“Democracy is a journey, not a destination”—Interview with Marko Vignjević
To mark the launch of absurdist political novella Shezlez the Self-Proclaimed, we did a short interview with author Marko Vignjević. Based in Belgrade, Marko began writing poetry while in high school and graduated to fiction in 2005. In 2011, he began to write in English and translated two of his books into English which went on to be published. His first Serbian-language novel, Father’s Milk (Očevo mleko), is the winner of the 2017 Arete's Book Contest of the Year and was praised as a modern classic of Serbian literature.
Credit: Igor Stanojević
Ethos: Your novel Father’s Milk (Očevo mleko), was your first published Serbian work. How is writing in Serbian different from writing in English?
Marko: There’s a big difference between the two languages. Serbian is a phonetic, while English is an analytical language. It’s much easier for me to write in Serbian seeing how that’s my mother tongue. This is just proof that literature isn’t an art form; I’ve learned this from personal experience. That is why we always say “arts and literature”.
Ethos: That’s a big statement, Marko. In one interpretation, it could read that you see literature as distinct from other forms of art? Could you elaborate on what you mean by “literature isn’t an art form”?
Marko: Other art forms exist independently from translation, while literature depends on it. Other writers might have a different view of this, but one good example is Dostoyevsky’s comment on Anna Karenina “This isn’t a novel; it’s a work of art.” This simply goes to show that the old masters made a distinction between the arts and literature. In conclusion, I can only speak for myself, and I don’t write about my alter-ego, I write with my alter-ego.
Ethos: It’s interesting you say that, because in Shezlez, its eponymous protagonist has to navigate the political and a growing persona against his ideals as well. Who or what are your writing influences that help bring your own work to life?
Marko: One of my favourite writers is John Dos Passos. I very much enjoyed his works Manhattan Transfer, and Mid-Century. Besides the classics, I also enjoyed Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red which I think is the greatest non-linear novel written at the end of the last century.
Ethos: Is there a Serbian work which you think should be translated and more widely read?
Marko: Svetislav Basara’s Fama o biciklistima.*
Ethos: What’s the novel about and why so?
Marko: This particular novel is a contemporary look at society through the eyes of a minority, in other words, through a secret society of bicyclers and their supporters. Basara masterfully depicts the entire history of the bicycle and its fans through a contemporary myth about the mindset of the bicycler.
Ethos: Sounds like something right up our alley, thank you for the recommendation! Apart from living life and reading all these books, our impression is that you produce a lot of writing output—is writing an obsession for you?
Marko: Not in particular. When I begin writing a book I write every day until I finish it. I think of writing as a job just like any other.
Ethos: What sort of conditions are ideal for your writing process then? Do you discipline yourself to write a quota of words each day, for example?
Marko: I don’t require perfect conditions for writing. I don’t mind the street noise or anything of that sort. When I began writing, I wrote three pages a day when working on a title, but now, as I’ve matured as a writer, I write more if possible.
Ethos: Lastly, what is something you would like readers of Shezlez to take back?
Marko: Democracy is a journey, not a destination. Don’t get too involved in politics because it will swallow you whole. Try to make your own, independent way through life.
Get your copy of Shezlez the Self-Proclaimed here.
*Editor’s note: Svetislav Basara’s “Fama o biciklistima” has been translated into English as The Cyclist Conspiracy (and it’s got a really compelling premise!).