Sonja Stojmenska - Elzeser

ISSN 1409-715X

          Why do a controversial 17th-century philosopher and an exceptional lady of the late 19th and early 20th centuries meet in the title of this literary study which deals with the technologies of memory? Of course, it could be because, formally speaking, both share similar ancestry and have their roots in the Jewish community from the Iberian Peninsula that scattered through the centuries over Europe. Another, even more unusual link, could be a third person, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who was intimately linked and inspired in his grandiose philosophical work with both of them - naturally, with certain nuances in this relationship. The wider framework within which we would like to speak simultaneously about these two historical figures concerns the established view that with their life experience, biography and their output, they both grew into unique icons of the European cultural tradition and have been transformed into foci of permanent spiritual emanation that has generated countless various creative reactions and a series of philosophical, scholarly and artistic works dedicated to them.
          The concept of icon is here used in the meaning that it has in Svetlana Slapsak’s study (2003), in which she explains it as follows: „The contextualized meaning of the word ICON is only one among the many meanings that the Greek word EIKON has:  it designates the image and the presentation taken together, the content and the description, the concept and its associative environment.  The icon is not the same as the symbol because there is no transfer of meaning:  on the contrary, the icon concentrates meanings.”  This term can also be substituted by the term persona used by Camille Paglia in her book Sexual Personae (2002). This approach, in fact, combines these two terms, stressing their meaning in the construction of cultural memory.

The last, and in this context, the most important reason is the fact that two Macedonian novelists have also joined the growing group of so-called ‘Spinozists’ and ‘Lou Salomists’.  Their novels, it should be noted, are quite successful specimens of the recent Macedonian production; through a specific literary technique known as feigned or mystified literary biography, they write their stories which intertwine in their deepest conceptual layers through their respective treatment of the counterpoint which they share, i.e., the binary nature or the dichotomy spirit/body. These are the novels Conversation with Spinoza by Goce Smilevski (2002) and Lou’s Locked Body (2005) by Olivera Kjorveziroska (the first one already translated into English and Polish language).  
          However, allow me to present in a more clear manner the interest in these two historical figures that share a common context. Although much has been written on the philosophy of the Dutch thinker (Bento Baruch) Benedictus de Spinoza (Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Schleiermacher, Heine, to name only a few), his popularity reached its zenith towards the end of the 20th century, mainly through the work of the leading French Spinozists Gilles Deleuze, Pierre Macherey and Alexandre Matheron. Especially influential in this regard have been Antonio Negri’s studies The Savage Anomaly:  The Power of Spinoza's Metaphysics and Politics written during his one year in prison between 1979 and 1980 and published in 1981, and the study that followed as a kind of sequel, Subversive Spinoza: (Un)contemporary Variations, published in 2004. Genevieve Lloyd’s book Spinoza and the Ethics (1996) contains a bibliography of over 100 studies and articles whose primary interest is Spinoza’s life and work. This large number of references is a sufficient argument which speaks in favor of the claim that Spinoza is an icon of the European 20th century.

          Bearing this in mind, the Macedonian writer Goce Smilevski also invests his personal creative input in the heteroglossic polylogue on Spinoza. He writes his novel with the familiar playing that involves at least three levels of intertextuality:  the philosopher’s biography and his views, works about him written by other authors and the subtle aesthetic messages of Flemish painting.  In his work, Smilevski has used the existing biographies of Spinioza - those written during his time by Jean-Maximilian Lucas and Johan Colerus, as well as those of the present day, for example those by Margaret Gulla Whur and Steven Nadler.  What is Smilevski’s Spinoza like? The novel’s two layers enable the writer to invent/present/interpret Spinoza in two opposing variants;  in the first, as the impassive intellectual being who strives for the absolute, more precisely, as homo intellectualis and, in the second, as a passionate, lively, warm-blooded man to whom „nothing that is human is alien” or, more precisely, as homo sentimentalis.  Such a technique captures in an interesting way the dichotomy which permeates Spinoza’s philosophy, that between reason, eternity, the absolute and the spirit on the one hand and emotions, senses, beauty of ephemeral things and life itself on the other. Smilevski’s novel is an apology of life and its transience, beauty and uniqueness.  In this context, the central motif of Spinoza’s love for Clara Maria is rejected and suppressed by reason in the first variant, and in the second, she is accepted and love is fulfilled. Although the author does not reveal his presence in the novel (he is „dead” in Foucault’s sense of the term), nevertheless, his position in the resolution of the dichotomy is clear.  He invites him: „How sweet are these transient moments…experience transience, Spinioza, allow it to hurt you.”(Smilevski 2002:151)
          In his foreword, Smilevski emphasizes his strong connection with Gilles Deleuze’s interpretation of Spinoza. It is evident that his studies Expressionism in Philosophy and Spinoza:  Practical Philosophy have exerted a decisive influence in the establishing of Spinoza as an icon, but his interpretations are also a constituent element of Smilevski’s novel. This is how he explains it: „I had a feeling that the novel is being written by three hands – two right hands (Spinoza’s and mine) and one left (Deleuze was allegedly left-handed).” (Smilevski 2002:227). The intertextual link with Deleuze allowed Smilevski to formulate his interpretation which is added to a chain of interpretations which, eventually, share a common fascination by life as the supreme maxim of Spinoza’s thought, life understood as the joy of living, creation and life, as a transient moment which is beautiful as such, which should be enjoyed and in which one should take pleasure. Such an affirmative philosophy created through the re-reading and re-interpretation of Spinoza, according to Antonio Negri, is an alternative to the postmodern hovering over one spot, and the depressing and sterile moving in circles characteristic of the contemporary humanist thought. He emphasizes the following: „But what I never imagined was how useful and important this new reading of Spinoza that we undertook would be today in posing a positive ontology (of experience and existence), a philosophy of affirmation, against the new ‘weak’ phenomenologies of the postmodern era.” (Negri 2004:115).

