Writer Vladimir Zarev: Nothing lasts forever

Fear of death, and also of life, in fact makes us creative creatures

Photo: Daniel Dimitrov, BTA

If the world is not described in words any more, it will continue to exist, but will continue its life in elementary unambiguity and mediocrity. Everything will mean only itself, and human imagination will turn into a sum of instincts, says writer Vladimir Zarev in an interview for BTA.

In your novel Monster, the protagonist would rather have people know his books than him as a person. Are you the same way?

As any normal person, writers are vain creatures, but it is a different type of vanity tied to their work, to what they have written. This is like asking a parent whether they would prefer for them or for their children to be admired.

You call the Bible a remarkable story about power. Do you think Bulgarian politicians read it?

Unfortunately, the majority of Bulgarian politicians do not read at all, they see reading as completely useless. Reading cannot help you in stealing what others have built or in setting up shady schemes. The Bible, and the New Testament in particular, contains a lot of essential, important truths, the most important of which, I believe, is that the truest, most honourable and enduring power cannot be attained through violence, only through love. Note that not only Jesus Christ the man is crucified but Jesus Christ the God as well; both man and God are put through excruciating pain. A miracle takes place at the cross because suffering represents mutual trial and mutual forgiveness and they will originate a new kind of power over the centuries - the power of repentance and love.

Do the questions of power and fear overlap in their essence?

Fear of life and even more so fear of death stimulate and reinforce man's inherent strive for power - power in its varied and sometimes unimaginable forms. The larger in scope, the grander the power we wield, the further away it seems to keep death. Some of the all-powerful Roman emperors deified themselves - in other words, they believed in their own immortality. This interdependence is a law of nature. Alpha rats or alpha wolves, for example, live longer than their fellow rats and wolves. It follows that power not only makes the life of a random creature more secure and comfortable, but it also lends them a mysterious life-force that allows them to live longer. Naturally, writers wield a different kind of power. They exercise spiritual power through the energy contained in words.

Which is stronger - fear of life or fear of death?

What people fear most in life is the unknown. Our life and future are full of insidious uncertainty. Death in and of itself is the ultimate unknown. And so, fear of life and fear of death are equally powerful. The difference is that while fear of life is constant, one might say trivial and mundane, fear of death is inconspicuous, especially in our youth, it lurks in our subconsciousness. In my novels, I promote the idea that fear of death, and also of life, in fact makes us creative creatures.

What is your best metaphor for life?

My novel Monster opens with a seemingly simple, well-known phrase that I believe encapsulates human life: Nothing lasts forever.

In Monster, you also write that you always feel abandoned when you are in company. Is there a time when you don't feel that way? When you are alone perhaps?

This is the feeling one of my characters has. I am different. I value solitude when I am immersed in my writing. Only when I am completely alone do I feel my imagination free and sweeping. The writing process involves too much solitude. Maybe this is why I seek the company of my friends and loved ones the rest of the time.

Has friendship stopped being a sacred choice? Whose fault is it? Does the fault lie with social media or with us?

In Monster, I maintain that the Antichrist is already here, that it is likely not a person, not a superhuman, but a phenomenon. I believe that this modern Antichrist is the internet and virtual reality as a whole. The scary part is that people have started spending more time and investing more emotions in this made-up world than in the real one. Look around when you are on a tram, on the metro, at a restaurant, at a bust stop, at a wedding or a funeral and you will see that 90% of people are on their phones. They text little nothings and they call that communication.

I ask myself: Is it possible for anyone to have a thousand friends? Friendship is like love - it is a matter of complex choice extended over time, of a mysterious, sometimes magical connection that is tested over time. I respect hundreds of people, but I can count the number of my friends on the fingers of my hands. They are an important part of my personal life. Thanks to the internet, people feel like they are together all the time, but, in the process, they have forgotten to communicate meaningfully.

When I read your books, I have the feeling that I am reading poetry. Do you have a poetic soul?

I do not know if I have a poetic soul, but I am certainly a very vulnerable person and it seems that I have an incredible desire for beauty because of this - for beauty in all its forms. I think that Dostoevsky had said “Beauty will save the world”. I am not sure if beauty can save the world, but I am convinced that beauty can save the individual person. When I write a book, I try to make my prose interesting and beautiful, to fill it with many meanings.

I like to write with metaphors for another reason too - when we use a metaphor then one plus one do not make two but something more unusual and significant. The world around us is real, it exists, but it is in a state of odd half-asleep. Take, for example, a tree on the street, it is locked in and of itself, it is there and it is not there at the same time. In order for this lost in its own daydream world to be awakened, it must be specified by the word.

As if the metaphor snatches the world from this half-asleep state and, giving it complexity and ambiguity, filling it with additional meanings, thus vitalises it, turns it into something experienced and unique.

If the world is not described in words any more, will it stop existing?

I have thought about this a lot. If the world is not described in words any more, it will continue to exist, but will continue its life in elementary unambiguity and mediocrity. Everything will mean only itself, and human imagination will turn into a sum of instincts.

Is the intellect capable of subjugating?

Yes, of course. Power manifests itself in various, sometimes strange and mutually negating each other forms. If you think it over, youth is a form of power, but the old age can also be power, love is a form of power, but hatred is also a form of power, beauty is power, and money is also power. Even suffering can be a form of power - a crippled beggar, for example, bares his severed leg to cause pity and, through his suffering, make us give him alms.

All that a person strives for in their so short and often reckless life is to gain power over the others, to gain the power of even one single skill. If you think about it, the great thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, the great writers like Goethe, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, John Steinbeck or William Faulkner are a kind of charming tyrants.

When does boundless grief overwhelm you?

Whenever I think about the greatness and mediocrity of man, about man's nobility and cruelty, about man's devotion and selfishness, about the infinity of man. I bow down before man's intelligence and courage, and at the same time, I understand that man will probably never change.

Do you have the time to respond to your own pain?

When someone suffers and feels pain for one of the endless reasons, they always have the time. When suffering is so cruel and tearing, time simply stops running.

You keep the archive of Petar Dunoff for 15 years now. What is the greatest misbelief about him?

As is the case with any great personality who has transcended their time, Master Petar Dunoff is either being idealised to apotheosis or being denied in the most ugly and arrogant way. And his teaching - especially about the cosmic meaning of love - is more than alive to this day. Moreover, it finds its contemporary followers in many countries around the world.

Let me mention one more insignificant thing - more than fifty years ago, when I first saw a picture of the Master, with his slender face expressing extreme kindness and intelligence, surrounded by long white hair, then I had the impossible feeling that I had seen Jesus of Nazareth in front of me.

Would you share with us the first sentence of your next book, which has the working title Confusion?

I will do it with pleasure, but you will have to endure at least one short passage: “First they gave us the masks. At the entrance, a long-legged young lady dressed in brand-name clothes, with gel in her blond hair and the serious smile of a model advertising dentures, handed us over these folded and pleasantly perfumed pieces of cloth. The faces of those present had to be subdued in their arrogance and be turned white. A month and a half ago, something like a state of emergency was introduced due to the Chinese disease, and to attach weight - but in fact for the thrill of it - they called it “lockdown”. Life stopped, simplified to human fear and human lack of sense, and there were no protective masks anywhere, they could not be found and bought for any price.”

 

The interview was originally published by BTA. Headlines by EUROPOST.

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