterious tribe or a secret sect. Such signs can tell the reader-"anthropologist" various stories about their origin. The history of a sign is dispersed among numerous possibilities. The encounter with language displays the latter's explosive character, and reading becomes a series of ethical, that is free and responsible, choices of separate possibilities.
Reading Pavić is thus like studying a new anthropoetic language, its memory and mean-making mechanisms, observing its speakers, their habits and rituals, the fixation and systematization of their myths. It is these anthropoetic observations that will be dealt with in the present study.
Let us clarify the terminology. Anthropoetic gesture should be defined in three steps:
1) Corporal event: any change in the state of body, which is observed and interpreted due to its difference from the background;
2) Gesture: a corporal event which consists of temporal-spatial relations between different parts of the body, or between those and the environment, and has (from the observer's point of view) a certain purpose (for the survey of gesture studies in general and particularly in literature see Katsman, "A Study of Gesture in Culture and Literature", and "Gestures in Literature: Cognitive Processing and Cultural Semiosis");
3) Anthropoetic gesture: a gesture with the dominating poetic function, which is presented in text as a prominent and unique characteristic of a certain personality or group.
The gesturing personality is placed at the center of myth that we define after Aleksei Losev as "a miraculous personalistic history expressed in words" (Losev 185). The creation of such a unique myth through reading a text by a particular reader is called mythopoesis (for further discussion see Katsman,
"The Time of Cruel Miracles"). One can presume that the mythopoeic anthropoetic gesture appears to be the key mechanism of Pavić's poetics.
The particular variation of postmodern poetics that can be seen in works by Pavić has clear historical roots. His world is demonstrably medieval. Jacques Le Goff noted that "feudalism is a world of gestures but not of the written word" (Le Goff 126). Jean-Claude Schmitt, a prominent expert of gesture and nonverbal communication in medieval culture, wrote:
Even though historians have traditionally given it little importance, it seems to me that one of the important changes produced in the West during the XIIth century involves the attitudes towards the body. This change is marked notably by a new interest in gestures. […] At the same time a definition of the word "gesture" is given, at the head of a veritable theory of gesture language, the first of its genre; it is found in the work of Parisian theologian Hugh of Saint Victor, in his
Institutione Noviciorum: "gestus est motus et figuratio membrorum corporis, ad omnem agendi et habendi modum." Gesture is the movement and figuration of the body's limbs with an aim, but also according to the measure and modality proper to the achievement of all action and attitude (Schmitt 127).
Pavić has succeeded in creating a unique esoteric world of gestures incorporated, however, only in the written word. His medieval-postmodern language is the highest achievement of the new mythopoesis, where the gestural tradition of pre-modern civilization and the verbal mannerism of the pan-textual epoch converge (on the extraordinary importance of gestures in Medieval literature see Burrow,
Gestures and Looks in Medieval Narrative).
Pavić's Landscape Painted With Tea consists of two novels: "A Little Nocturnal Novel" and "A Novel for Crossword Fans." The former describes the journey of architect Atanas Svilar to Athos in search of traces of his father, Costa Svilar, who has been missing since World War II. A talented man but an unsuccessful architect, Svilar decides to look into himself again in order to find the reason for his failure. On Athos he hears the story of his father's death and realizes that he belongs to the idiorhythmic rather than the coenobitic type, which is why he is, incapable of being a builder. Parallel to the story of Svilar's journey, the story of two monastic orders accepted on Athos (one of solitaries and the other of solidaries) is unfolded. The orders differ from each other in their perceptions, their ways of life and the crafts they pursue. The second novel (for "crossword fans") tells the story of Atanas' development into a recluse. Having learned that his father was in fact the Russian mathematician Alexei Razin, Atanas immigrates to the United States, starts a chemical company that works for the US military, among others, and becomes fabulously wealthy. The reader can read the novel in several ways and can follow Atanas' fate from several different perspectives. The finale is tragic: even with his new qualities, Atanas does not succeed in fulfilling his dreams, and loses his mind. Every chapter of "A Little Nocturnal Novel" consists of two heterogeneous parts: a semi-fantastic history of two monastic orders and the personal history of Atanas Svilar. The interaction between the two intensifies steadily, until the former becomes essential for understanding the latter.
The first chapter opens with the following words: "They wore the tips of their moustaches braided like whips. For generations they had not smiled, and wrinkles recorded the years in the upper areas of their faces. They aged from their thoughts, not their joys" (Pavić 5). The theme of the opening lines is the face, before any definition of the individual or group to whom the face belongs. In these lines narrator apparently wants to provide a personality for a certain, ill-defined sect or group, possessing distinctive facial features and a distinct name - Edomites. The history of the Edomites is thus presented from the very outset through a myth which "personalizes" that people and its fate. It is a myth that is given shape iconically as the features of a face which is for the moment the only representation, or rather presentation, of the Edomites' mythical personality. This presentation marks the onset of a persono-dynamic process which has the potential of begetting a persono-dynamic construct around which relationships can be woven, as around a personality.
