Croatian Bestseller author Robert Perisic talks about the possibility of a European experience. I met him on skype smoking one cigarette after another in a kitchen you could name anything else but cosy. Right now he is doing a residency program in Macedonia having just recently published his new novel “Area without signal”. That was about two weeks ago. One could think that his nerves are quite frayed after the stress. But on the contrary, it turned out that Robert was very relaxed as we were talking about the European literary scene. Like taking a side trip on an unexpected day off we were walking and thinking while staking out space to think, dwelling in ideas and also trudging through the mud of looking for a definition. Arriba, folks, put your shoes on! What can European literature mean?
What do you have in mind when you hear of CROWD. What is your interest in the project?
Robert Perisic: I know a few things about the project. That is the bus travel going across Europe for example.
Oh yeah, it travels from Finland to Cyprus.
Robert Perisic: I see. I’ve been already told about the project. But for your question, to me it seems that CROWD is more a framework than an institution which could connect all the individual institutions which are now dissociated in Europe.
What do you have in mind when you hear the words “literary activist”?
Robert Perisic: Oh, actually it was Moritz who told me first about the syntagma “literary activist”. I imagine that it is someone who produces something new, something original or someone who tries to promote literature and change the literary scene . It could also be about establishing an influential and solid network to be able to seize it, something like you are trying with the CROWD project I guess . So to summarize I could say that a literary activist is a person who is enthusiastic for creating something new.
There is also the term avant-garde being based on the idea of newness, of being original.
Robert Perisic: [pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]When we talk about European literature you could imagine that there are certain themes and motives which are interesting beyond the borders of a specific country.[/pullquote]
Yes, that is true, you could connect these notions. Besides avant-garde being a concept which also has historical roots, it is at the same time connected to an abstract idea. A literary activist could be someone who breaks through borders of mainstream or horizons of expectations. If you look at miserable situations of cultural production, for example in the provinces, or when a system of funding is poor , there is a need for an enthusiasm to keep literary scenes alive . In Macedonia, for example , the market is not working very well. Publishers in Macedonia can sell maybe a few hundred copies of an edition and as a result a lot of small publishers don’t have the chance to become bigger. What I want to point out, however, is that they are some kind of activists because they are doing a job which doesn’t have a commercial perspective in the sense of earning profits.
You wrote the novel “Our man in Iraq” which deals with political issues in a satirical manner. From the standpoint as an author, do you think literary activism is also connected to taking political influence via novels?
Robert Perisic: When I start writing I have a certain literary criterium in mind, and I am trying to find a way to a story with a kind of energy which keeps my texts alive . But I don’t like to define my work too much by myself. I am very much interested in paradoxes of reality , from the intimate and individual to the social level, and things which have a deep impact to our lifes . That is what I would include in my works.
CRY OUT FOR CROWD is a series produced to show the variety of literary activists across Europe from different regions and cultures. Being a literary activist can mean a lot of things from being a translator, an editor, a publisher and/or an author but also an organizer or even a programmer. It aims at introducing new forms of disseminating literature so if you have anything to add or anything you want to say please write to CROWD. If you like the idea you can easily join CROWD. Let’s spread the wor(l)ds.
Your home country Croatia just recently joined the EU which in turn is by now pretty much acknowledged as a single economic unit. On the other hand – on a cultural level – the countries of the EU differ a lot. I am wondering, if you hear the term “European literature” – what are you thinking?
Robert Perisic: To begin with, literature should be universal. It is supposed to cross borders. If that is what literature can enable, we could succeed in bringing people of different social and cultural background together who can understand the novel and be able to apply to the literary work. It is also an understanding of other uses of languages which still express and adapt a common experience of life. What is literature for? A function of literature is to communicate with distant people. We can read and understand literature even though it’s been written 500 years ago. We can communicate through time and through space.
So would you agree on stating that there is no such a thing as a common literature but a common experience expressed in a novel? Actually I too feel that the literary scenes in Europe are very different. Of course there is literature in different languages like Croatian, Spanish or German. Yet you can treat “European literature” as a roof term for all these different literature scenes. But except for embracing the notion of Europe as a spatial category it leaves the concept of a “European literature” rather empty.
Robert Perisic: For me there is good literature and bad literature. When we talk about European literature you could imagine that there are certain themes and motives which are interesting beyond the borders of a specific country. For example , in my new novel there is a remote small town devastated by deindustrialization , unemployment and stuff. On another level of the story there are people working globally in a flow of money. In a novel you could connect all this different layers and realities. Connect something very local with something very global. And maybe that story could have been set in some others parts of Europe, because it features problems about contemporary society, work, family, being forgotten, being away of the center of power, and this applies to different parts of Europe. Maybe this could be something in which is a European level.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]But I don’t like to define my work too much by myself.[/pullquote]
But labelling my work is fortunately not up to me. It is for a critic to decide on that, less for a writer. But anyway, you can say, that nowadays processes in Europe are more connected than in the past and also people who can be a literary subject can perhaps be more comparable and closer to each other. There are after all same economic policies. There is a superordinate framework which has an impact on society from Greece to Germany, from Bulgaria to UK. A social story can connect all this different areas and people easier than before because it is the same system and borders are not what they used to be anymore. European literature can mean a lot of things. It cannot be defined by language and we will always have national literature concepts defined by language, but the fact is that now we have much more topics which are common. I don’t use this term a lot, but anyway – since the market is united, I would like to see more translations. Especially from so called “small languages”. That would be the best possible meaning of the European literature in praxis.
You established the platform “Kriticna masa / Critical Mass / Kritische Masse”. Can you tell me about the recent activities of website?
Robert Perisic: Oh, yes, it is a trilingual platform to promote Croati an literature in English and German. It is for people who are interested in Croatian literature as well as professionals like editors or publishers. You can also contact Croatian authors there. I understand it as a window to look into Croation literature. We will make this site wider and already we have also other translations.
Bio: Robert Perisic
Robert Perisic was born in Split, Croatia in 1969 before moving to Zagreb to study literature . He has been a journalist, an editor and a critic before abandoning this career to focus completely on literature activities. He is the author of the 2007 best-seller in Croatia “Our man in Iraq” which was translated into nine languages (English edition at Istros Books (UK) and Black Balloon Publishing (USA)) and won the prestigious literature prize from the Croatian magazine Jutarnji list for best prose of the year and the prize of the Steiermärkischen Sparkasse 2011 for the German translation. Among his publications are also collections of poems and plays. Just recently he has published a new novel “Područje bez signala“ (2015; „Area without signal“) in Croatia. Besides of that he is organizing the literature festival LitLink which will take place in late August focusing this year on new French voices.