V

BOSNIA AND KANT

(From THE PATTERN)

I had not seen my once close friend, Milosh Misha Bratich, for a long time until he paid me a visit this Spring and I learned that he had been divorced, despite the fact that he had two children, as he confirmed with a rueful nod.

I used to know Vera slightly too. I was aware that no marriage runs on oiled wheels but still, why Misha?

"It's hard to explain... To put it simply, Vera's got a system of her own: hear nothing, see nothing. Or rather she hears what she wants to hear and sees what she wants to see and she sticks to it, come hell or high water."

I happened at the time to be reading Kant, who holds that man has no idea of what space or time are in themselves, but perceives space only as it appears to the human eye and observation as conceived by man and time only as his inner sense directs. And this is unconditionally so, a priori, universally inherent in all mankind, three-dimensionality on the one hand, linearity on the other. And so it is with everything else. To man, an object is nothing but a phenomenon, never a thing in itself; even his own consciousness is merely a phenomenon, not mind or reason in itself; in the critique of pure reason reason a priori the effort of thinking must always be renewed and thereby boundaries drawn and a system laid down for the guidance and benefit of posterity. A scheme of things therefore; always and only some kind of pattern. So why should Vera be any different?

"No, that's not it," Misha retorted. "That we should be so lucky as to stick to Kant and his pattern! Or at least learn to differentiate it from what things are in themselves, that we might respect the next man for that very difference. But all I could see in her eyes was hate, the genuine, unprovoked article hate in itself, if you like. And why?" Then he told me about his venture with Lilya and the sequel to it.

"Misha, not many women would believe that. Surely you saw fear in her eyes too?"

"But how did it come to that in the first place? If she had wanted to talk about our problem instead of engaging in trench warfare and I don't know what all, nothing would have happened. If she really knew me... but that's just what she didn't want to do, or was afraid to do... she would have believed me even after all that happened. You know," he said, suddenly changing the subject, "I don't understand this war in Bosnia."

The death and devastation, the untold awfulness of it all to him made no sense. Even to say this made his hair stand on end, so that there was no question of exercising his judgement. He had never lived in a religiously mixed environment, had no experience and so all he could do was hold his tongue. Someone had actually once invited him to join the Party: look at all the riffraff that did, so why shouldn't he, Misha, an honest soul and politically uncommitted? It made him sick, he almost grew to hate the simple-minded agitator. Why, at that time you could read it in the newspapers, it was that easy to see who the communists were; it was enough to rank you among the best, wasn't it, like a Turkish pasha who all the others had to kowtow to, simply because you declared your alleged belief in Tito and Party and not, for instance, in God and King. But was this the same thing? Even before the war he had found attitudes strange. Did I know that Vera was from Sarajevo? It so happened she was Serb, but who cared even if she wasn't? It was what a person was that made them human, not labels such as Serb, Croat or Muslim. Once, in the middle of a quarrel she turned round and said he was worse than a Muslim. That put a stop to it, because he was immediately interested to know what she meant. Her cousin was married to a Muslim, her best friend too. But he could go to hell if he didn't know, she wasn't going to explain: it was well known, everybody knew. Not only her cousin, but her aunt's sister too was married to a Croat a Bosnian Catholic, as he preferred to call himself. When Vera was left an orphan, it was this uncle and aunt who took her in, sharing all they had with her and their own two children, in poverty and privation. They, and not the aunt now in Germany quite a different aunt on her father's side who used to be a great lady in Belgrade, dispensing lavish tips to the hackney drivers (the cause of a lot of talk), and lengthy lectures to Vera. These sermons were to be taken seriously and discussed at length, mind. By the Cross and angels, how could she enter a Catholic house? Had Vera any idea what the holy Serbian religion meant? But the same aunt who had no children never said anything about taking her into her own home and bringing her up herself. On the contrary, she now wondered how she was to assist financially if it meant her money going into a Catholic household. But could one aunt, even an upper-class loudmouth like this one, be enough for this to be a fact widely known, something everybody knew? Muslims had their aunts and uncles too and so did Croats, even if they called them by slightly different names. Worse than a Serb, worse than a Croat! Everybody doing their very worst, but each being the very best for themselves, just as long as they could come out on top of the heap, by the book or by the bayonet. For fifty years the very Constitution had proclaimed Communists to be the very best in vain.

"And they all do it the same way" he took a few paces up and down the room "All the same, d'you hear? Round and round and no way to break out of it!"

"What do you mean?"

"This idea of paradise the leader's or God's or Allah's it's always the same objective: now in heaven, now on earth except it's not now but later on, at some future stage of socialism. Fifty years of it weren't enough! And why at the end of the day shouldn't people try to go their own way, each to his own measure, in pursuit of his own ends, and let it be as our intelligence ordains? Absolute intelligence, the Primordial Beginning and the Final Objective, God and Truth-in-itself, they're there and they aren't there. Aren't they all human patterns and systematized antinomies like Kant said? The means are important, the most important, the way things are done, not to exclude or ignore other people or ideas, to see one another, hear one another, talk to one another all the same! Even if people divorce, surely they needn't hate each other just because of a pattern?

"You know," he paused for a moment, "I could only understand this war in Bosnia at second hand. I'll tell you how it happened and you write it down, like a story. You can call it THE PATTERN".

(Fragment, translated by Mary Popović)

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