Without Anesthesia: New and Selected Poems by Aleš Debeljak

Author:  Aleš Debeljak

Andrew Zawacki, ed. New York. Persea. 2011. xiv + 178 pages. $20. isbn 978-0-89255-365-5

Was davor geschah by Martin Mosebach

Slovenian poet Aleš Debeljak (b. 1961) belongs to the group of prominent intellectuals and writers whose poetry—as well as critical, theoretical, and philosophical practice—marked the former Yugoslav cultural and literary space. The author is internationally renowned as one of the major poets of central Europe. In the late 1980s he was the first among the younger poets who called into question the limitations of neo-avant-garde experimental poetics. In his early work there prevails a hermetic, neosymbolist atmosphere, transforming traditional lyrical forms (sonnet, terza rima, quatrain, couplets) into free verse and later into prose poems. Debeljak's recognizable discourse of melancholy that is founded in the poetic and philosophic articulation of the unspoken gradually expands the focus of the lyrical subject, without which genuine poetry could hardly survive in the framework of postmodern literature. 

The poetical device of phenomenology of memory is extremely significant for Debeljak's aesthetics and doesn't merely imply a thematic aspect. Without Anesthesia maintains an ongoing dialogue with various temporal dimensions. This poetic position and attitude are designated as "travelling poetics" that provide fullness and simultaneous impressions, perceptions, and memories from different times and in historical, geographical, and spatial relations. The memory thus evokes shadows of lost things, people and places, disappeared and yet preserved in a hidden time (Hoffmansthal, George, Rilke, Proust). It integrates some lucid, epiphanic moments in the nostalgic narrative voice, which is always devoted to the Other, eternally present male-female character of Debeljak's poetry, and maybe to the most important reader, his beloved wife. 

Charles Simic wrote in the foreword to the American edition of Debeljak's collection Anxious Moments (1994) that the poem in prose represented an outstanding example of lyrical fusion of different genres and lyrical practices. There's a pulsating of erotic ecstasy in the poet's invocation of geographic areas, often very distant, which resembles the ethereal visions of the Serbian classic Milo} Crnjanski: "After all, why sadness? Why fear? We do not know the depths of Finnish lakes, the cold of Siberian taiga, the map of the Gobi desert. We do not even know what's in your dreams. Mine, too. That's the way it is." With a rich thematic register (mythic images, sagas, and ballads), especially in the excellent introductory cycle, "Elegies from the North," themes of exile are also highlighted, together with themes of war and prophetic foreboding, the collapse of values and basic heritage of civilization, followed by the sensual confessions in the form of male-female dialogue; the atmosphere of the metropolis opposed to the perfection of the numinous imagination, and eternal departures and returns to Slovenia. This self-reflective standpoint enables a strong cohesion of the mythical, historical, and transcultural layers through the poet's personal experience, which has always been deeply dramatized in Debeljak's poetry. 

Bojana Stojanovifl Pantovifl 
University of Novi Sad