Review by Jasmina Vrbavac
A section of the Belgrade TV program “Cultural Center,” 20 April 2022
The section about our Book of Friendship begins at 18:06.
Besides or behind or with the generous and illuminating review, a fascinating set of animations emerge showing two persons in conversation, rooted in and holding on to a common concern for friendship.
Mr. Vatreni and Mr. Ništarija write the Book of Friendship in four hands. This is their third joint book, and the nicknames hide Serbian synonyms of the personal names of the authors – Žarko Radaković and Scott Abbott. [fiery and worthless… “skot” doesn’t serve me very well in Serbo-Croatian]
One of Radaković’s key artistic obsessions is connecting with twin souls, artists of similar poetics and attitudes whose work in collaboration with his will form a whole, creating mutual bridges between similar interests, tastes and poetics beyond language barriers. Some of them are writers like Albahari, Miodrag Vukovića and Peter Handke, others are artists like Era Milivojević, Julije Knifer and Nina Pops. With Albahari, Radaković has already written two books about the passions that connect their friendship – about music and photography. And through the collaboration with the American, Scott Abbott, before this Book of Friendship, two more titles written in four hands were created – Repetitions and Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary, as a pledge of friendship over four decades since they became acquainted pursuing German studies in Tübingen. Since then, the two of them have shared the passion of writing books as literary duets, as well as the fact that they are both translators of the works of Peter Handke.
The book is divided into four unequal works, the last two of which belong to another pair of their artistically related friends – the poet Alex Caldiero and the painter Nina Pops, whose contributions lend justification to the whole idea. The first part, “On Friendship,” is written by Scott Abbott, whose intention is to compile an approximate biography of Žarko Radaković through three chapters. In the style of free jazz, Abbott integrates his memories of time spent together, events, insights into Radaković’s artistic views, with his own angles of observing concepts inspiring for himself. Going to concerts, listening to music together, hanging out with Handke, introducing the reader to the facts of Radaković’s acquaintance and work with Era, Marina Abramović, Knifer and others, then getting to know Serbia and Serbian writers, reading Žarko’s untranslated books in a language he does not understand as a special act delving into the mystical otherworld of friendship and art at the same time, it is all part of a biographical collage that speaks as much about a friend as it does about the writer himself. Abbott also transmits parts of their correspondence, enclosing the correspondence of Goethe and Schiller, inviting the reader to understand and compare the extent of the relationship between the personal and the artistic.
The second part of the book belongs to Žarko Radaković and is entitled “We.” Through three chapters, Radaković develops a different strategy, starting from the pseudo-detective and adventurous search motive. At first, he meets Abbott in an unknown city in hopes of meeting Handke, a mutual friend. The issue of the missing Handke soon turns to the story of the missing Abbott, and Radaković is fully open to all possibilities for literary mystification and the search for authentic experience, experience without narration, without context, with consistent breaking and deconstruction of the plot, as well as any other unity of time, actions, characters … Radaković puts Experience on the pedestal of personal poetic thought, “the logic of writing” is for him “transfer of experience into text,” i.e. balancing on the border “between life and art, between direct and artificial experience of the world.” As in conceptual art, as in Eliot — the present, past and future are in a single, present moment, at the moment of the event and Radaković does not stop looking for ways to convey this uniqueness in the text, as do all his artistic friends present in this book.
This book is another in a series of proofs that the idea of the uniqueness of personal experience and ways to transfer it into an art form can be fruitful. And that one of the possible ways in which the idea is spread and connected includes this one as well – to express and embody it through a joint work of art.