A number of critical and polemical articles have been written about what happened with the book in this extremely sad year for publishers. According to everything that has been said and seen, any reasonable person will say: we went below the lowest point; there is no hope for the publishing industry.
Books are sold for the price of a cigarette, like a long time ago when cigarettes were sold by the piece. This year 20 or more books had to be sold to reach one pack. And, to what we are more addicted, cigarettes or books (that are inappropriately sold at the same newspaper stand), is an entirely different story.
In the spirit of liberal capitalism gone mad, the book became unnecessary, a superfluous item that has to be sold quickly and for next to nothing, get rid of the burden as soon as possible and at any cost, like a sack of apples at a farmers’ market that suddenly started to rot. Publishers succumbed to the recession and are striving to survive; bookshops closed down or are shutting down and becoming gift shops. News stands and a variety of "book fairs for one kuna" (even Chinese shops kept the standard of 12 kunas) became the centre of the reading life among the Croats. Not even a word about the authors, unless they gave in to the life habits promoted by trashy TV shows or unless they ended up being involved, completely innocent, in a scandal or having the most primitive label stuck on them. From the sensational media, yellow media, we learn that some authors are at the same time nationalists, fascists and psychopaths suffering from Yugo-nostalgia, drug addiction… And there is not one word about what and whom they write, because nobody, as alleged, finds it interesting.
Then how to imagine, dream the Fair in such a year? How to put the focus on the author and the book? What with? There are a few publishes who resisted everything that has been said so far, who rose above thanks to their professionalism and knowledge, but they are really exceptions, quality exceptions. How to make only with them the Fair like we want it to be: a book festival, a celebration of the written word, literature and authors!
Fortunately, this time the book life is not happening only in the visible, everyday world. Searching for a way out of the state of helplessness, under the surface of what we consider to be the Croatian publishing scene, we found some interesting and exceptional books, a whole separate world of special publishing projects that do not reach bookshops, those still existing, for the simple reason that Croatia does not have anymore those people who are supposed to be interested in these books, as it does not have a normal newspaper (in which the culture section comes just before the sports section) that could write about them.
A huge body of beautiful and meaningful books remains invisible, or visible only to a narrow circle of readers. A whole series of publishers remain invisible because they create quality books "away from the riotous mob".
We succeeded to find the books among young and ambitious associations, artistic organizations, among institutions (except those sluggish ones there are also the creative ones) and especially among regional publishers. These are books made with love, passion and enthusiasm, and, most importantly, with knowledge, as if behind them were the great and never-to-be-forgotten editor and "small publisher" Berti Goldstein.
In the year of the fiftieth anniversary of Andrić’s Nobel Prize for Literature and of the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Miroslav Krleža, the renowned bard of Croatian literature, it was thanks to these books and these publishers that we had the possibility, as well as this year’s focal theme: The identity of drama – the drama of identity, creating and building the Fair that won’t be a sweaty nightmare, but instead an unusually serene dream about the book.
This is why the 17th Dreamlike Book Fair in Istria is dedicated to the invisible publishers of great books. Thus we returned to our roots, to the beginnings of the Fair and one of its first slogans: Big and small publishers together!
The only difference being that this time small publishers are the ones from whom the big ones should and could learn something.
I’D LIKE TO BE SOMEONE LIKE SOMEBODY ELSE ONCE WAS
The title of the following text is a sentence that, I suppose, Peter Handke wrote in his famous and innovative play "Kaspar". Today, the staging by Zagreb ITD Theatre from the early seventies of the last century is an important and a great memory of the generation that I belong to, which at the time was discovering the love of theatre and new perceptions, and at the same time shaking the recently terminated hippy movement’s faded petals off its shoulders. Nonetheless, I wrote "I suppose" since I do not remember this sentence from the text that I have read more times, but from the stage production directed by Vladimir Gerić. The manner in which Ivica Vidović, in the role of Kaspar Hauser, interpreted this sentence, in the right light and on the right place of the stage – this is what made this sentence memorable to me. As well as important. The idea of this sentence became clear to me thanks to Vidović’s artistic capabilities and not Handke’s literary talent, which is indisputable. Today, in the relation between the said sentence and the written one, that is, between Vidović’s interpretation and Handke’s idea, I find the relation between Theatre and Literature, which is the theme of this year’s Fair.
