Shoshana, August 9, 2008 (view all comments by Shoshana)
I bought this in 1989 and have dipped into it now and then, but decided that now was the time to read it through. Dictionary of the Khazars is a novel in encyclopedic form. It is post-diluvean, fragmented, and, though internally logical, follows dream-logic. Meanings are obscure and malleable, yet characters proceed with certainty, even when the reader knows that the characters' certain interpretations are contradicted elsewhere and at other times. It embodies the problem of attempting to reconstruct a first source, and the sorrow that follows on realizing that whatever the Ur-source was, it cannot be regained and must remain essentially unknowable. At this level, it is a novel about psychology, about desire, which, as Lacan reminds us, is that which cannot be fulfilled. Instead, meaning is accretionary and imperfect. The building of Babel cannot be undone; destroying the Tower yields a destroyed tower, not the state before the tower existed. In important ways, reality is neither observable nor accessible. This dictionary, a compilation of fragments and glosses of three earlier sections, as well as other made and lost parts, is itself fragmentary and unknowable.
Dictionary of the Khazars reads like much mystical writing of the middle ages: Self-referential, illogical, certain of its assumptions. In reading, one understands Pavić's observation, "Knowledge is a perishable commodity; it can turn sour in a second. Like the future" (p. 243). If you like postmodern writing about writing, you'll like this very much. If you don't, this is not a good place to start. Read with Robert Irwin's The Arabian Nightmare to lose yourself in uncomfortable dreams, and with Wilson's The Chronoliths for strange dislocations of time and causality.
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