This is a face signalling old age and the replacement of one generation by the next, bearing witness to the passage of time. In other words, this is a text of time, consisting of the tracks of its own writing. The evolving persono-dynamic construct (PDC) consists of the face and its conceptual-symbolic meaning, yet it remains so ill-defined and uncertain that the personality formed in it possesses considerable freedom of behavior and the reader is left with a lot of interpretive leeway.
In the succeeding lines the distinction is broadened and made to encompass the symbolism of ritual:
They knew the Jews called them Edomites; they called themselves salt. It takes a long time for a man to use up a handful of salt, they thought, and were patient. They bore two signs: the sign of the lamb and the sign of the fish. To the lamb they gave cakes made with tears, and to the fish, a ring made of dough, because the fish is the bride of the soul (Pavić 5).
A certain "they", predefined as two facets of a single personality, appear as separate subjects of two distinct rites. The definition of "their" personality thus proceeds through three stages: face, name (Edomites, salt), symbol. The myth's becoming goes through the same stages, as does the becoming of the idea of the Edomite Order, until it's absolute reification in history. The personality unites with its symbols through ritual objects. Let us try to analyze them. At the foundation of both we find bread, possessing a complex ritualistic symbolism: it is part of the sacrifice in Judaism and in other cultures, and is transubstantiated into God's flesh in the Christian rite. In the terminology of René Girard the symbolism of the bread should spring forth from the initial scene of violence toward the victim, when its body is torn apart and eaten. We shall return below to this aspect of violence, but for the moment let us focus on the body. The bodily aspect of each of the above-mentioned objects is doubled and even tripled by means of implicit mention of the real, non-symbolic human body. The cakes were made with tears, and these represent the body twice: once metonymically as part of the body, of the fluids which are its constituents; and once in an associative manner, as an attribute which is iconically connected to the face, which in turn represents the body's most personality-like dimension. This ritual object (the cakes) thus imparts a new characteristic to the Edomites' face and personality, as the embodiment of corporality, and represents implicitly the anthropoetic gesture of its making.
Cakes of and by themselves are quite common ritual objects. But a cake made with tears constitutes a rich iconical poetic image at whose center is not the cake, but rather the tear-shedding personality who kneads the dough with them. Instead of the frozen symbol a living picture appears, one that contains a symbol, a personality, and the latter's movement, which is directed at the symbol and gives it new meaning. Such an image is no longer a mere symbol, but rather an event which can be described as a pseudo-anthropological gesture. This gesture is a complex construction which goes beyond the sum of its components. It is, in fact, nothing but a persono-dynamic construct - the mythical personality. The ring mentioned in the excerpt above is also such a PDC. As in the former case, this symbol is inconceivable without a personality which stands to it in both a spiritual (engagement) and physical (hand, finger) relation of the kind we call here a gesture.
The two signs of the Zodiac, the lamb (Aries) and the fish (Pisces), of course both symbolize Jesus, but the contrast between them marks also a differentiation among people who perform the same rite using two distinct gestures. This is the basis for the differentiation described in the following lines:
A long time elapsed, four to five generations, before one of them said:
"I like the talking tree best; it alone bears a double fruit, and on it one can distinguish between quit and silence. For a man with a heart full of silence and a man with a heart full of quit cannot be alike…" (Pavić 5).
The parable of the talking tree marks a watershed in the history of the Edomites. It marks the boundary between periods, by introducing a new lexicon and giving birth to a new myth. To the myth of the face is now added the new myth about a tree, speech, quiet and silence. The new myth does not reproduce the old but rather makes it more complex through translation into another language, and makes it into a model, by summarizing the ritual experience of previous generations. However, the life of the parable's author comes to an end suddenly, at the height of his prophetic or modeling activities: "The one who had spoken came from Antioch, and he died without having clenched his teeth into the snarl of a beast, without fear or hatred, together with his fellow tribesman Ignatius, in Rome in the year 107 A.D" (ibid.).
But how is it that a parable can become a signpost in history? Apparently thanks to the increase in the anthropoetic system's complexity: the history of the order continues to be created in the reader's consciousness from the same perspective that includes all the other myths which have been produced in the text so far. This is the "observer's" perspective in the following lines: "Just as in a grain of wheat one cannot see everything that is inscribed there, and inscribed are the kinds of spikes it will have, the size of the stubbles, and the number of new grains it will bring, so from his sentence one could not read anything in advance, but it was all already inscribed there" (ibid.).
