(A version of this text will be forthcoming in the LITERARY ENCYCLOPEDIA. at https://www.litencyc.com/)
Milorad Pavić, the erudite Serbian writer, university professor, literary historian, and member of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts (1991-2009), was born on 15 October 1929 in Belgrade. In his internet-based autobiographical sketch, Pavić himself declared that he was born on “the banks of one of the four rivers of Paradise, at 8:30 in the morning, under the sign of Libra (ascendant Scorpio), or, according to the Aztec horoscope, the Snake.” As fiction writer, he was virtually unknown until 1984 when Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel in 100,000 Words brought him an instant worldwide fame. Even before, he has always entertained the idea of being “a writer for two hundred years now” because, as he said, “long ago, in 1766, an ancestor Pavić published a collection of poems in Budim [Buda] and we have considered ourselves a family of writers ever since. ”Pavić received his degrees from the University of Belgrade and University of Zagreb, taught philosophy at the University of Novi Sad and at his former alma mater in Belgrade, he held classes at Sorbonne in Paris, at the University of Vienna and in Freiburg and Regensburg as well. While writing extensively, he also translated works by Pushkin, Byron, Shelley, Villon and Molière and was nominated for Nobel Prize in Literature many times. His works have been translated in more than 30 languages and are now published all over the world.
His labyrinthine, unusual world-view can be compared to that of Miguel de Cervantes, Laurence Sterne, Jorge Louis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, and B. S. Johnson. Robert Coover praised his playful, witty style when he said that Pavić “thinks the way we dream,” adding that the Serbian author makes his readers “read the way he eats: he can use his right eye as a fork, his left as a knife, and toss the bones over his shoulder.” Pavić was a prolific writer of poems, short stories, novels, dramas, literary and cultural history. His most important volumes of poetry include Palimpsesti (Palimpsests, 1967) and Mesečev kamen (Moonstone, 1971), alongside his collections of short stories: Gvozdena zavesa (The Iron Curtain, 1973), Konji svetoga Marka (The Horses of Saint Mark’s, 1976), Ruski hrt (Borzoi, 1979), Nove beogradske priče (New Belgrade Stories, 1981), Duše se kupaju poslednji put (Souls Bathe for the Last Time, 1982), Izvrnuta rukavica (The Inverted Glove, 1989), Šešir od riblje kože. Ljubavna priča (The Fish Skin Hat. A Love Story, 1996), Stakleni puž. Priče sa interneta (Snail of Glass. Short Stories for the Internet, 1998), (co-authored with Jasmina Mihajlović) Dve kotorske priče (Two Tales from Kotor, 1998), Glinena armija (China’s Underground Army, 1999), Strašne ljubavne priče, izabrane i nove (Terrifying Love Stories, Selected and New, 2001), Vrata sna i druge priče (Dream’s Door and Other Stories, 2002), Priča o travi i druge priče (Tale of Grass and Other Stories, 2002), Devet kiša i druge priče (Nine Rains and Other Stories, 2002), Carski rez i druge priče (Cezarian Section and Other Stories, 2002), Dve lepeze iz Galate―Stakleni puž i druge priče (Two Fans from Galata―The Glass Snail and Other Stories, 2003), (co-authored with Jasmina Mihajlović) Ljubavni roman u dve priče, 2004 (Love Story in Two Tales, 2004), Priča koja je ubila Emiliju Knor, 2005 (The Tale that Killed Emily Knorr, 2005), Sve priče (All Stories, 2008). Nevertheless, Pavić is probably best known for his novels that tested the limits of narrative genre, which include Hazarski rečnik. Roman-leksikon u 100.000 reči (Dictionary of the Khazars. A Lexicon Novel in 100.000 Words, 1984 and translated into English in 1988), Predeo slikan čajem. Roman za ljubitelje ukrštenih reči. (Landscape Painted with Tea or Novel for Crossword Puzzle Lovers, 1988, English translation in 1990), Unutrašnja strana vetra ili roman o Heri i Leandru (Inner Side of the Wind or a Novel of Hero and Leander, 1991 and translated into English in 1993), Poslednja ljubav u Carigradu. Priručnik za gatanje (Last Love in Constantinopole―Tarot Novel, 1994 and translated into English in 1998), Kutija za pisanje (Writing Box, 1999 and translated into English in 2012), Zvezdani plašt. Astrološki vodič za neupućene (Star Cape. An Astrologic Guide for