LitLink: From THE BLESSED by Natalija Grgorinić and Ognjen Rađen, translated by Sandra Juzbašić

Beware! Beware of embracing faith, one of Guglielma’s followers cautioned his wife, fearing the Inquisition. Beware of embracing faith! If you do, we all burn at the stake. Because faith begets stronger faith. Therein lies the main difference between knowledge and belief; the former trusts limitations, counts on them, while the latter doesn’t care for them at all. In her analysis of the medieval religious thought, Luisa Muraro found that the 13th century man believed that what would follow the reign of the Father; who represents values outlined in the Old Testament, and the reign of the Son; the embodiment of Divine Mercy by way of the New Testament, would be the reign of the Holy Spirit.

Believed? Did he believe in it, or hope for it? Misdirected faith paved the way for burning at the stake. What punishment would misdirected hope incur? Disappointment? Guglielma, or Vilhemina, supposedly blue-blooded, a descendant of Constance of Hungary and King Ottokar I of Bohemia, middle-aged and frightened in the face of a political scramble, left the Bohemian court with her underage son to settle in Milan, Italy. Where did she come from? Bohemia? Right. Whether she came from somewhere or nowhere at all made no difference. Although in her fifties, she exuded vigor and a readiness to pursue spirituality. All eyes were on this sophisticated woman who could console and uplift the weak in spirit. Word had it that she could heal. Word had it that she had stigmata. Word had it that she was the embodiment of the Holy Spirit. To her followers, Guglielma was the true God and true Man. The reign of the Father and the Son gave way to the reign of the Mother. A woman. A true God and true Man in the body of a woman. Just as Christ had been a true God and true Man in the body of a man. Not too shabby for the Middle Ages, Juna concluded with a smile, looking out at her garden where, were she a true homemaker, seasonal flowers would now be in bloom.

Instead, ants play architects in Junas’s garden. As do birds. Each plant seeds of their own choosing: grass, flowers, fruit trees. Every now and then something new and unexpected sprouts from the carefully planted seeds. The only thing left for Juna to do is to let the newcomer grow or pluck it out. It happens more often than not, however, that plants wilt before Juna has even made up her mind and acted on her decision. Still, for reasons unknown, her garden looks harmonious, orderly; a miniature, self-regulating eco-system. Juna is only to understand this and not interfere. Humans flatter themselves by taking credit for the invention of order – because wild carrots cannot be found growing in rows, just as wild trees cannot be found growing in orchards. But the truth is that nature is capable of squeezing incomparably more different plant species onto one square meter than a good gardener is. Order. Nature knows. There is no order without disorder. Without chaos that you seize by the hair and force to work in your favor. Nothing works without order, just as nothing works without chaos and disorder. Ants know this – or perhaps they don’t need to know, and the information is ingrained in their most basic makeup, in their genes.

(…)

All of a sudden, a jay landed on the pathway. He spotted ants from far away and decided to hop in closer. He observed them with one eye, then the other, shaking his head as if perplexed at that many ants being here this time of year. Where did they all come from? Delicate blue feathers adorning the edges of his wings glistened in the sun like turquoise chips; the bird bobbed up and down like he was doing squats; he observed, silent, like he was reading. It didn’t take long for the bright-eyed jay to begin munching on the ants, choosing those who strayed from their formation; like he was editing a text they spelled out – chik-chik-clank-chik-chikk – rewriting with his beak the ant-writings on stone. The ants – all those letters, dots and commas – seemed unfazed by the editorial beak. On the contrary, ten newcomers seemed to welcome each ‘chik’, the text swelling up under the jay’s feet, his beak descending faster and more frantically by the moment, the bird failing to swallow his prey fast enough. Several ants hung over the side of his beak, clinging to one another, forming a dash, an exclamation mark! A question mark?

The hoard of ants no longer resembled disheveled letters. No, this was a rebellion. The text was surrounding its editor, climbing up his legs, crawling underneath his feathers, as the jay’s beak became an impotent red pen that could do nothing but cross out a typo here and there. The amount of text crawling over him made the panicked jay wonder if he was in over his head; he may have to renegotiate some points in the contract. Contract? What contract? It dawned on him – the deal was concluded in a rather informal setting – a proposition came up over some coffee and a glass of sparkling water. Easy money, they said, a short text that requires minimal adjustments, nothing major; the jay was lulled into what now turned out to be a false sense of security and trust. They never even shook on it, they never formally agreed on the conditions, but the following day the document was already there, an eyesore in his mailbox, and Pavlov’s reflex made him open it and start reading. The same reflex then kicked in again as he automatically started editing, consumed by panic: So much text! So much text!

You can choose to believe this or not, but the entire body of literature ever written, every text ever recorded, from the Dispilio Tablet to the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II mirrorless camera user’s manual, is part of a larger, complex message directed right at you. Your ego is the only one picking and choosing parts of the message it wants to receive at a given moment – just like the jay chose the ants.

The jay spread his wings, powerless, yielding to the ants that kept biting him and spouting acid over his body. They were everywhere, just like text, words, letters, entering his every pore, crawling underneath his feathers, over his skin, into his eyes, his thoughts. Thinking became impossible unless his thoughts were in writing, so much text, so much text, its point becoming impossible to uncover; its meaning… wherever you grabbed and squeezed with your fist, the text would ooze meaning, words splatter like grape seeds, meaning pour down your fingers, down your forearms (or wings), reaching your elbows; you would bend over in impossible ways trying to catch a drop or two with your tongue, but kissing one’s own elbow is physically impossible, just like reading minds is mentally impossible, be they your own or someone else’s; not only is the text of thoughts unwritten, it is unedited, and writing is the first form of editing, the zeroth form of reading, the minus first form of thinking. The jay is aware of this. He lets go, Christ-like, letting the ants crawl all over him, bite him, burn him; letting them eliminate the blood-sucking insects trying to circumvent the text on his feathers and skin to reach the answer. The jay opens his beak, producing no sound, enjoying his ant bath, basking in the text, ready to transform into song; because each ant bite is in fact a declaration of love, a kiss, a love bite.

By Natalija Grgorinić and Ognjen Rađen

Translated bySandra Juzbašić

Natalija Grgorinić and Ognjen Rađen have been writing together in the Croatian and English language. They have earned an MFA degree in creative writing at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles (2005) and a PhD in literature at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, USA (2012) with their thesis on collaborative aspects of literary authorship. They live in Ližnjan, near Pula, where they manage their library and literary residency Bells and Pomegranates (ZVONA i NARI, www.zvonainari.hr). Together they have authored two collections of short stories and six novels, two of which are written in the English language. They will be reading a passage from their recently published novel The Blessed, a tale about the hardships of love and family life in the context of society.

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