Sterjo Spasse (1914-1989)
| Saturday, 07.07.2007, 01:08 PM |  


Sterjo Spasse
Sterjo Spasse (1914-1989) is a novelist and short story writer of (Slav) Macedonian origin from Lake Prespa. It was while teaching in the little village of Derviçan south of Gjirokastra that the eighteen-year-old Spasse began writing his first novel, and his masterpiece, Nga jeta në jetë - Pse!?, Korça 1935 (From life to life - Why!?), usually referred to for short as Pse!? (Why!?). Like Haki Stërmilli’s Sikur t’isha djalë (If I were a boy), Pse!? is written in the form of a diary and focusses on the tragic dilemma of a young intellectual in a backward rural society. Gjon Zaveri is an intelligent young man who, after his studies, returns to his native village. His parents, intent on adhering to custom and upholding tradition, insist that he marry the girl they have chosen for him, the village maiden Afërdita. Gjon knows that such a marriage would be a disastrous mistake, but after much soul-searching and anguish, he reluctantly concedes to the alliance, thus submitting to tradition and patriarchal society, and bringing about his own downfall. Pse!? is a nihilistic work, a roman i mohimit (novel of denial). Its pessimistic hero Gjon Zaveri suffers from all the Weltschmerz of Goethe’s young Werther, a hero with whom he feels great affinity. In the end, resigned to his fate, Gjon commits suicide by throwing himself into the lake. Two weeks later, a letter of farewell is found, with which the novel concludes.

Post-war Marxist critics were unable to deal with Pse, though it may be considered one of the great Albanian novels of the early twentieth century. The Schopenhauerian pessimism and the Weltschmerz conflicted too sharply with the positive hero demanded by socialist realism and they dismissed the work simply as the product of the suffering and oppression of the working masses in pre-liberation, feudal-bourgeois society. It was referred to publicly only in order to show what progress Spasse had made with his subsequent novels of socialist realism. From a purely aesthetic point of view, exactly the opposite is true. Although Pse?! is the work of youthful inspiration by a writer as yet unskilled in his métier, this first novel contrasts favourably with all of the later ‘classics of socialist realism’ that he produced.


Excerpt from the novel "WHY!?"

It is better to be ruled by an inanimate yet visible object than by philosophy which is invisible! It is better to become a murderer with a rifle than by thoughts. Only a few people are killed with a rifle whereas thousands are killed by thoughts. I know that books have alienated me from life and that philosophy has caused me to lose my feelings as a human being. Love was not born for me, nothing was created for me! I was born superfluous in this world; I sat down to the dinner table by mistake. Having wished so desperately to right some of the wrongs of man, I find myself with no one close to me in this world. I am not even close to myself. I am like a reed floating in the middle of the ocean and shall soon sink to the very bottom of the sea. And I must drown, for though alive, I am as if dead. It is all the same to me... No one should pardon me for that which the world calls sin, for I pardon no one, especially not the philosophers. As for my body after death, I am a Diogenes. Let it rot where it collapses; let it be devoured by the first wild beasts that find it. But if mankind cannot endure such a thing and insists on burying me, then I have one wish. Let them bury me in a lonely spot, surrounded by thorns and thistles, without a tear or a lament, without offerings or mourning clothes, because for me:

A world of nothing, from nothing for nothing,
revolves around the essence of nothing!’

The villagers buried their only intellectual with due respect, but in a lonely spot - at the top of a hill overlooking the village where the gentle breezes blow from all directions. In the shade of a wild rose lies the young man’s simple grave. On it there is no name, no date or sign. All that is inscribed are his last words:

A world of nothing, from nothing for nothing,
revolves around the essence of nothing!
A young man on the path of the philosophers.

[Nga jetë në jetë - Pse!?, Korça: Drita 1935, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English in History of Albanian literature, New York, vol. 1, p. 476-477]

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