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Fiction

Miroljub Todorović: KANT AND A BLANKET

KANT AND A BLANKET

 

(Dreams, Short Stories, Gathered Stories and Stories in Pictures)

Written by: Miroljub Todorović
Translated by: Lena Ninković

 

          HAND

I’m dreaming a huge human hand hovering above me. In it – an open book.


            MEAL WITH LENTILS

            Three tablespoons of soaked lentils. Three tablespoons of wheat bran. Two tablespoons of ground flaxseed and ground sesame seeds. One tomato. A pinch of cayenne pepper. One banana. One tablespoon of oil. One tablespoon of dry yeast. A pinch of salt. One and a half teaspoons of caraway seeds. Add tomato and stir.


            HORSE

            I’m riding a horse slowly trotting across a wide meadow whose end merges with the far horizon. I’ve never ridden a horse, never even come to know them up-close. In the towns near the Great Morava where I spent my childhood during the war and afterwards, there were almost no horses at all.

I’m handling it well in the saddle. I feel proud like a medieval knight. I’m holding the reins tightly with my left hand, while swinging my imaginary sword with my right.

The horse grows more tense. A few green bugs, very similar to stink bugs, fly around it. The horse swings its head, tosses its mane, and speeds up its trot. The bugs are trying to get into its nostrils. The trot turns into a crazy gallop. I jump out of the saddle and, hovering, gently fall onto the grass.


            EUNUCH

            To Robespierre, the great leader of the French Revolution, “principle was above all.” As a typical representative of the people obsessed with sick glory-seeking, he was a misanthrope. He liked the humanity, but only as an idea.

In words of his contemporaries, his face had a frozen, grim mask over it, and resembled “a dead man’s face” more than a live man’s. When enraged, he’d experience the uncontrolled attacks of cramps all over his body. He suffered from persecutory delusions. Unmarried and indifferent to women, he was sexually impotent like a eunuch.

 


            I LEAVE AS A SHADOW

     (In the style of Whitman)

I don’t trust unexpected revelations. The red walls are before us. I buried my nightmares deeply underground. Gentle blades of grass have turned yellow. These are different people. These are different times.

Monstrous reptiles have hatched out of the cradle perpetually rocking. I leave as a shadow – freed from the captivating dizziness.


            BIRDLIKE CREATURES

            I am alone in the street carrying a bag full of my collages, visual poems and drawings. Early morning hours. Night is slowly fading…

Suddenly, I find myself at the door of my contemporary  Mr.Dj. – a poet. I ring the bell. After a while the door opens. Mr.DJ.- groggy and in his pyjamas, is looking at me grimly.Without a word, he takes me into the big room full of books and paintings and then leaves. It is only now that I realize that instead of his left arm there is a bird wing hanging from his shoulder.

I’m arranging and adhering my collages onto the big cardboard in the room. As if alive, they constantly slip away from my efforts to adjust them properly. The family of my friend has awakened. They enter the room. The children curiously inspect my work. Mr. Dj.’s wife approaches gently waiving her wings instead of her arms,and says they are having a birthday party at their place. The guests have already arrived. They are lively birdlike creatures. They move quickly and speak a squeaky language. They hug the hosts, paying no attention to me. Realizing I’m not needed here, I gather my work, put it in the bag, and leave to the deserted street.


            KANT AND A BLANKET

            As stated by of one of his contemporaries, the great philosopher developed a special skill of wrapping himself in a blanket. When going to sleep, he’d firstly sit on the bed and easily slip into it. Then, he’d pull one end of the blanket over his shoulder and tuck it under his back. Over his other shoulder he’d pull the other end. He’d use the rest of the blanket to cover his body.

Tired and cocooned, Kant would thus quickly fall asleep.


            HUBBUB

            I’m in a train which slows down and gently enters the station. There’s a bunch of people on the platform. The station is decorated with arches, flowers, banners, pictures, as if there is a celebration. However, the people I see through the window of my wagon are not in the mood for celebration. On the contrary, I have a feeling that they can’t wait for the train to stop and get on it. They are tense, impatient, and by the look of their faces, I’d say almost frightened, as if they’re running away from something.

