Marica Bodrožić: „Die Tiere sind immer schon dort, wo der Mensch noch nicht sein kann“

„Ich kann den Text nicht umformulieren.“

We live in times that cause us a lot of concern. That’s why in the series „What are you currently thinking about?“ we ask leading scientists and public figures what they find worth considering at the moment. The questions are asked by Maja Beckers, Andrea Böhm, Christiane Grefe, Nils Markwardt, Peter Neumann, Elisabeth von Thadden, Lars Weisbrod, or Xifan Yang. Today, the writer Marica Bodrožić responds.

Marica Bodrožić, 1973 in Dalmatien geboren, siedelte 1983 nach Hessen über. Sie schreibt Gedichte, Romane, Erzählungen und Essays, die bisher in 17 Sprachen übersetzt wurden. Ihr jüngstes Buch „Mystische Fauna – Von der Liebe der Tiere“ ist gerade bei Matthes & Seitz erschienen.

What is currently occupying your thoughts, Marica Bodrožić?

Möglichkeiten nach, wie ich den Text umformulieren könnte.Tiere nach. Es gibt kein einziges meiner Bücher, in dem Tiere nicht eine eigene, wenn auch nebensächliche, aber sehr wichtige Rolle spielen. Aber jetzt, in einer Zeit, in der ich viel darüber nachdenke, was eigentlich Menschsein bedeutet in dieser Welt voller Zuspitzungen, Widersprüche, Herausforderungen, Katastrophen, habe ich das Gefühl, es ist jetzt der Moment gekommen, mich den Tieren zu öffnen. Diesem anderen Blick, dem Blick einer anderen Lebendigkeit, die nicht in strengen Paradigmen denkt, sondern ein anderes Gewahrsein in den Raum hineingibt. Ich habe für mich selbst gespürt, dass es wichtig ist, mich mit diesem Leben zu verbinden oder den Spuren nachzugehen, die mit meinem Leben verwoben sind.

ZEIT ONLINE: In Ihrem aktuellen Buch Mystische Fauna wird die Erzählerin während eines Aufenthalts auf der Kanareninsel La Gomera eines Tages gebeten, auf einen Hund aufzupassen. Innerhalb kürzester Zeit übernimmt er die Regie über ihre Tage und Stunden. Erinnerungen werden wach an Chio, den Hund Ihrer Kindheit im dalmatinischen Kroatien. Eine ganze Vergangenheit ersteht wieder auf. Welches Rätsel geben uns die Tiere auf?

Bodrožić: Animals have always played a significant role in my life since childhood, as representatives of the mysterious, who can be brutally killed but not eradicated. When I was 18 years old, the war broke out in former Yugoslavia, and it deeply affected and shook my perception of the world, leaving me with no choice but to embark on an inner journey. Even back then, I noticed that the animals in the Sarajevo zoo had foretold the fate of the people. What happened to the animals, this siege, later happened to the city as well. It was the longest siege of the 20th century, lasting 1,425 days. Since then, I have felt that animals tell me something about being human. Animals are always present where humans cannot yet be, because fear separates them.

ZEIT ONLINE: Auch im Buch sind es Gewalterfahrungen, die durch Inselito, den Inselhund, auf einmal wieder ins Bewusstsein rücken. Nicht nur die Erfahrung des Krieges, sondern auch persönliche Erfahrungen von Gewalt. Da sind die Schlachtungen der Tiere auf dem Hof. Aber auch die Gewalt der eigenen Familie, der Mutter, des Großvaters. Alles scheint wieder unglaublich nah zu sein. Woher kommt diese Verbindung?

Bodrožić: This initial profound experience of war signifies to me the loss of the world’s friendly openness. Since then, the presence of animals has been an incessant attempt for me to imagine a life without violence. Of course, this is idealistic. And of course, behind it lies the need for life not to be solely exposed to the destructive power of humans. War can besiege humans, overwrite them, make them forget that they are human. But animals constantly remind us of this vitality, of this inner call to preserve life within oneself, to remember that life is valuable.

ZEIT ONLINE: Im Buch ist es immer wieder der Blick der Tiere, der diese Erinnerung an das Leben, aber auch an das Leiden wachruft. Dem Hund Chio wurde damals ein Auge ausgeschlagen. Im Blick des Esels verrät sich das Schicksal, das ihn auf dem Hof bald ereilt. Welche Sprache sprechen Tiere?

Bodrožić: The animals are ahead of us in their silence, in their persistent gaze at us. Perhaps this is also the greatest strength of any truly created language, including poetry. That we can endure the existence of the unspeakable in our language, that the silence between the letters, the sound, the tone, the recognition, and what we can actually say, are all things that speak. And perhaps for me, this is also connected to the mystical moment of endurance, perseverance, and being on this Canary Island. Each book is for me an exploration of this alternative way of speaking, so that I emerge transformed and guided by the transformation to a next island that I do not yet know. Writing is a way for me to endure, to tolerate this world that needs an explanation for everything. Writing is an inner practice for me to learn to look out at sea.

Can we afford this silence, given that you yourself say that the times are full of intensifications, catastrophes, and contradictions?

Bodrožić: I distrust the battle cries, the phrases, and slogans. And perhaps in our time, this is also a form of resistance, to enter into this quieter zone of language and thus also of thinking and reflecting on language, on vitality itself. I do not feel called upon to intervene in these many voices of public discourse, so to speak, at full volume. But I believe that there is a form of silence that can be very unsettling.

ZEIT ONLINE: Auch Pflanzen, Bäume, Ökosysteme erzählen von der Auslöschungskraft des Menschen. Dennoch gibt es einen performativen Überschuss, den die Tiere den Pflanzen voraushaben.

