Danilo Kiš Essay - Critical Essays

Danilo Kiš Short Fiction Analysis

Danilo Ki is most notable for reaching an international audience in non-“world language,” which both distinguishes him from and unites him with other writers of Central Europe. Seldom does a Western sensibility, centered on its own historical importance, perceive a resonance with a voice from a country as small as the state of Wyoming. Yet Ki’s stories are relatively well known and widely read among Americans.

Ki’s narrative stance is the defining characteristic of his prose and even of the way he relates his own biography. He situates the discourse somewhere between the acute pain of his character and the view of the coldest bystander, relating the most intimate of sensations as though from a great distance and relegating the historical sweep of enormous cataclysms in terms of everyday, quotidian existence.

His stories are told with significant intrusion from many narrators, some of whom seem to be the author, some of whom relate “documentation” from various, principally “written,” sources. Often, there are footnotes reemphasizing the effect of documentation. The validity of any statement in a story is always put in question, unlike most fiction, which requires the reader to suspend disbelief. Ki often subverts linear logic using fantastic and improbable events related in simple journalistic style, creating a sense of the surreal as an ordinary existence, and mundane, everyday life as unexpected or too good to be true.

Ki’s characters seemingly act out of feelings that they never express. Their emotions are described externally by information such as physical description or gestures or through stream-of-consciousness narration. This emotional ventriloquism emphasizes the feeling of emptiness in life and the meaninglessness of activity. Still, it is not the pessimistic that carries his narrative but the small talk of his characters, each of whom, despite the near certainty of a reductive demise, seems fully desirous of life.

Early Sorrows

Early Sorrows, despite its English subtitle, For Children and Sensitive Readers, is nothing like the genre known as children’s literature in the West. The character acting through all the stories, Andreas Sam, has gone back to his childhood neighborhood after a time of separation through war. There he visits his old memories, people long dead, houses long gone, and tries to re-create a world that is lost or, perhaps alternatively, to create a rationale for having no more of the old world but a new one instead. This reexamination of fate is probably what Joseph Brodsky had in mind when he wrote that Ki’s writing “erodes our sense of death’s impenetrability.” Ki does not defer to the inevitable; he has his character stand on street corners and on people’s porches, questioning the past, questioning death itself as well as present circumstances.

However, it is in “fording the stream between dreams and life,” as the character Andy himself feels, that the crossing between the palpable and the perceivable is achieved. The direction of the stream of narration in the stories moves seamlessly between the two conventionally perceived contradictory modes of consciousness. What is more real, the reader must ask—what stands now in the street or what is left behind, perhaps hidden by the wall or...

(The entire section is 1368 words.)