The observer's perspective is included in the more complex level, where the hidden sign in the grain of wheat is seen (the symbol of the grain of wheat brings us back to the symbolism of the bread and the tree, in addition to the aspects of the unity of the universe and the fullness of life). The sign is in fact a sign of differentiation, that of the future, or the true, the distinction between grain and chaff or, in other words, between possibilities that came to be and those that did not. The grain in the last parable is a symbol of differentiation as bifurcation, and the formation of the differentiation/bifurcation is the main result of the mythopoesis. This last differentiation appears as a complex system, whose complexity moves from the face and name on to the formation of the "real" binarity in the structure of the monastic order. The myth of the order, which contains within it the martyriological myth of the man of Antioch, "photographs" as it were the movement of this complexity. The binary nature of the myth increases rather than reduces the system's complexity because it is not an explanatory, but a mythopoeic, and therefore evolutionary, principle. The story leads from the complex (the face) to the more complex (a divided monastic order). From the viewpoint of the observer of the grain of wheat, who is the reader, the parable of the man of Antioch is analogical to the tree there, and constitutes an allegory on history. A myth containing all previous myths describes how time can be embodied in a face. This is the myth of the divided face that produces fruit. Time is written on the face, in names, words and symbols, on trees and grains, and becomes myth, that is to say, it is given meaning through reading. The grain's face is the face of the sign that embodies the history and face of the order; they are mystery, prophecy, an oracle and a hermetic message. And thus through the hermeneutical difficulty (which unifies the two difficulties of understanding the text and understanding the history it describes), complexity reaches a new hierarchical level, one that contains the reader's or historian's face, who listens (observes) what is being said or written. The movement of this complexity is embodied in an anthropoetic gesture - the personality observing the wheat grain. This gesture, although less connected to the ceremony, is yet another link in a chain of gestures all constructed of similar elements: the grain corresponds to the dough and the cake and the gesture of observation reminds one of the eyes and, in a broader context, the face, similarly to the tears in the previous gesture.
Let us now go back to the matter of the victim and violence. The creation of the myth concerning the birth and becoming of the monastic order contains a legend, frequently found is such myths, about a martyr torn to bits by a beast of prey in the presence of a delighted blood-thirsty audience, in agreement with Girard's theory. It must however be pointed out that this aspect is part of the mythopoeic context of the gesture in which the personality is realized to the full extent of its presence and its unity, like the personality who sheds tears on the cake or the one observing the grain. The same may be said of the personality who creates the parable. Over the martyr's face hover the faces of the narrator and the reader so that the initial scene of violence is included in the process of constructing the anthropoetic gesture. The creation of the myth is thus not connected to the victim but rather to a gesture concerning the victim. The anthropological element (scapegoat, martyr) is contained within the complex system of the literary myth.
Mythopoesis is a complex dynamic system, and as such it can contain various explanatory principles, but does not make it possible to reduce the meaning of the event to any one of them. Such a reduction is blocked by the complex hierarchical structure of both myth and gesture. The linearity and certainty of each such explanatory principle are contained within the non-linearity, the uncertainty and the behavioral freedom of the personality in the gesture. The gesture's complex subject is nothing but a PDC which already contains the face and the gaze of whoever looks at this gesture as at a mysterious vision of the future, and not merely as the monstrous remnant of a dark past.
Although it is a group of people whose story is being told, their history is embodied in an undefined collective figure, as yet unrealized as an individual, but already possessing personality traits. Martyr and prophet
-- he creates the sign, which relates in an emblematic way the history and purpose of the group, the order. His death, like his words, creates an irreversible vector of movement in both history and reading. The reader who has heard the prophecy and seen the sign is compelled to interpret the history/text as the embodiment of the prophecy/sign. Yet the connection between the meaning of the parable (the dichotomy of quiet and silence) and that of history still remains arbitrary and dim.
Further on in the text a bodily dimension is added to the face. The Edomites are pursued by fears, which in their dreams take the shape of horrible monsters and in their waking moments that of Roman persecution: "Thus, tossed back and forth between two seas, driven from wakefulness to sleep and from sleep to wakefulness, their bodies were the only link between these two kinds of horror" (Pavić 6).
But the cyclic nature of this circle is nothing more than an illusion behind which irreversible movement hides. The real historical event consists of a forward movement toward a new myth: "And they did not know that both the dreams and the edicts of Septimius Severus, Maximus of Thrace, and Valerius were forcing them to seek shelter under the very same tree mentioned in that sentence" (ibid.).
The body is presented as the environment in which the event takes place. It serves as the medium through which messages are transmitted "from reality to dream and from dream to reality". In other words the historical event is presented as a message. In this way the text, too, becomes a body in which the personality's history is realized, a personality that is pushed inevitably and irreversibly toward the myth (on text as body in Pavić see Hayles, "Corporeal Anxiety").
In the portrait of the Edomites' mythical personality there are some powerfully written physical descriptions of torture, torments and body parts: "So as not to be nailed to a cross or a windmill, so as not to be thrown to wild beasts or have their heads smashed against the closing heavy dungeon doors, so as not to be compelled to feed the morays in the fountains with their own fingers, ears, and eyes, they fled to the desert" (ibid.).
