Landscape Painted with Tea as an Ecological Novel
Mihajlovic, Jasmina, The Review of Contemporary Fiction
"Suddenly I freeze. I sense, I clearly sense, somebody watching me. Somebody's eyes are fixed upon me. And then I realize that staring out at me from my glasses, quite near, is my right eye transformed into my left...."
--Milorad Pavic, Landscape Painted with Tea
In the interplay of many themes woven into the structure of Landscape Painted with Tea, by Milorad Pavic, it is possible to follow a thread related to the problems of ecology. This thread is drawn through all the layers of the novel and is a part of the relations among the main characters and their links with the world, with nature, and the cosmos. Though it is the Weaver who stands at one end of this thread, who is spinning his web that darkens the light and colors of our world, and who wants to spin an intrigue against mankind and the universe; at the opposite end is a different person, one deft at unraveling things, a new Ariadne. The contours of this second character, who hovers between reality and dream, are painted in the tones of a watercolor with the tints of tea and therefore not as easily discernible as in a photograph. However, it may well be a character whose home is this world and whose image may be linked to the concept of ecology. For it should not be forgotten that the combined form of two ancient Greek words--oikos and logos--(home and word) make up the word ecology.(1)
As a grandiose artistic synthesis of all the aspects of ecological problems, the novel speaks of survival and resistance to the apocalypse and can be taken as an appeal for equilibrium, for the rejection of alienation and self-alienation, for a return to the art of living. The novel is an accusation and a condemnation, an ominous warning. As a reflection in a mirror, the novel depicts the face and reverse side of man, his twofold nature and certitude. This story of the rise of civilization and the mind's brilliant development is transformed into a picture of man's self-annihilation, an edifice of destruction of home and homeland, of nature and the world that is man's great construct.
This tale of the aspiration toward, but also resistance to, the effort to transform the world into a landscape painted in a uniform whiteness or blackness, lacking the reflection of the sky in the water, the shadow of a cloud on the earth, and the glow of a subterranean flame, has man, woman, and Satan as its protagonists. Woven into them, of course, are the reader and the author, past and future generations, as well as present-day man, who is balancing on a tightrope called the ecological crisis.
The ecological plane in the novel can be partly perceived through one of the central themes in all of Pavia's prose works, namely, the problem of identity. The novel has dramatically united, as in a Tower of Babel, the multifarious voices seeking an answer to the questions of personal, sexual, familial, generational, national, religious, collective, and cosmic identity. This search for identity as knowledge of the essence of the contemporary world order by means of immersion into the past and prophecy of the future is, in fact, the search for our original image in order to help us envision our future one and in order to help the world survive.
It is through Atanas Svilar, alias Razin, alias ..., who tries by means of disguise to alter all his identities and thereby lose all identity, that we are shown the ostensible result of alienation from one's own nature, from nature in general, and from the cosmically ordained order. Atanas's hubris is punished by those cosmic powers responsible for him, powers that are not God's but Satan's, in what looks like a unique solution in a topsy-turvy world in which the Devil himself can become a new Messiah.
In addition to Atanas, many other characters are searching for their lost identity in an effort either to change it or, upon finding it, to acquire it anew or else to preserve their existing one. The difference among these characters is in how they go about accomplishing these aims. …