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
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,
She looked the young painter in the eye and then she turned back to the
‘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
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
‘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.’
‘Just as a burned book reminds one of its contents — lost in the fire,’
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
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
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
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.
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
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
‘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
‘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
‘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 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
‘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