Approaching the publication of our Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary (the vampires are Zarko’s, the dictionary only peripherally related to vampires mine), I asked Zarko about his prose, about his work that David Albahari describes as “the most radical of the present time,” about Albahari’s contention that “he deals with our language like a foreign language,” about his work in comparison to Albahari’s (whose Globetrotter is coming out in English translation with Yale University Press this fall, and his Learning Cyrillic with Dalkey Archive). I asked why Zarko doesn’t tell a story in the way stories are commonly told, why he wants to tell a storyless story. Can’t a story with plot and characters not think about its own language, have language as its main character?
Zarko answered as follows (in my translation from the German):
Yes, I write stories as well, stories that have plot and characters. Many characters. And I too think sometimes about language. In that I see no difference between my work and Albahari’s.
The differences are in the ways narrative is thought. Albahari often thematizes only one thing. I work simultaneously with several things. I work more with a character’s consciousness. Albahari more with the context in which persons find themselves. Or is it the same thing in both cases?
Does Albahari write stories? No. Or yes, in so far as I write stories as well. The question is one of the (de)structure of our stories. Does Handke write stories? Yes and no. And when we (Handke and I, but David as well) write against stories, we write stories. Isn’t that true?
Language as the main character? Language is always central, starting as medium. I think it always remains the medium. Even when it is a matter of language games. Even with Alex Caldiero language is only a medium. Sometimes language is thematized directly. With Albahari as well. With me. And with Alex, sometimes very explicitly. (I love the way he works.) But always as someone’s medium: of a character or of the narrator himself. But language as a character? No. Or rather yes, in the sense of a metaphor: as a character of an interpreter who will read the narrative as he wants to, as a trial that can lead to error (but must not do so). A language is not only someone’s medium. And the one who uses language (the character, the narrator, or the reader) is the actual character.
To be Zarko’s co-author is a gift, one that now stretches over three decades.