architecture of possibility:
reading milorad pavic reading


lance olsen
© 2000

this essay first appeared in the writer's chronicle

 

"I thought how houses are like books," writes one of the bibliophilistic narrators of Milorad Pavic’s extraordinary novel, Dictionary of the Khazars. "So many of them around you, yet you only look at a few and visit or reside in fewer still." Surely this is the case with Pavic’s architectonic wonders in this country. Meeting another reader familiar them is a little like engaging in the literary equivalent of a secret handshake. It’s a surprising revelation, after all, given the Serbian writer’s minimal reputation here. Visit Brazil, however, or France, and it’s a house of another narratological color entirely. Visit much of the rest of the world, in fact, and you will discover Milorad Pavic the famous and respected poet, dramatist, short story writer, and novelist whose work has been translated into sixty-seven languages and who has been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize. You will discover a brilliant innovator with a fierce, always startling, deeply metaphoric, and richly ludic imagination whose complex linguistic and formal playfulness represents some of the most original and accomplished in contemporary fiction.

You will discover a secondary Pavic as well: the university professor who has translated Pushkin and Byron and is an expert on Baroque and Symbolist poetry, a theorist, and a scholar of seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century Serbian literature. It’s this shadow-self you will see if you study the photographs on the back of his books: a dead-ringer for Lech Walesa with that jowly face, toothbrush mustache, thick eyebrows, and dark hair parted neatly on the left. His eyes are congenitally kind, his smile as unassuming as the plaid sports jackets, white shirts, and ties he always seems to be wearing. This is the Pavic who talks to himself while puttering around his Belgrade apartment, drives against traffic on one-way streets on his journeys through the capital, and takes pride in the fact that his family has produced at least one writer each generation since 1766.

Born October 15, 1929, the son of a philosophy professor and a sculptor who built houses for a living, Pavic is quick to underscore in his short autobiography on his website that "I have been a writer for two hundred years now." Yet he didn’t publish his first modest collection of poetry until he was nearly forty in 1967. Instead, he studied literature and the violin as a child and soon evinced a knack for rapid language acquisition. He tried his hand at writing fiction in high school, but stopped almost immediately, discouraged by the realization that his instinct was to invent against the dominant social realist mode. Such mimetic work, attempting as it does to mirror external reality in a linear fashion, didn’t interest in the least the eccentric man with an arabesque imagination who would become obsessed years later with generating new realities that mirrored the intricacy of the postmodern pluriverse. He thus slid comfortably into the apolitical life of literary critic and translator in the Fifties, married another literary critic, Jasmina Mihajlovic (who would eventually take on the role of his biographer, bibliographer, and one of his most astute readers), and with her had a son, Ivan (who would grow up to become a painter in Paris and illustrator of his father’s most recent novel).

Pavic continued to publish poetry and, increasingly, short fiction through the Seventies and early Eighties, virtually unknown in his own country, let alone abroad. Then, in 1984, at 55, everything changed, and changed stunningly with the publication of that first novel, Dictionary of the Khazars. A radical experiment, Dictionary poses as a lexicon that combines a furious storytelling impulse with a Byzantine sense of surface decoration, intellectual abstraction, and exquisite formality of design. It detonated on the European scene. Four years later Knopf brought out Christina Pribicevic-Zoric’s wonderful translation in the U.S., and, over the course of the following decade his next novel, Landscape Painted with Tea (Yugoslavia, 1988; U.S., 1990), which takes the form of a crossword puzzle, and his novella, The Inner Side of the Wind (Yugoslavia, 1991; U.S., 1993), which takes the form of a clepsydra, or water clock. In 1998, Dufour Editions, a small press in Pennsylvania dedicated to publishing noteworthy European writers, brought out his latest novel, Last Love in Constantinople (Yugoslavia, 1994), which structures itself around a Tarot deck.

What we don’t have here, even now, except for bits and pieces in the odd journal, are his four volumes of short stories, his play, his several books of poetry, or his academic monographs. And, it almost goes without saying, we’re the poorer for it. Moreover, the novels we allegedly do possess are often notoriously difficult to get hold of since most have slipped out of print and off the bookstore shelves. Nor do we have much by way of good criticism to help in our appreciation of Pavic. The notable exception is the summer 1998 issue of Review of Contemporary Fiction (edited by Radmila Jovanovic Gorup) which carries a key interview with and essay by the Serbian author in addition to seven illuminating critical forays into his work and a bibliography.

