Autumn-winter 2004
 

 

  Autumn-winter 2004

  PAINTERS
  Zdenko Lešiæ
 
 
ABOUT AN ENCOUNTER WITH THE DEVIL,
ABOUT THE METONYMIC CONCEPT OF ART,
ABOUT A TIME OF CREATION AND
A TIME OF DESTRUCTION

WHAT DID SALVADOR ROSA SEE?
This is the story of a terrible experience which
was recorded only in the paintings of the Spanish
monk Salvador Rosa.


It was not yet dawn when Salvador Rosa approached this clearing through the forest, drawn by unusual voices. And what he saw then changed his life forever. The very next day he went to a monastery and never left its gates again. He did not even go with the other monks to read prayers in this accursed place, taking the holy cross and incense to drive away the Devil. But ever since he had brought them the news of what had taken place, they went there, by order of the Superior, every seventy-seventh day, to say the holy Mass. He always stayed in his cell, however, on his knees, deep in prayer. He was afraid of seeing that scene again, so preferred to shelter from evil in the silence of the monastery.
What had he seen that night?
In fact, no one really knew. When he had first come to the monastery, shaking and frantic, and begged them to take him in, he said only that here, in this place, he had seen the Devil. The Father Superior had interrogated him at length. But he had not understood a great deal, because Rosa had spoken breathlessly, fragmentedly, more with his wide-open eyes than words. And what the Father Superior was able to understand, he could not accept as true. It was only when he was persuaded by one of the senior monks that he agreed to go to that place and see whether any traces remained. And he went alone with that monk, because they were unable to persuade Rosa to take them and show them the way. He marked the place on a map he drew for them and explained quite rationally how to get there. But he began to tremble as soon as they tried to talk him into going with them.
They rode into the forest, but they were unable to drive the horses to go deeper into it. They reared and neighed, and there was fear in their eyes. So they had to take them back out of the forest, hobble them and leave them to graze. It took them quite a long time to find their way through the scrub to that clearing. (There was no path to it like the one we came along in those days!) At first they found nothing unusual, but when they began to look more closely, they came upon strange tracks. In some places the grass was trodden down, evidently by bare feet, because there was no sign of the soles of shoes. At one end they discovered some ash and sooty stones, the traces of a fire. Not far from there, in the grass, they found a crushed shin-bone, which was, without doubt, human. On one bare, dead tree, dangled a short rope, as though someone had been hanged there and then cut down. In a nearby bush they found a child’s shoe. It was full of dried blood. ‘The man was telling the truth,’ whispered the Father Superior to himself, then he turned to his companion. ‘We must return to exorcise this place.’ Since then they came regularly here to drive away the Devil, without any of them, apart from their Father Superior, ever hearing what had really taken place there and what Salvador Rosa had seen that night.
It was only a few years later that they found in his cell, among his paintings, several versions of the same dark vision, from which they could guess what kind of memories were haunting him.
On those paintings three completely naked witches were crushing human bones with stones and burning them on a fire, over which there was placed a large cauldron full of a thick, dark liquid, with bright red bubbles leaping from it as it boiled and seethed. Above them, on the branch of a dead tree hung a human torso, without arms or legs. One of the witches was collecting the blood dripping from it and pouring it into the cauldron over the fire. And under the gallows a black dog, with bloody chops, was gnawing at a human shin-bone. The witches were evidently mumbling undecipherable sounds, while one of them, the oldest, was shrieking, throwing into the hot liquid pieces of a glowing mass which fizzled and spluttered. And then out of the forest came soldiers, with bloody bare feet. They were dragging corpses with them. One of them was carrying a child in his arms. It was alive. The soldiers went up to the fire and plunged a ladle into the dark liquid in the cauldron. It was human blood. They drank it, hot as it was, while the witches sniggered, stretching the child between them. And then, it seems, a different kind of snigger sounded from that dead tree, for, on a branch above the hanged man there now sat something dark and terrible. It was laughing — or howling? — so chillingly, that both the witches and the soldiers shook with fear, or excitement. And then they took each others’ hands and danced round the fire.
What happened after that? No one knows, because it seems that it was so horrific hat Salvador Rosa had had to erase it entirely from his memory. He had not said anything about it even to the monastery Superior.
And all of that happened here, in this clearing in front of us.


PICTURES FROM AN EXHIBITION
All the Professor took from the opening of an exhibition of paintings
was the memory of a pool of hot blood steaming
on the pavement.

