About literature and bilingualism

Iolanda Malamen in dialogue with Ardian-Christian Kuciuk
Bucharest, September 2008

Iolanda Malamen: Ardian-Christian Kuciuk, God has given you a second literary homeland: Romania. So, as it could be said, “the sweet burden” of two languages in which you can write different things. I find that fascinating.

Ardian-Christian Kuciuk: I must say that these two homelands, in time, became more textual than literary. For me, the fascination lies more for the gift required to maintain a real equilibrium between the sweetness of the burden and burden of the sweetness.

You have reinvented yourself in a new culture. Was that, though, a trauma?

- It was more than a reinvention, it was like climbing a mountain backwards. Before writing directly in Romanian “The year in which the swan was invented” in the graceful year of 1996, for instance, I believed that I would not write in another language except Albanian, ever again. Maybe it was a trauma for the other, although my behavior had no stains of abnormality. It was the natural rise of a literary opera to the level at which you can produce global literature, along with the more local the languages that you write in become.

- How many Albanian writers, cleverly managed, could, in your opinion, have a world-wide success?

- It is impossible and somehow unnatural, to try a prognosis, especially for the Albanian literature, which contains energies that are immense, unsuspected and which are always unvalued, attacked and profaned by the literary “envydocracy”, that tries to present dementia as coherence. Those who ventured to foretell, only disturbed the waters and supported, through naivety, the strategies of the idolatrous. It is certain that those chosen to move the Albanian literature from an atheism shrouded in the so called ecumenical progress vestment, to its primordial womb, know what to do, and they will unmistakably do it. In essence, it seems to me that the international conquers problem is a mystical one, and it came as a trial-test for the soul of each and every one, it reminds me of that shocking happening that took place during the life of the great monk Paisie Aghioritul. They brought to him a child who was blind from birth; the saint placed his hands over his head and, before praying with tears, asked him: “Tell me, my dear, what do you wish that God should do for you?” What do you think he answered? “I wish to become a better child!”. And in that instant light was brought to his eyes…

- If communism had not fallen, what were your chances as a writer in Albania?

- Before coming to Bucharest, the country in which I thought I was violently divulged to me that it had been feeding and that a whole different country grew in its belly, a terrible one that moved after a set of laws and aspirations which were totally antagonistic to literature. This is how I found out that I really did not have a motherland anymore, except in the books I wrote until then, all of them unpublished. I had trained myself to live like an exiled in my own quotidian and like a demiurge in my own literature. The feeling that you have in these kinds of periods cannot be described. You feel more and more accomplished as a writer, but more and deader as a citizen. It is impossible for me to imagine what would have happened to me by the shore that stood between an intangible, but unpublished, literary country and a daily one, but ravished by transition. I would have probably continued to write in total silence and solitude, to publish only after the collapse of the biological literary clans that confuse artistic power to that of the political-economic. I dreamed of teaching literature in my home town and maybe I would have survived – taking upon myself here, all the pathetic - like the mockingbird from one of the stories I used to tell my daughter when she was little. A mockingbird forced to work by hour, as a cuckoo, carved in wood, in the clock of a museum or of a kitsch life. For a while, in Romania too, I had to do the same.

- After the nineties, do you consider that the return to royalty would have been a risky stake or, on the contrary: a benefic one?

- The imposed or embraced atheism filled immense masses of Balkans with arrogance and emptied them of common sense. The return to royalty would have meant the resurrection of ancestral values, which only God can make possible, and mortals have become inured to obey anyone, to pray and destroy amongst themselves, to desperately hope only towards the power of politics, without realizing that regality is a ritual and a quasi-religious presence, a teaching for becoming able to harmonize the soul with the divine hierarchy.

- You have a great love for the Romanian literature. What has drawn you to it?