Why this seeming lack of interest in our country for a writer who commands such impressive attention on the international stage of letters? One reason might have something to do with how in general postmodern fiction and late outriders of modern fiction have taken a lot of hard knocks recently from American critics and readers who have come to conceive of them as little more than exercises in elitist self-indulgent textual brinkmanship. Certainly there are many exceptions to this perhaps too-easy generalization, recently among them Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, Don DeLillo’s Underworld, and the wild quasi-cult success of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Nonetheless, it is equally true that many American writers whom we associate with exploratory anti-mimetic fiction that takes chances, challenges us, and makes us work intellectually as well as emotionally seem to have fallen out of favor—or at least out of the substantial circulation they once enjoyed. One need only call to mind the diverse likes of Walter Abish, John Barth, Samuel R. Delany, and William Gass.

In addition, Pavic’s novels tend to reveal a remarkably European sensibility that apparently puts off many Americans, who don’t quite know how to approach such a chimera, while delighting reading audiences abroad. Art, Pavic once asserted in an interview, "must move continuously in order not to sink. If art stops moving, even for a moment, it will drown." His is the craft of the quick, of continual structural and definitional investigation that finds easy company among a luminous constellation of European and European-influenced Latin American innovators. Among them one can locate Calvino’s dazzlingly self-reflexive and existentially comic intelligence in books like If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, and faux-American Nabokov’s in Pale Fire, with its ornate narrative hall of pseudo-scholarly mirrors invented by a genuinely scholarly awareness. Borges’ dense, resonant, acutely philosophical metafictions that sometimes read as five- or six-page notes for the novels Pavic actually composes almost go without saying. Cortázar’s surrealist imagination and his proto-hypertextual novel, Hopscotch, which offers the reader various reading strategies from which he or she can choose, informs Pavic’s fictive understanding almost as much as García Márquez and his magnum opus, One Hundred Years of Solitude, instancing as it does both a stupendous unhinged ingenuity and a profound passion for a rich oral tradition shot through with deep mythological undercurrents. Behind them all, naturally, glimmers the textual generating machine called The Thousand and One Nights.

All these writers would agree, along with Pavic himself, that "there are no definite borders between the real and the imaginary world. A free man suppresses the borders between those two worlds." Assume such an anti-pragmatic (and hence, from a certain historico-philosophical perspective, anti-American) stance, and one’s writing rapidly evolves into an act of liberation, life itself into a chronic metalogical surprise aswarm with passing strange coincidence, delightful indirection, and epistemological tease after epistemological tease which lead to larger and larger ontological questions about the nature of literature and the plexus of existence. For Pavic, this means a fiction whose basic state of being is amazement before the universe. Consequently, its basic modus operandi is a peculiar textual haunting that leads to readerly wonderment—not only at the level of plot, where, say, a woman can begin to write letters to a younger version of herself at her old address halfway across the globe to feel a little less lonely in her new home, but also at the level of abrupt marvelous parenthetical deadpan detail: the girl whose shadow, we learn in a passing clause, carries the scent of cinnamon, the old man whose bones are made of gold, the fellow whom people won’t stop slapping (for no apparent reason) as he attempts to make his way down the street one day toward some more central narrative action.

Such haunting enters the very architecture of Pavic’s sentences. One character asks another in Landscape Painted with Tea, for instance, if children have souls before they are born, and another answers, in part, with the following:

If you do not christen [their souls before they are born] . . . . they’ll turn into tiny winged children, unalive and unchristened, who fly, whistle, and piss from the air into the ears of passersby. They will roam forever . . . , elongated like wrung-out fish, with beards on top of their heads, they will shriek with the spring down the streams, in cemeteries, they will scream in underwater voices in the night air and attach themselves to the bellies of nursing mothers, playing their breasts as though they were bagpipes. Screeching, they will call on your house, too, they will sob under overturned bowls and bite your progeny and their brothers with wise dreams.

