When looking back, can you clearly see the importance of the Bulgarian book for you?
You probably expect to receive the standard answer but I – in the name of sincerity – will disappoint you: I got acquainted with our native literature too late in life. My parents insisted on my learning foreign languages from a child and they had an original approach to this: they allowed me to read only French and German books, which were abundant in our house and which they bought to me after competent selection. Including the Russian books. So, before I started reading in Bulgarian (I read hungrily, constantly) I was well acquainted with the foreign-language classical literature. This might have been good: I was mature enough when I started reading Bulgarian literature. It was definitely good: I could comprehend it within the context of the entire European literary process.
In fact I think it is quite natural that I was more interested in the contemporary literature than in the Bulgarian classic. Fortunately, it was during the time of my generation that the contemporary literature developed rapidly and differentiated. This applies to language, poetics, literary devices. I continue to try to follow and analyze it. But we must confess that this is not easy now: there are too many Bulgarian books and new authors.
Which books have given you the most and from which books have you been able to take more than you believed it possible?
Well, it is impossible to list them all; moreover, I am not sure an author can name the model he follows. Literary works are a mixture of a large number of components, which are not always recognized as the source of influence, of imitation.
What is the destiny of fine letters now, and what could this destiny be in the near and in the more distant future?
Despite the cries that fine letters is making way to the aggression of electronic media and galloping new technologies, I don’t believe its destiny is tragic. After all, throughout history, not all people were addicted to reading; the reading public has always been a certain share of the people. I don’t think this share is decreasing today – just the opposite. As far as authors are concerned, they have always conformed with something: if not censure, than the market. There is no place for crying and this is evident: more books are written and published today than in the past.
The cultural crisis of today has its causes and its signs, but it also has a remedy that is basically universal. Perhaps, the purely Bulgarian specifics of this remedy remain out of focus?
As a rule we consider ourselves specific, peculiar and – mainly – unfortunate. What is cultural crisis for us? Probably the fact that today the state does not allocate as much funds as authors would like. But it wasn’t different before, when only a few people enjoyed such stimuli, while the others had to fight their way, if at all admitted to creative activity. Undoubtedly, if it is like air to you, you find a remedy. Creative fulfillment has always been a matter of personal initiative, so it is today. Look at the number of publishers and publications! Are they comparable with the criteria ten years ago? The fact that authors feel underpaid is nothing new. It seems to me we are forgetful because we do not compare the payment of artistic work before and now. Money has never been enough for anybody.
There are many secrets to a book, and the author’s mastership tends to be among the most obscure. Have you reached a conscious explanation for yourself of everything that you have created – as creative art, besides a pure will, is also the product of the artist’s instincts, of the artist’s enigmatic and mysterious self that he deciphers only partially in his texts to the reader?
Secret, mysteriousness, mystery and solving a mystery… I think these categories are the subject of the science of psychology or creative art. It is true that it often surprises us to complete disagreement with its conclusions. This is so because there are no two authors alike in gift and consciousness. The most difficult thing is to know yourself, to analyze yourself. But why should you? Do the audience have an idea about the methods of medicine (on which their health depends), or of mathematics? Why should the writer always disclose himself?
What has been the major source of hope and belief for you through the years?
My work and my capacity for work. We have no right to seek the source of our own energy outside ourselves, it is absurd.
What is your vision of Bulgaria at the end of the 21st century? What does Time mean to you?
I have no idea. Reality is so dynamic, unstable and mobile that any forecast would be an act of charlatanism. As far as Time is concerned (as you have appropriately written with a capital “t”), it is an omnipresent and all-embracing category. We can only make efforts to understand or describe it but it will always remain much larger than we can imagine. My personal but indemonstrable feeling is that Time is not a line but a point, encompassing past, present and future. We separate them to make thinking easier.
What is the weight of the values created over the last hundred years, and what is the burden that these years have placed on us?
Actually, they are 120 years, though this figure usually brings with it the continuation “of deep darkness”. It is a fact that the spiritual upsurge, the creation of institutions and the strife to connect Bulgaria with the free world was much more intensive before the Liberation. That was the time of the most prominent men of our nation. It seems that foreign rule somehow suppressed the manifestation of careerism, envy and destructive malice in our society, which could not be said for the time after Bulgaria gained independence. Anyway, till present day, any useful effort in Bulgaria meets the opposition of unconscious reaction, and destruction is often more pervasive than creation. Nevertheless, despite the seemingly insurmountable difficulties, despite the inborn inclination to negate the positive phenomena, quite a lot was competed during these 120 years. Imagine what would it be if all the energies spent on petty quarrels were used for creation! We would be unequalled, in the Balkans at least.
Is there any peculiarity of your character that you freely joke about in public? And does it happen frequently?
I consider myself dotty and I like to exaggerate myself as such.
What would you choose – if you had to choose today – between a bag of gold and an eternal book? And what would have been your choice 30 years ago?
No offence meant, but I think this is a question for young people. If anyone tells you he would prefer the eternal book to the bag of gold, he will surely be joking. Because with a bag of gold he could buy all eternal books and keep them in an ebony bookcase. What choice is this, when it has never been offered? And it won’t be offered.
Do you think that in these times when the path to the reader is difficult and uncertain, new names could emerge? Could the experience with your own public recognition be useful today? How did you gain recognition, was it easy?
Of course new names will emerge – we are witnesses to this. Why do you say the path to the reader is “difficult and uncertain” – has it ever been easier? Each writer starts from anonymity, a few readers find him and love him, and that is usually with delay. If he persists, i.e. if he does not set short terms or impracticable conditions to his success but keeps on writing, he may succeed, if… And here comes the condition which writers reject as a rule: talent. In other words, his ability or inability to work on his product, to improve its quality. It is much easier to accuse the public or the time or the literary critics, though they do neither create, nor liquidate authors. I cannot tell if I gained recognition easily or with difficulty; all I know is that I worked hard.
Would you disclose your own anthology or collection of names of masters of the prose whom you hold in highest esteem – names from the Bulgarian and world, including Balkan, literature?
Frankly speaking, I wouldn’t. We don’t live in the 19th century when there were a handful of writers and the scarce readership could be thoroughly acquainted with their works. Today we sail, often without a compass, a sea of works and I always feel uncertain that I have probably not read the best of them. Anthologies today are to a certain extent unnecessary. Readers’ taste is highly differentiated, so there is no need to share your preferences. But I am certain about something else: as long as I live, I will not get tired of reading, of making new delightful discoveries only for me.