Dijana Matković

Dijana Matković, born 1984 in Novo Mesto, is a Slovene author, translator, journalist and editor with a degree in Comparative Literature. In 2013 she published her first book, a short story collection titled In the Name of the Father (V imenu očeta) and is currently working on a book of essays and novel. She established and edited Airbeletrina and Državljanska odgovornost (Civil responsibility). She edited and contributed as a translator to Antologija tesnobe (Anthology of Anxiety, 2016), a book on anxiety with essays written by writers from Slovenia and other countries from the former Yugoslavia and was also an editor of Antologija svetlobe (Anthology of Light). As a journalist and author, she has contributed articles to Delo, Dnevnik, Mladina, Literatura, Le Monde Diplomatique, Pogledi, Airbeletrina and others. She organizes public discussions and tribunes about media, culture and society and has translated authors such as Danilo Kiš, Andrej Nikolaidis, Ognjen Spahić and many others.





The Return


I have been here for a few months now, in this house that, before my arrival, before I started talking to it, before I thoroughly cleaned and renovated it, wanting to also restore and cleanse it of all the bad things that used to happen here, had long stood desolate and abandoned. I have still not processed in my mind how I have come to once more be at the epicentre of all that I was terrified of as a child. Back at the bottom of the hill that casts a shadow over the vineyards which only ever produce sour wine, back in the four streets of the place where I was born, streets extending along the river like the veins of some small rodent, a rat perhaps. Back among the same people, even more exhausted than they were when I last saw them. Here, where I have been sent by anonymous commentators – ‘Go back to where you came from!’ – whenever my words happened to tread on some sore point.

I ponder over the degree to which I chose this rural withdrawal myself and how far my return was inevitable. I am aware of the human tendency to create narrative meaning, stories with which we nurture the illusion of free will and of forging our own path. Stories with which we reduce all the moments that have come before and the circumstances that surrounded them, eventually bringing us to the present juncture, to a superficiality of the I-am-exactly-where-I-should-be kind. Even worse, we believe this banality has a spiritual dimension. That we are on some kind of ‘path,’ created exclusively for us. Life is no path; we are going nowhere, not progressing towards anything (apart from death). Progress is the logic of markets, not human lives; we humans just are. Sometimes in better, other times in worse circumstances. To survive, however, we tell ourselves, and in conformation also to others, stories about our lives – as if weaving a blanket with which we can cover ourselves at night so we can fall asleep. And so I returned to the place of my birth so that I could write in peace. That is my narration, my own creation of purpose.

Beyond the narration are the facts, which are more difficult to live with.

It’s a fact that I did not as much leave town as it was the town that, with its impossible cost of living in combination with an unlucrative field of work, closed the door on me, pushed me back to the periphery. Towns are places that need no kind of fence or walls to eject from their centre any unwanted population, those with weak purchasing power. The barrier is invisible but effective: high rents and living costs alone act as gatekeepers.

It’s a fact that it is practically impossible to step out of the social class into which you were born (in my case a working class marked by immigration, poverty, lack of education and all their psychopathologic consequences), bolstered by numerous factors, not least by the individual’s tendency to recreate their home surroundings or rather their inability to sever their bonds with them. To put it differently: even if a series of unbelievable events, persistence, talent etc. lead to the rare opportunity with which one might change their life and drag themselves out of the misery of a constant survivalist mode of operation, the possibility that one will recognise and comprehend the opportunity is remarkably small. The experience of ontological inferiority prevents people from functioning in changed circumstances, generally leading to ignominious failure, regardless of how excellent the opportunity.

It’s a fact that my incapability of suppressing what I have seen within the toxic, discouraging or simply pointless working environments which I have encountered in town, and with it also an inability to enter into compromises, could lead nowhere but to a withdrawal of one kind or another from the world which I, prior to getting to know it, thought was real and one in which I belonged. Once I also began to recognize the pattern of activity at the systemic level – pointless reproduction of much of the same within the context of the rat race where there is no space for talent, innovation, common good – I could no longer bear it. I stopped participating. I stopped producing. I simply stopped. And, for a person with no backing, stopping is enough to set in motion a rapid downward slide. You no longer play along? You no longer believe? There’s the door.  – This is, if we listen out carefully, the mantra of the so-called free market that purports to be ethical at its core.