The train stops, but starts leaving again in an instant. On the platform – chaos, panic, hubbub break out. People start pushing each other, running, yelling, jumping into wagons. The train speeds up. Many of those who run after the train desperately pushing through the crowd, fall onto the tracks in an attempt to get on. I hear screams, calls for help.

Terrified, I wake up.


            HOW TO CONCEIVE A BABY BOY

            (Medieval way)

“If a husband and his, naturally, lawfully wedded wife want to have a baby boy, this is what they should do: The husband should hunt the wild female rabbit, cut out its genitals, ground them into powder and drink them with wine. The wife should do the same thing with a male rabbit. Afterwards, they may lie in bed certain they’d conceive a male child.” (Trotulus, a professor of medicine at the University of Salerno, circa 1059.)


            SLIPPERS

            (From Milos Crnjanski’s correspondence with Marko Ristic)

Dear Marko,

Although I did not want this, it seems to me I am forced to set my literary things right with you in public.

Since you belong to a group of people who do not separate writing literature from your private life – and neither do I, if a conflict emerges between us, I beg you(out of caution)with this letter to nip our bourgeois friendship in the bud, naturally all the way to its most banal signs.

Therefore, please convey my excuses to your parents for not being able to come and thank them enough on their hospitability…oh, yes… leave my slippers in GecaKon’s shop.

19/01/1932

Crnjanski


        BOSANSKA STREET

            It’s nighttime. There’s a flurry of light, sticky snow. I’m in the Bosanska street – the street I grew up in and had been trying to escape from for fourteen years by exchanging my flat. In this street my child developed serious allergies to dust, and later – asthma.

I’m slowly walking, looking at the buildings, reviving my memories. Suddenly, somewhere in the vicinity of the “Isidora Sekulic” school, a torrent of water, mud and stones sweeps down the street. I have nowhere to run. On my right, there’s a hill towards the Lomina street, on my left – a fence and a closed door of the school. My building is far away.

The torrent, followed by its threatening roar is becoming more dangerous. The water and mud already came up to my knees. Panicking, I wake up.


            JUSTIFY THE GOAT’S LUST

            (In the style of Blake)

            Pull the cart and plough across the human bones. Crush them into dust. Feed the hungry land. Nobody dares enter the golden church. There is a garden of love, a hidden face of the crying virgin.

            Is the eagle aware of the occurrence in the pit? You are a hellish angel. A venomous snake with broken teeth.

            The severed earthworm shall forgive the plough. Last night I drank with the dead prophets. The song is a quivering scream of a miserable psalmist. Set the public house of evil faith on fire. Justify the goat’s lust – a gift from God.


                  LITERARY GATHERING

            There’s a literary get-together at a friend’s flat. Generation of writers from the 60s and 70s has gathered. It’s noisy. A writer D.K. and a poet Lj.S. lead the conversation. They’re telling us about their life and literary adventures, and the student protests of 1968.

            A woman with an intelligent expression, high forehead, and large eyes sits nearby – dressed all in black. At one point, as the poet Lj.S. humorously reminisces about his love adventure, she gets up, turns to him and loudly shouts: “You’re my husband!”“You’re my husband!” And then she begins to cry hysterically.

            The company finds this amusing. The argument erupts. Some are cheering for the woman, claiming to know her and that she’s telling the truth, others for the poet. The quarrel grows more fierce– a swear word every now and then – when suddenly, a fight breaks out. I don’t know how and why, but I end up with several hits in my head that wake me up.


                A PLAGIARIST

            There is little biographical information on Shakespeare’s life,however, it’s was said that he had to get away from his birth place to London because  “he was stealing roedeers and rabbits,” and thus was often beaten and arrested.

            In London, he continued his vagrancy. He supported himself with baksheesh earned by watching over the horses of theatre visitors. Having joined a travelling theatre company, Shakespeare quickly emerged as a good actor and a playwright. At first he relied on borrowings and adaptations of other authors’ work. That was some serious monkey business. One playwright publicly accused him of being a plagiarist – of “bathing in reflected glory of others.”


