Photo: NV/Sulejman Omerbašić
We spoke to Samedin Kadić because of two books, both written by him. Our conversation was mostly about them, i.e. of what they tell us about ourselves in the past and current times, about topics like the madrasa, čaršija, patriarchal families, shahids (martyrs), orphans, all issues that are rarely discussed.
At a time when publishing a book is considered a type of “incident”, you published two within a couple of days. Dario Džamonja answered the question “why do you write?” by saying: “Because that’s how I make a living.” Today, when it is almost impossible to make a living from writing, what do you say when someone asks you that?
It’s a pure coincidence that I published two books within a few days. The reasons are of a technical nature; a period of two years actually passed between me writing these books. I wouldn’t agree with the claim that books are an “incident” today. Everyone’s writing books, I don’t know what’s with this general graphomania. Kundera may have given some answers in his “Knjiga smijeha i zaborava” (“The book of laughter and oblivion”). What is particularly worrying is the multitude of books about other books. There’s a whole industry of secondary literature between the reader and the original text. So there are a lot of books around, both originals and “mediated” texts, but we shouldn’t be under the illusion that they’re all of great significance. They don’t have a great impact on reality, they don’t initiate certain processes, they don’t decisively shape emotions and ideas, they don’t encourage other quality and creative reading. Not even Heavenly books. However, if you find your way, you can pay the rent from writing books.
It is well known that most writers do not like to, or let me be more precise, hate to answer the question about how much of what is in a novel and its characters is autobiographical. However, those who know you and your biography, will probably ask you that after reading “Paučina” (“Cobwebs”). How important was your personal experience for the creation of “Paučina”?
Bukowski said this somewhere: “A lot of despair, displeasure and disappointment is required in order to write a few good poems. It’s not for everyone, whether it be to write them or even read them.” “Paučina” is full of traumas and idiosyncrasies that I was trying to deal with somehow. First and foremost, the traumas of war and being an orphan. Then, the trauma of post-Dayton Bosnia. “Personal experience” is a very “ramified” syntagm, which can represent concrete events, but also the misery of human intimacy. The crucial issue is how respectfully you approach that personal experience, your ghosts and adventures. Of course, there are also those writers who you wish you could call and ask whether anything ever happened to them.
A few critical reviews are already out there. We will not be saying much if we say that a critic is always in a better position that the writer. Still, how do you see the critiques and reactions to “Paučina” so far?
Publishing any kind of book is a courageous act, because you expose yourself to the public. When it comes to critics, the “stripping” is even more noticeable. He/she, unlike the writer, has to give an opinion. He/she shows whether or not they know how to read. Is he/she corrupt or independent? Is he/she under the influence of ideology or are they independent? A critic, unlike a writer, is classified. What can you say about a critic who calls pap a masterpiece? Or one that doesn’t recognize a good author? There’s no such thing as objective, impartial reading. We always approach things with prejudice, as Gadamer noticed, in the sense that the word “prejudice” doesn’t have a negative meaning. I’m happy with the attention “Paučina” has received, especially as the publisher didn’t put any special effort into its promotion. There are always malicious readers, you can’t escape that. For me, the most important judgment came from my friend Husein Hasković.
We can read “Paučina” as a kind of critical reflection of our own (Bosniak, Sarajevan etc.) culture and everyday life. How much do we lack self-reflection, as expressed through literature?
