Literature and Conspiracy in Slovenia
If the terrain of modern literature were three dimensional, we would drive around it even if it took an extra day. The landscape is littered with above-average unpublished American writers and lesser American writers who are published; these are the side of the road equivalent of plastic bags. There are, of course the occasional great figures, like Antonio Lobo Antunes, standing alone like a cypress; but the wind carries these bags all over the place and the cypress gets spoiled with all these anti-ornaments. We could go on and on with this metaphor—maybe Beckett would be a horny toad blending into the desert and Joyce would be a fantastic, giant pink buttocks, etc.—but I’ll stop at the sinkholes, the virtually unknown great writers, who are not only invisible from the road, but even when you are standing at the very lip of their weedy descent. The bones of Vitomil Zupan are buried in a sinkhole somewhere. Even though his Minuet for Guitar is one of the greatest war novels ever written, he is unknown outside of Slovenia. As tragedies go, this kind is very difficult to gauge. Recognition lacks protein and has no effect whatsoever on longevity vis-à-vis actual life span. Vitomil himself understood this; here is a quotation from Minuet for Guitar: ‘What did Leibniz gain in his last hour from his innocent faith in the orderliness of this world? At any rate my cat is happier than him.’ Perhaps later we will have the opportunity to discuss Zupan’s theory of revolutions. For now it is enough to say that his extraordinary novel’s action comes to an end with the accidental death of the narrator’s comrade in arms, Anton. Celebrating the end of the war, a partisan pounded his Italian automatic on the floor and its magazine spent itself, sending a volley up through the ceiling to where Anton stood waiting to receive his absurd death.
No study of the modern Slovene novel is complete without some mention of Ciril Kosmać’s A Fine Day in Spring in which the somber tale of a Czech soldier in the same war in the same general region is killed almost identically, though by an English Sten gun, which Kosmać tells us was notorious for going off accidentally. 30 bullets to the head, end of novel.
What are we to make of this coincidence? Maybe nothing. Or maybe we will end this novel with an accidental death by gunfire. But as the prevailing topic is assassination it is incumbent upon us to consider that aspect of the conspiracy known as the cover story. Now in a small, highly literate country such as Slovenia, where the two greatest novels of recent history end with accidental death by gunfire—and neither novel is surreal or absurdist—one cannot help but think that a darn good anodyne for the body politic that loses a politician to assassination would be the cover story best abbreviated ‘Woops.’
Todd’s Posthumous Cigar
It would be the easiest thing in the world to dismiss Todd Fullmer. For one thing, he’s dead. For another, he was not a great writer, never wrote a book, and was beset by a particularly tawdry obsession. In addition, he was often wrong. Though throughout his career he tried to offset his passion for assassination with attention to detail and absolute adherence to absolute facts absolutely known to have been facts, he often was required by his own momentum to forge ahead without any facts at all. In fact, we can see from his one chapter in this book that he considered his own burden of proof to be less weighty than that of the law, and—here’s where the hubris swells its chest—therefore made him more adept at getting at the truth of matters assassinatory. But Todd Fullmer was honest in his way, and probably knew more about assassinations one way or another than anyone in the world. Plus he actually wrote a few pieces worthy of reprinting. The following may well have been his best:
In the Gaza Strip today, the Israelis assassinated another terrorist, as they call them, someone they tell us was a member of Hamas. I’m not going to give his name, because his name isn’t what strikes me as important. They got him with a missile, in a car, in a car with three other people. Those four died as well as three bystanders. The fact that one bystander was a nine year old girl doesn’t much affect me, because the others were innocent as well. Perhaps even the terrorist was innocent, and his three cohorts. My regular readers will recognize that my fascination with assassinations is of an intensity that renders me apolitical. If it weren’t for assassinations, I would be either without passion or have a passion for something else, probably something morbid. But I like assassinations too much to claim to be outraged at their occurrences. Yet even with assassinations a morality prevails. A target should be chosen and executed and that should be that. A degree of collateral damage is acceptable because no assassination can be perfectly controlled, at least not that of a well-protected high level figure. Jackie Kennedy may well have gotten in the way of a bullet, but she didn’t. She didn’t because as assassinations go, that one was done within the moral confines of assassination. High-powered accurate rifles were used, and all of them were pointed at John F. Kennedy. Surely a mistake could have been made and someone else could have been killed. Someone, as we all know, was badly injured. Jackie could have cracked her skull leaping to safety from the vehicle. Had that happened I would still consider that assassination a moral assassination. Another aspect of assassination morality is that the assassin must undertake a measure of risk. Whoever shot from the grassy knoll risked being spotted by a gutsy bystander or two and wrestled to the ground and apprehended. But the Israelis took no personal chances, and gave no thought to innocent bystanders other than tacitly determining that some of them would die. Yes, plane crash assassinations also premeditate the death of innocent people. The difference is that they are not a matter of state policy. They are rogue acts, and when carried out by states they are rogue state policies. The Israeli assassinations are mainstream state policy. In the Gaza Strip, the victim of the assassination deserves to be named; but here in our publication we refuse to dignify this assassination with a single victim. In fact, I ultimately refuse to call these murders sanctioned by the state of Israel assassinations. Only out of convenience, only to place them out of context of legitimate assassinations do I even discuss them as such. In the Gaza Strip today a missile fired by the Israelis killed seven people. Next week a bomb will go off at a cafeteria in Tel Aviv, but no one in the Gaza Strip will call it an assassination. And I am not an expert in suicide bombings. When it happens, I will remain silent. When the Israelis respond by assassinating a target by missile and killing several more innocent people, I will not repeat this article; instead, I will write a short note: The Israelis assassinated no one today.
Being a reporter and not an historian of grand synthetic qualities, Todd Fullmer simply wrote a sort of lamentation. He did not, as we would have, trace the sad decline in assassination techniques from the purely specific, 99% accurate, poison tipped Bulgarian umbrella to the Predator drone. But that idea is nestled in between his lines, and our hats are off to Mr. Fullmer. As they said about Fidel Castro, give the man a cigar.
Editor’s note: I started The Collidescope so that I could give a home to work that is true to itself rather than diluted by the artless concerns of marketing and audience pandering. The aesthetic of the journal reflects my own tastes, of course: writing that tinkers with the mechanics of language, that itemizes etymology, orchestrates melody, writing that is logistically illogical and acts as the ouija board of voiceless dreams. Rick Harsch’s writing embodies all this and more. I never thought that I’d be serializing an amazing novel from an amazing author. I’m both honored and excited. So dear readers, be sure to bookmark The Collidescope and check back every Sunday for new installments of Kramberger with Monkey: A Comedy of Assassination by Rick Harsch.
Rick Harsch hit the literary scene in 1997 with his cult classic The Driftless Zone, which was followed by Billy Verite and Sleep of the Aborigines (all by Steerforth Press) soon after to form The Driftless Trilogy. Harsch migrated to the Slovene coastal city of Izola in 2001, just as the Driftless books were published in French translation by a French publisher that went out of business a few years later. Rick is also the author of Arjun and the Good Snake (2011, Amalietti & Amalietti), Wandering Stone: the Streets of Old Izola (2017, Mandrac Press), Voices After Evelyn (2018, Maintenance Ends Press), Skulls of Istria (2018, River Boat Books), The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas (2019, River Boat Books) and Walk Like a Duck: A Season of Little League Baseball in Italy (2019, River Boat Books). Rick currently lives in Izola still with his wife and two children.