          A particularly interesting aspect of Smilevski’s technique in the memorizing and reinterpretation of Spinoza’s character is the emphatic intermedial background of his literary discourse. In his bringing to life of the Dutch environment in his descriptions in the novel, Smilevski is evidently indebted to Flemish painting. And not only that. In terms of Spinoza’s characterization, one of the most important parts in the novel is based precisely on Flemish painting, and especially on Spinoza’s portraits by unknown painters. Here is an excerpt: „But, is there a more important testimony to a man’s life that the expression on his face, especially in the case of a man who constantly spoke of despair as a negative emotion and could not even hide when he sat to have his portrait painted?” (Smilevski 2002:223). Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson holds a special place in the novel and on the cover of the novel’s first edition. It becomes part of the story through Smilevski’s emphasis on the fact that, at the moment of Spinoza’s conception in the embrace of his parents on their family ledicant, in the same street, but in another house, Rembrandt stood in front his easel, sketching his famous painting. Through a typical ekphrasis (Martinovski 2004:86-93), Smilevski accentuates the detail of the drop of blood to which he draws the reader’s full attention in order to remind us of the problem of the body and corporeality both in Spinoza’s philosophy and in the novel which is its literary reinterpretation. The concealed ekphrasis, connected with the famous paintings of Vermeer, Frans Hals, Dirk van Baburen, Peter de Hooch and others, can be easily identified by those familiar with Flemish painting. These details in Smilevski’s novel confirm the significance of visual memory and, more precisely, of the pictorial experience of the world in the general cultural memory.
          Similar to painting, photography has perhaps an even greater power of conservation of verifiable facts and of inspiration to interpret them. The other European icon from our title, Lou Andreas- Salomé, is probably best remembered for an unusual photograph in which she, with a whip in her hand, is driven in a cart by two of her admirers, Paul Rée and Friedrich Nietzsche. According to Svetlana Slapšak’s categorization, she would most appropriately belong among the icons of the “muse”.  However, while for Slapsak, the representatives of this icon are customarily mysterious mute companions of famous writers and artists who completely subdue their personality to the person whose muse they are, Lou was an impressive creative person herself - a psychoanalyst, a writer and an intellectual. Although her literary achievements have not gained permanent popularity – despite the fact that during her life her works were fairly widely read – her name remains remembered through the centuries, primarily because of its association with several famous men who were her lovers; besides Ree and Nietzsche, they included Rainer Maria Rilke, Sigmund Freud and others. The famed photograph took in Switzerland in 1882 found a unique place in the novel Lou’s Locked Body by Olivera Kjorveziroska. The transformation of the photograph into a novel takes place as follows: „The photograph clearly reveals that Nietzsche did not think of the idea at the moment when he suggested it, but much before he had arrived in The Lion, perhaps immediately after his arrival in Luzern.  This must be so, since it is hard to believe that precisely this photographer had in front of his studio a wooden cart, a whip, a painted backdrop with lively landscape and fake earth …all exactly as Nietzsche had conceived it…He had arranged the detailed setting of the photograph with the photographer days earlier…”(Korveziroska 2005:27).


