Georgi Gospodinov Interview – The Apocalypse comes at 6pm
When did you arrive in the country?
2 days ago
Is this your first visit to the UK?
No I was in London last year for the European night of literature, we had a reading in the British library, and some years ago I visit Newcastle, we had a workshop between Newcastle poets and Bulgarian poets, we make some kind of translation within the workshops. I started with poetry
What inspired you to become a poet?
I have written four books of poetry, after that I decide to write my first novel. For me it was strange but I just decided to write something. Natural Novel is the title of the novel and it has been a big success in Bulgaria and abroad. The novel was translated in to 17 languages, it was a real surprise for me because I see myself more as a poet not as a novelist.
After that I wrote my book of short stories, it was translated in English and German and so on, then they invited me to write a play. My Director friend asked me to write something about Don Juan. It is such a trivial topic, everyone has wrote about Don Juan, but I did some research and I found that during the time that Don Juan first appeared, written by Moliere I think, it was in the beginning of the 17th century and it appears in Seville, which at the time was a world trading centre for the tobacco trading from south America and America.
I connected these two topics, the passion of cigarettes and the passion of women; you know it was about this time that they started to ban smoking and of course the sexual harassment and the tobacco harassment. The title of the play is very short, DJ an abbreviation of Don Juan but it’s connected with discouraging and scratched with famous quotations and famous works by Moliere, GB Shaw, Byron and Max Frisch, with everyone connected to Don Juan, with this myth (because Don Juan is like a soap opera now).
You have this main character in different Epochs, and how impossible is Don Juan in this epoch. So it’s a play about the close future without smoking, without flirting, without these things. It was quite successful in Bulgaria, it received national award for best dramatic text but it was my first try at this. After that I wrote this my second play The Apocalypse Comes at 6pm.
It was staged in Sophia and a month ago I was invited to New York, in Manhattan to an International festival for the rehearsed readings of the play. It was very much like neat11 here in Nottingham.
In between my novels, short stories and plays, I have written screen plays and have had two movies realised; The last one was titled Omelette and was noticed at the Sundance Festival.
So it stems from a literary perspective and the final mediums are different.
Yes the mediums are different.
It’s quite a multi-faceted, fractured approach.
Yes I like this. My novel, Natural Novel is a multi-faceted novel. I try to tell the story through the eye of a fly. I like this way, I think it is more adequate, we don’t live in the 19th century novels, our novels are different.
So is this novel designed to be read in a linear was or is the reader encouraged to progress through the book in a random fashion?
The main character of the novel, wanted to make a novel with only the beginnings of novels. You have the classical beginning of the novels because it’s a story about a man who gets a divorce from his wife. He is trying to forget this, so he tries to write a natural history of the toilet; the natural history of the fly; basically to write a novel with only beginnings because in the first 17 pages of novels all families are happy.
Going back to The Apocalypse Comes at 6pm – what was you inspiration for this play?
Actually I wrote the play in Germany. I lived in Berlin for 1 year. I tried to write my second novel but it turned into a play. I wanted to tell about small personal apocalypses; I’m interested in the small perishable things, everyday things, because I come from Bulgarian Literature, it was for a long period part or this socialist, communistic, totalitarian regime.
In this kind of literature you have an interest only in the monumental, the abstract, the big issues. I hated this I wanted to tell the story of the fly; the fly is a good metaphor for the small things, perishable things, non durable things around you.
You know in the last few years when I started to write this play about the apocalypse its typical for the world, we have this feeling that the apocalypse is really close. You know, they say the world will end in 2012 and now you have this 21 May, the world will end this year, (by the way on this same day I was in New York and they present my play about the apocalypse and this preacher said the apocalypse will come at 6pm, I don’t know why this didn’t happen).
For me 6pm is an important time because it’s a minute before the dark comes, so to me it’s important. And I wanted to tell about the pre- apocalyptic situation, about the minute before the apocalypse comes, because all films, mainly American movies, they focus on the time when the apocalypse comes. It’s a big blockbuster vision. For me it was interesting that the apocalypse comes everyday.
I remember how my grandmother, in the evenings and late afternoon, around 6pm she would read the bible. At this time in Bulgaria it was forbidden to have the bible, to have religious opinion, so she reads secretly, her bible was enveloped with newspaper, official newspaper so you don’t know what she read, and she whispered it, so I heard all apocalypse from the bible whispered.
I was a child of 7 years old, for me it was one of the experiences that the apocalypse was something very close to us so maybe this was the first exploration of the dystrophic about the apocalypse. The other exploration was the social aspect, it’s connected with what happened in the 90’s in this part of the world, or even the 80’s during the socialist time. Its about the people from my generation, 40 or so, because our biographies flit between 20 years in the socialist time and 20 years now. After then, we can compare and have our memories from before and after. One of the characters in the play states: ‘We start the millennium in a micro-apocalypse in advance, we have our micro-apocalypse from before 1989, we started to it in advance’
The Apocalypse Comes at 6pm is completely different from the first play, DJ is more light, like a light cigarette, this is more dark.
Does your work translate well in other languages?
I like post-dramatic theatre, it goes beyond theatre convention, you can go a step beyond. In my first play it’s not so typical from the Bulgarian situation. Bulgarian theatre tends to be more classical, a bit conservative; of course we have the young directors that are trying to be more avant-garde, but basically it’s a more classical situation.
In New York for the rehearsed reading, I had my fears because it’s completely different, but it was great. I think that they found the tune of my play more easily than the Bulgarian actors, my play is based on the monologues that you tell to the audience on the edge of the scene. You know the American actors, they have this experience with the stand up, one man show and all this talking with the audience and Bulgarian actors prefer to play with the other actors.
I was really satisfied, unexpectedly for me, that they catch the tune, because it’s a bit lyrical, a bit dry, and they found the tune. So you never know that you words will find the right context.
Sometimes our text is more clever than us, people perceive more meanings, more things that you didn’t think about. Sometimes you think there is one meaning and the artist can give you back the other meaning.
I like this story because it is so universal, I found after the first reading some of the actors were crying, that’s because personal is really universal, if you want to be universal you have to be more personal, the most universal thing is personal, I can feel this.