I am now writing a book entitled : A brief eulogy to the break; it is a book to order. My book Moreno has just been translated into Dutch (by Martin de Haan, who since that time has become a good friend) and I was asked to write a brief essay on the change in language that is the ultimate in breaks. No, it’s not all down to the title. It is me in trying to kill two birds with one stone or, as we would say in Slovenian: kill two flies with one stroke – who formulates it thus. Even if it is all about the ultimate in breaks; the break I experience every day, every time I open my laptop and find myself face to face with my text in French. I re-read the last page, like Stendhal, before going on with dictating la Chartreuse. I always experience a brief moment of retreat and surprise when I see my French page. Was it really me who wrote that ? Two books published since Moreno, and two others in the making, I still can’t get over it. Yes, it’s me. And yet I am far from being truly in my element; it is not yet an automatism. Put another way: I feel more at ease in Slovenian. Whenever a person writes in a language that is not their mother tongue, they are always as it were in a new place. The words do not resonate in the same place in my body or in my memory. There is as it were no solid ground beneath my feet. Nothing to protect me, nothing to console me. I have left behind the bosom and the comfort of my mother tongue.
I once again see myself with the Baronessa Beatrice Monti della Corte von Rezzori, exactly five and a half years ago. This was the worst and yet the best possible place for me to make my tremendous leap. All the ingredients were there: the beauty of the Tuscan countryside, a chic residence, transformed into a writer’s paradise, a room in an ancient tower, a true turris eburnea at the base of the olive grove, the Baronessa herself, snobbish and haughty, widow to a well-known writer who was the obligatory subject of discussion at every evening meal, and the cultivated and refined company of writers, poets and other invited guests. But also the company of the domestic staff, the excommunicados, as the second-class emigrants are known in Italy: Abdoul the Moroccan kitchen hand, Milika, the Albanian housekeeper, and Mohammed, the Berber handyman; I speak for myself as someone who was instinctively on their side; the others barely spared them a single word. Every night, alone in my tower, eyes wide open, I asked myself the same questions. What am I doing here? Why would I want to change language in mezzo del camin, as Dante put it? No one is forcing me to, no one has even made the suggestion; I have an excellent editor and a fantastic translator, not only in France, but also in England, in Germany and even in Greece … I could quite easily continue writing in my own little language, spoken by barely two million Slovenians, a language which in itself is more than sufficiently beautiful, supple, lyrical and emotional; quite the opposite of cerebral and cold. After all, surely I am never going to be a traitor to my own kind? As Kundera put it, am I ever going to step out of this family photo for the little people? Will I cut myself off from my childhood and my past by leaving the language of my birth, as Cioran believed? Will I merely continue to torture myself and loose my way in this forest of doubts, for evermore? Surely not?
I stick to it up to that day in Florence when, quite by coincidence, I came across a young man by the name of Moreno. Nothing major really happened – a stranger guessed my wish, however modest, and made it reality, but that was not the question. I returned to the Baronessa, opened a new page on my computer screen, and entitled it Moreno. And it was from typing that name, which it must be said contains a certain degree of magic, that something changed for me.
I started to answer all my nocturnal questions with a ‘yes’. Yes, I do need to step out of this family photograph; I still think just as much of my little people, of my mother tongue and of the woman who was my mother such a brief time. Yes I too, like Abdoul, like Milika and like Mohammed am extracomunitaria; the most lonely, the most extracomunitario of all. If I think about it a little bit, that is the only place you can write from; from outside; from beyond communication, ideology and nationalism. It is only possible to write against your own kind; you cannot be anything but an extracomunitario in writing; I could have come to the conclusion earlier. And I now want to take as my own a language which I do not master entirely, which unravels beneath my feet, which refuses me that certain ease, polish, the bravura and those pirouettes, and that forces me to go closer to the essence. And the most difficult thing, I will have to end up finding my real tone in this new language. A tone, or perhaps better a sound, a step, a new way of walking; after all, a writer’s style often reflects their physique and their style of movement. Whatever else I do, I do wish to continue forcing may way through this forest of doubts; that is what writing is, and it doesn’t matter in what language, mother tongue or otherwise.
And yet there is one thing that remains unanswered. I have been asked on many occasions whether Moreno was an angel. I have been forced to respond that I did not really believe in angels, adding quietly that if by any freak of chance they do exist, they mine went by the name Moreno.
Brina Svit, 13 november 2008