Amateurs, 2000), Sedam smrtnih grehova (Seven Mortal Sins, 2002), Nevidljivo ogledalo ― Šareni hleb. Roman za decu i ostale (Invisible Mirror. Multicolored Bread. Novel for Children and Others, 2003), Unikat. Roman delta sa 100 krajeva (Unique Item. Delta novel with a Hundred Endings, 2004 and translated into English in 2005), Drugo telo. Pobožni roman (Second Body. A Pious Novel, 2006, with a supplemented edition published in 2008 and translated into English in 2011), Pozorište od hartije (Paper Theater, 2007), and his last publication, Veštački mladež (Artificial Mole, 2009). Pavić’s dramas include Pozorišni jelovnik zauvek i dan više (Theatre Menu for Ever and a Day, 1993 and translated into English in 2012), Dve interaktivne drame ― Krevet za troje, Stakleni puž (Two Interactive Plays: Triple Bed and The Glass Snail, 2002), and Svadba u kupatilu ― Vesela igra u sedam slika (Bathroom Wedding. Merry Play in Seven Scenes, 2005). Hi is most important works in the field literary theory and cultural history are Istorija srpske književnosti baroknog doba (History of Serbian Literature in the Age of Baroque, 1970), Vojislav Ilić i evropsko pesništvo (Vojislav Ilić and European Poetry, 1971), Gavril Stefanović Venclović (Gavril Stefanović Venclović, 1972), Vojislav Ilić, njegovo vreme i delo (Vojislav Ilić, His Times and Work, Chronicle of a Family of Poets, 1972), Jezičko pamćenje i pesnički oblik (The Memory in Language and the Poetic Form, 1976), Istorija srpske književnosti klasicizma i predromantizma (History of Serbian Literature in the Age of Classicism and Pre-Romanticism, 1979), Rađanje nove srpske književnosti (The Birth of the New Serbian Literature, 1983), Istorija, stalež i stil (History, Class and Style, 1985), Kratka istorija Beograda (A Short History of Belgrade, 1990, bilingual edition), and Roman kao država i drugi ogledi (The Novel as State and Other Essays, 2005).
The most idiosyncratic works within the entire belle lettre oeuvre of this Serbian writer comprise the trio of the encyclopedic with discrete entries entitled the Dictionary of the Khazars. A Lexicon Novel in 100.000 Words (published into female, male and androgynous versions, accordingly), the crossword-puzzle strategy of Landscape Painted with Tea or Novel for Crossword Puzzle Lovers and his penultimate self-referential novel, the Second Body. A Pious Novel. These three non-linear novels embody the essential ars poetica of Pavić and are characterized by a triple form, the presence of three religions (Christian, Jewish and Muslim) and three narrative times, all of which are knit together through enigmatic women characters that challenge their narrative roles by implicating readers into multiple cross-referential riddles and mysteries. In Dictionary of the Khazars this character is the powerful, multifaceted Khazar Princess Ateh, the ultimate symbol of her Caucasian motherland and mother tongue; she represents, among the dream-hunters of her people, the word as beginning (of all things) and the body (as the end of a world). She is, in the midst of the ninth-century Khazar polemics on religion, the last representative of a faraway civilization, like the remnant of a vanishing dream; Ateh is the only Khazar name the reader is allowed to know, therefore, the narrative can be identified as Ateh’s dictionary in this fictional reconstruction of a lost encyclopedia of an extinct empire. Similar to Ateh, Vitača Milut Petka in the Landscape Painted with Tea is another peculiar feminine figure. She is another woman of striking beautify known under multiple names; her role in this novel-shaped, unusual crossword puzzle is to involve the body of the reader into an act of love-making seamed into the virtual fabric of the novel through her glance into a water fountain. As a result, she falls in love with the reader, who can find its gender identity only at the end, if he or she wishes to do so. The reader is a key figure in all of Pavić’s narratives: its role is to open the text and to make ends meet. In his Beginning and the End of the Novel (Početak i kraj romana, 2005) Pavić describes the terms in which fiction embodies lives as narratives and has no limits in its acts of various transgressions. Each novel, he claims, “selects its specific form,” while “each story can search for, and find, its adequate body.” In the works of the Serbian writer there are as many