Note how every line is peppered with shocking linguistic gifts. Unchristened souls will change into winged children who fly? Fair enough. But those children will then whistle (why whistle?) and piss (the last verb one might expect to encounter here) into the ears of passersby (onto the hair, perhaps, or the heads, but into the ears?), while growing beards (unusual, but inside the realm of possibility) on top of their heads (and now suddenly outside the realm of possibility), only to enter your house (the listener-within-the-story’s house, to be sure, but also by metafictional extension the reader-of-the-story’s house) to bite your progeny and their brothers with wise dreams (again, the last adjective and noun one might have anticipated to conclude this askew tumble of images). Added to this aesthetics of surprise at the level of action within the sentence is the aesthetics of surprise at the level of wild metaphoric trope: the children will become elongated "like wrung-out fish"; they will play nursing mothers’ breasts "like bagpipes."

Several worlds away from realist sentences, then, which embrace a kind of lucid anonymity and predictability by creating the illusion they are panes of transparent semantic glass through which we view what we once thought of as communal reality, Pavic’s self-reflexive ones strive by means of zany narrative hair-pin turns, hyperbolic formulations, and outlandish landminings of expectation to foreground themselves as sentences—as highly artificial constructs, that is, designed to call attention, not only to the magical narration in which the reader takes part, but also to the very act of begetting such narration. Reading a sentence by Pavic (not unlike reading one by Nabokov) is like playing a small-scale game of linguistic chess with a master—or, perhaps, to remain with the bounds of our overarching metaphor, wandering through a small-scale Byzantine edifice. It’s a small step from here to conclude that reading Pavic’s prose shortly becomes an act of reading about the act of reading.

This assuredly is what all his work is about sooner or later: why we read and how. When a critic commented that Dictionary isn’t so much a novel as "a parable about the novel," she could have been referring to any of Pavic’s self-conscious fictions, which, like Borges’, are peopled with a pantheon of postmodern heroes: scribes, writers, publishers, scholars, translators, and librarians—those whose reason for existing is the composition and interpretation of words and thus systems of meaning. One is often tempted to say that Pavic is a writer’s writer, but closer to the mark might be to submit therefore that he is a reader’s reader. Central to his own poetics of reading is his distinction between what he calls reversible and nonreversible art. In his essay "The Beginning and the End of Reading—The Beginning and the End of the Novel," he argues that reversible art is that which, like architecture or sculpture, can be entered at several points, wandered through without a sense of beginning, middle, or end, and visited and revisited from a number of considerably different points of view. Nonreversible art is that which, like a piece of music or most fiction, is made to be experienced linearly from start to finish. Pavic’s goal as a writer is to transform at least one species of fiction from nonreversible into reversible art. His mission, that is to say, is to drive the wrong way on narratological one-way streets.

He accomplishes this by designing texts that thwart conventional reading and interpretational blueprints while forcing the reader into making a series of self-conscious choices about how to navigate them. "In my opinion," Pavic contends, "the book is going through a period of decadence and crisis, but the novel is not. If there is something in crisis it is the way of reading. That is why I try to push the reader to be more active." Hence the genesis of those four elaborate narratives in the respective forms of a lexicon, a crossword puzzle, a clepsydra, and a Tarot deck—the genesis, namely, of sophisticated Byzantine texts that call attention to themselves as three-dimensional structures in our hands while concomitantly inviting us to become co-participants in the fabrication of their meaning which, we are invited to keep in mind, is and always will be a powerfully personal engineering enterprise. Pavic’s novels quite literally invade the world outside their narration while the world outside their narration quite literally invades his novels—not, it should be italicized, simply to perform yet one more act of self-indulgent textual brinkmanship. Rather, Pavic has a much more consequential and fully human explanation under his belt, according to the intrusive narrator of Landscape: "because any new way of reading that goes against the matrix of time, which pulls us toward death, is a futile but honest effort to resist this inexorability of one’s fate, in literature at least, if not in reality." To disrupt the deep-structure of a story that itself mimics the deep-structure of life, with its unstoppable slide from beginning to end, amounts to nothing short of an assertion, however short-lived and in the long run inadequate, of human freedom.

Dictionary, as a case in point, masquerades as the modern reconstruction of an original 1691 edition, itself unreliable, based on three sets of texts (one written in Greek by Christians, one in Arabic by Muslims, and one in Hebrew by Jews) about events which allegedly took place in the eighth century (though it might have been the ninth; there is much debate) concerning the warlike nomadic tribe called the Khazars which came to settle and establish an empire between the Caspian and Black Sea. Where they came from and where they went and why remains a mystery. As a matter of fact, just about everything about them remains a mystery, including the principle event in the their history referred to by specialists as The Polemic. Here wise men from each of the great monotheistic religions traveled to the Khazar empire, interpreted a knotty dream by its ruler, the Kaghan, and, doing so, won the Khazars over to Christianity, Islam, or Judaism (it’s unclear which, each religion in retrospect asserting the Khazars converted to it).

