Easy on that Lighter Fluid, Fergus!

by George Djuric

Transmit the message, to the receiver, hope for an answer some day  

I got three passports, a couple of visas, don’t even know my real name                                   

High on a hillside, the trucks are loading, everything’s ready to roll 

I sleep in the daytime, I work in the nightime, I might not ever get home

Talking Heads – Life During Wartime

In his La Guerra de Guerrillas, Guevara states that ‘It is well established that guerrilla warfare constitutes one of the phases of war; this phase can not, on its own, lead to victory’. The centerpiece of his foco theory is vanguardism by cadres, small, fast-moving paramilitary groups of professional revolutionaries. The vanguardism itself, on the other hand, was crafted by Lenin, under the influence of Karl Kautsky. In his classic What is to be done?, Vladimir Ilyich argues: ‘Our task is not to champion the degrading of the revolutionary to the level of an amateur, but to raise the amateurs to the level of revolutionaries.’ I’ve always been suspicious of mixing revolution and art. Why? Hermann Göring cut to my chase: ‘Whenever I hear the word culture, the first thing I will do is reach for my gun.’

Revolutionaries always have a certain agenda, which ultimately makes them politicians. Artists, however, could rarely afford a gun purchase, let alone having any intentions of acquiring one: they’re in enough trouble as it is just by pursuing their fatamorganic visions. I admire Lenin for his personal morals as well as brains, and I even allow the possibility of elevating amateurs to the level of revolutionaries – but no puissance in this universe can make a true artist out of a revolutionary. When it comes to art, plural does not exist: members of any movement are only the agents provocateurs to their own integrity – humans are hard-wired for herding within their basal ganglia and limbic system in their brain, which is biological response they share with all animals.

The streets of Belgrade delivered much needed milieu for my personal guerrilla enterprise, as they intertwined emotional charge with intellectual hunger, producing the right alloy of my character. I lived in a brownstone, lived in the ghetto, I’ve lived all over this town. One day when I’m dead and gone, my ghost will roam these streets in peace with itself, until it returns back to California and settles down for good. That is, if you believe in ghosts’ existence.

Being an amateur was painful. Fresh from across the river Sava at age of seven, I inhaled the tall buildings and well dressed adults, took every bullshit my peers and new neighbors presented me with for granted, and tried to survive the encounter. The walls of our apartment were too thin for privacy, my head too small for endless parade of people passing by, their talking heads hissing. A local gang stole my bicycle, an older bully ridiculed me until I ran upstairs, grabbed my late uncle’s hunting knife, then ran downstairs and went waving it at the bastard; who ran like a coward he was. Nothing builds a good reputation faster than a Bowie knife flashing in the sun.* My first duty as a revolutionary was to get away with it. I won a Czech Made BB gun cheating in a poker game, and opened a shooting range from our fourth floor balcony overlooking surrounding buildings. Not for long, though, since snitches were everywhere: fortunately, the two policemen didn’t have the warrant, so I laughed them out of the hall and back to their informants. I packed the riffle that same day, went undercover.

Aiming to ‘foment revolution from below’, I tracked down Volodya, the same scumbag who stole my bicycle five years prior, and beat the living hell out of him. Then I paid a visit to Zare, who taught me how wicked a headbutt could be, by demonstrating it on my own nose – and repeated the ritual with ardor. Then I stole my first Moskvitch 412 – a duplicate key a friend of mine made for his father’s car seemed to work just fine with every other Moskvitch – drove it around for ten minutes, only to crash the monster into an oncoming truck. The three of us dispersed running, Nick with a cut above his left eye, but we all made it safely to the city center.

I joined the avant-garde alive and well: the ‘death of the author’ trumpeted by early Barthes turned out eventually to have been much exaggerated, and his own later interest in autobiography certainly went some way to disproving it. Coming across Foucault’s Raymond Roussel (Paris: Gallimard, 1963) only firmed my belief in art per se, drawing a line in the sand against revolutionary ideas.

In 1972 my parents moved to a large apartment overlooking the Fortress of Kalemegdan. An old, royally built structure, where our fourth floor was twice the height of the previous cookie cutter. I’d be sitting in a window sill, my legs in a lotus position, writing my first novel – distracted by demolition crew’s unorthodox banging rhythm, as well as my own acrophobia. People would notice me on occasion, their mouth agape, lending me the powers of God and arrogance of a moron (you oughta know not to stand by the window, somebody might see you up there). Here and there I’d pull a Faulkner, limping heavily down the main promenade of Knez Mihajlova St., or just simply sit on the sidewalk holding a cardboard sign: ‘I’ll drink beer for food!’

All of a sudden I realized that the best way to predict the future is to invent it, and became a proselytizer for my own tightly controlled syntax: a tyrant allowing no tolerance in the labyrinth. My reality distortion field was a confounding mélange of charismatic rhetorical style, indomitable will, and eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand. Yet, the force behind my ear, Homer, is still whispering : the outcome of the war is in our hands; the outcome of words is in the council.

*That Solingen made hunting knife with a stag handle was taken away from me in 1973, when police searched my rally car looking for god knows what. While practicing near Divcibare for the coming YU Rally, I shredded the transmission housing by cutting gravel curves to deep, and ended up stuck in the second gear. Crawling through a village after midnight, I crossed their sight. My uncle Zhika Sedlan, who I inherited the dagger from, was shot in the hip and shortly after died from the wound complications, in 1939, during the first Yugoslav demonstrations against the regime. He was 21. 

George Djuric flew through rally racing, street fighting, philosophy, and anti-psychiatry as if they weren’t there. In the aftermath, all that was left was writing. He published a critically acclaimed collection of short stories, a book read like the gospel by his Yugoslav peers, The Metaphysical Stories.
Djuric is infatuated with the fictional alchemy that is thick as amber and capable of indelibly inscribing on the face of the 21st century literature. He lives in the desert near Palm Springs, CA, USA.

 

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