Georgi Gospodinov, Dumitru Crudu and Matei Florian, three writers from the ex-Soviet space, as the moderator, Bogdan Creţu, pointed out, sat around the same table yesterday during the “Writers in the centre” event. The authors, coming from Sofia, Chişinău and Bucharest, talked about how they present the socialist years in their books, remembered the amusing things they had experienced in their childhood under the communist regime and had a debate: whether or not writers must be involved in public life.
“We have a common past, but the main rush for the writers in this part of Europe is to make themselves known in the West,” said Bogdan Creţu in the opening of the discussion, arguing that, oftentimes, Romanians are more familiar with the French, German or English literature than with the Bulgarian, Serbian or Croatian literature. “I’m sure that, once we have a common history, it’s impossible to not have a common literary history, the same topics, as we have passed through the same social and political crises and the same traumas,” he added. Bogdan Creţu gave a first example – from Natural Novel by Georgi Gospodinov in which a character pays half of his salary in order to buy a chair and the other half to the taxi that would carry it home –, stating that for a Western reader this seems exotic, full of humour. “It is macabre humour, it is a kind or reality,” argued the literary critic, continuing with similar examples from the novels of the other two guests.
Georgi Gospodinov remarked that the West often looks only superficially towards this space, “and we, one way or another, should fight this”. The Bulgarian author added that he dislikes two things: the label of “Eastern European literature” and the way westerners look upon those living here as if they were “something exotic”, as well as the fact that “we try to market ourselves as an exotic merchandise for the people in the West”. Gospodinov said that, in his opinion, socialism was an important thing, about which we should talk. “Throughout all these years we have developed a culture of silence. We don’t like to talk much about our failures and traumas from the socialist times and this is precisely why my point of view – talking about those times – comes from my angle, my history”, the author explained, arguing that in his book, Natural Novel, he tried to describe in detail small things, such as the story of the toilets or that of his divorce.
Literature educates taste
Being asked whether writers should become involved in the public life, Matei Florian said that a writer may be foreign to what is happening around him, because everyday life and writing can be two separate worlds. “This is, to me, the magic of writing, above anything else: through writing one can invent other worlds, other realities. You can leave behind this concrete realm, which is sometimes painful. You can experience the cruellest possible reality and, through writing, escape from it completely, invent another world in compensation, another space in which to breathe,” stated the writer, adding that, from his point of view, a writer does not have the obligation to explain to the world al the problems of society. Dumitru Crudu gave the example of an author who, during the anticommunist protests in the Republic of Moldova, in 1988-1989, at a time when everybody was out in the streets, he would go play tennis. “I later read the texts he had written at the time, they are very much connected with what was going on. It is not mandatory to become a politician in order to write texts that connect with the reality. I think you can produce a literature that is connected to reality by approaching salient topics,” the writer explained, adding that in his novels and in some of his plays he tried to talk about how the world in his area is neither pro-communist, nor really dissident.
The three were amused to discover the things they had all experienced in their youth, such as building cardboard robots out of empty cigarette packs, and the antennas on the rooftops, improvised from aluminium washing bowls. After Matei Florian remembered trying to capture the broadcast of football matches from the Bulgarian television, Georgi Gospodinov said the Bulgarians were doing the same thing with Serbian TV stations.
Bogdan Creţu wanted to find out from the three guests to what extent literature can trigger memories and heal oblivion and amnesia. Dumitru Crudu said that in his book, Oameni din Chişinău (Chisinau people), he tried to discover and to reveal the collateral effects of the revolution of April 2009, “about the shards that touched people that hadn’t taken part in it, because even if you stayed in your bed and slept, it was still affecting you in one way or another”. Matei Florian underlined that it is the journalist’s role to broadcast reality live and the literature’s role to find another angle, because “big histories are always written in the smallest of details”. And Georgi Gospodinov believes that true history is the one found in very many personal histories of people who have lived in a certain era. From his point of view, literature fights amnesia because it educates taste, whereas all ideologies are based on kitsch. And the only way to fight kitsch is a refined taste.