There are, of course, many other "memorable sentences" from numerous plays I have seen so far, but none of them offer such a precise revelation of our intentions. Vidović’s artistic physical contortion and youthful voice energy not only expressed my personal wish to answer what my personality is, but also offered everyone present in the audience the possibility to obtain answers that are at least temporarily satisfactory. In the context of faded revolutionaries, consumed idealism and initial clashes with the consumer society, Kaspar, i.e. Vidović, was announcing the time in which we now live. If I experienced and understood correctly the sentence, then let’s follow the advice launched from the stage with reservation – let’s take a look around us and look back to see what we are leaving behind since we obviously always miss the chance to see clearly where we are headed.
Around us is the first decade of the new millennium, the war that ended, many theatre performances and new playwrights, but only one of them opens the view into the awkwardness of our acute perception of social morality. It is Mate Matišić and its "Posmrtna trilogija" (The Post Mortem Trilogy). Three plays describing the traumas of the recent past, traumas rooted deep within the most vital social class, in the so-called mature persons who are not young anymore and for whom the Third Age and the finale are still a long way away. Matišić’s texts offer a grotesque expression of suppressed social norms or unwise and newly defined moral norms positioned in the society in terms of enemies and defenders, national communities and a fatal interpenetration in a reality that is only a few decades older. The plays reverberated powerfully throughout the media, where they were praised and hated, but they remain the first relevant description of the past years’ overall social trauma that cannot be attenuated by the new ideology. Through his serious dramatic text Matišić committed an act of artistic cruelty upon those who do not want to recognize and name the traumas, as a long time ago Euripides left his contemporaries with a bitter taste in their mouths with "The Phoenician Women", by exposing the sense of justice in Athens through the naked ambition and selfishness of its heroes, though the same polis celebrated until recently an example of democracy. Although Matišić lived to see the production of his plays, even their film adaptation, "The Post Mortem Trilogy" remains as a dramatic chronicle of our knuckling under on the same bases of "national high treason", like Euripides whose ideas do not put the Athenians into jeopardy anymore and are instead the common good – a chronicle that our society still has to deal with.
If we look back, with the help of our guest Erika Fischer-Lichte and her comprehensive work "The History of Drama", we will be able to contextualize more easily the dramatic expression of Mate Matišić. In her work there is a description of "the period of theatre identity from ancient times until today" and through conversation and her lectures we will notice the diverse layers and aims of dramatic writing that can become our guidance. But, in order to reduce the odds of going astray, it is worth specifying that it refers to the authors of undoubted quality belonging to the previous social cycle: Dušan Jovanović, Abdulah Sidran and Slobodan Šnajder. Their tremendous literary work is not the only reason to meet them. There will always be a "Liberation of Skopje", there will always be a child who felt lonely "When Father Was Away on Business", and the "Croatian Faust" can initiate some other curse affecting some other nation in our uncertain future.
After looking back we will stop for a while in our present and ask ourselves what our drama identity is, here and now. We will be offered the explanation of the attitudes of different theoreticians, male and female, to whom their students, as well as those who live the theatre culture on a daily basis, owe a debt of gratitude. The roundtable participants are: Mirjana Miočinović, a great connoisseur of the new trends from the beginning and the end of the last century; Ljiljana Filipović, the author of "Public Solitude", the most important book about theatre in our past decade; Darko Lukić, expert on theatre in its surroundings; Borka Pavičević, dramatist and the main negotiator with the authors who participated in BITEF’s (Belgrade International Theatre Festival) first fifteen years; Sibila Petlevski, a writer who cannot resist her love of theatre and Oliver Frljić who, as the most recent director at this moment, insists on showing how theatre has to be a provocation of any ideology, no matter which or whose. Another author belonging to the diagnosis of the present theatre moment is, of course, Boris Senker with his new book "Teatrološki fragmenti: o suvremenoj hrvatskoj drami i kazalištu" ("Theatrical Fragments: About Contemporary Croatian Drama and Theatre"), which will be presented separately.
Where we are going and what awaits us will be presented by the youngest authors, those who have only recently been given their first performances, like Jasna Žmak and Goran Ferčec, and those who are still studying at the Academy of Dramatic Art: Vedrana Klepica, Mila Pavičević and Dino Pešut.