‘I ought to be able to remember when it began,’ thought the Professor one winter evening, trying to gather his thoughts and forget the cold and darkness. ‘In April? Or perhaps May? Or last summer, perhaps? It seems like yesterday, but at the same time who knows how many years ago. I remember all of it quite well, but I don’t know when it all really happened. I seem to have lost all sense of time. Like many in this damned city, for that matter. For instance, the last time I met Afan, he was talking delightedly about going to visit his son that evening. I listened to him in disbelief, because I knew that his son had been killed more than three months earlier. And it could not be that he had forgotten. The times must have got mixed up. At that moment he must have been walking in some other, past time. I think that’s called temporal distortion.’
He felt a kind of pity. ‘Poor man!’ he thought, burying himself more deeply into the warm covers he had wrapped himself in. And then he gave a start, anxious. ‘Maybe I’ve mixed up the times as well? Maybe my memory has merged two meetings with him? One earlier one, when his son was still alive and when he really was looking forward to seeing him, and another, later one, when we had been, as usual, talking about the sea and Pocitelj, while I was thinking to myself that here he was, having lost his only son, still going on living, and still painting as never before. Yes, that is called temporal distortion.’
He repeated his diagnosis, but he was no longer sure whom it referred to. He shivered from a sudden wave of cold, and then he pulled the covers tighter and tried to concentrate.
‘All we have left is this city!’
Who had said that? Afan, or someone else? It must have been him, for only he knows how to formulate an idea that is haunting him, so clearly, and as though in passing.
‘The city is in ruins. But if we lose the ruins, nothing will remain for us!’ that was what he had said.
And he knew that by that Afan did not mean the space, but the sense. And when he said it was necessary ‘to master the ruins’ he was not thinking of territory. For, why should he, a painter, be interested in territory. He was not a nation-builder! He was looking for the sense. And that was what he wanted to preserve.
The Professor reflected on how unusual it was that other painters too felt the need at that time to seek out and defend a sense of the ruins.
Sitting in the darkness of his kitchen, wrapped in a blanket, the Professor tried to conjure up in his consciousness those moments when the struggle for the sense of the ruins had begun among them. Forcing his memory to revive the past, he abandoned himself to an onrush of recollections. He gazed into the darkness, and out of the dark one after another vivid scenes arose before him, all claiming the right to mean something. They imposed themselves on him with the same vividness, but somehow hastily, so that two merged into one and then both blended into a new image, as though they had occurred in the same place at the same time. He had to make an effort to separate and categorise them in his consciousness. But not even then could he be sure which of them had occurred earlier and which later. But still, by then he was able to summon them and interrogate each of them individually, like witnesses in a legal case.
The first scene that spun into his consciousness, at his summons, made him recall the opening of an exhibition of paintings, which had been held at the beginning of the war in a gallery on the main street.
He remembered that it had been a lovely, sunny day. There was no shooting and there were quite a lot of people in the street. He had gone to the exhibition alone, and at the entrance to the gallery he met Marija, a good-looking young woman he had known for years. She worked in a bank, but she often came to concerts and exhibitions of paintings. (‘I’m really an artist by nature, but here I am, working with money!’ she would say, smiling broadly, when someone asked her how it was that she, a banker’s clerk, was so interested in art.) As always, now too she looked attractive and elegant, in a dark red suit, with a straight skirt, and black shining shoes on her slender, long legs. She was standing with a young, bearded painter, listening with serene attention to what he was saying. The Professor went up to them to say hello. As he shook her hand, he felt the soft warmth of her palm. He was startled when she pressed his hand lightly with her other, equally soft and warm palm. It seemed to him that from her hands there passed into him a current of long forgotten erotic excitement, which suddenly overwhelmed his whole being, as though a wave from some warm southern sea had unexpectedly splashed him. And he was still more startled when he caught a brief, vivid glint in her eyes, as though the gleam of her shining white teeth were reflected in the dark flame of her eyes. Marija was one of those women of whom it was said that they attracted like fire, but you could be badly burned.
‘Are you coming to the exhibition?’ he asked her.
‘Of course. But I’ll pass on the opening. I hate speeches!’ she said, laughing.
She looked the young painter in the eye and then she turned back to the Professor:
‘We’ll stay here a bit longer. We’ll come in when the boring, formal bit is over,’ she said, raising her hand as though dismissing him.
The Professor left them in the street and entered the gallery.
There were fewer people inside than out in the street. Perhaps because it was brighter outside. But then a television crew switched on their arc lights and suddenly the radiant canvases on the walls responded. There was a lot of intense red on them. It looked as though freshly spilled blood had been splashed on the walls. A lot of freshly spilled blood.
The Minister of Culture stepped in front of the television cameras, and spoke about the new role of art in conditions of war and once again called into question the ancient assertion that in wartime the Muses must be silent. There was a painter standing beside him, with lowered eyes, his arms crossed beneath his belly. He appeared humble, but at the same time, it was clear that he was proud of his work and of the fact that he was one of those who refused to be silent in wartime. At the end of his short formal speech, the Minister declared the exhibition open, and then the painter, with a few words of thanks, invited the spectators to share with him in the joy of creativity.
Just as the spectators had begun to gather in front of the paintings on the walls, there was a powerful, very powerful, deafening and blinding explosion outside. One picture fell off the wall. Breaking glass was heard. And then screams.
‘Marija’s outside!’ thought the Professor and dashed towards the exit.
‘Don’t go out!’ someone shouted at him.
But he was already at the entrance to the gallery. First he smelled the acrid smell of explosives and hot dust pricked his eyes. And then at once he saw the slender woman’s body in the dark-red suit.
She was lying on her back. Both arms were raised above her thrown back head. She looked as though she had bent backwards to dive into water. Or as though she had stretched out her arms to reach something above her. (Her soft hands, with their long, slender fingers!) Under her dark-red suit blood was seeping and forming a small, steaming pool. (Marija’s hot blood!) And beside her prone body, with his head under her armpit, lay the doubled-up body of the young painter. Calmly, as though he had found solace beside her. Blood was gushing out of his neck and slowly pouring towards that same little pool in which her blood was steaming. As though their bloodstreams had been directed towards one another by some still live and unstoppable force of attraction.
It took the Professor just a few seconds to register that scene on the pavement at the entrance to the gallery. And then, as though he had photographed it, the scene was etched in his consciousness, filling it entirely. He was aware of nothing any longer apart from that hot pool into which the two streams of blood were pouring. People were rushing and shouting around him. Screams and cries. They lifted up and carried off the injured, removed the dead. But all he could see were those two thin streams of blood pouring towards one another. And when the bodies had been removed, that pool continued to steam in front of him. And he was unable to turn his eyes from it. It was only then that he realised that he was in everyone’s way, moved away from the entrance and went back into the gallery. And then his attention was drawn to that little canvas that had fallen from the wall when the ground had shaken. On it was the same, only considerably enlarged image: a large, dark-red blot, like a pool of hot blood, into which two thin red lines were merging, like two jets of blood.
And even now, as he picked through his memories in the dark, cold kitchen, the Professor was barely able to suppress from his consciousness that pool of hot blood steaming on the pavement. And then another, different, but equally obsessive image appeared in his consciousness: the ghostly ruins of the building that had once housed the city’s favourite cinema.

