The World's Best Unknown Books
09 09 2012

Parent book: Borislav Pekić - Rabies

Borislav Pekić about Besnilo in an 1983-Interview

Excerpt from Ž ivot na ledu III

Having been asked what the meaning was of one of his symphonies, a great composer once replied: “While I was creating it, the only ones who knew were God and I, now only God knows.”

However it hasn’t been that long since I finished writing Rabies,

and I think I still know why I have written it, and why I wrote it in this particular way.

Let’s try through telling a story to get into the point of this novel. At London’s Heathrow airport there is a breakout of hydrophobia,

an epidemic of canine rabies, caused by a lab strain, or as we would say today the reprogramming of the natural rabies virus, by its clinical outcome the deadliest disease known to mankind, at least until now. The airport is quarantined away from the world and the war against the so called Rhabdovirus starts. We have an unhappy ending in order to prevent London and then the rest of the world from being infected; Heathrow is cremated and 250,000 people perish. The only survivor is

a dog carrying the disease.

The world is not saved.

If our only task in this and similar lethal epidemics was to find the cure against the disease as an illness, there may have still been hope. A cure, albeit provisional is always found. Human kind has survived even the dreaded Black Death, which wiped out a third of Europe’s population.

The battle however is not only fought against that rabies, such as it is. The disease causes another kind of rabies in us, the kind under whose shadow we live our lives, the kind of rabies we read, listen and learn about, the kind that we have to face in both our lives and our history, the rabies that each and every one of us carries inside.

That other rabies is the permanent disease of our present civilization and against it there is no real defence.

Our human story, we would have to start from the beginning; we would have to change the very foundation of this civilization and that is obviously impossible, as it is a natural process from the very beginning of human consciousness, from the invention of the first tool which replaced our hands and will soon replace our mind and spirit.

Every so called Progress appears to improve the development of a civilization whose initial, basic and essential assumptions are upside down. With every change, alteration and correction, we are just reshaping our tribulations.

But since this reshaping is all that we have left, it has to be at least good for us in some way.

Hope, if there is any, lies most probably in the odd chance, something that our mind cannot predict and maybe not even imagine. And that the possible salvation is in something which the human mind cannot imagine, and thus of course not attempt to implement—is our chance; because what our intellect imagines and realizes what it has imagined, we are able to see and even worse, feel.

In this age of progress and discoveries, in the age of humanism, our security is even smaller, our anxiety even bigger, our confusion even deeper and our weaknesses even more conspicuous.

We have reached the point where the more we know, or think we know—the more we kill, destroy, humiliate, exploit faster and with even less reason than in the time of Neanderthal struggle for actual survival. Then killing was at least out of necessity, not stemming from ideals like today; then slavery was at least a matter of brute force, not of love as can be the case today.

And it’s not the worst of it that wars are making less and less sense, if it is at all possible to say something like that about mass murder

taking more and more lives, it is terrible that our peace is becoming bloodier, more frantic and more meaningless.

My novel Rabies is therefore the world as I see it. Its real theme is not the disease but what we call our health.

“We are the rabid ones”, says one of the characters, “they are merely ill.”

For all the people in the novel are suffering from their own personal human rabies before succumbing to the canine strain.

No, it’s not a happy story—but what is today really happy—and perhaps not for those who’d like to hope at any cost. Hope is of course important, but not at any cost, especially not at the expense of turning a blind eye to reality.

Only the hope that knows what it is up against can bring us back to life—any other is what keeps us dead inside. Let us not forget how one English poet said—that each bell tolls for us.