It’s a fact that I do not even belong to the world that I ran away from as a teenager and to which I have returned all these years later. I did not fit into the place of my birth when I was growing up, nor do I fit in it now that I am more equipped than then to figure out why shop keepers and bank clerks give me suspicious looks.

My position – the one I have chosen or that has, more probably, befallen me – is one of a person in between. Of one looking out from between the panes of glass of a double, Russian window; into the space where I happen to be at a given moment and out beyond it. And as I am neither here nor there, as I am nowhere, I am everywhere. From here I can observe better, see better. At least that’s what I’d like to believe.



Christmas Eve. My sister calls me from England, worried that I am ‘alone today’. “How interesting,” she soon establishes, “I called to offer you some consolation and here you are, consoling me.”

“Of course,” I reply. “You’re among people.”



Who are you and where are you going, what is your true calling, your mission? What makes you happy? These clichés, kitsch you come across even by only slightly opening the door to the world, serve not what they purport, they do not create truths and meanings, instead their function is to direct us towards a narrowly apportioned effectiveness and partial usefulness for those who drive the system – in return for an enslaved life. The purpose of this quasi-spiritualised kitsch is primarily to conceal the truth. It conceals the fact that the search for personal conceptualisation is intended for the poor, the workers – the well-off are allowed to just live.

With property in the village, even if I am penniless most of the time, I have a privilege similar to the privilege of the well-off – an attained space in the world that is not conditional on what I create. I can simply be in this world without owing anything to it for my existence. Even more – as I’m no longer playing along, I don’t need to nod, shake my head or reach my hand out anywhere and to anyone. I don’t need to go along with anything. And I don’t. I no longer cater to clubs of a common denominator, I no longer go for ‘positive alignment,’ for ‘self-fulfilment’, for ‘let’s go, just a little more, let’s tighten our muscles,’ for ‘you need to exploit potential,’ and least of all for ‘sometimes you need to so something just to pay the bills.’ I simply no longer play along. I doze. Repose. And rhyme. Mostly I rhyme. Probably because beside myself and those like me, only rhymes are more redundant. Probably because the world doesn’t give a fuck about rhymes just as I don’t give a fuck about a world in which you are worth only what you can produce and spend.



January. I ask a writer colleague to write a contribution for the Anthology of Light (my editorial work being a rare arrangement bound to the outside world that I have maintained after my move). A few days later he sends me a piece with a simple hypothesis –‘happiness is not thinking about things’– that he elaborates on over two scenes, one of which talks of a holiday trip to some exotic islands, when, writes my colleague, sitting on the boat, he has no thoughts and no angst. Perhaps this is happiness, he contemplates.

“The essay you sent me,” I tell him, “is written from a privileged position.”

“What’s wrong with privilege?” he objects. “Are you saying that simply writing from a privileged position is bad by its very nature?” he says. 

“There’s not necessarily anything wrong with privilege as such,” I reply. “But don’t let your privilege to send holiday postcards into your essays.”

He disappointed me, my writer colleague. By carrying out the task that petty bourgeois literature has in society – that of consolidating the idea of permanency and continuity of the familiar – he represents part of the problem, not a solution. By stopping at half the step. By stopping at half the step in life as well.

“But there is no exit, there’s no freedom, it doesn’t exist,” he told me when I articulated the problem I had with him.

I used to support him, but then… then I began reading more carefully, seeing things more clearly and, accordingly, became more and more radical, increasingly uncompromising.

“Of course there’s no freedom and no exit,” I tell him. “Just as there’s no safety and no stability for which you sacrifice freedom. What matters though is what you set out towards.”