THE ‘SUTJESKA’ CINEMA
How an old cinema became the symbol of a city
and its suffering.

Before the war, thanks to its eccentric manager, the ‘Sutjeska’ cinema’s repertoire had attracted equally street idlers and intellectuals, drop-outs of all descriptions and young artists, all kinds of dubious types and students of art and philosophy. Because it showed in rapid succession the most varied films: Hollywood trash, and masterpieces of European cinematography, cheap porn flicks, and good old Westerns, the latest horror movies, and classic works of the French ‘black wave’ or Polish and Czech film-makers. But when the manager retired, it was decided that the cinema should be transformed into a new Arts Centre, where only archive films would be shown.
A few months before the war broke out, the old cinema had begun to acquire its new appearance. And then, in the very first months of the war, it was burned out, hit by several successive incendiary shells.
‘When was that?’ the Professor tried to remember. ‘As early as the spring? Or the summer? Or early autumn?’ he wondered. He was not sure, but he did remember that on that day many buildings in the city had been hit, but it was the fire that had consumed the old cinema that had the most powerful effect on the townspeople. People swore and wept at the sight of the roaring tongues of flame and high plumes of black smoke, which could be seen from a great distance. It seemed that with the old cinema, the very heart of the city had been hit. After battling with the blaze for several house, firemen succeeded in extinguishing the fire, but all that were left were the dark, sooty walls and part of the burned, collapsed roof.
‘Yes! That’s when the salvation of the ruins began!’ concluded the Professor, remembering what had happened after that.
Along with the old cinema, the emotions of young artists, sculptors, painters, poets had been set alight. In just a few days they turned this space into their artists’ workshop. And working there, in the ruins, with its rubble and debris, they discovered the unusual durability of what has been burned, broken and destroyed. And they were delighted at their discovery. At exhibitions they held in that burned-out cinema, they would just slightly adjust the debris they found, rearranging the sooty stones, broken bricks, pieces of burned wood, soot, ash and dust. And they would then add to those arrangements just a few broad strokes of oil paint: red, yellow, black, thus indicating their presence (the presence of Art!) rather than their interference. Sometimes, in addition, they would bring in objects that were completely at odds with that atmosphere: a typewriter, an open black umbrella, a top hat and cane with an ivory handle, a large old burned book, a bunch of flowers in a porcelain vase. Once one of them exhibited himself, sitting down at a table laid for dinner and remaining there, motionless, throughout the duration of his exhibition. (And, like the others, this one lasted for the length of the opening and until the spectators had dispersed, when the exhibition closed!)
One day, as he was passing the charred remnants of the cinema, the Professor met a friend, who said, shaking with cold:
‘Come and see what they’re doing!’
He accompanied him into the ruin. There were already about twenty people gathered there. They were watching a young painter reorganising the space. He had pulled a woollen hat down over his ears, and a woollen scarf up over his mouth, but his breath could still be seen turning to steam in the cold air. He was slowly sifting through the rubble and taking whole bricks out of it. He wiped them carefully with his hand in its thick woollen glove and then he piled them in a heap. He had already collected some hundred bricks, which, the way he had laid them, made the form of a paralleloped. It looked like a coffin, or an ancient Bosnian tombstone. When it seemed as though he was about to complete the work, the painter began, just as carefully and slowly, to move the bricks into a new position and arrange them in a circle. Bit by bit, they began to form the enclosure of a bunker. But the Professor and his friend did not wait to see whether that heap of rubble would in the end really acquire the appearance of a bunker. They left, because they were cold. Later the Professor heard that the painter had altered his intentions several more times, and then he had sat down on the pile of bricks, covered his face with his hands and burst into tears.
Talking with Afan later, the Professor had to agree that this effort had some kind of deeper meaning.
‘They want to give the ruins significance,’ Afan said.
