Elizabeta Bakovska: A Dialogue with Our Predecessors

A Dialogue with Our Predecessors

(or: the Macedonian woman writer, a daughter of many fathers and few mothers)

As early as 1922, T.S. Eliot in his well-known essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent" states the great truth about the nature and place of each poet (and artist in a broader sense): no poet, no artist has a complete meaning in himself. In order to value a poet (writer), he has to find his place in the established history and system of his predecessors, by contrast and comparison with them. However, according to Eliot, the act of establishing a new order, the insertion of the writer in his (or her) tradition is a purposeful act, and the author can "disturb" the system of his literary tradition only if he is aware of it.

        The idea of the author who returns to his tradition and reconstructs it to find his own place in it is further developed by Mikhail Bakhtin; focusing on Dostoevsky's work, he says that every word strives to an answer, without being able to avoid the essential influence of the answer it anticipates. Thus, says Bakhtin, every word is dialogical in its nature, and therefore it has to be analyzed as a part of a dialogue. Furthering on Bakhtin's thesis, the French-Bulgarian theorist Julia Kristeva in her work "Séméiôtiké: recherches pour une sémanalyse" (1969) introduced what is now a trendy term – intertextuality, explaining it theoretically, but also practically demonstrating it in her reading of Bakhtin. Inserting text at every place Bakhtin uses word, she says that "every word (text) is a crossword of words (texts)."

        Although the term intertextuality is a neologism in itself, its meaning is an old, well-known practice – Shakespeare (who is also paid the due tribute by Eliot in his essay mentioned above) is one of the most famous practitioners of intertextuality; his plays (in a quite liberal interpretation) are nothing but original remakes of previously known legends, stories and historical records. Sometimes, intertextuality is considered to be a simple expansion of the old idea of influence; however, it also carries a new element in itself – the conscious returning and using of the previous literary (and other) tradition as opposed to the relatively unconscious nature of influence. Thus, in the work of the writer who consciously (intentionally) uses intertextuality, it carries a double challenge – for himself, as an author, the challenge of creativity ( do I have anything new to say about what has been said before me); with the critic, on the other hand, it awakens the spirit of the explorer ( can I find all the hidden meanings of the new work which are born in its dialogue with its predecessors).

        Going back to Julia Kristeva, I will mention another fact that if often forgotten when she is mentioned solely as a creator (or promoter) of the term intertextuality. Kristeva, along with Hélène Sixous and Luce Irigaray is one of the three most significant feminist theorists; they primarily worked on a criticism of phallocentrism. Dialogue and intertextuality can therefore be seen as (and they often were) methods of a feminist analysis of the literary works, aspiring to answer the question – how does the woman writer (or said in broader way: the woman creator) enter a dialogue (i.e. debates) with her predecessors? Or, said in an Eliot-like fashion, how does the woman writer find her place in the established history and system of her predecessors, when it is known, as Gilbert and Gubar said that the man writer is a son of many fathers, and the woman writer is a daughter of too few mothers?

        In our Macedonian context, the situation is even more complex than the simple analysis of the works of our contemporary women writers as opposed to our literary tradition. Here, the question is not only how the women writers re-write and re-read their predecessors, but also what the tradition is to which they rely. In this sense, Katica Kulafkova nowadays speaks about a theory of discontinuity in the Macedonian literature, according to which there are the dark ages of the Macedonian literature behind us (monasteries, church literature, folk (oral) literature), which do not fit the western currents, and therefore the dilemma (with us and with others) if they [the church literature and the folk works] are our true literary tradition.

        Because of these dilemmas about the Macedonian literary tradition or because of some cosmopolitan urges, most of our contemporary women prose writers establish (intertextual) relations between their works and the works (authors) of the world literature. Jadranka Vladova, for example, starts her first collection of short stories with an intimate dedication – She loves Aloysius Bertrand forever, thus revealing not only her passion to fantasy, but also her close, almost love relation felt for her beloved writer. Further on in the short story "Prince Myshkin from Bitpazar" she even embodies her favorite character of Dostoevsky's in her everyday life. The intimate in the relation with Dostoevsky (as one of the big predecessors) is also manifested with Kica Kolbe, who, as a subject in her novel "The Snow in Casablanca" tells in which character of the Karamazov brothers she used to be in love. Both Vladova and Kolbe, via references, mentioning and citing their predecessors, their names, works and characters from those works (as intertextual elements where the emotional attachment with them is predominant) reveal themselves as passionate readers above all. The emotions of the women writers to their predecessors undoubtedly imply the influence (or influences) that they have had. However, on the other hand, their awareness about these influences, and event about their imminence, gives their works a more modern, more complex intertextual dimension.

        While intertextuality with Vladova and Kolbe is manifested at times, when the references sparkle from their works, Gordana Mihailova Bošnakoska has a complete remake of the novel "Women in Love" by D.H. Lawrence in her short story "Friends". Although it initially seems that the story is completely copied, starting from the universal nature of the theme about the destructive vs. productive/creative love, up to the completely parallel characters, Bošnakoska clearly marks her specific reading of Lawrence. Unlike his story telling in third person singular, she enters the story directly, as one of the characters (i.e. she becomes the subject of the story). The characters, who are copies of their predecessors, by the means of intertextual hints, "recognize" each other, and the events, compressed from the hundreds of pages of a novel to the several pages of a short story, become surrealistically accelerated. Wrapped in such an arrangement, Bošnakoska's short story has completely different sound than Lawrence's prose.