A friend of mine concluded that I was suffering from agoraphobia when she read my piece on my trip from the village into town on which, after weeks of silence in isolation, the first person I came across had a serious case of verbal diarrhoea, a person whose raw existence is the embodiment of violence and an aesthetic crime that I could not, however escape – as we shared the ride – so I reacted with a panic attack. My friend’s conclusions are mistaken; for it to be a case of agoraphobia I should have a fear of open spaces, but it is not so. What I have a fear of are the people who inhabit spaces, and even that is not quite accurate, for I do not have a fear of people in general, but only people who are aggressive, wicked, obtuse. What scares me is the absence of reason with individuals (who like very much to connect into groups), who are not in touch with themselves or what is happening around them. And I am not only afraid of them when I find myself in their midst.

Long nights in the village between November and February; I am afraid of a situation where this absence of reason of theirs invades my world, after they discover that we do not match, when it detects what I think of them, when it locates the last sanctuary of common sense where I have found refuge. The absence of reason and with it a sudden irruption of violence that excludes me from the dominant equation of a world that is not made to my measure but that of the measure of the obtuse majority, that is what I fear.

I console myself with the thought that I am of no interest to anyone. My little prayer, even though I know not who it is intended for, contains a single plea: that the world would leave me alone.

Something is happening to me after the age of thirty. I see people more distinctly, they shine like a naked blade, I write in a novel in the making. When I look at them I see pain, but more often also what is missing; a severed connection and a greyness that forecasts even darker shades for the future of human existence.

An open, empty space? No problems. Quite the opposite. Open emptiness is what I long for.



I want to rest. I want to read on the balcony for as long as it takes, walk up a hill for as long as it takes, potter around with the soil for as long as it takes for all that is superfluous to drop away, all that I have accumulated over my years in town and probably even before. Beginning with fear, with a lot of fear. In the village I am alone, so I take care of everything myself, even fear. I know how to do that, I am adept at that. Creating stories from nothing. “Only humans are capable of that,” says my sister. “A horse, for example, will not make up some story and then jump back – boowhah, what’s this??” But my sister newer saw the horses that, after someone had attacked them with an axe, something that, to the delight of the outraged masses, the media reported on for at least a month, recuperated at the Veterinary Faculty close to where I used to live. There were two of them, beautiful, with coats that glistened in the sun when they moved their slender muscles, gracious creatures – with deep lacerations on their faces. If you approached them, and I once went right up to the fence, they twitched nervously and moved to the far end of the enclosure. After what they had been through, the horses had also become masters of creating stories ‘from nothing.’



It is spring. My trees are budding. All that pushes below the surface simultaneously opens upwards.

“Don’t give up, Dijana,” an acquaintance says to me. “In our neck of the woods women don’t give up either.” The commonplace is made of Teflon, nothing but another commonplace ever sticks to it. No real emotion, no thoughts, no song, no Nobody in the making. I give myself to reading, into tradition. I give myself to a room of my own with a door that seals well. I give myself entirely, under the skylight (that terrifying skylight!) through which the stars shine on clear nights, from Major to Minor, yoked to the Plough. I am the gap for Danilo, Virginia, Aleš, Boštjan, Felix, Marko, Thomas, Sylvia, Oscar, Gregor to reach through – all who did not like the outside world because they did not need it. Or it was the other way around. I give myself to the exit towards the balcony, facing the river, high enough that I do not need to be communal, low enough for the postman to pass me any parcel over the top of it. There are two postmen in our area, but only one motorbike with which they push their way up the hill. One of them never says anything, which is good, the other kindly addresses me by my name, which is nice. “Dijana, a little book for the holidays for you,” he says.

Recently people have all been calling me by my name, perhaps because I have given it up to anyone who might want to do something with it.

I unwrap the packing of the little book that has just arrived, removing all that is redundant, and read, read, read.

Rade is gone*, they write.

Now we can start getting to know each other, I think.

I am becoming a beating core, a crossroad traversed by numerous suns.

Give it all you have.

This has only just begun.





*Rade Krstić, Slovene poet (1960-2018)




Translated by Gregor Timothy Čeh