Svetislav Basara: The Cyclist Conspiracy

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Svetislav Basara The Cyclist Conspiracy
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    The Cyclist Conspiracy
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    Open Letter
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    Современная проза / на английском языке
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The Cyclist Conspiracy: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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The Cyclist Conspiracy tells the tale of a secret Brotherhood who meet in dreams, gain esoteric knowledge from contemplation of the bicycle, and seek to move in and out of history, manipulating events; the Brothers are part of a conspiracy so vast and so secret that, in many cases, the conspirators themselves are unaware of their participation in it. Told through a series of “historical documents”—memoirs, illustrations, letters, philosophical treatises, blue prints, and maps — the novel details the story of these interventions and the historical moments where the Brotherhood has made their influence felt, from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand to a lost story of Sherlock Holmes. Masterfully intertwining the threads of waking and dreams into the fabric of the present, the past, and the future, Svetislav Basara’s Pynchon-esque The Cyclist Conspiracy is a bold, funny, and imaginative romp.

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Svetislav Basara

The Cyclist Conspiracy

The Messiah will come at the point when he is no longer necessary.

He will not come on the last day.

He will come on the very last of all possible days.

— Kafka


Endless are the secrets of provincial libraries. Filled with untouched volumes of classics and frayed copies of pulp fiction, in their unexplored cellars they also conceal books that it would be impossible to find in the bookstores of a metropolis or even in the catalogues of the university and national libraries. Just as one does not search for gold at the jeweler’s but rather buys it there, while one finds it in distant canyons and alchemists’ laboratories, so it is that one searches in vain for wisdom in the libraries of Babylon, where it is worn and discolored from use, where, as Berdyayev says, “The spirit is objectivized, fossilized, tied to the sinfulness of the world and the disintegration of its parts.”

Books have a life and death of their own. Those whose authors did not believe in death have a life after the grave as well. Others, again, whose authors believed in reincarnation, get written again. It is impossible to separate the destiny of a book from the destiny of its author, and the destiny of the reader is also mixed into all of this. In other words, it is not the reader who is looking for a book, he is the one who is sought after, and there are manuscripts that hide in distant places for ages until they fall into the hands of the person for whom they were intended. Not being aware of this, one autumn in the cellar of the Municipal Library in Bajina Bašta (where I had taken refuge from a sadness the cause of which I still cannot mention), rifling through dusty copies of periodicals, I came across two little books. One was (in a crude paperback edition of “Slavija,” Novi Sad, 1937) entitled A Tale of My Kingdom, without the usual publication data. The second, a first edition in German, The Manuscript of Captain Queensdale, printed in 1903 in Zurich, in a limited run of six copies. The copy I was holding carried the number 3. Interested in how a book of such a limited run, printed so far away in time and space, might come to Bajina Bašta, I asked a friend, a scholar of German, to translate the rather short text. I was surprised to learn that Captain Queensdale mentioned Charles the Hideous, whom I considered to be a completely fictional character. Then, I was even more surprised when two years later, in the magazine Oblique, I read the authentic text of Majordomo Grossman “A History of the Diabolical Two-Wheeler.” To cut the matter short. I started doing research, the goal of which was to ease the boredom of rainy days, and which in the end — guiding me like Ariadne’s thread through the labyrinth of history — ended up in the form of a voluminous almanac dedicated to the secret of the Evangelical Bicyclists of the Rose Cross.

In handing this collection over to the reader, I realize that several years ago, searching for colored pebbles, I came across a pearl, but also that the pearl had been awaiting a proper owner and found an improper one instead, who would turn it into a glass bauble by reduplicating it in an insufferably large number of copies. The only justification is that, in our time, which falls within the autumn of the year of years (about which Captain Queensdale speaks), even the sparkle of a glass bauble shines through the darkness gathering on the horizon.

