Prose in Two Voices: Žarko Radaković, David Albahari, Scott Abbott, and Peter Handke

Aleksa Đukanović, PROSE IN TWO VOICES, interview with writer Žarko Radaković, November 5, 2022.

Co-writing, is it really possible?

“Four-handed writing” is an inadequate term. Because writing is always confinement in a cell and acting alone… It started a long time ago for me: when I was hanging out with the writer Miodrag Vuković, at the end of the sixties, after failing the entrance exam at the film academy, we consoled ourselves by sitting in a bar and passing each other papers sequentially, we wrote poetry, looking around, observing the environment, recording and modifying everything in verses. When I worked with Era Milivojević, in his “art company”, we did performances, guided by Era’s ideas, we acted together, but always individually. Then the need for group artistic work was definitely established in me. Later, during the literary group Raspis, around Milenko Pajić – we were all there: David Albahari, Svetislav Basara, Mihajlo Pantić, Vladimir Pištalo, Miodrag Vuković, Boris Gregorić, Nemanja Mitrović, Mileta Prodanović and others, acting exclusively epistolarily – we wrote a novel together (we didn’t finish it). The need for “community” was felt, because it was as if we sensed the end of the previous one. We were looking for some kind of physical “sociality” and communicativeness because we found it difficult to bear the loneliness of creation: because we were operating in the sphere of the “neo-avant-garde”. We produced something not immediately easy to understand. We were looking for accomplices and our first audience among ourselves.

Prose “in two voices” – how did it start with Scott Abbott, also one of Handke’s translators into English?

During my studies in Tübingen, in the exchange of ideas, some people were particularly close to me. Scott was the most curious. It was during my time dealing with Handke (literary-scientific, and translating). After his PhD, Scott was writing a book on Freemasonry in German literature; we talked everyday. Scott entered the spheres of my work, he became interested in Handke. And we read together. So in 1989, we traveled to the regions of Handke’s novel Repetition – to Carinthia and Slovenia. Reading the book, we explored the writer’s relationship to the realities there. It was an investigative study of transforming the real into the fictional. A tense and mysterious job. The outcome of all this is Scott’s and my joint book: Repetitions. Two manuscripts acting like two books in one. We did a similar thing in the second book, Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary – traveling with Handke then. However, even in the third joint work, the Book about Friendship, when writing about ourselves, we acted in the shadow of Handke. There were also important changes: we abandoned the initial order (me, then Scott), the editor at Laguna (Janja Stjepanović) suggested that it was better to start with Scott’s work (because it is “non-fiction”), then we would move on to my “fictional” part. This is also the case in the American edition, just published under the title We: On Friendship (Elik Press).

In almost all of your books, the plot, or what could be called the “thematic pivot”, is based and shaped precisely around – Peter Handke.

Yes, Handke is our main starting point and a very important goal of our writing: for Scott in his non-fictional writing, for me in my fictional writing. So Peter is the hero all the time: to the essayist (Scott) he is the subject of research, and to the storyteller (me) the hero of the story. In my case, it is the most logical, because I always stick to my immediate experience when telling stories. Handke is really a part of my daily experience of reality. And due to the fact that I translate him and often communicate with him, even travel with him, he is something indispensable for me in storytelling. Even during my daily work in the media, I held on to Handke tightly, precisely to avoid the omnipresence of the media repertoire. For me, who has always written directly experiencing the environment, literature and art were other central experiences. Everything else, and the other jobs I did to earn money, could only interfere with my primary artistic work. So, I focused my experiences exclusively on artistic activity. And in recent decades, Peter Handke has been the center. Just like Julije Knifer was. Or Era Milivojević before him. So now Peter Handke is the focus of my literary repertoire. That’s how I determined it for myself. Through this “prism” I look at the world, at everyday life, at politics, neighboring arts, and even at the media.

You are a very unusual translator, you only translate one author: Handke? Why?

Translating Peter Handke’s books is also a specific way of reading for me, “up close”. By reading closely, I explore my reception experiences more precisely. And by translating, I also “write” myself into the text. I especially care about that. Because I want to get closer to the secrets of the author’s writing. And that author offers me exactly what I experienced in the performances of Era Milivojević, or in the painting of Juli Knifer. Thus, Peter Handke literarily confirms my reception “habits”, from which my writing also arises. Handke, as well as Era and Knifer, and later Nina Pops, are key factors in my personal artistic cosmos, which I have been building for years and decades. I’m not giving up on him. Especially at the time of the collapse of many systems, destructuring and restructuring, thus even before the loss of today’s criteria of value.

Why are your joint books with David Abahari, and the last one with Scott Abbott: “Books about…”? Can we expect a new series “Book about…” soon?

Namely, Scott Abbott and I wrote together, more or less, separately, each for himself. David Albahari and I wrote in closer conjunction under the title “Book about…”. Always epistolary. So, truly together. We wrote to each other, immediately reading what was written in order to react to it. So, David and I collaborated most intensively in the act of writing. We were each other’s first readers. The key for us was the mood in the act of writing. An exceptional experience, indeed. We felt wonderful. Triumphant. After the Book about Music, we wanted to continue like this. Now Book about Photography. And again it was unrepeatable. I almost felt a real need to continue writing like this. On the one hand, the writer does his thing, as much as possible individually, and yet communicates with the reader, who also gives instructions on where and how to proceed. It was that magical work together with David Albahri, a writer with whom I always got along best. Maybe that’s why the “book about…” has become a kind of new “obsession” in writing. And I’m already preparing a new “book about…” – about the film.

Žarko and David Albahari at the release of their “Book about Photography”

photo by Anne Kister

* Aleksa Đukanović’s interview with Žarko Radaković was originally published in the newspaper Politika on November 5, 2022.

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
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4 Responses to Prose in Two Voices: Žarko Radaković, David Albahari, Scott Abbott, and Peter Handke

  1. Alex caldiero says:

    This is as good as an interview can be: lucid, eye mind opening, candid and precise. Bravo Zarko. I could hear your voice and understand all the better your wonderful eye mind.


  2. Charles Hamaker says:

    thank you for this.


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