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Here’s a storm that literally came out of a single sentence. In columns, blogs, interviews and on TV shows, certain words by the Montenegrin writer Andrej Nikolaidis were being fervently discussed, mostly out of context, all the while there have been calls for his head and his bread. Others were promptly defamed and lost important jobs for giving the writer moral support.
And we thought the word was dead. Manuscripts do burn in the Balkans, if at least with the passion of political division. Shitstorm in a writing desk drawer. Not so catchy, but all the famous players were there: Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia. What did Nikolaidis say?
Four days before he dies, Modigliani comes across a drunken Jean Cocteau. Cocteau is burning copies of The Divine Comedy. When Modigliani puts a hand on Cocteau’s shoulder, Cocteau says, “Hello, bird,” without raising his head. When he sobers up, he explains that he burned Dante for the benefit of literature. “Mon ami,” he says, “after Dante all our efforts in the field of literature become pointlessly comic and stupid. And anything that makes human efforts pointless, comic or stupid deserves to be burned, doesn’t it?”
I wouldn't bother mentioning this, though, if it weren't for a more serious lack in Zona: in a book that's dense with references to artists, critics, and scholars, Dyer hardly mentions any women. Film is, to be sure, a very male genre, but Dyer ranges all over -- visual artists, writers, theorists, Billy Collins, Baudrillard, Cormac McCarthy, Michael Haneke, T. S. Eliot, Anthony Hecht, W. H. Auden, Lars von Trier, J. M. Coetzee, Slavoj Žižek, Rilke, Kafka, Sugimoto, Milan Kundera, Wordsworth, Tolstoy... I had a nagging impression of this absence, but I didn't realize how bad it was until I went through the book looking for women, upon which I felt as many women have upon seeing the VIDA pie charts -- brainwashed.
"A few of my favorite writers were or are musicians; James Joyce, for instance, was reportedly an excellent tenor (his wife Nora: "Jim should have stuck to music instead of bothering with writing"). Thomas Bernhard studied music seriously, and that must have informed how his books are constructed, particularly how his short novels climax rhythmically and emotionally more than dramatically, or find their climactic drama in emotional rhythms. Then again, a nonmusician like Thomas Mann also wrote musically and wonderfully about music. I'm thinking of how Hans Castorp fastidiously cares for and is exalted by the sanatorium's record collection."