A lot of favorite Bosniak themes, such as the mother, shahid (martyr), madrasa, Eid, the homeland, Ramadan, čaršija etc. are deconstructed in “Paučina”. To be precise, the attitude of this quasi-elitist culture towards the listed themes is deconstructed. Let’s start from the beginning. A Bosniak mother had to compensate for the lack of authority in the family after her husband was killed and she was objectively forced to transform into the scary Father figure. The orphan not only loses the father, but also the mother, whom heA lot of favorite Bosniak themes, such as the mother, shahid (martyr), madrasa, Eid, the homeland, Ramadan, čaršija etc. are deconstructed in “Paučina”. To be precise, the attitude of this quasi-elitist culture towards the listed themes is deconstructed would seek out refuge with, when the “real” father was alive. That hybrid is grotesque, because the mother can never be the father. Another vast theme: the shahid (martyr). Did he give his life away too easily, should he have thought about the children? Did he exchange his Paradise with the worldly Hell of his family? He went to be meet with the houri, and left the children purple from shame. Not only does an orphan not enjoy the patriotic decorum of Eid, he/she literally hates Eid celebrations, as that is the time when the fact that his/her family is broken comes to prominence. That brokenness is more painful, because during Eid celebrations everyone shows off their sovereign and independent family unity. There’s no self-pity there, no lamentation. On the contrary. It’s a completely sober, calm way of coping. In the meantime, the orphans grow up and become wolves towards each other in post-Dayton Bosnia, even though their fathers died for the same cause. In that sense, “Paučina” is a torturous book. Those who moralize about this topic, I can only ask: “Wise guy, was anyone killed in your family?”
If we follow the development from “Penelopin vez” (“Penelope’s embroidery”) to “Paučina”, a few elements remain the same: geographically, the čaršija and madrasa significantly define both books, Islam (the “local” way) is a cultural thread, and sarcasm is often present. Do people resent you for this sarcasm, which can sometimes be like a blade which dissects the diseased tissue of the society we live in?
The main character in “Paučina” is writing a book, which in its draft form is called “Tautology”. He thinks that the čaršija reality doesn’t need additional irony, it should just be shown as it is. It is parodic on its own. Tautology is a critique, and an irony, and a caricature, and a satire at the same time, which Lyotard called “the genre of all genres”, and a parody, which Nabokov described as “the last sanctuary of the soul”. In “Penelopin vez”, I wrote about Gazi Husrev Bey’s Madrasa as a privileged meta-narrative of the Bosniak people, by trying to rotate it towards little stories about softas, those who come last in a monumental hierarchy. In “Paučina”, everything is shown more radically, with a similar goal of deconstructing. What is important both in “Penelopin vez” and “Paučina” is the insider position, which guarantees credibility. Therefore, it’s not some commissioned critique, but a confrontation of our very own delusions.
You have written about the relations between literature and genocide and about how as a nation we have not produced literature which talks about genocide in a serious way. What do you think is the reason for this and is anything changing lately?
I recently came upon a text by Hasan Kikić about Bosniak poets from the Ottoman period. In his opinion, apart from Kaimija, Ilhamija and a few other non-panegyric poets, there’s not much to find there. All those mighty pious poets were just plagiarists or henchmen. Piety without conflict is hypocritical and conformist, a pose. The disproportion between pious and social themes in Bosniak literature is astounding. It’s not normal to write about birds from Paradise in a concentration camp. After genocide, every topic has to be viewed exclusively in a political context, as the Polish poet Zagajewski wrote: “I can write about a bird only if it’s in a cage.” The other thing is how we write about these topics! Are we slaves to matrices, are we credible, do we shift to the subject matter and, finally, do these topics serve for our self-promotion?
In the book “Politička geografija Hamida Dabashija” (“The political geography of Hamid Dabashi”) you introduced this Iranian-American scholar to the B&H public. In the introduction, you said Dabashi was an outcast from American society in the same way as Said and Chomsky. Why is our public much better informed about Said and Chomsky than about Dabashi?
I don’t exactly know how to answer that question. Said and Chomsky are older and more popular authors than Dabashi. However, Dabashi equally criticizes the official policies of the U.S. as well as the Islamic Republic of Iran, so there’s probably no money to be found for him in funds. Dabashi is indeed an outcast, because he has no link with any particular power center. In opposition to outcasts, there are informants among Muslim intellectuals who write against Islam and Muslims in cooperation with those exact centers. It’s interesting that Dabashi indicates that Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr is an informant who is in charge of inciting conflict in the Sunni and Shiite matrix. I recently read an interview with him in your newspaper.
Oznake: Samedin Kadić