Book about Friendship in Belgrade

Yesterday in Belgrade’s Politika, an interview with Žarko about our book on Friendship and his new book with David Albahari about Photography. Thanks to Dragan Aleksic for passing it on. An approximate translation by Google Translate:

Interview: ŽARKO RADAKOVIĆ, writer and translator

POLITIKA

28.02.2022

After “The Book of Photography”, written by Žarko Radaković in tandem with David Albahari, the “Book of Friendship” by Žarko Radaković, our artist who lives in Cologne, and the American Scott Abbott, as natural, was published bz “Laguna”. The continuation of the friendship between the two authors, is also connected by the interest in Peter Handke, whose works he is translating. Handke is also the hero of their joint books… The connection between these two books is friendship, but also the memory of the past, of joint conversations, of places and images that play an important role in the lives of writers. “Photography is always an influence on the ‘other side’ for the artist. It is never just a document. It is not an artistic story, a literary text: it is always far more than written. The mission of the artist is – to point out the comprehensiveness of life, its richness “, says Žarko Radaković on the occasion of the” Book of Photography “.

How much do “literary friendships” mean to you? Your co-author is Scott Abbott, with whom you studied for a doctorate in German literature in Tübingen. You write about Handke . . .

All my books are about the life of an artist; although I always narrate in the “first person”, usually not talking about myself personally. I thematize the life of an artist in general. Nothing new. Many have told about it. I am often motivated here by the inadequate reaction of the professional reception to the current production. I often see that criticism lags behind. As if it is not able to fully understand what is being written. Absurd, because critics and theorists are the most educated… readers’ readers; but as if learning had drawn them to the other side, as if they were most concerned with themselves. Suddenly I saw the significance of the writer’s need to explain himself; as T. S. Eliot wanted, saying that primarily “impressionist critique” has something to say about poetry, and its bearers are the writers themselves, the closest to what is written. I, who myself was immersed in “theories of reception”, felt like a reader at a dead end and just as a reader-writer I woke up and was born again, getting as close as possible to artists Eri Milivojevic, Julia Knifer, Nina Pops, and above all to the writer Peter Handke. I have seen that they are the best critics of themselves, that is, written and painted. And I felt an urgent need to speak on their behalf about “our business”. They are still my topics, my “partners”. And I was no longer a “critic”, I indulged in experiences. And I told stories about us, experiencing us. My books are, I think now – stories about storytelling.

You have translated 26 Handke books. Has it ever been difficult for you to bring out all the public pressure that has been following him all this time, and by writing about him, do you resolve your distrust of history in general?

I think Peter Handke is the author who believes the least in history. From his first books, he “deals” with history, with the Hegelian principle. He radically opposes history to the phenomenological approach to reality. So he indulges in his observations. In perceptions, “pure feelings”, in forebodings and experiences – he finds the only stronghold in approaching the truths about life. Disbelief in history is a key feature of his and my generation. Because we have experienced the unreliability of historical facts; Handke, as a war offspring; me and my generation, as if deceived by the truth about a stable, secure state. We were born in a country that easily fell apart and disappeared. So we are doomed to wander. Handke then conveyed his suspicions to the media, which, often with false information, became the biggest thorn in his side. But these are also things beyond Handke’s ingenious and grand opus. As a researcher of Handke’s literature up close, and as a translator, all these blows from the side, apart from his texts, should not have interested me. Because I would switch to other areas, to research history, media, politics, economy. I am interested in the experiential side of art. It is the core of everything there. I am interested in the artist’s tremors over all phenomena of reality. I always remember Aleksandar Tišma, who during the war collected recipes and recorded fashion in the houses where he was a partisan. “If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t have survived all the evils of war,” he said. I am also interested in the “inner world of the outer world”, to put it in a Handkean way. And that’s exactly what interested David and me in The Book of Photography. Scott and I dealt with that in The Book of Friendship.

Was the four-handed writing with David Albahari inspired by the harmony and success of the previous “Book of Music”, as well as the good experience with Abbott?

The “Book of Photography” was a logical continuation of the joint work after the “Book of Music”. Yes, it was successful: we were inspired, we felt great while writing. I had a need to write a series of texts on a given topic in the form of “Book about …”. I immediately started the “Book of Friendship”. In the meantime, I have finished the “Book of Film”, I expect to publish it during the year, and I am working a lot with the artist Nina Pops on the “Book of Art” (we have already shown part of that work at an art exhibition in Cologne). That has always attracted me. So, we were looking for a new topic to write about together. It was determined by David: he suggested a book on photographs. And we wrote it with the greatest pleasure. Because photography is a medium that has followed us all our lives. In The Book of Friendship, Scott and I also continued something that had begun a long time ago. Well this is now our third book. We are far more mature now. Here, I think, we have deepened the compatibility of two completely different views of the same. It has always been in our minds: that we are different, not only in origin, but also professionally – Scott is a scholar, I am a writer – and that it does not matter to our closeness. On the contrary. We complement each other.

Why is the “image from youth” important? … How do you see Albahari’s and your Zemun, Belgrade, the conversations you had, in that dynamic of memory?

Zemun remains one of the most important stations in my life. If I go from the present, which I always keep in my books, to the past, not to escape there, but to orient myself better in the present, so, looking for my coordinates in the past, I always arrive in Zemun, the place where I was formed, and as a writer. I “grew up” in Zemun in the circle of Zoran Bundalo, Rasa Livada, Srba Mitrovic, David Albahari and others. I don’t forget our youthful conversations about everything. I do not forget our dreams, which many realized. To that extent, the “picture from my youth”, even David and me in Zemun a long time ago, means a lot. And in it, I immediately looked for the “background of photography” as a basis for narration on the trail of the past, always returning to the burning present, therefore, without sentimentality. The past is over, and so is my life in Zemun… Well, now, it always comes to life again. So in the “Book of Friendship”, which is a double study of the present. We have always written about our friendship in the past. Scott, looking at his upbringing in New Mexico, I always part of myself in Zemun.

from our first book together: Repetitions (as we read Handke’s Die Wiederholung / Repetition
still from Zarko’s Instagram…Nina Pops’ portraits of Zarko and Scott / Scott and Zarko…from the book seen behind

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/
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