The following excerpt is from Svetislav Basara’s novel, The Cyclist Conspiracy, his second to be made available in English. The novel is translated from the Serbian by Randall A. Major and published by Open Letter Books. Basara has published more than 20 works and has earned every major Serbian literary award, including the prestigious NIN Prize. The Cyclist Conspiracy is a collection of apocryphal texts dedicated to the secret of the Evangelical Bicyclists of the Rose Cross, a mystical sect whose members gather in their dreams and spend their waking lives riding bicycles, creating havoc, altering the course of human events, and meditating on the form of the bicycle. This excerpt follows one unwitting member, L. Loentze, as he is initiated into the Order and introduced to his new post as the chief architect of the Evangelical’s Grand Insane Asylum.
—Taylor Davis-Van Atta
L. Loentze: The Madness of Architecture–The Architecture of Madness
When, huffing and puffing, the messenger of the Grand Master delivered the orders for me to write a paper dedicated to the study of space, I remembered a few details of a letter which I was sent many years ago by Dr. Çulaba Çulabi. In spite of that, I found myself in a dilemma. I knew that a generalized, practically undefined topic does not demand exactness or credibility, that the goal of research is purely subjective and that it will lead me in quite a different direction, revealing things to me that I do not want to find out, just as the appearance of Dr. Çulabi sent my life in a direction I was not expecting, at a time when I still ran a very profitable engineering office, had a lovely house, and respectable friends with whom I played tennis on Sundays. Dr. Çulabi showed up one day in my studio. He said that he, Çulabi, was a representative of the IMPEX COMMERCE Company; he had heard praises of my work and wanted to hire me for a big job that his company had taken over. If I thought his name was strange, the job he proposed to me was even stranger. Namely, with a deadline of ten months, I was to draw up the plans for a Circular Psychoanalytic Center with 15,000 offices; then the plans for the interior of Napoleon’s study (in 450 copies), and finally a plan for the torture chamber of the Holy Inquisition, complete with the devices for torture. I said that it was a really big job and that I had to think about it. Çulabi had nothing against it. His rather strange appearance did not fill me with confidence. I checked the business records of the IMPEX Company and I found out that it was reputable, and also that Çulabi was indeed a representative of the company.
The next time Çulabi visited me, I told him that I would accept the job. I offered him some cognac (which he refused) and coffee (which he accepted), and then we got down to signing the contracts. That was the last time I saw Dr. Çulabi in the waking world. But that same evening when I fell asleep, I dreamed of him in an unfamiliar town; he was standing under the eaves in front of a dilapidated house, and he was obviously waiting for someone because he kept glancing at his watch. When I approached him, he said that I was late. He took me into an empty tavern (I remember that it said EVROPA in peeling black letters above the door), he offered me a seat, and then he talked to me for a long time about Byzantium, bicycles, real and false eternity, and I remember that I was horribly bored in my dream. He also told me that the contract we signed in reality was really important, but that I had been hired because of a much more important job, for the repair of a cathedral that had been damaged during the war by some Nazi commandos. Then he told me that, from that night onward, I was a member of a certain sect, the Evangelical Bicyclists of the Rose Cross. I argued with him and said that no one recognizes contracts made in dreams, and that I had no intention whatsoever of being a member of any kind of sect. Çulabi smiled mysteriously. “It isn’t up to you,” he said. “You don’t choose, you’re chosen. But you just don’t get it, I see. So, tomorrow you’ll break two timepieces.”