The previous examples somehow prove the thesis of Elaine Showalter, who says that: "...women, despite widespread myths of Amazon utopias, have never lived in a different country from men, and could never grow up as literate and educated beings without having read men's writing". The works of the male predecessors are the ones to which women writers most often pay their respect and the ones that they re-read. However, a strong movement in the American feminist thought plunges into a search of the (few) literary mothers with an exploring passion, looking for women predecessors, the foremothers of the women writing not only in what is considered "official literature", but also in the area of what is considered "private writing", such as the correspondence and diaries. It is in the spirit of this movement that Olivera Kjorveziroska writes her novel "The Locked Body of Lou". Via a postmodern collage of (false and true) citations, (false and true) historical and documentary records, photographs and (writer's reconstructions of) parts of diary records and correspondence of her main character, Olivera Kjorveziroska dedicates her novel to one of her literary and intellectual women predecessors, Lou Andreas-Salomé.

        Placed opposite the well known men of her time that she had contacted, such as Nietzche, Freud, Rilke, Lou Andreas-Salomé in this novel goes beyond her, due to gender historically imposed supporting role and becomes the main character not only of her own life, but also of the philosophical and literary tractates and thoughts that intertwine in the novel with the facts of her life. It is in these theoretical discussions that somehow match the way of life Lu Salome has chosen that the essential feminist definitions of women's writing as opposed to men's writing intersect. In her famous essay The Laugh of the Medusa (1975), the French theorist Hélène Sixous calls upon women to write locating the women's writing in the corporal, biological sphere: "Write! Writing is for you, you are for you; your body is yours, take it... I write woman: woman must write woman. And man, man." However, it is this, the womanly, the corporal, that Lou Salomé pushes down and denies to be able to (revengfully) dominate, both over herself and over the world of men: "Directing the corporal juices of her collocutors to her mind, Lou actually takes revenge over all men's bodies..." And yet, in this world, although Lou writes under a male pseudonym, since "for her, it was most important not to be a woman", her writing is considered poor, and Nietzche, who "maybe her a little problem" with the lack of writing talent with Lou, tells her that her tractate has no rhythm. Quite in line with Hélène Sixous's call to women to be themselves when they write, Olivera Kjorveziroska says that her heroine "as much as she is average in her literary works, is incredibly good and talented in her private correspondence". Therefore the conclusion that I can draw about this novel: the alienation of the woman author from the "feminine" in her (with the body as its centre and source), in order to win a recognized place in the system of her predecessors will not unquestionably lead to creativity. On the contrary, the creativity of the woman author is truly manifested only when she remains true to the genuine nature of her writing urge.
 

       The last work that I want to mention here again tackles the creativity of our women predecessors, especially what Gilbert and Gubar called "anxiety of creativity" with the women authors. The novel "Rosica's Dolls" by Olivera Nikolova, unlike all the above mentioned works, looks for (and to some extent finds) our foremothers in our own, Macedonian history. It is in the "dark ages" that "do not fit the western movements" that Olivera Nikolova finds Rosica, our ancestral woman story teller. As the life of Lou Andreas-Salomé intertwines with the lives of the "great men" of 19th century Europe, Rosica's life is touched and changed by the lives of the "great men' of Macedonian history – Goce Delčev, Kuzman Šapkarev, Marko Cepenko, Grigor Prličev. Telling the stories of the tempestuous times of divisions, conspiracies, separations and misunderstandings, of Macedonia, the Macedonians, but also in Macedonia and by the Macedonians, Olivera Nikolova symbolically shows the real role that the woman had, i.e. did not have there, and decides that Rosica, our woman predecessor, chronicler, story teller, should be – mute. However, her voicelessness does not prevent her from being a chronicler of her times, be creative in a different way, by making dolls according to the faces of the people that she meets. Her muteness (inability to speak) and the dolls place Rosica in what Lacan calls "pre-oedipal phase" – when the language does not exist, the subject does not have the awareness of him/herself, and he/she is still in the early childhood. Thus, Rosica, although a mature woman of thirty-seven at the end of the novel, naively, as a child, makes a mistake in the choice of the man that she loves; unconsciously, our of intimate love (or a need to love) she betrays Goce Delčev, thus betraying her own national ideals.
 

       When Rosica dies at the end of the novel, her unborn child dies with her, and her dolls remain scattered everywhere, faces without their stories, rags that would disappear as the time nibbles on them. That is why Rosica is not only a symbol of our forgotten Macedonian woman story teller. She also has a broader dimension: the one of the Macedonian self-forgetfulness, as defined by Misirkov, who says that the Macedonians push down their own cultural memories for the expense of the foreign traditions and models. Elaine Showalter says: "...women, like men, are shaped by the country they inhabit, by their nation's language, history, literary cannons, cultural mythologies, ideologies, and ideals." To be more creative, better, more ourselves, we have to constantly remember who we were and who those before us were. Or, as T.S. Eliot would say: "Tradition... can not be inherited, and if you want it, you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense,... and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence."

Read more from Elizabeta Bakovska at Blesok


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