Goce Smilevski


Goce Smilevski (1975) is een van de grote jonge namen uit de Macedonische literatuur. Hij is criticus en de auteur van toneel, essays en drie romans. Zijn werk is beschikbaar in vijftien talen, en zijn recentste roman  (De zus van Freud) verscheen bij Uitgeverij Ambo/Anthos in Nederlandse vertaling in het voorjaar 2012. Voor die roman ontving Smilevski in 2010 een European Union Prize for Fiction. Op 6 juni ontmoet hij het publiek in Passa Porta. Zijn vorige roman, in het Engels vertaald als Conversation with Spinoza (Northwestern UP, 2006), en Smilevski's eigen toneelbewerking van dat boek leverden de schrijver beide prestigieuze prijzen op in eigen land.



(Erasmus of Rotterdam writes a letter to Thomas More)

My dear friend, learned More,

This may sound as a statement of a folly, but actually it is a simple fact: four hundred and seventy six years after my death I got the opportunity to visit the Earth again. I guess that you are confused, if not worryed, by my disappearance, and I wish I could really deliver to you these words; but anyway - I will be back soon.

Although it was a long time ago, I am sure that you remember - our favourite game for many decades after our passing from earthly to heavenly world was to meet with the newcomers from the cities we have known, and to ask them how those cities have changed, and what remained the same. We were asking as if we were interrogating, and we were listening carefully to the answers, and later we were trying to imagine those cities, we were happy to hear of the spots that remained the same as they were in the time when we have experienced them, we were sad to learn that some houses, some buildings, some churches and taverns and squares, have disappeared by nature's or by man's will. And later, after a century or so, we gave up that game, we could not play it, as the changes of the cities we have once known became so significant, that we could not imagine them. Now, I have the opportunity to witness myself those changes. The opportunities are advantages that bring some problems too, and in this case it was the problem of choosing - I had to choose only one city that I could visit. I could choose any of the cities where I have lived, I could go to Rotterdam, the place of my birth and early childhood, or to Basel, the place of my final years and death. I could choose Paris, where I studied theology, or London, where in your house you and I, my dear friend, have spent so lovely hours in conversations, and where I wrote "The Praise of Folly". Or Padua, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Rome... But of all the cities in which I lived, I have chosen Brussels, the city you have never seen, and I guess that you may wonder why do I prefer this city to the others, why have I decided to spent my short time on the Earth here, and not elsewhere. I think that from the following rows you can understand my choice, and I can state only this: I have chosen Brussels simply because it is Brussels.

It was Brussels where I have met Albrecht Dürer, and he sketched me here for a portrait. While he was making the sketch for the engraving, I was looking at the painting he has finished before, titled "Avarice". It was one of those vanitas paintings that symbolically represent the transient nature of material world. Oh, how defeately this painting represented the words from the Bible: Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas, Utterly meaningless, Everything is meaningless! An old woman with wrinkled face, with decaying teeth, with sagging breasts, holds with her hands a bag full of golden coins.

I know I should not think of that remembrance now, I should not think of any remembrances at the moment, instead I should experience the city, which I do, actually: I walk down the streets, I seat in the parks, I spent time in cafés pretending being deep drown in my thoughts, but actually carefully listening to the conversations on the next tables. Everything is so changed, so different, and, my dear friend, if everything changes, isn't everything meaningless, vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas? I would not agree. There are so many fascinating buildings built in the past five centuries, since I saw Brussels for the last time! And the citizens are as lively as the citizens in the time I was one of them, although in a different way.

I was really happy to hear that the house of Pieter Bruegel, who told us some of the liveliest stories about Brussels, as he came to live in the city few decades after my death, is now a museum. I have asked of its address, and I walked to Hoogstraat No. 132. The house was closed, there was a broken window and a spider web abound the door-handle. Forgotten and neglected. With a plate on it, saying that Pieter Bruegel the Elder lived and died in that house at the year 1569. Thinking of how should I explain that to Pieter once I return to our eternal home, I went to the Reebokstraat, where Pieter, as he was telling us, enjoyed the taverns. And certainly, there are at least two that remained there since his time! But, on the opposite side of the street, the old buildings have been smashed, and there is a grey building with shops plus filling station with fuel dispensers.

I will explain to you what is fuel dispenser and what is gasoline, diesel and kerosene, when we will meet again; and now let me told you what I was told by some of the citizens of Brussels. The city undergoes changes that seems drastic in the past half century. The citizens showed me examples, and one can see - most of what was built in the past fifty years, looks as it does not belongs to this city and as it does not belongs to its citizens, although it is super functional, usually. But cities (and life) are not only about being practical and functional. I have thought that city (as well as life) is built upon a spirit, no matter that a matter is needed for building of it. And these new buildings, deprived of spirit, are built on the spots where were standing old ones, houses that carried spirit for centuries. I know, this buildings are functional and practical, although, I believe, they are that today, and the citizens of tomorrow may find then not adequate even for practical things, and may do not know what to do with them. All this reminds me of what have told us that newcomer (he relocated to our world only some six decades ago), the writer Hermann Broch - that beginning with "his century", the XXth, the century of his youth, for the first time the architecture brings in the human being the feelings of disgust, uncomfortable and inner struggle.

After these conversations with some of the citizens of Brussels, I walk down the streets, and I notice that every here and there something is smashed, on the place of a old building grows a new one, one the spot on which are several old ones grows one big building, or some old is kindly restored but in a (as they say) modern way, and I feel almost physical pain looking at the changes. The city disappears unnoticingly, little spot by little. Spot by spot, the past will be gone, and what will remain would be buildings that are quite functional, but is the function all we need to care about, and should we forget that the function disappears with one time? As we don't pass only blood to the future generations, but we also pass the spirit, the same should be with the city - we should pass to the future generations the spirit of the city, and not only the building material. And I am afraid, my dear friend, that spot by spot, little by little, the spirit may disappear. And then the city may remain like that woman on the painting of Dürer, with many golden coins in her hands, but: Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas, Utterly meaningless, Everything is meaningless! I don't want it to happen to the city, I wish it keeps the beauty and the spirit it has.

I know that you would expect this letter to be written in the ironic tone of "The Praise of Folly". But it is written with the emotional (or you may add: pathetic) tone of another works of mine, such is for example, "The Complaint of Peace". I would not name this letter "The Complaint of European Citizen", I would call it "In praise of a city". A city that has to be saved. I know I should not write this letter to you, my dear friend, as I cannot send it to you anyway, and I will tell you all this once I got back to our eternal home. But I don't know to whom should I address a letter about saving the spirit of Brussels, I guess to those that have a power to do something, if they care about the city. To the royal family, to the members of the Europarlament, to the government or citygovernment? I guess they would not have time to read it, if they at least open it, they could only laugh to the funny name that signs the letter - Desiderius Erasmus - before throwing it.

See you soon, my dear friend, learned More.


Passa Porta
4.06.12 > 2.07.12

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