Even in the fearful descriptions of the physical torments an element of gesticulation can be perceived, which I would describe as negative, iconically representing fear of the event, which stands in contrast to the desire to have it realized. This negative gesticulation constitutes a kind of obverse side of volitional gesticulation. Thus, for example, death at the claws of wild beasts is the negative historical realization of the death of the mythological martyr, the author of the parable of the tree. Fingers and eyes devoured by frightful fish are a negative reduction of the gesture of ritual marriage (finger - wedding band), of the dough-kneading gesture (tears - eyes), and of the wheat grain observation gesture (sight - eyes). The developing myth thus appears as part of a teleological view of history as the realization of what fate decreed, as the embodiment of the will of God, who is ever good and just.
In the following paragraph there is a heightening of the bodily dimension of the figure of the Edomites, who "dispersed across the wilds of Syria, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, hid in graves, in pyramids, and in the ruins of onetime fortresses, wearing their long hair wrapped under their arms and tied across their chests to keep them warm at night" (ibid.).
This enchanting image is a good example of Pavić's unique poetics. Here the various parts of the body are interconnected dynamically so that the movement from one part to another constitutes an object of an iconic description. The image quoted above is realized in reading as the movement of the reader's gaze from the hair (with an implicit reconstruction of the head and the face) to the hands and then on to the chest. The process of reading involves the reconstruction and doubling of the tying movement, which the narrator presents as a kind of custom, an anthropological trait of the Edomites. The image in question is thus another example of an anthropoetic gesture.
As in the Jews' history/mythology, the Edomites' collective identity is formed in Sinai; this is where their face was revealed to them. Characteristically enough it is the principle of differentiation that makes the definition of identity possible: the face is embodied in its own duality:
As soon as that happened, as soon as the first hermit sat down in his own shadow and drank in the first dew, the fish and the lamb separated. Irrevocably and for all time at their disposal, they began to divide into two castes. Into those linked to the sun and those linked to water, into those with the lamb and those with the fish, into those with quiet and those with silence in their hearts…(ibid.).
The principle of differentiation again functions as a central mechanism of organization. What lies at the foundation of the principle is an ancient initiation ritual by means of separating or severing various body parts. Cutting the Edomites' collective "body" into two parts is what shapes their collective personality. This principle is expressed symbolically in the figure of the desert dweller who sat in his own shadow: body and shadow can neither separate nor mix. Here again we have the essence of the described event embodied in an anthropoetic gesture. The unity of the severed parts is preserved in the figure of the mythical personality that performs the gesture. The gesture of separation between lamb and fish, sun and water, silence and quiet in fact serves as a symbol of the unity of the complex yet divided universe, of the unity of its components. The symbolism of astrology is identified with the symbolism of Christ, and together they are embodied in the internal organization of the monastic order. From that moment on both the Edomites' history and its story split into two parallel lines, and anthropoetics turns into a comparative anthropology of coenobites and idiorhythmics, each group possessing its own customs, ceremonies and bearing, represented as accepted and self-evident although they are to a large part anthropoetic gestures which make up Pavić's imaginary anthropology:
When they traveled, the solitaries always carried their own plates under their caps, a foreign tongue in their mouths, and sickles under their belts, because they set out on their journeys individually. The solidaries, on the other hand, always went in groups, carrying a kettle in turns, a common tongue between their teeth, and a knife under their belt. At first, however, they traveled through time more than through space (Pavić 7).
The deep split into two sects thus brings about the birth of a unified personality, which rises up to the new stage of its mythopoesis. The wanderings in space become journeys in time, because a myth is the reification of personality in time. The author merely reiterates the same anthropoetic model, which has controlled the system's behavior from the novel's outset: temporalization of personality and personalization of time by means of the mythopoesis embodied in gestures. Even silence and quiet are embodied as a kind of presence in personality gestures that unfold along non-intersecting dimensions: "On that journey through time, those of the solitary life took with them the stone of silence, while those in the brotherhoods of communal life took the stone of quiet. These two stones were carried separately, and the quiet of the one was not heard in the silence of the others" (ibid.).
Here the introductory chapter comes to an end. Now begins the story of Atanas Svilar, in which the same anthropoetic elements can be identified as well.
When Svilar's story starts he is a student in the Architecture Department of Belgrade University:
He had studied at the School of Architecture in Belgrade from 1950 to 1956, which is when he learned that his upper lip was responsible for one thing and his lower lip for another: the upper was for hot, the lower for sour; he studied mathematics under Professor Radivoye Kashanin and wore a knitted cap with a whistle on top, attended Professor Marinkovich's lectures on prestressed concrete, and at the same time learned to recognize women who preferred mustaches for dinner (Pavić 8).
