A writer can morph endlessly
Interview with Vladimir Tabašević, this year’s NIN award winner, conducted by Marijana Nikolajević
Translated by: Ivana Tubić
Vladimir, if we divide time into before and after the NIN award, what is the moment of waking up like now, and what’s it like before the award reception? And what do you usually do during that moment of waking up?
I have an unreliable habit when it comes to using a mobile phone. It is constantly on silent, so that it wouldn’t disturb me in the phases when I think it is time for me to work. For the effective work, firstly I need a refreshing sleep. I often achieve the results of that “work” by not answering my mobile phone. Being unavailable or not hearing the phone ring is enough for me to believe others think I’m working, that I’m busy. Now, when I wake up, I have tons of missed calls, unknown numbers – and I don’t enter the phone numbers into my contacts on purpose, fooling myself I am able to memorise everything; one guy from Athens wants us to think about the future of revolution, the other writes to me about how he has understood my “trick” in literature, the third guy says he needs money to treat HIV which he lied to me about having, the fourth one – the one who called me before getting the award, who has been calling me forever – calls me to go for a beer, so that we would later call the guy, but now he is calling me with a suspicion, imagining I won’t call him the way I used to call him, because – now he doesn’t want to disturb me, the award recipient, and it seems to me that very thoughtfulness he forced himself to show is somehow insulting to him. At least two people who have been close to me got angry with me, one of them became distant, and the fourth one definitely found me suspicious. The situation is great.
I’m under the impression that your relationship towards the NIN award is ambivalent?
Sure, our relationship towards the award is one way when we don’t get it, and the other when we get it.
The common thread in your novels is the consequence of war, the horrible mark that war has left on your characters, even the consequences of the mental breakdown. In “Sort Of”, we have an adult, whereas in “Mississippi” and “Delusions” a child is the main character, but despite all, those three novels represent a whole, a trilogy. The intertextual impression is that the main character in fact is that consequence of war and the life after it?
In each of the three novels some waters flow, waters of mothers, waters of language, fruits, memories, silent waters, the ones that do not exist, those rivers who are “terribly shallow”, the rivers who are impossible to cross. The only thing needed is a skilled swimmer – who knows to combine the technique best – who is moreover a passionate know-nothing, who doesn’t burn in the bonfires of professionalism and knowledge, who doesn’t burn in the fires of their importance and personality, and the two of us, hand in hand, swim, then we dive, then we choke, drown, selfishly grabbing the neck of the other, not being able to survive without the other. What is needed is a reader who doesn’t look for a culprit for their destiny. Bachelard says that waters collect the sadness of mankind. I often give into various primitive beliefs on purpose, I imagine that I’m saving my own soul, and when I think of the soul, I always, without an exception, think of the water.
How would you introduce your poetic to the readers of Libartes?
I would play something on the piano, I have been playing the piano perfectly for decades now. I have been playing the piano perfectly for way too long.
Everybody has probably asked you but let me ask you as well – book burning! For me, the first association is the medieval period. How much are we in the middle ages, and how much are we in the modern times? And, let me continue with another association – Equilibrium, even Orwell’s Brother, for example. On the one hand, book burning seems scary, and on the other, as the beginning of a new awakening, and to society, it has that sedative moment because you too burned your book. Can you describe to us the feeling while we’re at it? What was the feeling like while you were burning books? And which one did you burn first?
Burning your book and exposing the interpretations of that act to the world is the real joy. I have tons of my male and female followers, those people love-hate me the best, I inspire them to figure out the motives of my actions so much that every time I hear what they think I had wanted to accomplish makes me happy. Some defend the honour of women against me, the others defend the honour of Serbia, the fourth group – the honour of “fair marketing”, the fourth group – the honour of literature, the fifth – “art as it is”; to paraphrase Faulkner – he loved to defend the honour of his wife, no matter whether she is attacked or not, because that honour existed when he was defending her. In the same way, all of these quasi-smart bastards, resentful people are accusing me of attacking a “thing” of theirs, and by doing this they are imposing some banal meaning in their frog’s-eye views on life on themselves, in their hypnoses by their own belly button on themselves, defending their “stances” against me. A lot of people love to challenge me, disparage me, and that is a good fuel for my thought, and it seems to me that machine does not work badly when they hate me like that, with love.
They say that you answer honestly, but not expectedly. I have read somewhere that you wrote “the victory of ordinary people”. Do you think you are ordinary? There have been rumours around the town that you are scandalous, aren’t you?
I can be both ordinary and unusual, dumb and smart, vulgar and chaste, there have been so many personalities bottled up inside me – everyone I have ever met, I am under an illusion that I know which style they think in; with identity it is simple – only if you are open enough you will realise how fluid it is. A writer can morph endlessly; like Proteus he can camouflage, mask, slip away, simply – it is incredibly important to a writer not to believe in a self-certain, constant “self”. There have been rumours around the town that I am a bluffer, too – that is the only clever rumour, and I myself had to start that rumour about me, one, two, three – go; there have been rumours that I’m deprived of brain, that I’m a misogynist, an untalented impolite idiot, my victory, therefore, cannot be greater. To be honest, I love planting mines for Belgrade locals, so I’m not complaining when spontaneous Belgrade citizens produce antibodies on me. Rakovica, however, always strikes where you hope the least.
And why Aca Lukas exactly? It could have been Miroslav Ilic, or the late Sinan, no? Aca Lukas as your favourite singer is a shock for most of your readers. So, come on, shock us with your favourite lyric of his for the end?
The truth is I’m lying to you.
Vladimir Tabašević was born in 1986 in Mostar under the full name Bosnjak-Tabasevic Vladimir. He studied philosophy in Belgrade. He has published the books of poetry Coagulum (2010), Tragus (2011), Gunstock (2012), Croatian gunstock (2014). He has been present in the reviews and selections of contemporary poetry: Rooms and figures (The Official Gazette, 2013), Restart (The Students’ City Cultural Centre, 2014), Three People (Samizdat, B92, 2016). His first novel Quietly Flows the Mississippi (Studio Sign, 2015) was printed individually and made the shortlist for the NIN award. The novel Sort Of made the shortlist for the NIN award (2016), and the novel The Delusion of Saint Sebastian received the NIN award for Best Novel in 2018. He is the winner of the regional award for the story War, at the Biber festival, as well as the Mirko Kovac award for Best Novel by Young Author. He lives in Belgrade.
Interviewed by Marijana Nikolajević. Writes stories, reviews and essays. Portrayed in numerous literary journals: Povelja, Sveske, Odjek, Beležnica, Balkanski književni glasnik, Avangard, Kulturni bilten Crnjanski, Bagdala etc, as well as in collections: Two Worlds (Skc, Kragujevac, 2002), The best of Umbrella 2 (Bor, 2010), The best of Umbrella 3 (Bor 2011), Short Stories, (Alma, Belgrade, 2010), Lines and Latches (Svilajnac, 2011). Lives in Zemun where she is raising her two sons with whom she professionally chases kites early in the morning.
Translator, Ivana Tubić is 23 years old and was born in Belgrade. She is a English language graduate and she is currently studying for her master’s degree at the Faculty of Philology. In her spare time, she listens to pop music, works on drawings and engages in translation. A huge fan of Rihanna, and her life is colored in glitter and shades of coffee.
Translation edited by Dejan Mujanović.