Writer today in southeast of Europe | STEFAN ÇAPALIKU
1. What does “being a writer” in Albania mean?
In the history of the Albanian thinking the first document which deals in an explicit manner with the liberty of word is “The Canon of Lekë Dukagjini”, a medieval code which was and still is practiced in the north of Albania.
“The word does not cause death” says one of the articles in the Code. The author of the Canon considers the word as a universal multi-functional tool which goes so far as to become its own opposite. The word is both the lethal weapon and the healing balm too. This diagonal which joins the edges contains one of the basic axis on which lies the art of writing in Albania.
The Canon aims at preventing the capital punishment of the one who by his own word has brought a conflict. It simply reduces the word to its immaterial essence. With the same care and attention he tries to save the word from assassination. The assassination of the word seems to him as unfair as the assassination of a human being. Through this affirmation and denial which acts like a two-bladed knife, very skilfully, there is left more space to the tolerance. The word might harm the moral integrity of the man, but it will harm in no way the physical integrity and let alone his own existence in itself.
The release of word from every physical and material function incriminates the intolerance and seeks for the word new cultural and social dimensions. It would be the same as saying that the word would rather become the object of a civil and moral code than that of a penal code. This lapidary article moves the word away from the spectrum of the capital punishment towards a more relativist and tolerant spectrum. The profanities, the offence, the calumniation, the false charges are all functions of the word which impinge and harm man and for each of them exist the respective punishments which are of course slighter than the punishment of assassination and death which the word under no circumstances cannot and should not trigger.
But the Albanian writers in the history did not feel satisfied with the idea that the matter of the word they used was of immaterial consistency, which could not select, which had no overthrowing power and which could not assassinate.
Their driving spirits, their social energy, mission and sensitivity could not be appeased by the etheric nature of the matter “word” they produced. The idea that the word was not action, made them nervous, belittled them in the eyes of the public opinion, made them feel undervalued.
Desperate and in vain, the Albanian writers tried to used the word like “a sword” as Visiente Alehandre did, like “a bomb and flag” as Majakowsky did or the beginning of everything as in the Bible.
Bit by bit they couldn’t tolerate anymore that “innocence” which the word of spirit procured because they started to feel deep down themselves the guilt complex. This in our history of writing began during the time-span between the two World Wars. Right at that time, the Albanian writers started to write heartfelt and bold words, univocal and committed words, which would come to ripe normally in the season which follows flowering.
But this period did not last long. The horde of communist lawmakers put a stop to this outburst, this newly started sprint of the Albanian writers by claiming that it was not true that the word does not cause death that the word does not kill, that the word was not immaterial but on the contrary it is made of matter stronger than the bullet. The communists deprived the writers of their privileged status of innocence and gave them in return whole years of jail, retributions and executions by the firing squads.
That’s where the Code of Leke Dukagjini ceased to exist. The Albanian communist society grabbed the opportunity of destroying from the foundations another article as important as the one already mentioned which read that: “The messenger shall be free on his route”. Considering the writer as a messenger, the communists set an ambush for him and attacked him mercilessly using all sorts of methods.
In the after ‘90-s new Albania, there occurred no return to the values of innocence which had been introduced by the Canon. In the course of this long and tiresome post-communist transition, the obstacles that hinder the progress of the messenger on his route are diverse. However, it seems that the most successful methods used nowadays are: The economic censure and compromise with politics. These two might be even ranked as the successes of the Albanian politics or one of its most accomplished missions.
So it seems that the destiny of the “messenger” has been only the transition from political censure to economic censure, while the effort to compromise the writers politically continues even on more unbridled rhythms.
Under these circumstances the development of contemporary sensitivety to the Albanian artists has highlighted the possibility of establishing a new type of artistic work which being aware of the diversity of “readings” it will undergo, is provided as a stimulus of the free interpretation of the Albanian and universal life being guided only by its most important elements.
To reflect through your own art these interests, concerns, problems or megathemes of the time you live at, has been and still is the challenge of every contemporary Albanian writer.
2. What does being a Balkan writer mean?
When talking about our peninsula, which in addition to a geographical notion has long ago started to be considered as a political notion, one has to keep in mind the period after the overthrow of communism, which is the period after ’90-s.
In the spectrum of the Balkan post-communist literature three categories of writers are delineated from the social point of view:
- Balkan artists during communist regime who have continued and still continue their biological existence in the new epoch.
- The artists who started writing and creating after ’90-s.
- The artists who wrote clandestinely in the past. But it is worth saying that the number of dissident writers or those who kept writing “drawer” literature were very few or rare in number.