What is the connection between being a student of architecture and learning what lips are intended for? Possibly the connection is accidental; but if it is not, architecture turns out to be nothing more than a method for learning personality distinctions. The formation of space and the formation of personality display a hidden affinity. Such unfolded metaphors connect mathematics with the whistle at the back of one's neck, and lectures on concrete - with women "who preferred mustaches for dinner." In both cases a new, unexpected connection between phenomena is presented either as something obvious or as an observation of the life of a strange personality possessing obscure habits and customs. The author seems to be preoccupied with a certain personal, esoteric anthropology he himself invented in order to study his characters' lives. However, one cannot deny him a remarkable systematism: in any case, a striking element of the body underlies any new connection, new image or metaphor. This element represents a personality that stands in certain dynamic relations and possesses certain trappings. A youth tying a whistle up the back of his neck during a math lecture, a woman trying to reach a moustache with her lips in the middle of a lecture on concrete - all those are complex anthropoetic gestures-collages, of the kind so characteristic of the language of Pavić's works. These gestures-collages are mythopoeic mechanisms, working with others, more conspicuous and familiar to us. Such customary symbolic and archetypal means (of distinction) as day and night, seasons, up and down, sun and moon, left and right (Pavić 9) are actively engaged in the narration, intermixed and interconnected. They form the fantastic mythopoeic architecture of Svilar:
He believed that humor in architecture was a bit like salt on bread, that there should be a door for every season of the year, a floor for the day and a floor for the night, because at night sound descends faster than it rises; he believed that when building the roof one should not only consider the sun, but also the moonlight, because the only good roof is one under which the egg does not rot (ibid.).
This fantastic architecture is quite compatible with the narrator's fantastic anthropology; together, they make up Pavić's remarkable fantastic anthropoetics. In Svilar's architecture, human space is closely connected with the time of nature and structurally corresponds with it. In its essence, this architecture is a model of the universe and has a clearly mythological character, typical for the architecture of ancient and classical cultures. Spatialization of time and temporalization of space in Svilar's architecture characterize architectural gestures belonging to Pavić's magic anthropoetics to the same extent as his personalistic gestures and gestures-collages.
The story of Atanas develops complex relations with the introductory chapter on the Edomites. Just like the monks, who "work silence like a field of wheat; they plow it, give it space" or "extend it [quiet] like a dam" (ibid.), Svilar in his architecture uses emptiness: "The beauty of the emptiness gave him the inspiration for the beauty of the built part of the structure, and this was evident and reflected in his designs" (8).
The moustache, which some women prefer for dinner, resonates in the Edomites' moustaches that hang like whips. Svilar's straw-like hair resonates in the hair of the Edomites, with which they covered themselves in order to ward off the cold of night. In each of these parallelisms moustache resonates with hair. We thus easily arrive at the obvious conclusion that the personality of Atanas is analogical to the Edomites' PDC. The narrator leads Atanas, and with him the reader as well, to a definition of self with respect to the two monastic orders. It is as if the two stories, Atanas' and the Edomites', share an allegorical relationship in which the history of a group, a people in this case, is modeled in the history of an individual personality. As we will see below such a conclusion is unjustified.
Atanas Svilar's personality is formed first by the demanding presence of his body. A myriad smells and tastes are showered on the reader from the pages of the novel. Most frequently they are a part of gestures connecting, typically, body and spirit. The specialty and main function of the gesture is a translation from bodily-spatial into ideological-mental language. The task of the anthropologist often consists of deciphering gestures characteristic of a certain group. The anthropologist is preoccupied with uncovering elements with an ideological-mental basis upon which a certain gestural behavior is built. In a gesture, the distinction between spiritual and physical, ethical and aesthetic, is lifted because of their mutual re-codification. The aesthetic function of movements, figures and positions is projected onto the field of ethical meanings and vice versa: ethical acts are perceived as possessing aesthetic functions. Another gestural function of high importance is the ethical-aesthetic representation of time, that is, the incorporation of the movement of time in behavioral acts and in their spatial-temporal organization. Hence the great anthropologic significance of a gesture and its profound connection with metaphor and myth; hence also the great importance of gesture for postmodernism, which returned the body to the field of literature.
The link of the body with time is Pavić's most important poetic element. A gestural mechanism underlies the connection. Below is an example of the indistinctly expressed gesture that starts Atanas' personality description: "'It's all a great misfortune in which we feel like fish in water,' thought the architect manque, Atanas Svilar, sliding into his fortieth year as though into somebody else's sweat" (Pavić 8). Age, like somebody else's sweat, is perceived as strange, unexpected and undesired. Somebody's sweat is an alien fluid with a smell that heralds the intrusion of alienated, non-human, mathematical time into the internal, most intimate confines of the passing of life. The ambivalence of his own experiences as somebody else's is doubled by the image of fish in water but with the opposite sign: the alienated (misfortune) becomes his own. In this miraculous image, Pavić translates the movement of time into the hardly perceptible movement of nostrils inhaling the smell. This gesture is as delicate as its ideological-mental contents: alienation of personality for itself and inside itself.
