Eight great quotes from “Dictionary of the Khazars” by Milorad Pavic

I recently read Dictionary of the Khazars, written by Serbian author Milorad Pavic and originally published in 1983. Originally, the book had been published as a separate male and female version. Recently, it was updated as an androgynous version. I’m not entirely sure what the deal with the genders is. In any case, this is an interesting work of postmodernism revolving around the conversion of the Khazars to Judaism, structured as a dictionary of sorts. It’s also split into three parts: a Christian one, a Muslim one and a Jewish one. Here are eight quotes from the book that particularly stood out to me.

Have nothing to do with things that involve the three worlds of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism here on earth, so that we may have nothing to do with their underworlds. For those who hate one another are not the problem in this world. They always resemble one another. Enemies are always the same, or become so with time, for they could not be enemies otherwise. It is those who actually differ among themselves who pose the greatest danger. They long to meet one another, because their differences do not bother them. And they are the worst. We and our enemies will combine forces to fight those who allow us to differ from them and do not let this difference disturb their sleep; we will destroy them in one fell swoop from three sides…”

He grew up and later lived with an insatiable wanderlust. He always carried a rug with him and used to say, “My home is where my rug is”; he spent the better part of his life among tribes so wild that, after shaking hands, he always had to count his fingers. Only illness provided some sort of island of peace in his life. As soon as he fell ill, he would forget every other language save his own.

The hierarchy of death is, in fact, the only thing that makes possible a system of contracts between the various levels of reality in an otherwise vast space where deaths endlessly repeat themselves like echoes within echoes…’

The death of the child is always a model for the death of the parent. A mother gives birth in order to give life to her child; a child dies in order to shape the death of its father.

According to one of these terrible stories, the source of Daubmannus’ erstwhile youthful cheerfulness and spirit, despite his affliction, was the fact that, hunched and bent as he was, he could reach down and suck at himself, and so he learned that the male seed tastes like a woman’s milk. This was how he kept renewing himself.

Knowledge is a perishable commodity; it can turn sour in a second. Like the future.

And then I realized there was no more shutting of your eyes to the truth, no salvation in being blindfolded, no dream and reality, no being awake or asleep. Everything is one and the same continuing eternal day and world, coiling around you like a snake. That is when I saw vast, remote happiness as being small but close; when I perceived the great cause as empty, and the small as my love…

Always remember – you work because you don’t know how to live. If you knew how to live, you would not work, and science wouldn’t exist for you. But everybody taught us only how to work, not how to live. I don’t know how to live either.

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