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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kis's grand cenotaph

I'm about to indulge in "Dogs and Books," a short story of Danilo Kis, included in A Tomb For Boris Davidovich. The eponymous Boris (Davidovich)-his story is included within the anthology-incites me to the ramifications of historical precedent, even when such precedent is built upon feathers... that is... lies. Boris reawakens me to something a professor once mentioned, that is, that Soren Kierkegaard said, purity of heart is to will one thing. When you think about Boris's struggle with Fedukin, his deceptively perspicacious interrogator, you realize how this one thing is a haven for the redeemer and the damned. What I enjoy, thus far, of Kis's work, is its ability to put you in historical frameworks, via fictional accounts of humans who, obviously, have never existed,materially. But whom, once you become inter-meshed in their stories, materially manifest, to justify the immateriality of history.

A writer can do so much within a fictional work. In Kis's case, he seems to take that damned, beserk Trojan horse Comintern (as Brodsky deemed it), and involve its riders in a race to futility. He takes the history of time, and makes it irrelevant, to the history of fiction. There's an idea presented in A Tomb For Boris Davidovich, which startled me. That is, the cenotaph. *Bear in mind I'm referring wholly to the individual story, not the anthology.*

In the story Kis brings up an ancient Greek tradition. Anyone who perished by fire, swallowed by a volcano, by lava, torn to pieces by beasts, sharks, or whose corpse was prey to vultures in the desert, any one of these individuals would have an empty tomb created on their behalf. Called a Cenotaph. For the body is only fire, water, or earth, whereas the soul is the Alpha and the Omega, "to which a shrine should be erected."

It seems to me, by having Boris's death be self-inflicted, via a furnace of fire, Kis was saying much of the revolutions and counterrevolutions we maximize historically, only to minimize rhetorically. We cannot say everything of history; all we have are annals of ancestry and anecdotal accounts. So it seems some of our greatest historians are raconteurs; Kis was seeming to hint, through his stories, that by being close to historical atrocities, they can almost be made irrelevant and even absurd, and the tellers of their "happenings," are like jesters in a court. Deciding which purview to take, to amuse, to arouse, to incite. More so, he dignifies the dangers of historicism, inventing histories with no real allusion (to the past).

What I've noted thus far from this anthology, is that all of the "historical" accounts Kis sets up for his characters are a mainstay of anecdotal reference. Anecdote and real historical events collide, to create a Colossus, upon which no one can slay and thrive, or, like the doomed Comintern, ride. Brodsky was right to call the Comintern a Trojan horse. Kis was right to make this horse susceptible to the irrelevancies of facts, and the Cenotaphs of fiction. It seems much of what we take for granted, those of us who live in countries that aren't marred by dictatorships... by Stalins... etc., is our ability to properly place those countries that are, into empty tombs. The cenotaph isn't an homage, then, but a sabotage. It takes what has faded, and deceives this fading, into an empty monument. Which is really full of legacy.

A Tomb For Boris Davidovich has me questioning much of Yugoslavian history, even as none of the characters are of Yugoslavian descent. The book has nothing to do with Yugoslavia or its internal situation. All it bears in common to Yugoslavian history is an allusion to the beserk, futile, Comintern. The riders of which, all Kis's characters, create an ideology professed "today," in the name of which they were murdered "yesterday." In the name of which the still faithful are infuriated to read.
So where do fiction and history collide?

I'd say, not in life, not in dying, but in the cenotaphs we erect to make something of our lives, our despairing, and the often unforeseen ramifications of our greatest expectations.

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