This image already evokes the central theme in the becoming of Atanas' personality. As we saw above differentiation is the main condition for becoming. This was the case with the monks' PDC, and is the case, too, with Atanas' personality. A bi-directional resonance continues to pass between the novel's two themes. The "fish in water", among Atanas' first words, is somehow connected to the Edomites' fish. Svilar himself does not know (since a human being cannot identify a sign hidden inside a grain) that he has defined himself as idiorhythmic, as a solitary monk living under the sign of Pisces. In the meantime it is for him a sign of estrangement; only in the future will he see it as marking his true nature. Architecture, a coenobite profession, remains lifeless in the hands of Atanas, born and fated to remain solitary. This lifelessness finds expression already in his son's words, who describes Atanas' works as "buildings without a shadow" (Pavić 9). This image is related to that of the desert dweller who sat in his shadow. The differentiation of the body and its own shadow is a necessary condition for becoming. A body without a shadow is lifeless, lacking movement and time, and therefore incapable of gesturing.
Another gesture linking time with the body and resonating with the novel's opening sentences is the following: "And the drop of time cannot be wiped off the face with a sleeve, like a drop of rain. It stays there forever" (ibid). This vivid, picturesque image is based on the fact that the metaphor "drop of time" is built on an anthropoetic gesture that remains only partially realized, as if stopping halfway, being incapable of fulfilling its own destiny. Time becomes materialized twice: in the significance of the metaphor and the iconicity of the gesture. At the center of this gesture there stands a personality on whose face time imprints its signs. That is how the firm connection is set up between Atanas' personality and the personality (the PDC) formed in the introduction.
Both the latter and the previous image originate from the paradigm of water, whether sweat or rain. The reason for this cannot be in doubt: the water images provide Atanas' personality with the traits that characterize him as an idiorhythmic. In this way Atanas' personality takes part in a dynamics which is more complex than the dynamics of his own figure. His personality becomes a PDC, consisting of two personality characteristics, just like the Edomites' PDC.
The link between the paradigms of water and body remains dominant further on as well, when tears, sweat, and saliva are mentioned. It almost always takes a personalistic form, that is, the form of a gesture - a miniature myth as if fixated by an anthropologist observing the behavior, habits and customs of some strange foreign nation. Here are two examples: "He had developed a rough, broad, masculine mouth with which he could catch his own tear" (Pavić 10); "When his glasses got dirty, he would simply lick them and continue working" (ibid.). A peculiarity of these two gestures is that they seem to establish a link between several types of fluids, as well as between various body parts. In the former case, these are the mouth and the eye, saliva and tear, the lower and upper parts of the face. The image's asymetry seems to call for a completion: on the one hand, an organ (mouth) is depicted without fluid, and on the other hand, fluid (tear) is depicted without organ. In the latter case, only the gesture itself is presented, but its vast poetic eloquence is thus realized even more powerfully: in one movement, mouth, tongue, and eyes (through their substitute - glasses), as well as saliva and water. As we will see further, such a link is one of the main principles of Pavić's anthropoetics. Their meaning can be easily understood if one recalls the role gesture plays in a ritual, a dance or a picture (especially an icon): a gesture is an organizing principle or a structure validating the appearance of meaning where chaos rules. The gesture is a symbol of becoming, the incorporation and humanization of this becoming. Itself neither order nor chaos, the gesture eliminates their dichotomy and establishes a new (always new) form of being, and reflects the becoming of life. Hence its unpredictable, elusive character. Having come to a standstill, the gesture becomes a sign of death, an incorporation of time that does not flow but has stopped. Therefore, the mystery of life, a secret message about the true connection between things, flashes through its sharp agility.
In the quoted examples we see glimpses of the secret of Atanas' personality, which unifies the complex system of bifurcations that lead the Edumites through their history, and Atanas himself, to the Sacred Mountain and back. These complex, unexpected and non-trivial gestures constitute structures which fixate in strange ways the complexity of the becoming of that non-linear dynamic system which is Atanas' PDC, which contains not only Atanas' "personage" but also the fabric of the links that tie it to history in general and to the history of the monastery on Athos in particular.
In the mean time, alienation cuts Atanas' personality ever deeper. Having understood that he has been pursuing a wrong occupation all his life, he is afraid to finally lose himself, to forget his own name (Pavić 17). He loses his foothold on architecture not only as an architect, but also as a person who lost his way among the buildings of a foreign city (Pavić 18). He is haunted by images connected with water:
He recalled with horror how once, when he was a child, he had gone with his father to the vineyard and had asked why they didn't cool the watermelon in the well. 'The well is blocked up,' replied his father, 'and wells, like living things, have their life span, and water, like man, can age and die. This one is dead, and now a new well has to be dug…' Svilar thought often now about that water. He was haunted by the feeling that he would never manage to get a building off the ground, to transpose its weight from numbers to a solid foundation and have its acoustics soar. It was exactly as though he were building on water (Pavić 12).
On the verge of losing himself, Atanas turns to that lackluster mirror in which he hopes to see his face again: "He turned completely from day to night, from his house to the city in which it stood" (Pavić 13).