- My love for the Romanian culture was passed over from my father, who studied in Bucharest in the sixties, also by the fact that Romania was one of the cardinal points of exile for my fellow citizens, besides America and Greece. The great Albanian writers Lasgush Poradeci and Mitrush Kuteli, had also lived, written their masterpieces and debuted in the Romania of the thirties. I would add that I had also started to read Eminescu in my first year of college, when I decided that my dad should teach me Romanian. The Philology Faculty Library was rich enough, and I had found a real shield against brainwashing: I would read in Romanian, especially in the Marxism-Leninism, socialist realism, or history of the Labour Party of Albania, classes. It was a charming Romanian, half real, half engrafted with Albanian, with bits of Thraco-Ilyrian and a lot of empathy. Maybe I will write sometime about that experience, which acquired another dimension of mystery, because the reading of some great Romanian writers, later, did not produce for me any disappointments.

- Do you ever miss, from time to time, the childhood stories?

- I have cleared my debt with the classic way of missing, sort of speak. I don’t miss essential things, because I was constrained to revive them in books, and to polish them, but not in such a way so that I would lose my connection with the superior reality. The childhood stories gave me a miracle when I was struggling, like any parent, with a child’s insomnias. I had to take all the beautiful and wise stories from the vivid memory of my grandparents, and filter them through my memory, so I could retell them in an Romanian with sprinkled with Albanian idioms, like the one from my college years, and later, when the child kept asking me for an already over-enriched story, I struggled to go back to that initial state of the story and I would “steal” details from the child’s memory in order to retrieve it.

- Look, asking all these questions has tired me. Wouldn’t you like to ask me something?

- Yes: What face does literature have for you, after all these dialogues carried out with so many writers?

- I would like with all my heart for you to re-edit you masterpiece “A glorious and dying tribe” at a prestigious publishing house and to make an appeal of this manner to the most important editors. It is the time that this exceptional epopee to see the light of printing again, in a circulation and distribution worthy for itself.

- In August 1998, after I read the first apperence of the “Tribe…”, a famous Romanian critic told me that, due to such a book, the Romanian culture should be firing its canons. The official ones actually did it, but her canons had silence instead of powder. Of course, my happiness that I was given to write the “Tribe…” plenary overcomes any praise, reward or good criticism. It was then that I understood the role of this strange relation between a certain literary value and the officials. It is something like: the diamond has been given to me, they insist not to honor me with a hand of coals. It is better to be alive and considered dead, than vice versa. From a certain point of this post vitam, the fate of this epopee has left me behind or in shadow, but, on the other hand, I didn’t want it any other way. It is enough for the avid reader to follow, in the book, the unpredictable relation of the Balkan entity with the Oriental or the Occidental, the desert games as a geographical and metaphorical space, the tools that produce and distort myths, realities – “live flesh” from which the great literature incarnates itself; the blind soldiers parabola, or that invisible study of the mechanisms that create and destroy empires (exemplified by the ottoman one) – and I consider that I finished my mission… If white holes were to exist, with the same absorption ability, but with a proliferating power instead of a mortifying one, this book is one of those holes, at least for me, because it can give birth to other books, like her “twin” Albanian “Eye”, written in 2003, and which also has three editions, this far… In the moments of profound humbleness, I find myself thinking that, even theses two books, could be too much for the life of a single writer. That is why, I had to carefully estrange myself from them, so that both “sides” could have enough life and innovation, but also because the striding for self-exceeding seems desecrating to me.

- I bow to your talent, to your verticality, to your power of being yourself in a world perverted and inappreciative in which the mimic of value is practiced like a sport

Ardian-Christian Kuciuk: I never forget that literature is not God’s avatar, but only a tool to individual redemption and of the successive leading of the community towards awakening and/or
trezvia (spiritual lucidity). Thus, it is like thinking that gymnastics is the soul of the practitioner. Without any false modesty, but in full gratitude of my own nothingness, dear Iolanda, I confess, that it is about a gift, and not personal virtues. And when you want to talk about gift, it is better to keep quiet. Maybe that is why voice also exists in its liquid form, called writing ink.

From Eastern European Messenger, 2009
In English by Mr. Valentin Boboc