Punctum Books: Our “Repetitions” and Our “Vampires + A Reasonable Dictionary”

Working with the editor of Punctum Books toward publication of these two books in English, Zarko and I just sent off the following:

In 1994, after following a character in Peter Handke’s novel Repetition into what is now Slovenia and after traveling in landscapes of Handke’s youth, Žarko Radaković and Scott Abbott published a two-headed text in Belgrade (Ponavljane, Repetitions). The possibility of narration in two voices, complicated by the third voice that is Peter Handke’s own narrator, is the main focus of deliberation while traveling and reading and writing. Repetitions begins with Abbott’s text, a fairly straightforward travel narrative. It ends with Radaković’s account of the same events, much less straightforward, more repetitious, more adventuresome.

In 2008 the authors published a second book, also in Belgrade, Vampiri & Razumni recnik (Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary). Vampires is Radaković’s fictionalized account of a Serb living in Cologne, Germany while his former country disintegrates. He travels in the American West, ostensibly looking for the vampires causing chaos in his own country, and then returns to Europe, having found no vampires. It is a dark text, a story of destruction told in a narrative that refuses all the solaces narrative has traditionally afforded. A Reasonable Dictionary is Abbott’s personally troubled account of the his and Radaković’s trip up the Drina River between the civil wars, a journey made with Peter Handke himself, a trip during which some of Abbott’s specifically American stories lost their moral structure.

Both works examine generic distinctions and question storytelling in general, all in the context of travel in Yugoslavia, in the former Yugoslavia, and in western America. Two aspects make the books unique.

First, they are written about experiences shared by two authors whose native languages are Serbian and English respectively (German is their only common language).  The authors’ perspectives contrast with and supplement one another: Radaković grew up in Tito’s Yugoslavia and Abbott comes from the American, Mormon West; Radaković is the translator of most of Peter Handke’s works into Serbo-Croatian and Abbott translated Handke’s provocative A Journey to the Rivers, Justice for Serbia for Viking Press and his play Voyage by Dugout, The Play of the Film of the War for PAJ, the Performing Arts Journal; Radaković was a journalist for Deutsche Welle in Cologne and Abbott is a professor of German literature at Utah Valley University; Radaković is the author of several novels and Abbott has published mostly literary-critical work; Radaković was married to a theoretical physicist from Belgrade and Abbott was married to a homemaker with whom he had seven children; and so on. Two sets of eyes. Two pens. Two visions of the world.

Second, the years 1994 and 2008 (publication dates for the two books in Belgrade) bracket a horrendous period in the history of Yugoslavia. The authors changed during that period as well – divorces, new partners, new jobs; and Peter Handke, while metamorphosing into the bête noir of the press after his attacks on media portrayals of the Yugoslav wars, became the authors’ friend and entered their second text as a fellow traveler.

In short, this is a book like no other:

The new novel by the most famous tandem of Serbian-American literature, a four-handed intimate artistic witness to the worlds we no longer belong to and to which we never belonged, to being foreign, and to the power of creative friendship in the work of interpreting a real and historical space that we understand less and less the closer we are. Undertake an exploratory journey through the para-regions of the literature of Peter Handke, through the labyrinths of translated originals and of original translations, through the realms of thought whose borders are the Rocky Mountains, Višegrad, Cologne, and Belgrade; allow this two-seater without steering to show you these borders in a way only you can experience!

The authors may be the only such tandem, and the publicists for Belgrade’s Stubovi kulture are only partly right when they call the book a novel, but the part about steering is certainly true.

Biographies

Scott Abbott is the author of Fictions of Freemasonry: Freemasonry and the German Novel and of two books with Žarko Radaković, Ponanvljanje (Repetitions) and Vampiri & Razumni rečnik (Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary). He was the jazz critic for the Salt Lake Observer and co-author, with Sam Rushforth, of the series “Wild Rides, Wild Flowers: Biking and Botanizing the Great Western Trail” which appeared for four years in Catalyst Magazine (forthcoming as a book with Torrey House Press). He has translated Peter Handke’s A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia (Viking) and Handke’s play Voyage by Dugout, the Play of the Film of the War (PAJ). A translation of Handke’s “To Duration, A Poem” is forthcoming with Cannon, Amsterdam. Abbott has published reviews of books and art in The Bloomsbury Review, Open Letters Monthly, and Catalyst Magazine. He is Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Utah Valley University and has published literary-critical articles on Goethe, Schiller, Kleist, Thomas Mann, Rilke, Grass, and Handke. With Lyn Bennett, he is working on a book about how barbed wire was given meaning in late nineteenth-century advertising and then in literature of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (“It was a nun they say invented barbed wire.” James Joyce, Ulysses). For a book to be called “On Standing,” he is analyzing the metaphor of standing in literature and philosophy (Herder / Humboldt / Schopenhauer / Heidegger / and Derrida, Goncharov and Dostoevsky, Kleist and Döblin, Rilke and Knausgaard, Faulkner and Morrison, and in the poetry of Dickinson / Eliot / Norris / Jarman / Hass / and Ashbery).  He lives in Woodland Hills, Utah.

Žarko Radakovićis the author of several experimental novels published in Belgrade, including Tübingen, Knifer, Ponanvljanje (Repetitions, with Scott Abbott), Emigracija (Emigration), Pogled (The View), Vampiri & Razumni rečnik (Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary, with Scott Abbott), Strah od Emigracije (Fear of Emigration), Era, and Knjiga o muzici (A Book about Music, with David Albahari).He has translated more than twenty of Austrian author Peter Handke’s books into Serbian and has been traveling companion and translator for Handke during repeated trips to Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, and Kosovo. He collaborated on three performances with performance artist Slobodan Era Milivojević (1971, 1973, and 1974; the 1973 performance, titled “Turtle,” is described in the book Era). He recorded numerous audio and video interviews with Croatian painter Julije Knifer, edited a special edition of the literary journal Flugasche about Knifer, and wrote the book Knifer). His recent work with Serbian/German artist Nina Pops includes collaboration on a series of collages that feature manuscript translations of Peter Handke’s novel Bildverlust (The Loss of Images, or Crossing the Sierra de Gredos) and Pops’ “translations” of the text into images. Radaković edited an edition of the German literary magazine Nachtcafé on the theme of Walking, and more recently, with Peter Handke, an edition of the German literary magazine Schreibheft on “Literature from Serbia.” He has published essays on art, jazz, and literature. David Albahari described Radaković as “one of the few absolutely isolated, independent, creative personalities of contemporary Serbian prose. . . . He deals with our language like a foreign language in the same way Beckett uses the English language and Handke the German language. . . . I think I will not be wrong when I say that Žarko . . . is the most radical Serbian writer of the present time.” He lives in Cologne, Germany.

About Scott Abbott

Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University, 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I'm Director of the Program in Integrated Studies and former Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade), and translations of a book by Austrian author Peter Handke and of a catalogue of an exhibit called "The German Army and Genocide." More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as a watershed scientist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a corrections officer, as university students, and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett and our yellow dog Blue. Some publications at http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/
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