World Literature Today has an excellent conversation with Serbian author Zoran Živković:
Zoran Živković (b. 1948) is the author of nineteen works of fiction. Translations of Živković’s prose books have appeared in more than sixty translated editions. Živković is professor of creative writing at the Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade. In this interview, the author discusses Middle-European “fantastika,” the development of his oeuvre, and his own creative process.
Fantastika and the literature of Serbia
Michael Morrison: You have allied your fiction with the literary tradition of Middle-European “fantastika.” How do you define this tradition? Which of its authors have influenced your work?
Zoran Živković: 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 nonmimetic prose. Nearly 70 percent of everything written during the past five thousand years is nonmimetic and belongs to one of many forms of fantastika: folklore, oneiric, fairytale, 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 [Mikhail] Bulgakov how to make the most of the humor in a fantastic context, from Kafka how to handle absurdity, from [Stanisław] Lem how to search for new paths of fantastika. – continue reading!