The writers of the first category tried in vain to wear their muses in new outfits. The newly clad muse looked like a carnival. These writers kept playing with the argument of the cultural and natural identity. They evoked the collective sentiments cultivated by dictatorship which used to protect the cultural identity of people by promoting the monologue and cultural isolation in the course of an ideological research in history. Nevertheless these writers forgot or failed on purpose to remember the fact that this long and everlasting monologue which had promoted historical and cultural values had harmed to death the contemporary values, which means that it has estranged even more the real aspect of the present day cultural identity. A handful of these writers continued using the horizon of expectations created by communism, to keep outlining the country as a closed structure, as a cave which protects them against the outside world, instead of a place you can interact with.
It has to be highlighted that only a small number of the writers of social realism managed to get converted like Saint Paul in the Bible.
The generation of artists who started their artistic activity abroad and beyond the experience of socialist realism were those favored by destiny to be born ”late ”. This group is made up of very charismatic and important characters, especially concerning the efforts for integration and international recognition.
However, I am of the opinion that it is difficult to talk about Balkan writers in terms of historical, literary or aesthetic notion, because in spite of their emancipating role, they remain an integral part of a place plunged into conflicts.
Balkan still remains an idolatric place. The squares of our cities continue to host numerous monuments of nationalist heroes. We have proclaimed as our heroes, the headsmen of the neighbouring people, and the neighbouring people has proclaimed as its own heroes, the historic or contemporary headsmen or executioner of our people. And that’s the whole issue.
But even when Balkan people created heroes of international fame and recognition, it happened that each and every country tried to claim these heroes as its own and unique.
So being between this reality and the will to be at the same time universal and local, it occurs that Balkan writers might fall victims of an empirism that I would like to explain further through an anecdote:
A friend of mine, a jesuit priest, who travels through Albania and Montenegro and who has got a profound interest in the culture of this inter-boundary region told me how one day he had visited a peasant living close to the border with Montenegro and there he was invited to stay for dinner. He had noticed the landlady cooking a sort of sausage with various sauces. He had not understood why the young lady did cut off the two edges of the sausage and had asked an explanation from her. The young lady had had no other answer to give but to say that she had learned that from her mother. One of the following days he had visited the young lady’s mother and asked her to cook some sausage. He had noticed that the second lady just like her daughter had cut off the two edges of the sausage. The priest asked her why she cut the sausage in that way. The second lady answered that she had seen her mother doing the same thing. The second lady’s mother and the grandmother of the first lady was very old and lived on the other side of the border. So the priest, one day paid a visit to the old lady on the other side of the border. He asked her to cook the same sort of sausage and noticed that she didn’t cut the extremes off. Then surprised, he had asked her why she hadn’t cut the extremes and the grandmother laughing had answered: I haven’t cut off the extremes of the sausage since the day my husband brought home a bigger frying pan.
3. What does being a contemporary writer mean?
I would like to start the third part of my speech with a quotation taken from an essay entitled ”What is contemporary?” written by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben:
“… to be contemporary is, first and foremost, a question of courage, because it means being able not only to firmly fix your gaze on the darkness of the epoch, but also to perceive in this darkness a light that, while directed toward us, infinitely distances itself from us.”
We all know that if you place a group of people in a dark room and then you ask them whether they saw anything or not, they will answer in unison “Nothing! We saw nothing! But it may happen that someone from that group would answer: “Yes I perceived something. I perceived the darkness.”
In my opinion this is the status of the contemporary writer. He is someone who gazes at the darkness of its own epoch and lives without the least hope of being able to enlighten it one day. The contemporary writer hopes simply to be a star in the sky, albeit being the potential sun; it’s incapable of shining like the sun. He simply is himself. He is incapable of creating hegemonies. He cannot be overpowering. The instant he becomes overpowering, he is ranked by the side of the classic writers.
The present day writers are like stars which we know exist even in a cloudy sky and cannot be perceived by us.
We have all witnessed how an author captivates us entirely for a certain time, and then he is followed by one author after the other till they all drag each other into our minds. On the other hand it is worth saying that in the process of being completely attracted to a powerful personality we cease being open-minded.
When we start comparing one author to another and observe that he might lack some qualities in comparison to the other or that his qualities bear no comparison to those of the others, at that point we have started to be critical. And it is the empowering of our critical attitude which protects us from being completely captivated by any artistic personality.
However, the effect of the best artists in such an epoch we are living might fade away in some people because what an artist does is not ultimately what he intends to do but only what people are capable of reading in him.