          The very title of Lou’s literary biography as it is written by Kjorveziroska demonstrates that it concentrates on a very obscure and provocative detail from her life – the fact that Lou did not experience physical love until she was thirty-five; later, love passion became her obsession. The thread of this Macedonian novel follows the mysterious reasons concerning this aspect of her life; in other words, the novel explores the potential of the story that can be woven around it. This novel, too, is a kind of reinterpretation and it contains a number of links with other artistic, biographical and essayist works dedicated to Lou Salome In this sense, direct complementary relations and dialogue can be detected with the essayist study by the French writer Francoise Giroud entitled Lou. Histoire d’une femme libre and with the novel by the Serbian writer Svetislav Basara, Srce zemlje which, in a specific way, create variations on the theme of the love affair between Lou and Nietzcshe.  The entire fiber of the novel is scattered with excerpts from Lou’s correspondence and works, Rilke’s poems and quotations from Nietzsche’s books. In her comments on Nietzsche, Kjorveziroska writes: “To each of the sentences on Zarathustra one can, for example, invent a question on behalf of Lou or Wagner, regardless. Such invented questions are not invented in the true sense of the word but, rather, are ‘awakened’ from the sleeping collective memory  that contains the entire lives of all our ancestors, of all those who lived before us, just as the future generations will inherit our present lives as their own literary figments of imagination.”(Korveziroska 2005:37).
          Through Nietzsche and Lou, Spinoza and Deleuze, Goce Smilevski and Olivera Kjorveziroska, as well as thousands of other known and unknown names close the circle around the greatest riddle of existence – the body, that is, life itself or the „living” life. Both Spinoza and Lou as European icons that were relevant at the turn of the 20th century reflect that contemplation over the body, that fascination by its mysteries and that unique intertwining of the body and the spirit that still remain a mesmerizing enigma.
          The two Macedonian novels are part of the current intellectual preoccupations; on the literary level, too, they coincide with the wave of literature which vibrates between fact and fiction. In this reinstated approach to cultural memory these two novels belong to an already established genre that can be defined as mystifying, apocryphal, falsifying biographism. This is a literary technique which transforms in a specific way historical facts into aesthetic creations, thus renewing and also enriching the memory of the given historical figure.  Here, we have a case of a specific literary technology of cultural memory which puts into the foreground the inventiveness of the authors. The interest of the writers of fiction in historical facts grew stronger around the 1980s. Fictional history is one of the techniques of Borhes that have been declared the canon of postmodern prose.  However, we should also mention the biography Marbot by the Austrian writer Hildesheimer, which was published after a number of authentic biographies of prominent persons by this very same author and in which his approach was characterized by due strictness and responsibility. This biography has already become a sort of a prose game: in it, the author invents characters, but all the details, such as time place and decor, are described with great historical accuracy that can be easily verified. Since this experiment to the present day, the number of more or less fictional portraits of prominent historical figures, mainly writers, philosophers and artists, has significantly increased.


          It is through this specific literary genre that a relationship is established with the historical as the „encounter with the other”, an encounter which relativizes time and space and in which the character that is being interpreted and the one who interprets it coexist and are compatible. In this sense, Sophi Rabau (2005:265-287) speaks of “hermeneutic creativity” in which interpretation and fiction touch and intertwine. She also draws attention to the fact that in Antiquity, more precisely, at the time of Lucian, three forms of writing were differentiated:  mythos (improbable fiction), historia (referential history) and plasmata (probable fiction). The novels that are the focus of our attention belong to the third form of narration. As “probable fiction” and specimens of a „specific literary technology, i.e., technique”, they become part of collective memory which, in turn, always represents a dynamic and changeable mixture of documents and figments of imagination.


Basara, Svetislav, (2004),  Srce zemlje, Beograd: Narodna knjiga.
Deleuze, Gilles, (1990), Expressionism in Philosophy Spinoza, New York: Zone Books (original edition in French in 1968).
Deleuze, Gilles, (1988), Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, San Francisco: City Lights Books (original edition in French in 1970).
Giroud, Francoise, (2002), Lou. Histoire d’une femme libre, Paris: Librairie Artheme Fayard ; in Serbian - Žiru, Fransoaz, (2003), Lu: Priča o slobodnoj ženi, Beograd: Laguna.
Lloyd, Genevieve, (1996), Spinoza and the Ethics, London and New York: Routledge
Martinovski, Vladimir/ Мартиновски, Владимир, (2004), „Најновата македонска проза и визуелните медиуми“,Книжевна Академија4/2004.
Negri, Antonio, (1991), The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza’s Metaphysics and Politics, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (оригиналното издание во 1981).
Negri, Antonio, (2004), Subversive Spinoza: (un)contemporary variations, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.
Paglia, Cammille (2002), Сексуалне персоне: уметност и декаденција од Нефертити до Емили Дикинсон, Белград: Zepter Book World.
Rabau Sophie/ Рабо, Софи, (2005) „Кратка средба со Хомер: интерпретација, фикција и факти во ’Вистинската приказна на Лукијан“, во Дијалог на интерпретации, приредиле Катица Ќулавкова, Жан Бесиер, Филип Дарос, Скопје: Ѓурѓа.
Slapshak, Svetlana/ Слапшак, Светлана, (2003), Женски икони на ХХ век, Скопје: Темплум.
Smilevski, Goce/ Смилевски, Гоце, (2002), Разговор со Спиноза, Скопје: Дијалог
Korveziroska, Olivera/ Ќорвезироска, Оливера (2005), Заклученото тело на Лу, Скопје: Магор.