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    Varlik 3 / 2009

Meliha Akay: Dear Andrej Blatnik, Turkish readers got acquainted with your book a short time ago. Before talking about your stories, I want to ask: When did your writing experience begin?

I started writing lyrics for my punk band when I was 15. But soon the story in these lyrics became too long for a three-minute song. So I reshaped some of the longer texts into short stories and published them in my high-school literary magazine where they were read by my schoolmates until, one day, my teacher thought that one of the stories I submitted was too violent for teenage readers. But, she added, she knows an editor of an important literary magazine, she showed it to him, and he is willing to publish it, along with some others, provided I have others. So I wrote some more, published them in the magazine and caught attention of the editor of ‘first book’ series published by the biggest Slovenian publishing house. He called me, asked me if I had some more stuff and added that he would be willing to publish a book of my stories if  had enough of them. I said sure and went on writing. I published my first book when I was 20 which seems to me far too early from today’s perspective. A few years later, I even bought all the remainders of my book with the intention of destroying them – I was so embarrassed by my early writing! But I never had a heart to really throw those copies away – they are still stacked somewhere deep in my bookshelves.

Meliha Akay: Are there any writers that you say “these are my writers” in the world literature or in Slovenia?

I still manage to read both for business (I work as a book editor) and pleasure so I encounter quite a few good books. They are out there, waiting for the right reader. I could hardly name just a writer’s name, since there is no single author where I really like everything he or she wrote. I used to read a lot of South American writers (from Borges to Marquez), but in the last years, my favorites are Europeans. Spanish Javier Marias with A Heart so White and Tomorrow in the Battle Think of Me, Basque Bernardo Atxaga with The Lone Man, Dutch Cees Nooteboom with Rituals, Polish Olga Tokarczuk with Primeval and Other Times and some other Polish writers, and, of course, Orhan Pamuk (whom I have been reading long before the Nobel prize) with Snow, among others.

Meliha Akay: It is impossible not to see the effect of music in your stories. More than an effect, can we say that music takes place in your stories by gaining an identity?

 Indeed. Music is, on one hand, a way of identifying for the listener. Young people gather in social circles on the basis of music they are listening to. But there is also the other side: music has an identity that is very liberated. It does not need translation, it captures the listener even if he or she has no knowledge about rhythm, melody and harmony, it can be transmitted easily thru radio and internet ... It does not have absolute freedom, though – there’s so much music and noise everywhere that any piece of music gets overheard easily. A writer can always comfort himself that he will be understood and praised in another time – and this has happened indeed, there are writers who became famous after death, Kafka included, while with the musicians this does not happen very often. Music seems to exist more in time than literature which is more timeless.

 Meliha Akay: We know that you are a musician. But you chose literature. How did you make this choice?

 Actually, now I am only listener for very many years. I have a few instruments at home, but never practice or really play anything recognizable – sometimes I take one of them in hands and use it as a way of meditation, I play a few repeating phrases in the same manner a swimmer makes a few moves before start or someone practicing meditation starts with breathing evenly. I think that the main reason I left music for literature was that in writing I could be alone – I did not need to adapt to other people’s needs and ideas. Very anti-social and even selfish, I know. But I needed a room of my own, so to speak, for creation. And for writing literature, you don’t need much more than that – if you have the ideas to express and the craft and talent to do this properly, that is.

 Meliha Akay: One of the stories that affected me most is Isaac. In that story, the officer who killed Isaac says: “If you aren’t able to change the fate of the majority, you have to share it with them.” If we look at the 20th century and today, won’t the fate of human beings who became tired from the wars and banishments change?

 I paraphrased this saying in my latest novel where one of the soldiers of the defeated army (most of the soldiers were killed) sends the message to his commander: “If you aren’t able to change the fate of your majority, you have to share it with them.” This probably shows that optimism would be naive – even so seemingly common ground of humankind as the idea of living in peace seems to be impossible to gain. Well, beyond that, I believe that you need to share the destiny, indeed – if a company goes bankrupt and people lose jobs, it is disgusting to see the owner or the manager to get away untouched, his funds in some offshore bank.

 Meliha Akay: If we look at Kyoto, will the hopelessness of the person who became a part of a nature of which its balances are disrupted go on? Or will we go on becoming hopeful by saying that the ones who found the fire were the human beings again?

 My latest novel is entitled Change Me. Change, however, is something that any person wishes and fears at the same time. There’s no guarantee that the change will really be the change for the better. However, this is no reason to abandon the need to change things and our duty is to do whatever we can to change them for the better, according to our beliefs. We have no right to complain if we stay passive.