The city fills him with reminiscences and recognitions of various types (ibid.). The turning from his own home to the city has one firm basis: the city has a much wider anthropological formation, characteristic of the ambivalence of "mine" vs. "someone else's." Here Atanas can regain himself by turning himself to his other self, to what was once he but was carried away to the far distant past. But isn't that the purpose of anthropology? Atanas is filled to overflowing with wonderful observations of the life of Belgrade that enrich Pavić's fantastic or esoteric anthropoetics with new interesting details:
Sometimes he spotted 'dog windows' on the houses, those facing east, which only a few people could recognize nowadays, and fewer still put on their buildings. Dogs are fed through these 'dog windows' on holidays, and birds are let in to get warm on St. Ilya's Day. He recognized the corners where the windows cross, spotted the streets where vertical winds blew in the spring and were crossed by horizontal winds in winter, and sweet memories once again opened before him like those shells that open only in the dark (ibid.).
"Words and deeds" (ibid.) of women he once loved come alive again in his memory, become a part of a personality that already exceeds Atanas Svilar's narrow bounds and aspires, by means of successive distinctions, to strike up new connections with the outside world, at once so familiar and so strange. Atanas' personality turns into a PDC, that is, into a non-linear dynamic system open to the world and gaining the basis of its stability and evolution in this openness.
Portraits of Atanas' lovers are depicted by means of idiosyncratic gestures characteristic of them only. One of them "liked to suck her hair," and "they kissed through her hair" (ibid.). In this gesture, which locks the face on itself and connects various parts of it, the woman's personality is incorporated in the only way in which she can exist in Svilar's memory. The oddity of this gesture lies in its shocking otherness, which consists both of the emphasized corporeality of all elements of the gesture (saliva, hair, mouth) and of the eroticism of the movement connecting those elements.
The second woman is essentially different from the first one, and so are the circumstances and qualities of her love for Svilar. Her portrait, however, seems to consist of those very details, as if a woman can be imagined only through her hair and sweat: "A woman with jet-black eyebrows perched above her nose like a comb - they looked as though they had been cleaved. She fired two eyes at him, as if he were some kind of rare game, then showed him the back of her head with its matted sweaty hair, and sat down" (15). The gesture connecting look, turn of the head, back of the neck, hair, and sweat turns out to be especially bright and eloquent, and emphasizes the vulgar and erotic attractiveness of the image.
Atanas' next lover, the wife of a Russian immigrant, "kept in a silk stocking all the hair she had cut off since leaving Russia. After every haircut, she would tie a knot in the stocking, and that is how she measured time" (17). Her husband, a teacher of Russian, used to say that "words grow on you like hair" (ibid.). This quasi-anthropological observation lifts the veil of mystery from Pavić's anthropoetics: words gain their bodily existence, a narrative personality (PDC) is born as the body of speech. In dynamic changes and relations among the parts of this body, the personality gains its uniqueness and establishes its special relationships with another personality. The movement of time is measured with the movement of body, that is with gestures. Body becomes the body of speech and time.
The Russian woman does not speak Serbian, but for her, as well as for Svilar's other women, gesture is essential: "She spoke no Serbian. She looked at him with her beautiful eyes, sucked at a button on her dress, and whistled softly into it" (ibid.). As hair may get into the stocking, so a dress button may be found in the mouth. Gestures are dynamic and eloquent. And further:
She nuzzled up to him, gazed with her beatiful green eyes into his, and without a word wrapped her tresses around his neck. Then she tied them at the back of his neck and tightened the knot until their lips met. Moving her lips on his, she taught him how to say the same Russian word. The silent-contact method of learning foreign languages. Then she pushed him onto the bed, mounted the bed and him in it, and he learned for the first time how it was done in Russian. It was incomprehensible, but wonderful. Outside, it was snowing as though the sky were showering the earth with silent white words, and it all happened as though she were descending on him along with the snow, from infinite heights and in one direction, never pulling back for even a second, just as the snow or a word cannot return to the sky, to purity (18).
Eyes, neck and hair again; hair and mouth ("inhaling the air through her hair" (ibid.)). This woman is as similar to her predecessors as she is different from them. Different gestures are made up of same materials and motions.
Learning the new language and the speech itself are embodied in gestures, for example sexual gestures that unify the body with an emotional and a spiritual meaning. The narrator adopts the role of an anthropologist who is studying "incomprehensible, but wonderful" customs. Atanas' Svilar's wife-lover's collective PDC is constructed out of the new customs, the foreign languages and the strange gestures. The reader as well becomes a trainee of Pavić's "incomprehensible, but wonderful" anthropoetics. In the woman's gesture the relation between the two exists as learning and as language acquisition. The metaphor of "body language" is fully and concretely realized in the ethical-aesthetic gesture. The woman's gesture is translated into a cosmic one, which becomes between heaven and earth, between the transcendental and the immanent, the high and the low, purity and history. It is a gesture of the becoming of life itself.
