Dragoljub P. Djuric
Zivan Zivkovic: Signalism: Genesis, Poetics, and Artistic Practice, “Vuk Karadzic”, Paracin, 1994.
The study of Dr Zivan Zivkovic ‘’Signalism: Genesis, Poetics and Artistic Practice’’ is a somewhat summarized version of his doctoral dissertation he defended at the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade on April 29. 1991. where he is a lecturer at the department of Serb Literature.
While working on this study, Dr Zivkovic had two significant advantages which in the best sense of the word reflected on the quality of his work, i.e. the level of his scientific approach to Signalism and the truly impressive exhaustive information he has mastered as its author.
The first Zivkovic’s advantage is the result of the fact that, being a literary critic, he was compelled to follow the highly dynamic creative practice of Signalism, which could be marked as continuity of novelty, and which implies continuous changes of creative methods and artistic instruments. Founder of Signalism, Miroljub Todorovic alone, published about thirty books of poetry, hardly two among them by applying the same method. This means that a critic must first assess each book of a signalist creator from the point of view of theory of literature, to determine its true determinants and define its aesthetic status, in order to be able to evaluate it as a work of art. Moreover, this cannot be done without a previously determined criterion adapted to the new genre of artistic creation, but this criterion must be narrower, but at the same time a more precise measuring instrument of a general aesthetic criterion. In other words, Dr Zivkovic first had to be a literary theoretician and a scientific interpreter of Signalism, defining its criteria, and only then a literary critic, and as such, a good mediator between the new work of art and the reading public. It should be emphasized that Dr Zivkovic has acted like this for ten long years before he defended his doctoral thesis. Literary theoretical, aesthetic, criteria and critical experience acquired in this way was presented in a large number of reviews, essays, articles and in two absolutely unavoidable books: ‘’Orbits of Signalism’’ (1985), and “Testimonies on Avant-garde” (1992).
Scrupulous as a literary critic, in his text “Anatomy of Anathematizing Avant-garde” (foreword to the book by Miroljub Todorovic “Cocks from Bajlon-Square”, Belgrade, 1986) Zivkovic energetically defended Signalism against malevolent, in fact plagiaristic claiming of the achievements of Signalism by the so-called “poetry of change” in Serb literature. In yet another text, more expressive than in the others, ”Mixing Quicksand” (1988), Zivkovic raises his voice in defense of Signalism, against misconception, negligence and misinformation. It refers to a paradox - a text full of praise which, due to ignorance, lack of knowledge and light-mindedness of its author, is harmful because it presents the creative spirit of Signalism in a distorted light. Based on data, incontestable procedure of producing evidence for his arguments, Zivkovic saved Signalism from the “praise”. This is just another instance which shows that Zivkovic in a certain sense acts as a co-creator of Signalism. In fact, that is what enabled him to write about this movement with most directly experienced knowledge, which is by no means a negligible advantage when speaking of avant-garde experimental poetry which he always had a subtle hearing and a reliable eye for.
If Zivkovic has acquired the described advantage solely by his own self-sacrificing diligent work which made him a mature literary critic and scholar, he owes the second advantage greatly to the founder of Signalism Miroljub Todorovic, actually the Signalist Documentation Centre in Belgrade, a treasury of comprehensive data on Signalism which was put at Zivkovic’s disposal during his entire writing of this brilliant book. This was a colossal time- saving opportunity for its author, which enabled him to devote the time and energy which would have been necessary for collecting material entirely to writing. It is self-understood that the data and documents from this treasury demanded selection and classification, which Zivkovic made expertly and faultlessly.
As evident from the title of the book – ‘’Signalism: Genesis, Poetics and Artistic Practice’’ - Zivkovic set out to illuminate these three fundamental properties of the movement from the aspect of literary history, literary theory and aesthetics.
The first part of the book is devoted to the issues of genesis and explicit poetics of Signalism. Introductory notes in the first chapter, Genesis of Signalism, is a conditio sine qua non of further studying of the movement: they are introductory, but they are also a strong foundation of this scientific creation. This chapter discusses post-modernism or neo-avant-garde and denial of tradition, among other. The second chapter is actually a very careful determination of demarcation defined by its title: Signalism in Relation to Historic Avant-garde. Here too, Zivkovic is on solid ground of scientifically verified facts. His previous book ‘’Challenges of Avant-garde’’ published in 1986, made him quite familiar with this sphere. The chapter which follows, Appearance and Development of Signalism is devoted, among other, to manifestos of Signalism, their meaning and reflection on the artistic practice of the movement. The journal “Signal” deserved, according to Zivkovic’s assessment, a whole chapter. All nine volumes of this journal which was published for three years, are carefully studied and their significance objectively evaluated. The last chapter of the first part of the book, Poetics of Signalism (manifestos and others meta-poetic texts) is a synthesis of explicit poetics of the movement. All conclusions reached here are convincingly explained and properly verified.
The second, longer part of this book titled Genres in Signalism deals primarily with artistic practice of the movement, but also with implicit poetics of this avant-garde creative orientation. An abundance of genres, types and subtypes (small groups) of artistic creations illustrates the impressive creative energy of this movement. The best creations in each genre are minutely analyzed with the stress on essential characteristics of the type they belong to. Zivkovic manifested an understanding for novelty and innate gift for observing aesthetic values of complex artistic creations in the analysis of works of art belonging to each genre. His excellent knowledge of aesthetics and broad culture helped him to establish quickly and reliably an experienced aesthetic attitude to each work of art, regardless of its being verbal, visual or complex.
Poetics of each individual genre was determined by Zivkovic partly in reference to manifestos of Signalism and adequate meta-poetical texts, and partly in reference to minute analyses of representative artistic creations for each individual genre. Chapters in this part of the book follow each other in the following sequence: Signalist Scientific Poetry, Phenomenological, Technological and Ready-Made Poetry, Stochastic Poetry, Apeironistic Poetry, Computer Poetry, Permutational (Variational) and Statistical Poetry, Slang (Jargon) Poetry, Haiku in Signalism, Visual, Gesture and Object Poetry, Mail-Art in Signalism.
And finally, as a conclusion: by its approach to the subject, profoundness of analysis, synthesis, joint effects of adequate scientific methods, composition, presentation of evidence, systematic, and excellent choice of appendices, the doctor’s thesis of Zivan Zivkovic, “Signalism: Genesis, Poetics and Artistic Practice” is an exceptionally valuable scientific work. It is not just a brilliant foundation for further studying dictated by historical changes. It is much more than that: it is a deeply founded scientific synthesis on Signalism as an avant-garde creative movement in Serbian poetry and culture.
(Published in Miroljub Todorovic Signalism Yugoslav Creative Movement, Signal, Belgrade, 1998)