 Meliha Akay: Temporary Residence is one of the most powerful stories. “In the past, I used to think that everything must be changed. But when you changed everything, sooner or later, it is your turn to change. At that time, you can’t guess what will happen to you. Such a thing is dangerous. As before, I want everything change by itself.” In a world where the borders are becoming closer to each other by globalization, is this possible for a human being who goes away from himself? Will the human being who feels dizzy from this fast change be able to overcome the distance which he put between him and himself?

 Actually, this is the toughest question of the so-called development. Not the “higher, quicker, stronger” pattern, but how not to lose ground, not to lose yourself behind while rushing forward. We can notice this danger in our private lives as well as in the global situation – political, economic etc. We need to control what we do, watch it, watch it closely.

 Murat İlhan: Dear Andrej Blatnik, before asking my questions, I want to say that it was a nice experience to read your book. My first question is about violence. The officer’s words in Isaac: “If you aren’t able to change the fate of the majority, you have to share the same fate with them.” In His Mother’s Voice, you are telling us a horror film. In the film, the little boy couldn’t change the fate of his family and he was killed like them. And that unlucky event between the boy who watched this film and his mother. What do you want to say about the violence which is being imposed to our life?

 We live in a society where violence is still a social standard although we claim to be very civilized & cultivated. I do not speak only about visible, physical violence. It’s also a story of domination, of our wish to control – if nothing else, then at least our employees, our partners, our children. Interhuman relations are based on dominance and this is one of the major reasons for tension.

 Murat İlhan: While I was reading your stories, I dreamt a ship sailing in the sea. The pages turned to the screw of that ship how a rain turns to snow. The ship was sailing but a while later, it began to get dry. At the end, it wasn’t wet anymore. The relationSHIP between a man and a woman. In your stories, you are telling how this relationship dies or died. Is this an inevitable end or do we build this end with our own hands?

 A very nice metaphor, I must admit. It is not necessary, of course, that our private ships (or even social ships, of which we were talking before) go out of the water in which they float. There are many great, supporting and loving relationships all around. But since these are not very dramatic, they get reflected and described less often! On the other hand, if we see the problem, if we are able to locate it, we have almost halfway solved it. To continue with your metaphor, a ship cannot be made of water, there needs to be a distance between the problem and the solution, and an introspective into the problem helps.

 Murat İlhan: In Scratches on the Back, I realized that I already know Roman from another story; Two. In that story, he was an architect again, but this time, he was the architect of imaginations. Either he would destroy his imagination, or his imagination will collapse on him. In the story, the animal which he imagined is licking his hand and at the same time, it is threatening. Maybe it will bite him. Could Diana and Peter be imagined by Roman? Diana is a tongue. Peter is a tooth. Why and how do our imaginations sometimes threaten us?

 Interesting, I never thought of that, but you might be right, a good story must be always open to different interpretations. One of the younger Slovenian female writers saw the story Two as a story of female masturbation and she wrote a perfectly sensible story of her own from that viewpoint – the animal who was licking the hand was a part of the body where the same hand belonged. And it led to the conclusion that you have to be afraid of a person near you just as well as yourself. Inner threat, so to say.

 Murat İlhan: In The Day Tito Died, you were called from the school for a commemorative ceremony but your mother called the school up and said that she didn’t want her child to participate to the ceremony. So you were told a lie and sent back to home. You say “Whatever they did, they did without me.” If this ceremony is arranged today, what do you say in that ceremony?

 Today, I probably could not avoid it. I am not a child anymore and I need to take my part of the responsibility for the society. “If you aren’t able to change the fate of the majority, you have to share the same fate with them” should also apply to me. The basic idea of the story came from the fact that although former Yugoslav president Tito was a dictator, a nicer dictator than the average kind but still a dictator, in power for 36 years, people have feared the change after his death – they thought it’s going to be worse. Here we are again – fear of change.

 Murat İlhan: In Scratches on My Back, Diana’s nails are scratching Roman’s records. At first, Roman gets annoyed at it but later he doesn’t care. If we think the world as a record, how do you define the scratches and the nails on it? I think, people get annoyed at these nails and scratches from time to time, but mostly they get used to them and don’t care like Peter?

 You are right. We get used to things that do not suit us at horrifying speed, and we tend to take things offered to us for granted. As one of the researches showed, if you build a pool next to the sea, less and less people will go to swim in the sea. And even if we can still drink tap water, we tend to buy bottled water which is packed conveniently. We lose control, step by step – in France, more than 70% of tap water is owned by private companies and it could happen that your shower will cost a fortune one day if the companies decide on such a policy.

 Published in Turkish literary magazine Varlik, 3/2009

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