S. B.

The Cyclist Conspiracy

At the Court of King Charles


Although the square kilometer as a unit of measure has not been invented yet, my kingdom stretches over 450 square kilometers. But no one knows that. Not even Grossman. I never desired to have a large kingdom. The size of a kingdom contributes nothing to the greatness of its king. On the contrary. Large empires gather all sorts of riffraff, and the emperor has all the shortcomings of his subjects. After all, I did not inherit my kingdom. I created it myself, with my bare hands and a lot of hard work. I spent all my savings. With the help of Grossman my majordomo, I even made my own throne from well-seasoned beech. Into the back of the throne, from behind, we nailed spikes in the shape of a cross, and then we hung the throne with thick rope from the ceiling like a swing. Nothing was left to chance, everything roils with symbolism. When I sit on the throne, the points of the nails drive into my back and I thus crucify myself; the pain does not allow me to relax. I think of the sufferings of our Savior and that forces me to be just and to be forgiving. And the fact that the throne swings indicates the inconstancy of Fortuna, of human life in general. You see, I began as a normal village boy. No one knows who my father was. Perhaps not even who my mother was. This will be interpreted in three hundred and fifty years by Sigmund Freud, when he arrives in the world of the living: the conditions were right so that I never overcome my Oedipus complex, of which Grossman does not even dream. He thinks that Freud is a figment of my imagination. He does not realize that he himself, the majordomo, is a product of an imagination so powerful that he is tangible. It does not matter, if he knew, the flatterer he is, he would immediately come running, tuck his tail and cry out: “Sire, what an important prophesy! What a great prophesy!” Imagine what he would do if I were to tell him something about quarks and quantum theory! Never mind. I overcame my Oedipus complex with ease, possibly because I did not know at the time that it existed. I am a simple man and I figured like this: I have no father, I will be no one’s father. End of story. Then I met Grossman. He had been studying theology at the University of Uppsala, and they had just thrown him out. Rumor has it, because of a deal with the devil. The deal was this: the devil gives Grossman a doctoral degree, Grossman gives his soul to the devil. A fair deal, but it was against the rules of the time. Since we did not have any income back then, we only had intentions, we found jobs at “The Four Antlers” tavern. We washed dishes, kept the fire burning, carried water and cooked oxen in pepper and dill. Grossman had the habit of killing time by asking me theological riddles. For example, how many angels can stand on the head of a pin? Or, habet mulier animam? He would ask in the middle of the rush, wrapped, as if in hell, by an opaque cloud of sulfur steam from the ox horns. Then the owner would interrupt our dispute with a flourish of curses, and theology would have to wait for the nobles to stuff themselves. And stuff themselves they did. I can still hear them slurping their soup, smacking their lips, the chomping of bones, it all resounds through the ages like an echo. I almost forgot, at the time my name was Ladislav, but I did not pay much attention to that. If someone were to accidentally call me, let’s say, Ivan, then I would be Ivan. Ivan, Ladislav, Grossman, what is the difference? At that time, almost none. That is the very reason I became a king. So that I could rise above the average. But I remained average anyway. That is the conditio humana. Anyway, once the nobles had gorged themselves, I would answer Grossman in a whisper: “She doesn’t have one, a woman has no soul. I am sure of it. Women have only a cunt. The cunt is the center, the sun of their planetary system around which, and because of which, all the other organs move and function. And since the vagina is nothing, an ordinary hole, the lack of anything, emptiness, not only does a woman not have a soul — she doesn’t even exist.” “You’re wrong,” Grossman shouted to me from the cloud of his reeking soul. Poor Grossman. He knew Greek and Latin well, but he knew nothing about women. Just like his languages, he was dead. I want to say: hardly anyone knew him, it was hard to communicate with him, but he was still quite useful. Grossman taught me to write. The first use I had of Grossman. I was not interested in the skill of making slanted-thin and straight-thick lines, but in making this book, I was indeed interested. Because of this book I clumsily wrote out my first letters with my gnarled hands. Not to mention the lack of writing materials. This will be well known by even the lowest village tutor in the 19th century. As a sign of gratitude, when I became King I raised a nice mausoleum for Grossman and had the stone engraved GROSSMAN, which soothes his vanity no end. Sometimes he closes himself up in it and practices being dead. He’s careful, he leaves nothing to chance. I do not like such people. Perhaps I will bury someone else there, just to spite him. Now you have some facts which are more significant than the abovementioned about the lack of writing materials. Some future scribbler can draw a few conclusions from this and get his doctorate. First: in this time, a lot of attention is paid to tombs because of the obsession with death, and the nobles build their eternal homes while they are still alive. Second: the nobles are unusually vain, morbid, and they tend to tinker with the details. And there you have it, I also leave nothing to chance and I should not be surprised if they bury me in a potter’s field.

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