            TUNNEL

            It’s morning – still pretty dark. The sun still hasn’t conquered the sky which threateningly bents over my head. I carry a heavy, canvas bag on my back. I tread carefully as if hovering through the forest, thorny shrubs and rocky valley. It’s full of lizards, small snakes, birds… Then I enter the tunnel made of bent and intertwined tree branches. It’s dark and cold inside. Frightened, I speed up towards the light looming through the darkness.

            At the end of the tunnel,my mother awaits –with a bright face and smiling.

            ***

            This dream reminds me of the 1940s when I, then a young pupil, walked to the primary school in Cicevac from the Lucina village. Nowadays, as I hear, the pupils from the surrounding villages go to  Cicevacby school bus that picks them up and drives them to their school.


            OH DEAR, I’M BECOMING A GOD!

            In the Jewish War, during the siege of Jerusalem, the Roman legions proclaimed Vespasian for their emperor – their general whom anaged to suppress the uprising of the Jews.

            Vespasian’s rule was short, but effective. He quelled the rebellion, strengthened the empire after the bloody Civil war, filled up the country’s treasury that was emptied due to Nero’s spending. This emperor wasn’t born into Roman aristocracy as his predecessors. He didn’t like luxury and glitz. He was energetic and stern, easy-going and approachable both in the business of the state and his private life. Although he did everything in his power to reinforce imperial rule, he sneered at the religious custom of deifying emperors after death, i.e. proclaiming them gods.

            At the end of his life – ill and feeling death was near, he shouted: “Oh dear, I’m becoming a God!”