If this weren’t deliciously complicated enough, Pavic’s novel takes the shape of not one but three lexicons, one for each religion. Each contains encyclopedic entries (usually discordant with their sibling entries in the other lexicons) on the life, customs, stories, major (and minor) figures, and beliefs of the Khazars, along with a multitude of references to the Bible, miscellaneous myths, sermons, the Cabala, Russian novels and the German romantics, and so on, many of which are historically accurate and some of which are not, drafted by scholars over the course of more than eight centuries. In the original 1984 edition of Dictionary, each lexicon was printed on different-colored paper, red for the Christian, green for the Muslim, and yellow for the Jewish, and the 1988 American variant still comes in either a "male" or a "female" version (each reader chooses which one he or she would like to buy), identical except for a single paragraph—though the author never specifies exactly which paragraph that is; such business is for the reader to ferret out, if she or he is interested, by carefully comparing the two versions of the text . (The answer, by the way, appears on pages 293 and 294 of the American edition, when an Arab man’s thumb accidentally brushes against a Jewish woman’s hand during breakfast in a hotel garden: the female version slides briefly into sentimentality in the face of the act, while the male one slides into murderous hatred; the interesting result of such seemingly stereotypical gender constructions is to undermine them both through the strength of their presentation as stereotypes).

Because of its fictive status as a trinity of lexicons, Dictionary can be opened and read anywhere. In truth, the least intuitively comfortable place to begin it is at the beginning. Many of the key figures and events are cross-referenced through a series of conspicuous icons on the page, meaning that no matter where one starts one is soon carried into a narrative web that exists among the different lexicons and various often-discordant versions of the same stories. It is therefore effectively impossible for the reader to become anything other than an active party in textual manufacture and a co-builder of significance. Yet he or she is aware that she or he is participating in book whose essence subscribes to a hermeneutics of uncertainty with a Heraclitan view of words, texts, and truth. Just as many characters in the novel teeter on the edge of becoming someone, something, or somewhere other than they are, slipping between beings and worlds (like the inhabitants in Itil, the Khazar capital, "where, when two people (who may be quite unknown to each other) cross paths, they assume each other’s name and fate, and each lives out the rest of his or her life in the role of the other, as though they had swapped caps," so too the text itself is a translation of translations, a compulsive study of textual and existential metamorphosis. This isn’t so much a building designed by Alberti, then, it is the Hagia Sophia designed by Escher in one of Dali’s dreams.

And so the enigmatic Khazars become emblematic of the text as a whole. They possess no clear origins and no clear endings, and at their narrative’s center beats nothing more than a nexus of conflicting interpretations. Accordingly, Dictionary is not always an easy book to read for the narratologically faint-hearted, especially if one is looking for a plot and sense of overall coherence, but it is always an amazing one, and one whose individual sentences and paragraphs are continual rare pleasures. Every other one is a sudden fiction in miniature, a prose poem in disguise:

The Khazars believe that deep in the inky blackness of the Caspian Sea there is an eyeless fish that, like a clock, marks the only correct time in the universe.


On Monday evenings he could take a different day from his future and use it the following morning, in place of Tuesday. When he came to the day he had taken, he would use the skipped Tuesday in its place, thereby adjusting the total. Under these conditions, of course, the connecting seams of the days could not fit together properly, and cracks appeared in time, but this matter only gladdened Petkutin.


In 867 A.D. the brothers set out with their followers on one of those journeys where every step is a letter, every path a sentence, and every stop a number in a large book.


In Constantinople one morning in 1699 he [Yabir Ibn Akshany, a lute player who may also have been Satan for a while] tossed a laurel leaf into a pail of water and dipped in his head to wash his pigtail. It wasn’t for more than a few seconds, but when he lifted his head from the water and took a deep breath, Constantinople and the empire in which he had washed were no longer there. He was now in the Kingston, a luxury Istanbul hotel, the year was 1982 after Isa, he had a wife, a child, and a Belgian passport, he spoke French, and all that was left floating at the bottom of the sink made by F. Primavesi & Son, Corella, Cardiff, was the laurel leaf.