In truth, the ruins had become the only live trace of a paradoxical civilisation, and at the same time a warning that this civilisation was threatened by the terrible forces of devastation.
As he visited exhibitions in the ruins of the old city cinema, the Professor reflected that a new concept of art was being create here, based on the conviction that the remaining fragments of reality could evoke its forgotten sense. (He called this the ‘metonymic concept’ of art.)
‘When reality is reduced through the action of destructive forces to the pathetic remnants of its once varied existence,’ he said once to Afan, ‘then those remnants — ruins, ashes, debris and rubble — acquire great expressive force, because they evoke the whole that has been destroyed.’
Afan agreed:
‘Just as a burned book reminds one of its contents — lost in the fire,’ he said.
And it is just as painful to look at those pathetic remnants, as it is to remember the former abundance of the whole,’ they concluded then.
That concept of art very quickly proved itself effective. In fact, all too effective. Because artists began to collect in the streets and then exhibit broken, burned, rejected and abandoned things, everything that seemed to them at that moment expressive (in the spirit of that ‘metonymic concept’). This meant that ‘works of art’ came into being which did not depend on the imagination of the artist, but on the expressive power of the exhibited objects themselves. And so some artists soon became sceptical towards that ‘rubbish art’, as Afan once called it angrily. But no one, including him, blamed the artists for this. Above all, at that time, every artistic act, even the most elementary, meant that the city was defending its meaning. And, besides, the artists had no material at their disposal other than those ruins.
‘There is meaning in ruins. But ruins are also our true métier,’ said Afan.
Recalling those events, the Professor felt himself being filled with warmth. And it did not come from the woollen blanket in which he had wrapped himself, but from these memories which had overwhelmed him. Now it seemed to him that they were the only moments in which, from time to time, the will to live came back to him and when he could again see some meaning in life. And what else could one ask of art at this time than that it search for the meaning of life when it seemed that there no longer was any?
He remembered that at the beginning he had kept a diary every day. In it he recorded — so as not to forget them — some of the main events, around which he would one day be able to develop his story of the war and life in the besieged city. As he noted them down, he endeavoured to avoid all commentary and to restrain his emotions, so he wrote only facts, believing that they were all that mattered, because they were all that could not be disputed. And he recalled that this diary of his very quickly acquired the uniform, monotonous rhythm of ancient chronicles:
‘Monday. The shops are empty, there’s no more food. Coupons have been introduced as a means of paying. But they might as well have introduced dead rats for that purpose, because shopkeepers won’t take anything apart from German marks in any case.
Tuesday. My student Zorana was killed by a sniper. A shell destroyed a flat in the next-door building. On the same floor and on the same side as the one where we live.
Wednesday. They say that negotiations for a ceasefire have begun. No water today either. Or electricity.
Thursday. The negotiations broke down after just a few hours. A shell killed a woman and her child in the main street.
Friday. There have been cases of abdominal typhus. My colleague Simic has been ‘swallowed by darkness’.
Saturday. Coffee appeared in the market (100 DM a kilo). Professor Brzak committed suicide.
Sunday. No water today either. There’s heavy shooting in the western part of the city. It seems that fierce battles are still going on there.’
The following week he noted, in almost the same order, similar ‘facts’. And when he leafed through his diary after five or six weeks, he felt disgusted and burned his notebook.
‘The war has become boring,’ he said to himself. ‘It’s all become monotonous and senseless. Could it ever be of interest to anyone?’
And he was not sorry even now that he had stopped keeping a diary and that his memory remained as his only reminder of those past events. It is true that he would not have been able to rely on it if he had wanted to confirm the actual dates and true order of events.
‘But what can a “chronology” tell us?’ he thought. ‘The only relevant order is the one in which the events occur in our memory.’
He gazed into the darkness as though he was waiting for the next witness to appear. And, really, a new image came to life in his consciousness.


