Aleksandar Prokopiev, born in 1953 in Skopje, is one of he most well-known Macedonian writers. He graduated in 1977 at the University of Belgrade Faculty of Philology, General and Comparative literature department, and finished postgraduate education in 1982 also in Belgrade and in Sorbonne, France. He worked in several domestic and foreign magazines, for example as a member of the editorial board of Orient Express (Oxford, UK) and World Haiku (Kyoto, Japan) and wrote books of fiction, poems, essays, screenplays for film, theatre, TV shows, radio dramas and comic books. His works are translated in English, French, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak and other languages. Alexandar Prokopiev is one of the founding members of Academia Balkanica Europeana.
The writer and the governing structures. Freedom and fear. Unlike the conspicuous, openly or clandestinely, vanity surplus common for them, the writers are different human beings, and therefore in their relation toward the authorities they use a range of tactics, nuances, meandering. Yet, despite all obvious mistakes and roughness typical of generalizations, we can distinguish between three main types of behavior between the writer and the governing structures. I have named them as: Chronysteric, Tribune, Clown. Without great difficulties, these three types of roles and behaviors that the writer exhibits towards the governing structures may also be noticed in Macedonian literature, and I myself have been inspired by them in some of my past stories and anti-guidelines.
The term chronysteric is borrowed from the compound-subtitle of the novel “Dannunziad” – Chronysteria – by the Croatian prose writer Viktor Car Emin, inspired by the story of the Italian Regency of Carnaro set up by Gabriele D’Annunzio, that strange short-lived polis (1919-21). During my recent visit to Rijeka, at the writers festival vRIsak, I was going out for a smoke and for a talk on the terrace of the magnificent Governor’s Palace, where D’Annunzio had held his impassioned speeches, those repetitive, but for the audience of that time probably the only, manifestations of local grandiosity, while afterwards, behind the Palace, in his private residence, he organized with his loyal brigadiers, shameless orgies. It should not be forgotten that D’Annunzio was one of the most famous lovers of his time (who, just like Caesar and Picasso, sustained the myth of the potent bald men) – in fact, the erotic hyperactivity is sometimes vitally connected to political ambition – we can point out the example of the Kennedys.
Except as a compound of “chronicle” and “hysteria”, the term “hronysteria” (or Emin’s original “Chronysteria”) can include Chronos, the swallower of his own children and the merciless god of time, Saturn in the Roman and astrological version. In the newly coined term by Emin, the mythological and the historical are intertwined: in the hysterical times, the “children” – products of such times, are often swallowed “overnight”.
D’Annunzio in military trance, commanding his brigades, at first somewhat resembles the author of the subtle verses of Alcyone or the decadent-erotic researcher in “Pleasure” and “Innocent”, although the Dionysian ecstasy of Nietzsche’s superman among his followers, which include D’Annunzio, may also be expressed (in some quasi-power of life over reason) as fascist-adventurous product.
How is it, I wonder, that the passionate lover and decadent got carried away or plummeted (depending on the point of view) into a military commander and radical spokesperson of the crowd? In the case of D’Annunzio the aristocratic decadence and fascist rhetoric merged. Seemingly extremist, such transformation is not so rare among writers, although the starting social position of the chronysteric can be very different, from a vagabond to a wealthy gentleman. Hamsun, Ezra Pound, Mayakovsky, and many others are examples of great writers who put their literary authority in the service of either fascism or communism.
Such obvious examples of a writer-chronysteric are also frequent in the dim, chaotic Balkan reality. The Balkan chronysteric allows himself an increased dose of violence in his/her statements; the roughness and insults in his speech resemble those encountered in the speech of the most fervent party representatives. Sometimes we are surprised at how a lyrical, even gentle poet can use speech so filled with curses and insults. One of the most noble human emotions, patriotism, is twisted into xenophobia, from constant tension and anxiety to hatred towards people with different opinions, towards the outsider. Putting him/herself in the “service of people”, the writer gives up not only his immanent “service” to literature, but also narrows down, cripples the truth. One of the signs of that depletion is the hyperbolization of the genres that include historicity and modernity – from the (pseudo)historical novels to, especially, columns. Faced with decreasing interest for books, the writer-chronysteric becomes a voluntary victim of time, turns from a creator to, not so much manipulator, as the one who is manipulated.
Unlike the Chronysteric, the Tribune has a longer-lasting, better established influence on the public, sometimes for life, sometimes even after his death. Instead of anxiety – dignity. Instead of overreaction – wisdom. The tribune is necessary for any national literature, for any national culture. Not only for the small ones, but also for the big ones, the ones who are proud of their rich and long tradition. Goethe, Hugo, Tolstoy… what power they had on their contemporaries, not only social and moral, but also a natural, intrinsic power that makes them figures of extraordinary importance.
Although I used to think that the tribunes in literature are typical of some former times, when important phases of consciousness and awareness of the nation were being transcended, it seems that even in this chaotic, confusing, porous world, the tribune still feels capable of acting, accepting and playing the role (duty) that compels. For this, he is adequately awarded as academic, honorable citizen, respected representative of his nation.