Pavic himself metamorphoses into a postmodern Scherazade in this text that foregrounds idea, imagination, wild narrative non sequitur, a musical architectonics of form and language, enthralling intelligence, voice, playfulness, appropriation, and readerly freedom while downplaying chronology, attention to the senses, a homogeneous point of view, Aristotelian plot, dialogue, fully rounded character, and fleshed-out scene. Paradoxically, such pyrotechnic troubling of diverse traditional techniques serves to highlight thematic unity. For Pavic tells us, first one way and then another: if not today, then tomorrow, we shall all become Khazars, an undone and lost people unreadable by our children’s children’s children, and existence itself will thereby always remain at best a series of tentative quests, protracted processes that lack stable products.

But Pavic’s first and perhaps most successful novel (certainly his most well-known) is not so much about the Khazars, all said and done, as it is about reading about the Khazars. So it functions as an epistemology about what we can’t know and why. One of its key parables, as several critics have indicated, is that which appears in the fictional "Preliminary Notes" to the pseudo-lexicons: "Imagine two men holding a captured puma on a rope. If they want to approach each other, the puma will attack, because the rope will slacken: only if they both pull simultaneously on the rope is the puma equidistant from the two of them." One of those men is the author of the untamed text, of course, and the other is the reader. Only by cooperating by means of an intricate interpretive dance can they both continue to exist. And the "punishment for shirking this responsibility," Rachel Kilbourn Davis asserts in her essay on the topic, "is death—not just the literal death of the text but the intellectual and spiritual deaths of both the writer and the reader."

"If you do not forget the books you’ve already written," Pavic told an interviewer, "you cannot write new ones, because every new book is like returning to the beginning." After Dictionary, Pavic heeded his own advice. While there may be something intellectually remote about his first novel, his second, Landscape, carries with it the full range of human emotions along with a strong narrative drive, a sure-footed pacing, and the presence of many extended scenes. That notwithstanding, there’s no doubt who assembled it. This novel employs the fundamental metaphor of art-as-building to relate the odyssey of a Serbian architect manqué named Atanas Svilar who gives up his creative endeavors to become the tremendously wealthy executive of an environmentally dangerous chemical corporation in California. The novel, whose fairly conventional narrative overture soon fractures into a mosaic of testimonials to Svilar involving confessions, family chronicles, letters, newspaper articles, memoirs, and authorial interruptions, divides the world into two kinds of people: cenobites or solidaries, on the one hand, who affirm communal life, and idorrhythmics or solitaries, on the other, who affirm a "shallow but impenetrable solitude." Alienated from his past, his self, and the world of nature, Svilar is of the latter sort. In questing for his father, who disappeared near the end of World War II, he quests for a real home, a source of authentic selfhood, and ecological harmony, yet is doomed to failure. The reader, meanwhile, soon sets out on his or her own quest for a home in the text, which takes its shape from a crossword puzzle that the reader, following the author’s instructions and diagrams, must choose to experience either "down" or "across." The reader soon learns—perhaps unsurprisingly—that he or she is the ultimate solution to the novel’s fulfillment, especially since one of the central characters in it has gradually fallen in love with her or him.

Pavic’s novella, The Inner Side of the Wind, also asks the reader to make a decision, though here it comes before he or she even opens to the first page. On the inside flap (the front and back covers are indistinguishable, except that one is rightside up, the other upside down, just as the first part of the book is printed rightside up, the second part upside down) appears the following note: "This book can be read from either the front cover or, by flipping it upside down, the back cover. The choice is yours." Start one way, and the reader will meet a retelling of mythological Hero’s story set in the twentieth century. Start the other, and she or he will meet a retelling of mythological Leander’s set at the turn of the eighteenth. Only here Hero is short for Heronea Bukur, a chemistry student and amateur fiction writer who teaches French on the side. Leander is Leander Chihorich, a mason, merchant, and one-time musician who commences another Pavician journey—this one is as much temporal as spatial. Leander swims like his mythic namesake, but he is borne in this version through the darkness of time rather than the sea by various fires. While Hero and Leander never actually meet in this recapitulation of their story, images, phrases, and scenes from their narratives echo back and forth, and their tales do kiss in the androgynous center of the novella, which we slowly realize has taken the conformation of a device for measuring time by marking its flow through a small opening