Miroljub Todorović: born in 1940. The founder and theorist of the Serbian (Yugoslavian) neo avant-garde creative movement signalism. He graduated from the Law Faculty in Belgrade in 1963. As a member of the editorial board of the student’s magazine for culture “Vidici” he participated in the student uprising of 1968. At that time, his poem “March of the Red University” was multiplied in thousands of copies and adopted by acclamation at the Student Union at the Faculty of Philosophy as the anthem of the University of Belgrade. In 1969 he founded the neo avant-garde literary and artistic movement Signalism, and the following year he launched the International Review “Signal”. He worked as a journalist, a high school teacher, secretary of the editorial board, editor and advisor for Interstate and International Cultural Cooperation of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia. In 1982 he retired and fully devoted himself to literary and artistic work. Poetry, essays, and intermedia works of Miroljub Todorovic have been published in several languages in anthologies, collections, catalogs, newspapers and magazines in Europe, North and South America, Australia, South Korea and Japan. As an artist, he had twelve solo exhibitions and participated in more than six hundred collective international exhibitions of drawings, collages, visual poetry, mail-art and conceptual art. He is included in the biographical dictionary “Serbs who marked the 20th Century” (five hundred persons), Belgrade, 2006. Published works: Poetry books: Planet (Planeta, 1965) Signal (1970),  Kyberno (1970), Trip to Astroland (Putovanje u Zvezdaliju, 1971), The Pig is an Excellent Swimmer (Svinja je odličan plivač, 1971), Staircase (Stepenište, 1971), Gift-parcel (Poklon-paket, 1972), Certainly Milk Flame Bee (Naravno mleko plamen pčela, 1972), Thirty Signalist Poems (Trideset signalističkih pesama, 1973), Bumpkin Shows off (Gejak glanca guljarke, 1974), TV Set to Stare at (Telezur za trakanje, 1977),  Insect on the Temple (Insekt na slepoočnici, 1978), Algol (Algol, 1980), Textum (1981),  Brain Soup (Čorba od mozga, 1982), Bumpkin Shows off (second extended edition, 1983), Chinese Erotism (1983), Knock-out (Nokaut, 1984), A Day on the Hymen (Dan na devičnjaku, 1985), I Become Silent Horror Language Core (Zaćutim jeza jezik jezgro, 1986),  I Mount Rosinante Again (Ponovo uzjahujem Rosinanta, 1987), Water-snake Drinks Rainwater (Belouška popije kišnicu, 1988), Soupe de cervau dans l’Europe de l’Est (1988), St.Vitus Day (Vidov dan, 1989), Rzav River Neighs Happily (Radosno rže Rzav, 1990), His Thorn Red and Black (Trn mu crven i crn, 1991), Ambassador Dustbin (Ambasadorska kibla, 1991), Grill from Srem (Sremski ćevap, 1991), I Breathe, I Talk (Dišem. Govorim, 1992), Rosy Lizard Runs Across the Rain (Rumen gušter kišu pretrčava, 1994) Striptease, (Striptiz, 1994), Loud Frog (Glasna gatalinka, 1994), Virgin Byzantium (Devičanska Vizantija, 1994), Storm Spittle (Ispljuvak oluje, 1995), Tsar Trojan’s Goat Ears (U cara Trojana kozje uši, 1995), Planet (along with the poem Trip to Astroland, second extended edition, 1995), Stink bug (Smrdibuba, 1997), Stars’ Trowel (Zvezdana mistrija, 1998), Electric chair (Električna stolica, 1998 ), Prescription for liver inflammation (Recept za zapaljenje jetre, 1999), Azure Dream (Azurni san, 2000), Shot into Shit (Pucanj u govno, 2001), Speech Burning (Gori govor, 2002), Phonets and Other Poems (Foneti i druge pesme, 2005), Parallel Worlds (Paralelni svetovi, 2006), Blue Wind (Plavi vetar, 2006), Wound, Word and Poem (Rana, reč i pesma, 2007, with Dejan Bogojević), Golden Fleece (Zlatno runo, 2007), Storm Lover (Ljubavnik oluje, 2009), Pig is Excellent Swimmer and Other Poems (Svinja je odličan plivač i druge pesme, 2009), Hunger for Unspeakable (Glad za neizgovorljivim, 2010); Books of prose: I Just Opened my Mail (Tek što sam otvorila poštu, epistolary novel, 2000), Walked Into my Ear (Došetalo mi u uvo, slang stories, 2005), Diary 1982 (Dnevnik 1982, 2006), Window (Prozor, dreams, 2006), Slang Stories (Šatro priče, 2007), Bark at My Sole (Laj mi na đon, internet edition, 2007), Shocking Blue (Šoking blu, slang novel, 2007), Soaked in Henhouse (Kisnem u kokošinjcu, slang rants, 2008), Hurts my Dick (Boli me blajbinger, 2009), Osier Bag (Torba od vrbovog pruća, short stories, 2010); Essays and polemics: Signalism (in English, 1973), Signalism (Signalizam, 1979), Zipper for Morons (Štep za šumindere, 1984), Cocks from Baylon Square (Pevci sa Bajlon-skvera, 1986), Diary of Avant-garde (Dnevnik avangarde, 1990),  Liberated Language (Oslobođeni jezik, 1992), Play and Imagination (Igra i imaginacija, 1993), Chaos and Cosmos (Haos i Kosmos, 1994), Towards the Source of Things (Ka izvoru stvari, 1995), Planetary Culture (Planetarna kultura, 1995), Grammatology Thirst (Žeđ gramatologije, 1996), Signalism Yugoslav creative movement (in English, 1998), Miscellanea (2000), Poetics of Signalism (Poetika signalizma, 2003), Courses of Neo-Avant-garde (Tokovi neoavangarde, 2004), Language and Unspeakable (Jezik i neizrecivo, 2011); Children books: Mouse in Kindergarten (Miš u obdaništu, 2001), Crazymeter (Blesomer, 2003).

Biography translated by: Anastasija Zdravković


Translator, Lena Ninković: Graduated from the Department of English language studies at the University of Belgrade, Faculty of Philology.In her free time, when she’s not busy contemplating life, she writes poetry, plays the piano, and reads books. She is interested in linguistics, literature, gender studies, and translation.

Translation edited by: Dejan Mujanović


This article was published in March of 2019, within the Awakening topic.

Read the other texts published in the Fiction section.

This article was originally published in Serbian and you can read it here. Translated into English by Lena Ninković.

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