WITH PAINTERS
The voices of artists from the besieged city.

It was an early evening at the beginning of the winter. He had been with Tina to visit Bekir, a friend who lived alone in the neighbourhood, where the two of them had sometimes gone that winter to warm themselves. That evening, at his apartment, they had come upon an acquaintance, a painter, who had returned from New York a few days earlier, having been with some colleagues to present a portfolio of engravings. They sat beside the lit stove, which spread around it both warmth and light. Outside there was a real winter frost, which gripped ever more firmly in the prevailing darkness, as though the darkness itself was that ice cold. But this meant that inside, beside the hot stove, it was all the more agreeable.
As he sipped the last drop of their friend’s brandy, the painter told them of the warm reception they had received in New York. He talked softly and thoughtfully. A pink ray of light from the glowing stove fell onto his face, with its thick black beard. It seemed as though he was simultaneously here with them in the room, and somewhere else, far from them.
‘In those wealthy New York galleries,’ he said, ‘in the crowded streets, in the general bustle, beside the brilliantly lit shop windows, in full restaurants, we felt like people from a different civilisation. Or as though we were moving through an unreal world, mesmerised by its dazzling appearance. On several occasions, I was quite sure that all this luxury around me was in fact just a trick of the senses, a fata morgana, a mirage. Because I knew that real, true life was unimaginable without darkness, pain and suffering. That is why what is going on over there cannot be real life. That is why, while we were there, we weren’t ourselves alive. And we could all hardly wait to come home, to come back to our friends and family, to this darkness, this suffering, and to real human life.’
‘One lives where death is close!’ said Bekir, laughing.
‘Thanks to the war,’ the painter went on, ‘we have got to know real life. We have descended from the clouds onto the earth. We are no longer dreaming. Our children don’t like fairy stories and they play only at war. But when they are awake and when they sleep, they dream of warm soup made from bones and a crust of bread. Just like dogs and cats.
‘Until this cold began to bite,’ he continued, ‘I liked to roam around the streets in the evening and go right up to our first battle positions. Everyone there knew me by then, I would wander along the borders of this uncertain freedom of ours, look at the fighters in the trenches and listen to voices from the other side of that border. It is incredible that after such a long siege the city is still defending itself. While the enemy is so close and everywhere around us. Ready to annihilate us. I would walk through the darkness and imagine that there was no siege, that there were no trenches or demarcation lines, that we were once again free as birds. And then I would see the sky changing on the horizon and the colours coming to life out of the blackness: from soft yellow, through light green to azure blue. There was no red, though, nor should there be! When I returned from those strolls, I went to bed and waited for it to get light so that I could stand at my easel. This is a time of creativity for me.’
‘For some this is a time of creativity, for many it’s a time of destruction,’Bekir laughed again and then went up to the stove and put more wood on the fire.
The Professor felt the lash of a hot wave from the blazing fire through the open door of the stove. He felt something of that warmth now, as he picked through his memories, wrapped in his blanket and gazing into the darkness.
‘This is a creative time for Afan as well,’ he thought. And then his consciousness was filled with colour, as though those unusual visual recollections that Afan evoked in his paintings had poured over it: all melting grey — approaching blue (the azure of the sky) on the one hand, and on the other green (the emerald of the Neretva river).
‘He’s certainly an unusual painter,’ he reflected. ‘There are no hills, nor houses, nor roofs, nor trees, nor bushes, nor any kind of natural object, and yet, when you look closely, you will see the towers of Pocitelj, the hill above Capljina, the Old Bridge in Mostar, stony valleys, whirlpools in the Neretva. In fact, in his work it is colour itself that creates that irresistible illusion of the landscape of Herzegovina, with stone the colour of pine ash, dark-green vegetation and the clear blue sky. But this landscape of his is always washed over with some emotion — joy, sorrow, peace, restlessness, anxiety. Those paintings of his are memories of his homeland, but they are also the expression of his current state of mind.’