When I awoke, I remembered the dream in detail and laughed: a dream is just a dream. Still, I was upset, and I could not figure out why. In front of my office, I looked at my watch. It had stopped. I tore it off my hand and – beside myself with anger – slammed it down on the sidewalk, remembering Çulabi’s threat in my dream at that very instant. I went into a nearby bar, drank two cognacs, gathered my thoughts and went to my office. For a while everything was all right. Concentrating on my work, I forgot all about the dream and the broken watch. However, the wall clock began to chime twelve. Seven, eight, nine . . . I counted silently, attempting to overcome the rage that was growing in me. I did not manage; I grabbed an ashtray from the desk and flung it. The glass on the clock broke, the pendulum stopped swinging. My fellow workers looked at me like I was a madman, which I was to some extent. I mumbled a few words of apology, said that I was not feeling well, that I was nervous and exhausted, and I left the office. Later, when I had come to my senses, I called my doctor on the telephone, described what had happened to me (saying nothing of the dream), and he recommended a certain Dr. Schtürner to me, a reputable psychiatrist, a student of Carl Gustav Jung. He also told me not to worry, that my spiritual health was all right, and that the whole thing was most likely the consequence of psychological exhaustion.
The next day, I did not go to my office. I had an appointment with Dr. Schtürner at eleven in the morning. I was rather upset because that night I dreamed Çulabi in that same town; he was leaning against a linden tree (in full bloom), laughing out loud and saying nothing. I thought that, regardless of the financial consequences, I should break the contract with IMPEX COMMERCE, but I changed my mind: that would be a sure sign that I had gone completely mad; I cannot break contracts with customers just because I am dreaming their representatives. But I decided to tell Dr. Schtürner everything.
“Yes,” Dr. Schtürner told me a while later in his office, “such things do happen. However, there is no cause for alarm. Dreams are a practically unstudied area. The unconscious knows much more than the conscious. For the unconscious, temporal-spatial limitations do not play any kind of role. And you see, preoccupied by work and social obligations, you have very little time for yourself, and that is being expressed in your unconscious processes. Your dream, as I interpret it, is a warning. The nervous tension that forced you to behave uncontrollably has been reduced by the very fact that you faced it, because you, if I may say so, dulled its edge by thinking about the dream.”
Dr. Schtürner asked me to tell him one of my typical dreams, a dream that I had often and which remained most clearly in my mind. I told him that I do not have such dreams, but the doctor insisted; everybody, he said, has such a dream, you just have to relax and you will remember. Lying on the couch in Dr. Schtürner’s office, I tried to remember such a dream and in the end I did, but that was a dream that I had not had in years:
In the company of a woman I don’t know, I am walking down a village road. For some reason, her company makes me feel uncomfortable, like the unpleasant company of unfamiliar people. I look at her from the corner of my eye to check, and become certain that I have never seen her before. I try as hard as I can to get rid of her. I turn left and right, but she follows in my footsteps. Then I come up with an excuse – I’ve forgotten something – and go back the way we came. I arrive in a village which, obviously, rests on a cliff above the sea which I cannot see, but I hear the murmur of the waves. And there, in the narrow village square, I see an older woman whom I recognize to be the elderly figure of my mother. She has her back turned to the sea and she is crying. I approach her, and the voices of people who I cannot see are saying that “she was thrown out of her home in her old age” and that “no one takes care of her.” At that moment, not far from me, I see that unfamiliar woman who I tricked. She is watching me, more in pity than as an accusation, but I am overcome with anger and I say: Get out her out of here. Then I shout: Get out her out of here!
Doctor Schtürner carefully noted down the dream, with the comment that it was interesting; he recommended that I not go to work for a while and made an appointment for the next day at the same time. But that night, I dreamt Çulabi again. “Loentze, Loentze, it will do you no good to resist. You’re working against yourself. Because you’re not listening to me.” I jumped up out of my sleep all covered in sweat, overwhelmed by an undefined fear. Then I comforted myself with Doctor Schtürner’s remarks. I’m just exhausted, I thought, my unconscious is warning me, I will get some rest and everything will be all right. I took two pills to calm my nerves, read for a little while and quickly sank into a dream with no one in it.
“You see,” Dr. Schtürner told me the next day, “your dream is completely clear and is full of unambiguous symbols. You say the area is by the sea, but that you cannot see the sea. You hear the murmur of the waves. The sea is, you might know this, a symbol of the unconscious. You don’t dare to look at the sea (into the unconscious), but you are still aware that it exists. Beside you is a woman you don’t know. Are you sure that you have really never seen her in real life?”