bodies as texts. According to Pavić, the so-called second body is always already there, alongside the previous one; this second body lurks from between the lines of his penultimate novel, in which the author points to the path(s) leading to a glimpse of it. The Second Body (Drugo telo, 2008)― after a list of unusually constructed stories beginning with Dictionary of Khazars, Landscape Painted with Tea and the game-oriented Last Love on Constantinople. A Tarot Novel for Divination, accompanied by a pack of Tarot cards to help readers construct their own version(s) of the novel’s narrative ― invites readers to reflect first on its contents by getting acquainted with Vladimir Dunjić‘s painting, “Mirror,” on its cover presenting a woman’s ‘second’ face melting in her own mirror image, a symbolic invitation to self-reflection in the gusto of Pavić’s tradition of the trick novel. This trick-and-love novel is appropriately dedicated to the wife of the author, Jasmina Mihajlović, herself a writer and critic (and with whom they share the same webpage). The intellectually endowed love adventures are built on a subtle time-scheme ranging from the eighteenth through the twenty-first century in various European venues including Belgrade, Paris, Venice, and Szentendre. The key character is Elizabeth (Lisa) Amava Arzuaga Eulohia Ihar-Swift (nicknamed Imola), whose full name the reader discovers only at the end. She is the final custodian of the secret to the second, other body. The book’s protagonist is the fictional narrator-author; he stitches the plots together and slaloms among several public but mostly personal texts and, and by balancing between existence and non-existence creates a crossroad of stories that is left, at points, for the reader to end. The ‘other’ body in this novel is always a function of narrative and narrating bodies: it appears disseminated and ever shifting throughout the novel both as a textual body and a body-in-the-text, but it also does embody a third character in love triangles. In the first love story, the one between Lisa Swift (herself a Protestant character) and the author-narrator, the second body becomes visible (actually, readable) after the death of the fictional author, who then becomes an interlocutory character directly addressing the reader. Among the characters Pavić employs in his fictive world are historical persons such as Zaharije Orfelin (1726-1785) and Gavril Stefanović Venclović (both lived in the second half of the seventeenth century through the mid-eighteen century), figures of crucial importance Pavić (re)discovered while writing his history of Serbian literature. The Second Body displays not only a sage cultural background intertextualizing readers into an intricate web of narratives but also has a subtle sense of self-irony pertaining to this European region. Pavić manages to present and represent Byzantine inter-cultural dialogues that are established in and around the Balkans among Western, Central and South-Eastern European individuals with their heterogeneous cultural backgrounds through particular stories that involve various cultural or religious conflicts; he exposes the communicative strategies among these individuals through elaborate love stories with a touch of humor catalyzed by rich historical circumstances reevaluated through the prism of individual experience.
Milorad Pavić died on 30 November 2009 in Belgrade. While he was keen to eliminate the traditional beginnings and ends of his novels, he could not avoid encountering his own end he foresaw in the Second Body. As he wrote in his last poem, published posthumously as The Epilogue on his webpage, he “seized the moment/ When the spirit and body were equal”. Jasmina Mihajlović, Pavić’s main biographer, bibliographer, and editor of his collected worksis today managing “The Milorad Pavić Bequest” and their common website, the
Written by RóbertTúri
Translated by Réka M. Cristian.
Coover, Robert. “He Thinks the Way We Dream.” In Short History of a Book / Kratka istorija jedne knjige. Ed. PetruCârdu, Vršac: KOV, 1991, 188-201.
Pavić, Milorad. “Beginning and the End of the Novel.” 2005. Web: http://www.khazars.com/en/
Túri, Róbert. The Second Body. A Pious Novel. “OtheRings: Textual Bodies and Bodily Textures.” Book Review of Milorad Pavić’s DrugoTelo,” East Central Europe, 2009. April. Web: http://www.ece.ceu.hu/?q=node/145