‘No, no!’ he heard Afan, from somewhere, from the corner of the kitchen, rebelling against his analysis. ‘My paintings contain nothing other than colour!’ he said decisively.
‘Of course! But in those paintings of yours there is always something else as well, that is in the colour itself, but underneath the chromatic surface of the painting. And that is its true content!’
‘What content? There’s no content in my work!’ Afan rebelled again. ‘I’m not a figurative painter! I paint paintings and not reality!’
It seemed to the Professor that in the darkness he could see the silhouette of the painter with whom he was arguing in his thoughts. He had known him for a long time.
Once a smiling epicurean, he had lost everything in the war. His studio had burned down, with all the paintings he had refused to sell, because he liked them too much. His only son had been killed. Increasingly bad news reached him from his homeland: Pocitelj had been firebombed, and his house ransacked. He would probably have abandoned himself to alcohol, if there had been any in the besieged city. As it was, he gave himself up to painting, experimenting with various colours, techniques and materials. At his first wartime exhibition, as well as oils, he had exhibited pieces of burned wood, books damaged by fire, pieces of singed furniture, a sooty typewriter, distorted by fire. And then he began sticking objects onto cardboard and covering them with thick paint. He particularly liked pigeon feathers. With them he created a series of pictures of dead and injured birds, which evoked a deep sense of horror. To his previous light colours (bluish and greenish grey), he began to add wisps of scarlet and yellow, so that it seemed that his earlier landscape had been engulfed by destructive fire. And then he began to experiment also with white, endeavouring to express horror in pure white. And he was on the way to achieving the impossible: revealing the dark side of life through the exclusive use of white.
‘Maybe you’ll manage it!’ thought the Professor. ‘Maybe you’ll manage what no one else has succeeded in doing!’
Recalling his last meetings with him, the Professor suddenly became aware that in recent times they had discussed nothing but paintings. Never people, their former friends, neither the living, nor the dead, not those who had left, nor those who had stayed.
‘Those to whom great misfortunes have occurred are always alone,’ he thought. ‘Still, it’s different with artists. Even when they’re alone, they have their art.’
He felt himself shivering under the blanket. He stood up and went over to the wall where it was sometimes warm. But it was cold too. He had to concentrate again, in order for at least his thoughts to warm him.
‘But what can art do in the face of the destructive forces of history?’ he wondered.
He rubbed his cold knees with his hands and replied almost angrily to his own question:
‘It has to create and with that creativity itself write its history, different from the history of states and wars, or from the history of human suffering. It must create its alternative history, the history of creative powers, the history of Man worthy of that divine principle of which he is the offspring.’
He felt himself gradually falling asleep. It seemed that he was no longer alone. With him in the kitchen were Afan and a younger painter whose name he did not know.
That young man was saying in a whisper:
‘The graveyards are getting bigger and bigger. There are fewer and fewer defenders. But the defence carries on nevertheless. And it will go on until the end …!’
He heard someone else’s voice saying softly:
‘If the city falls, and just one of us escapes alive, he will carry the city with him on the paths of exile. He will be the City!’
It seemed to the Professor in his sleep that he recognised those words.
‘They’re from a poem!’ he thought.
But he could not remember who had written it. And then Afan spoke in the same tone of voice:
‘We look into the face of hunger, the face of fire, the face of death, and what is worst of all — into the face of forgetfulness. We have been betrayed and forgotten. And it is only our dreams that have not been humiliated.’
‘Are you asleep?’ he heard Tina’s voice now as well.
‘No, I’m not asleep!’ he said.

Chapter from the Novel “Tabloid” translated by Celia Hawkesworth