Last Love in Constantinople, Pavic’s most recent novel, comes with a set of twenty-two Tarot cards from the Major Arcana. Accompanying them is an explanation of their meaning and use, along with three diagrams of possible ways to lay them out to obtain different sequences of reading the text at hand, each of whose chapters is named after and controlled by one of the cards. However one chooses to proceed, one soon enters the story of a conflict between two Serbian families during the Napoleonic Wars, the French-aligned Opujices and the Austrian-aligned Teneckis. Sofronije Opujic, whose father killed the patriarch of the Teneckis years ago, returns home from military duty to learn one of his sisters wants to marry into the hated family. What follows is a series of resourceful reprisals that spiral through the years toward a final showdown in Constantinople involving various fated deaths. Pavic’s use of those deaths and that Tarot deck draws our attention to the idea of prophecies which fill the pages of this book, sometimes coming to fruition and sometimes not, recalling for us that the future is the one place we will never reach and therefore never really know.

Pavic’s interest in readerly participation, unpredictable quantum leaps among proliferating story lines, typographical and configurative freeplay, and so forth, obviously suggests an abiding kinship between his work and hypertext fiction. In 1992, just a handful of years after the appearance of Michael Joyce’s landmark, Afternoon: A Story, Robert Coover published an essay called "The End of Books" on the front page of The New York Times Book Review that traces the term back nearly a quarter of a century to computer-scientist Ted Nelson’s coinage describing "the writing done in the nonlinear or nonsequential space made possible by the computer":

Unlike print text, hypertext provides multiple paths between text segments, now often called "lexias" in a borrowing from the pre-hypertextual but prescient Roland Barthes. With its webs of linked lexias, its networks of alternate routes (as opposed to print’s fixed unidirectional page-turning) hypertext presents a radically divergent technology, interactive and polyvocal, favoring a plurality of discourses over definitive utterance and freeing the reader from domination by the author. Hypertext reader and writer are said to become co-learners and co-writers, as it were, fellow travelers in the mapping and remapping of textual (and visual, kinetic and aural) components.

The precipitate, Coover argues, possesses "no fixed center, for starters—and no edges either, no ends or boundaries. The traditional narrative time line vanishes into a geographical landscape or exitless maze, with beginnings, middles and ends being no longer part of the immediate display." Quoting hypertext authors Carolyn Guyer and Martha Petry, Coover emphasizes that this innovative brand of fiction demands an innovative brand of reading because "the form of the text is rhythmic, looping on itself in patterns and layers that gradually accrete meaning, just as the passage of time and events does in one’s lifetime." In a sense, then, as George P. Landow maintains in Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, such maneuvers mark the convergence of poststructuralism and the digital technosphere in that both accent the notion that "we must abandon conceptual systems founded upon ideas of center, margin, hierarchy, and linearity and replace them with ones of multilinearity, nodes, links, and networks."

It would be an overstatement to suggest Pavic is the father of the hypertext, needless so say, any more than it would be, for instance, to suggest Coover in "The Baby Sitter," Cortázar in Hopscotch, Raymond Federman in Double or Nothing, or even James Joyce in Finnegans Wake was, but it is clear Pavic is well aware of and sympathetic to the digital notion. While his early novels might best be thought of as unconsciously proto-hypertextual, his later work is fully cognizant of its hypertextual components and literary companions. His wife, Jasmina Mihajlovic, in one of her two contributions to the Pavic issue of Review of Contemporary Fiction, makes the connection succinctly while chronicling the efforts in Serbia and the U.S. to convert Dictionary into a CD-ROM version, and in Malta to do the same with Landscape. Pavic himself concludes "The Beginning and the End of Reading—The Beginning and the End of the Novel" with an affirmation of the digital form that can "break free of the conditions and laws of Gutenberg’s galaxy and emerge into a new galaxy . . . that has no more connection with a printed book." And it seems that this is exactly what he is up to these days. His 1997 hyperplay, For Ever and a Day, is a love story that comes with a menu from which the audience, actors, or director can choose one of three beginnings and one of three endings (one befitting a tragedy, one a comedy, and one an ecological tract), while his 1998 Web-based hypertext, Damascene, is rich with electronically forking corridors that invite us to continually choose the chamber we’d like to visit and deliberate upon that magic act of human choice.

It’s up to us here, at the millennial edge, to begin navigating them.

And as we near that never-completed edifice called the future we will find Milorad Pavic already waiting there for us, having arrived nearly two decades ago, busy building narrative’s tomorrow.