From various gestures a grand cosmological theatre is built, at whose center lies a human body - the incorporated meaning of the Universe: "Thanks to this connection between the streets, your body, and the stars" (20). In this mythical picture of the world, personalistic, architectural, and cosmic aspects are merged. Being the body of speech, the gesture turns out to be a universal body of the meaning of the existence. It is this unification of body, city, and meaning that comprises the formula Atanas is looking for while tracking his semen across the city. This answer is a kind of mega-gesture embodying the essence of Atanas' personality as an idiorhythic.
But Atanas' PDC is different from his figure in its basic complexity and uncertainty. Although the novel's first book leads to the discovery that Atanas is in essence an idiorhythmic, the second book reexamines the validity of this conclusion and returns both Atanas and the reader to the unstable uncertainty in his personality. At the end of the novel we are left with no answer to the question of whether Atanas is an idiorhythmic or a coenobite. This uncertainty would appear to be the main characteristic of his personality.
To sum up, gesture underlies Pavić's mythopoesis. This gesture forms a unity of the ritual and the corporeal, it is an anthropoetic persono-dynamic construct unifying anthropology and aesthetics. This gesture is a result of the centuries-long development of tradition, and therefore its history is outlined in it, in its signs. However, the history by Pavić is made up to a certain extent. The signs here only tell a story about themselves and the relations between each other. This is not a generative (in Eric Gans' terms), but a figurative anthropology. Every gesture is a micro-myth telling a story about a personality's becoming by means of this very gesture. Ethical (behavioral, anthropological) contents of the gesture are incorporated in its aesthetic (corporeal, sensual) forms. It is this unity of the ethical and aesthetic that is called mythopoesis. A myth is thus presented as past, present and future of the gesture outlined in words. Pavić's texts are full of such gestures - personalistic, architectural, spiritual, etc.
What is the meaning of Atanas Svilar's odessey? What is he seeking? Himself? His father? Pavić here lays a devilish trap: Kosta Svilar, whose footsteps Atanas follows to take the road to the Sacred Mountain, is not his father at all! Atanas' mimetic behavior leads him to his own and his father's final demise. The new life of the new personality which unfolds in the novel's second book, ends in an even more destructive mimetic insanity: in Atanas' grotesque attempt to find himself and his super-father in the figure of Yosip Broz Tito, President of Yugoslavia. Throughout the novel the possibility of a mimetic becoming of the personality is denied. Atanas is not looking for his father, nor for himself as he knows himself, but rather another, possibly as yet unrealized self, one which only exists potentially, himself as he is meant to be, but so far undefined and uncertain. He seeks his free and happy self. This other, intended self is going through a process of continuous becoming in the novel. Reading the novel constitutes this becoming; it is the mythopoesis, the creation of the myth of Atanas Svilar. By way of Atanas' figure another personality grows, in an irreversible process, unlike the circular searches of Atanas himself, and overlaps the time it takes to read the novel. Atanas' mythical personality takes shape within an actual geographical area and a real history, but is expressed by means of an anthropology that is half real and half imaginary. Atanas' myth tells of the birth and becoming of the mythical personality. The same is true of every micro-myth (gesture) in the novel: it tells of the birth of a sign, symbol, legend, image, of their becoming in different ways - by way of exposing their real cultural roots on the one hand, and by way of inventing for them a fantastic anthropology on the other. If Gilles Deleuze is right and literature is an illusion, then Pavić's literature is an anthropological illusion.
The cultural mechanism that motivates Pavić's writing is the processing of memory into a game/play. Although one might have thought that this was a postmodern mechanism, it would appear to lie at the foundation of any cultural gesture as such. In a way a gesture is always a game, a play and a caricature. It is always simultaneously both real and artificial, both immediate and secondary, both serious and comical, both pathetic and parodical. Atanas Svilar's journey to the Sacred Mountain is such a gesture.
Atanas' various attempts to perceive the dynamics of his own personality all fail, not because he does not know whether he is coenobite or idiorhythmic, but rather because his personality is so much richer than such a binary differentiation, and its dynamics more complex, unperceivable and indefinable. When he leaves the Sacred Mountain Atanas still knows nothing about his face: "He was thinking of himself. Through his thin hair his face showed on the crown of his head, where the sweat emerges. But he was still not conscious of whose face that was" (Pavić 84).
The first book's "respectable" and supposedly optimistic ending provides a feeling of certainty and hope: Atanas is an idiorhythmic, not a coenobite. Although he made an attempt to live the life of a character that was foreign to him, from now on everything will be smooth sailing and he will finally be himself. But then the second book proposes a different ending for Svilar's history, creating a new, even more complex, personality: "Two winds could not be in the same place at the same time, nor could Svilar be a solitary and a builder at the same time" (Pavić 96).
But, as Pavić's readers know, in his books the winds also possess an internal side.
© R. Katsman