Bodrožić: Yes, absolutely. There is also the aspect of sound, animals have a voice. There are the sounds of animals, the whole range of vocalization. Anyone who has heard a suffering or dying animal knows that this sound of suffering is an expression of great individuality. And I believe that this ability for individual expression is ingrained in all people during their childhood, if they have a childhood with animals. As the writer Elias Canetti beautifully suggests, a childhood without animals is not a true childhood.

Can he be correct?

Bodrožić: I grew up with different people without my parents. But wherever I went, I had the feeling that the animals were already there and already knew me. I would arrive and there would already be a donkey, a horse, a sheep, goats, a dog, cats. For a long time, I felt like I was a child of the animals – I wanted to be understood or accepted as someone who could be just as still and breathe like the animals themselves, while the people always seemed incredibly loud to me, which was also because I grew up in incredibly dysfunctional families. For example, my uncle was an alcoholic who would kick us out of the house in the middle of a small village in winter nights. And while a dog was tied up outside his hut, I formed an alliance with this animal that sat outside in the cold.

„Walter Benjamin has influenced my contemplation on language.“

ZEIT ONLINE: Die Reisen in die inneren Kindheitslandschaften sind Expeditionen durch Raum und Zeit. Der Kirchenvater Augustinus sagte einmal, er wisse nur, was Zeit sei, wenn ihn niemand danach frage. Können Sie es sagen?

Bodrožić: Every time I start writing a book, I come across this question. Time is creation for me, a stepping inward and coming into contact with my own time beyond the clocks, so to speak, with a kind of inner hour. Time is connection in the form of devotion to a place beyond time. Beyond the explanations provided by chronology. Time means taking distance and becoming a traveler that I do not yet know. And this is also an experience with the elements, most likely with that of water, the element of flow. Equally important, however, is that I am a person in a specific time and also dependent on chronology in order to think and articulate, to grasp something that is important to me, to return to the time of clocks, that is, to bring Chronos and Kairos, the measure of outer and inner time, back into conversation with each other.

ZEIT ONLINE: Welche Rolle spielt Ihre südosteuropäische Herkunft beim Schreiben – diese kargen Landschaften Dalmatiens jenseits der Küste?

Bodrožić: Many people have had similar experiences with animals, this moment of vulnerability. However, due to my specific childhood in a small village in the hinterland of Dalmatia, in communist Yugoslavia in the seventies, I am also tied to this region. Therefore, through my experience with animals or being with animals, I was a child of that time. My grandfather was a farmer, we had a small farm, and the animals were simply part of our everyday life. There was no alternative. My aunt in the city always complained that a cow was a very large animal, too powerful for the garden. The lighting conditions of the Mediterranean also play a crucial role. The time of long summers, which actually began in mid-April during my childhood and lasted until October, meant that life with animals always took place outdoors. I used to herd the cows and would set off early in the morning. These are all deeply rural moments.

ZEIT ONLINE: Im Buch tritt diese karge, bäuerliche Landschaft in einen harten Kontrast zu reichen, lieblichen Vegetation auf La Gomera. Schon der südliche Karst ist ein Schwellenland, eine Zone von durchlässigen Schichten. Formen Landschaften unsere Wahrnehmung, unsere Sprache?

Bodrožić: The hinterland of Split is not a lush landscape. There is the karst, the bushy maquis. And yet it is precisely this landscape that demands a more precise vision from me. And then there are a few small towns, a few villages further on, the friendliness of the Mediterranean, the palm trees, the abundance. But it is always this friction, this contrast to the land and to the way people used to live. Also having your own garden or fields that need to be stocked. Getting up early in the morning and being where the birds already are. And yes, it is a landscape that has merged with my inner landscape of the soul. In Mystical Fauna, there are these two, the barren, vast landscape and the incredibly magnificent, overflowing beautiful Canary Islands landscape.

ZEIT ONLINE: In Ihrem letzten Buch Die Arbeit der Vögel sind Sie den Fluchtweg von Walter Benjamin über die Pyrenäen abgeschritten. Auch jetzt kommen Sie immer wieder auf den Philosophen zurück, etwa wenn er sagt, dass Tiere „Zeitfiguren des Friedens“ seien. Was verbindet Sie mit ihm?

Bodrožić: The Berlin childhood around 1900 was, for me at that time as a young woman, before I started writing, an essential book. It was a profound understanding and presence in language. With that, I also had the idea of being able to capture a different childhood, one that is not urban, not tied to the city, but to the rural, inconspicuous, to this small life. And perhaps at that time, reading gave me the courage to seek something completely unique. Benjamin has influenced my thinking about language – what language is, how it is connected to the human body, to places, to history, also to what we can understand, what translation is, what it can achieve, what a life in language means. The more I engage with Benjamin, the more fascinating I find it. Just recently, I discovered that he also read The Flowing Light of the Godhead by the mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg.

ZEIT ONLINE: Die mystische Literatur hat von jeher mit menschlichem Leid und seelischer Heilung zu tun. Was bedeutet Heilung?

Bodrožić: Healing, to me, means becoming whole and returning to oneself. Healing does not exist outside of one’s own life. I believe that healing is complex, that it transcends time and yet occurs within it. It represents a kind of palimpsest within us that wants to be deciphered: Who am I if I let go of the old? Who am I if I allow transformation? Who am I if I know nothing? Who am I if I have nothing? Who am I if I am simply still? And who am I if I am allowed to say everything? If someone listens to me and gives me the gift of their presence? Every person can discover it for themselves, but they need inner time as an ally. Violence can overwrite many things within us, but I deeply believe that it cannot kill the life within us. Unless, of course, the person surrenders to violence and becomes violent themselves. As long as the person is vulnerable and guided by their vulnerability, they will ask themselves questions. And that is very valuable.