The World of Zoran Zivkovic, Part 1
We are delighted to feature this guest blog by David Cozy
Fantasy fiction can be loosely divided into two categories: that which can successfully make the jump from page to screens big and small, and that which—until a genius filmmaker or two appear to prove me wrong—cannot. So popular are the Lord of the Rings movies and the Game of Thrones TV show that it's hardly necessary to note that they are examples of the first category. They are also examples—especially the latter—of the best of what might be called the "swords-and-lords" school of fantasy, a sub-genre that draws on history and mythology and tends to be besotted with all things more or less medieval. The pageantry and bizarre life forms—elves and ents, wights and white walkers—are lots of fun to look at, and that, certainly, is one reason these worlds translate so well to the screen.
Also successful off the page are, of course, the Harry Potter franchise and, to a lesser extent, the films based on the Narnia chronicles. Though swords and lords may not figure prominently, in these books, many of the hallmarks of their swords-and-lords cousins are still there—the magic, the mythology, the odd life forms, and the long wanderings through strange lands—and partly because the lands and the critters almost beg to be given visual representation, these stories are sufficiently spectacular to work on screen.
There remains a third strand of fantasy writing that, though much lauded by those who prefer to read, either never makes it to the screen at all, or if it does, with one or two exceptions, we often wish it hadn't. These are films adapted from the works of writers, mostly European, like Franz Kafka, Italo Calvino, and the most European of all, the Argentinean Jorge Luis Borges. Their fiction is, without a doubt, fantastic, but it is fantasy that takes as its source not history or mythology, but ideas, and ideas, it seems, cannot compete—in the cinema, anyway—with orcs.
That writers in this third strand cannot be translated easily into spectacle is precisely what makes some of us reach for our tattered copies of Amerika, of Cosmicomics, of Ficciones long before we'll let Netflix take us to a mead-hall or a hobbit hole. Because for us, ideas that cannot be reduced to images are more exciting than re-imagined history and embodied myth, we reach for Kafka, Calvino, and Borges, but not only, I am happy to report, for the work of these dead titans, but also to books by writers still with us who, fighting a rearguard action against a culture that values spectacle over thought, keep the tradition alive.
Foremost among contemporary practitioners is Zoran Živković, a writer who, not so long ago, it would have been safe to assume you didn't know and had never read. Thanks to Kurodahan Press's release of English translations of five of his books half a dozen years ago, that is now somewhat less likely to be the case.
Mid-list fiction published by small presses, however, tends to vanish. In an effort to keep Živković and his work from slipping below the surface once again I will, over a series of posts to this blog, pull my gaze away from the spectacle, and focus instead on the artful speculations to be found in the five volumes published by Kurodahan: The Library, Compartments, Four Stories Till the End, Miss Tamara, the Reader, and Amarcord.
Stay tuned for closer looks at each of these.
—David Cozy is a writer and critic. He lives in Japan and is an editor at Kyoto Journal.