The establishing of the tribune requires corresponding audience, corresponding space. His/her power feeds on what is great: important ideas, generally accepted wisdom. In accordance with the etymological root (tribus=tribe), the tribune undertakes the function of protector and advisor of the plebs. The tribune sets as a task to incite as many readers (listeners) as possible, so his topics are grand, important, supported with oratory skills. It can’t be denied that he has certain political influence, although officially he builds his image above party interests. Aware of his/her exceptionality, he/she announces his/her attitude on important dilemmas in society, and knows that such personal investment has adequate reception.
The relations of the tribune with politics and authorities are intertwined with numerous visible, and even more invisible, threads because, on the one hand, he remembers and uses the past, but, also, carefully enough, acts in the present.
Macedonian literature and culture needs a tribune. Racin, because of his tragic destiny, remained a “tribune in the making”. Koneski had the tribune’s persuasiveness and wisdom, although his thought had the nuance of a moderately pessimistic tone of an introvert. Gane Todorovski acted as a recognized mage, with masterly rhetoric, and his patriotic (social) awareness was filled with an interesting, essentially experimenting habit. Racin, Koneski, Todoroski. How different, even contrary in their human natures, but I can’t help connecting them with the role that was given to them (and accepted) – to be tribunes! Their literary output will inspire further interpretations for a long time, and their tribunal place in Macedonian culture, despite all possible rebuttal, is secured.
It is interesting that in regard to gender distribution, especially on the Balkans, there is still a strong patriarchal logic among the tribunes, among the chronysterics there are a few women writers, while among the clowns there is equal distribution of men and women.
It is understandable that the role of the tribune in the cultural identity of his/her nation is exceptional. However, in regard to literature and art, there are some more universal, more comprehensive norms in these areas, in which we can see the spirit of the time, but which aesthetically fill the spirit of the timeless, surpassing the moment when the work was created. Hidden behind the shadow of the Tribune, the other less visible, less audible, more concealed writers write (only one can be a Tribune!). The undoubted advantage of the Tribune is that in “his time” and “his place”, he can reach a wider circle of readers, and in that sense, be (more) truthful and (more) relevant for the present. The writer who creates “in the shadow”, on the other hand, can cause sympathy or empathy in the reader who is his contemporary, but will never reach the national importance gained by the tribune. However, for literature itself it is significant that alongside Goethe, there is Hölderlin, alongside Hugo – Baudelaire, alongside Tolstoy – Chekhov… that alongside the tribune is the marginal writer, the inadequate, the outsider who also creates masterpieces!
In this case, I struggled with the terminology. The clown is linked to the circus, he/she makes people laugh, but also makes them think, and, additionally, the film mages, such as Chaplin, Tati, Woody Allen, Benigni…, through characters with clownish characteristics and a clownish relation toward the world, convey, to millions of viewers, their joyful excitement and human resistance.
Still, although sometimes he/she resembles a court jester or a comedian, the clown must not be confused with either of them. The court jester has his ruler, master, and is obliged, despite all bold jokes, to obey him. The comedian, on the other hand, wastes his charm effortlessly with the purpose of making people laugh. The clown has greater ambitions for his own success, especially if he is a writer.
The clown-writers mimicries, and therefore sometimes will have to tolerate being considered unserious, immature, false, gossiped, mocked.
The clown is not dignified, honored and famed as the tribune, nor supported, liked and paid (occasionally, depending on who is in the government) like the chronysteric, and probably, with his/her inconstant place in the national literary pyramid, is exposed to changeable moods and uncertainties. In genre terms, this may mean that he is prone to hybridization and experimentation in writing, and depending on his talent, may be before his time. If the clown is a talented writer, he will be able to spontaneously throw in a few traces of humor even when he writes of difficult, sad experiences.
About thirty five years ago, I tried, in the micro-fiction “Comedian” to encourage the clown within me:
He put on the clown face and went around the world.
The tyrants considered him a jester. Yet, for a long time he has been returning the unseen smile even to the fiercest.
The shy ones dance with him, so although it may seem foolish, they do not feel any shame afterwards.
Disheveled, careless, he encourages the cowards in the dusty taverns to offend him. While they laugh at him, wondering where such laugh came from, he already rushes to the next city.
Sometimes, night descends as he walks on the road. There, between the grass and the stars, he takes out his mask. Slowly, as a lover he touches his face with his hand.
In order not to lose track of himself.
Today this text seems to me as honest, naive confession of a young man, but already harmed in the disputes with politics, who wants to secure himself from more serious harm.
Now I know, however, that the path of the clown-writer is significantly more exhausting. He doesn’t have the strength of the polemic instinct and heresy that the Chronysteric does. He doesn’t have the monolithic and classical wisdom of the Tribune. Unlike all the shades in the Tribune and the Chronysteric, the subtypes in the Clown have a wider scope than the Joker to the Comedian, which means that sometimes they may not recognize each other. And the clown prose writer turns into a marginal figure that has lost the compass.
How will each of these three types of writers who does not support or openly defying the governing policy be accepted? The chronysteric will quickly be transferred from the list of the privileged to the black list.
The tribune, we said, is experienced, skilled long-term player, and can measure and analyze politics.
And the clown? He has already gotten used to them.