The theme comprises also a series of distinguished authors who perhaps do not re-examine the drama identity or the drama of identity, but are still excellent creators of their works, like Luko Paljetak, Petar Selem, Pero Kvrgić, Miro Gavran, Mani Gotovac, Jelena Lužina, Borivoj Radaković, and are a significant part of the theatrical life in our region. And not only ours!
And, finally, two names, two histories, simply legends.
The Fair starts with the promotion of "Životić" ("Little Life"), a book by Marija Crnobori which documents everything that a theatre production is and could be. The actress, whose stage acting made her characters reach the peak of human possibilities, has gathered all her theatre experience and enclosed it between covers. It is not just the theatre. It is, of course, also the other side of the stage that arouses curiosity among the audience in the same way as among those who are still waiting for the curtain to rise. How many characters walked in her shoes, how many characters looked at the world through her intense and impressive eyes and grieved and laughed with her voice – fortunately, we won’t know that by reading this book either. Since she really existed on the stage, and was a threat to the limit between the visible and the invisible.
Towards the end of the Fair our guest will be director Božidar Violić. His production of the grotesque "Predstava Hamleta u Mrduši Donjoj" ("Acting Hamlet in the Village of Mrduša Donja") is without doubt the most performed play here, but his theatrical life has also changed the theatre itself. He succeeded to turn staging into an art that with its achievements even today radiates vividly from the stage throughout Croatia through his students, actors and notes. In the manner of realist theatre, stubborn Violić had left reality completely and his productions, ranging from the famous staging "Dantonova smrt" ("Danton’s Death") to the adaptation "Mirisi, zlato i tamjan" ("Scents, Gold and Frankincense"), presented life in such an irrational way that they inevitably became life itself, but the better one. He will present his work on Mate Matišić's plays.
Introductions serve to present what is offered. Maybe I have succeeded in describing it, but it is better to come and choose, listen, read. Believe me, it is still all about your participation. Like Kaspar, played by Vidović, who is eager to become "like somebody else once was", now you are left alone with your own choice to become the other one. The yearning will remain anyway. And not only in books.
BEYOND THE EDGE OF SCIENCE
The programme Beyond the Edge of Science is dedicated to the borderlands of human knowledge, the same ones that the television broadcast On the Edge of Science deals with. The telecast has its paper life too, within the AGM’s library Obelisk. My aim is to publish the best books on various fields on the edge of science, one at a time, and so far I have been successful in doing so. It was not a difficult job for me since, owing to the circumstances and preferences, I have collected hundreds of books on those themes, and in the past decade I learned a lot about different areas and was able to distinguish what is from what is not, what is written well or what represents the original research from what is merely a sensationalist text, groping in the dark or copying. At this year’s Fair I will present a few titles of the library Obelisk, with the help of their authors or people addressing similar themes.
Specifically, with the book Projekt: svjetlosna kugla (Project: the Light Sphere), which is about the mysterious light spheres that people accidentally photograph with their cameras, people will have the opportunity to see the home presentation of Mislav Hollos, who has a rich collection of his own photographs of phenomena that he calls “light creatures”.
The author of the book Krugovi nove budućnosti (Circles of a New Future), which gave impetus to the research of the crop pictograms that was already losing momentum, Stjepan Gjurinek, will introduce himself personally and help with the new book Vatra s neba (The Fire Came By), which examines the never explained Siberian explosion from 1908, since he has done some research himself.
On the other hand, Branko Hiršl will present his book Jahvina slava (Jehovah’s Glory), which in international terms is an original addition to the research concerning the extraterrestrial flying object mentioned in the Bible, especially by the prophet Ezekiel. The last book on this theme, written by NASA engineer Josef Blumrich, was published as far back as 1972 (The Spaceships of Ezekiel).
So far, the borderlands of human knowledge, which we can call “Beyond the edge of science”, have been partially examined by certain books with different sequels and published by different publishers, but these sequels have never been focused exclusively on such an approach to the topic. Some of them were scientific, and as such would dare to go beyond their limits, some were spiritual, and then there were others that were esoteric so that they would get lucky. The library Obelisk is in that sense specialised, since I know for sure that there are a great number of themes with huge amounts of so-called “hard” data indicating that most of the world around us, our past, the nature of reality and other things are not what they seem in our perceptions that were instilled in our minds by the prevailing paradigms. Not in the least! And what is even more interesting it seems that the part that is missing is – the most important one. It is the part that is being discovered by our theme, “Beyond the edge of science”.