These days, more often than usual, a quote comes to mind, which I’ve been carrying around for twenty years now, and it seems that it’s quite important to me. It’s from an essay by Susan Sontag, in which she talks about Walter Benjamin. I don’t remember the essay itself, and for all these years I’ve been trying rather hard not to read it again. I’ll tell you why later. None of it has stayed with me except for that quote that’s not even a full sentence, but rather something along these lines: “a time in which everything valuable was the last of its kind.” I can no longer be sure what these words meant to me in 1986 or 1987 or the following year, when I read them for the first time. But obviously they were very important to me, otherwise I wouldn’t have remembered them. I don’t have to tell you what they meant later, you know that. When I think about that never-written novel of mine I told you about, in which I’d tell our story of the summer of 1991 in Sarajevo, and for which I’ve been preparing, spiritually rather than practically, for about ten years, that phrase by Susan Sontag is a thesis of sorts, understood almost literally. If I ever write that novel, that is, if the reasons for writing it don’t disappear first, maybe these words, however pathetic they may seem to be all by themselves on white paper, will be the motto of the book. Of course, “a time in which everything valuable was the last of its kind” comes to mind, more often than usual, because of Radovan Karadžić. When I watch him on TV, though he has a beard now, it’s as if I see him on the other side of the mirror, where everything that was the last of its kind in the summer of 1991 remained.
But let’s go back to why I shrink from rereading Susan Sontag’s On Photography and Illness as Metaphor, books that meant a lot to me back in those days. I’ve reread almost everything else that mattered at the time, but not her. (That, too, I guess, is the exile’s complex, the reading of the things that you had read back home, in your own world. Some people told me how they recreated their CD collections in Canada or America, how they bought music they used to listen to, although they knew they wouldn’t listen to it again. That’s probably the same complex.) Now, the reason I don’t read Susan Sontag is silly, somewhat ridiculous, but I enjoy it, in a way.