Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Reading Danilo Kis, The Encyclopaedia of the Dead, always a sliver away from understanding where he's coming from. Or understanding only too well but no longer wanting to be there.

Yet in certain moods or on wet days or before I go to sleep in an unfamiliar hotel bedroom, an encyclopaedia of the dead can be just what I need: a mass of episode against a backdrop of persistent and troubling strangeness. The particularity of a story sitting side by each with its nemesis, the writer.

I'd like to read his diary. The nearest we get is a list in an interview from 1986, 3 years before his death.
My first sensory impressions of childhood go back to Novi Sad, which is located a hundred or so kilometres south of Subotica, on the Danube. Smells, tastes, colours. The smell of chestnut blossoms, of roses in a vast, of camomile, machine oil in the sewing machine, my father's cigarettes, cologne on my mother's neck, clean sheets, urine, the sailcloth on the table, coffee, soap, spices, the leather sweat band on my father's hat, cab seats, railways stations, pharmacies, an empty first-class compartment, the strap that opens the compartment window, a leather suitcase. The taste of cod-liver oil, of honey, of cafĂ© au lait, of cinnamon, wooden crayons, paste, ink, paper, rubber, candy, blood from my finger, tincture of iodine, tears, cough medicine. Colours: the dark green on one side of chestnut leaves and the light green on the other….
Novi Sad was raided in January 1942, when Danilo Kis was 7. Shots sounded under his window. Jews and other unwanted elements were rounded up onto the frozen Danube and shots fired into the ice until it broke and the unwanted elements drowned in the icy water.

No wonder he prefers to speak in images. No wonder he says he spent his whole life preparing to be a poet.

Makes me think I'm only as far away from understanding Danilo Kis as he was himself.

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