“Quite sure,” I said.
“An unknown woman in a dream, that is a symbol of the anima. It represents your soul which you are obviously neglecting. As I mentioned yesterday, you are too busy in the waking world and therefore your internal world is disturbed. The anima is trying to get closer to you, but you don’t want it to. And why you don’t want it to becomes clear in the next episode of the dream: the one where you encounter your mother in her ripe old age.”
I wondered how all of that was related.
“You don’t have a father?” Dr. Schtürner asked with a lot of tactfulness in his voice.
“No,” I said. “I was born out of wedlock. My mother never told me anything about my father, and I never dared to ask.”
“There you have it. By nature, you have an affinity for mysticism; if I may so, you are poetically inclined. However, the fact that you grew up without a father caused you to choose an extroverted, almost exact profession in which you have affirmed yourself as a successful man. In other words: you had to be both father and son for yourself. That is the explanation of your dream: an unresolved Oedipus complex. You don’t have a father. The day when you confronted the Sphinx, when you symbolically came to the conflict between your corporality and spirituality, you wanted to marry your mother. But the myth is incomplete: you don’t have a father and you don’t know who you should kill. So, your tragedy – symbolically, of course – is not complete, it has not been lived through to the end, you have been left without catharsis. This can be interpreted from the fact that your mother, very old, is standing with her back turned to the sea. She is no longer expecting anyone.”
I hardly managed to say anything out of my amazement.
“And what should I do?” I asked.
“Listen to what Çulabi is telling you. Your problem can be solved only in dreams.”
At the time, of course, I could not have guessed that Dr. Schtürner was also a member of the Order of Evangelical Bicyclists of the Rose Cross and that the whole thing had been prepared even before I was born. That night, I was not afraid of my dreams. I fell asleep fairly early; Çulabi still had not come. I waited for him in the gloomy tavern, this time it was full of people talking in a language I did not recognize, probably a Slavic one. When Çulabi arrived, I told him to tell me about my father. Who is he? Where is he? How can I find him?
“Your father died recently,” Çulabi told me. “For reasons which would not be clear to you now, we won’t talk about why he never came to see you. But you should know this: your father was an exceptional man. You can be proud of him. His name is Joseph Kowalsky.”
“Yes,” said Çulabi. “Kowalsky is your father. In a way, I am sort of replacing him, so I will always be around at the beginning. And you really will need help, just as I did and many others before me. Because some things are just hard to understand . . .”
That it really was like that, I found out the next night when Çulabi, via indescribable nightmares, led me close to the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. The shining astral structure was damaged by emanations of the nasty thoughts of the members of the Traumeinsatz, a unit formed by the Third Reich with the goal of destroying the Order of the Evangelical Bicyclists. As if hypnotized, I stared at the building, a magnificent house of worship which is not built like earthly churches of brick and stone (of which the Tower of Babylon was also built) but of the yearning for unification with the primordial light, a yearning that itself became light.
“This is why you studied architecture,” Çulabi told me. “Your task is to repair the Cathedral and, fulfilling your age-old dream, to make it even more beautiful. But before that . . . Before that you have to finish one more job, up there, in the waking world . . .”
The task was banal. Senseless. At least I thought so in the beginning. To Bajina Bašta, a nondescript town in the heart of the Balkans, I was supposed to take two small documents, A Tale of My Kingdom and A History of Two-Wheelers; further, I was to hide those documents in a pile of magazines where they would await their future finder and reader. However, residing in that little town during that foggy autumn, I realized that I had gotten onto the trail of my task: I was not supposed to do any kind of study of space; I was to write a paper on the organization of a space in which, in one place, all of the evil of this world could be gathered so that it could be systematized and systematically destroyed. After three months of work, I made the Outline for the Project of the Universal Insane Asylum.
On the pages which follow, I present the results of my work.