Hey, I’m Aram”, says my dialog partner.

“We’re getting acquainted for the third time”, I reply.

The evenings in the city center are full of people. We, the ones who escape from noisy places, are walking all over the city without any haste up to the yard of a private house with red walls and old furniture. The house turns out to be a small cafe.

 Around the bitter Colombian Coffee the talk of the two begins. It’s about the world, literature, text, image, all favorite movies – almost like in the movie of Jarmusch.

“The first time it was at a bookstore, you helped me buy a book for my friend, the second time – in the park, I introduced you to Janusz Wiśniewski,” I remind him.

“I’ve just remembered,” says Aram. “I also remember I got a bit sad as you introduced me as a film critic while getting acquainted with Wiśniewski. If he’s a writer and I’m a film critic, then something is wrong in this world.”

“Have I done something wrong?” I ask.

“I am a writer, first of all, then a film critic,” he says briefly, then gets upset: “I’m repeating myself. It will probably get dull in the end.”

“If you repeat yourself, I’ll warn you,” I say, “Now, let’s move on to the topic of cinema.” 

“I chose film studies as a way to write because for me it’s a text.”

“I thought film studies is cinema first of all, then a text.”

“I haven’t watched a movie for a long time. In my opinion, cinema has exhausted itself. Literature is more attractive for me now. Though it has always been the most captivating one. Today I am only interested in cinema that is related to literature.”

 – And which cinema is linked with literature?

– Well, for example, Jarmusch. In all of his films, there is a reference to literature. Or Pasolini, being both a genius writer and a film director, wrote his movie screenplays as well. I do love Peter Greenaway. His works are absolute theater, literature, text.

– Is film science a text in Armenia? Or a creation?

– Well, my example perhaps showed it’s a creation.

Yes, in Armenia there are film critics, well-known for reasons I don’t understand, who don’t write or write in a way any good essay writer student can. In our country, film science is more of a commercial than a work of art. Film critics in Armenia are often drawn to some kind of festivals and commercial initiatives. I don’t get that.

In the field of film production, many believe that cinema should be watched on the big screen. This approach is incomprehensible to me. For me, watching a movie is kind of reading, too intimate. I need privacy to watch a movie and read a book. I can’t get into the state of the movie when someone coughs, other eats or talks next to me. I’ve watched genius films that are a great deal to me on the small screen of the phone. At that time, I’m alone with the film and the director. This is not Gregory of Narek’s pathetic solitude, of course, but in any case, I need silence. In silence, you look at the book, the book at you, and no one interferes. The same goes for the movie.

– Any stories about those “dialogues”?

– Quite many! I do love Parajanov. My dissertation was dedicated to him. Last year I went to Kyiv completely alone to find Parajanov’s wife and son. I bought flowers and went to their house. I met his son, Suren, and his wife. She was an interesting, deep woman. We talked about Parajanov for hours, I saw collages that I had never seen before because they are not on display here in the museum.

– I got a picture of your favorite directors: Parajanov, Jarmusch… What about the ones you don’t like?

– I wouldn’t say I don’t like him, but I just don’t understand, for instance, Artavazd Peleshyan. I used to speak up about this during my university study too which’s why everyone considered me an eccentric person.

I don’t understand him as a film director. I admit that he is an inventor in the cinema who created some extremely important tools and gave them to other filmmakers to use them in artful films. That’s a fact I have never denied. But as a film director I find his work incomprehensible.

It’s the same if we call Lumière brothers great film directors. They are scientists who made greatest inventions with few examples in practice. You can’t bypass them just like you can’t avoid Mendeleev while studying chemistry.

– What should cinema be like to be considered good?

– There are movies that impact lever is emotion: they excite, cause sympathy, fear, alarm, tenderness. It’s not art for me. It’s natural that a living person can’t exist without those emotions. But they don’t come from art, they are caused by targeting the senses through images.

– Then, what is art? The one that makes you admire?

– The one that’s beyond all of it. Beyond feelings, emotions. Beyond household emotions. The one that doesn’t impose anything. Recently I was reading one of Vonnegut’s interviews. Speaking about literature, he says: “Readers don’t want to hear anything. They go crazy for love. If lovers unite, it’s the end, the story is over even if World War III breaks out the next minute, or the sky is darkened by a multitude of flying saucers.” Being asked: “Namely, do you bypass love?” he answers: “I have other topics to discuss.” Ralph Ellison did the same in his novel “Invisible Man”. If the hero of his glorious book had found someone worthy of love, someone who is crazy in love, the story would have ended immediately. Or Céline, in his novel “Journey to the End of the Night” simply rules out the possibility of true and ultimate love so that the story can go on and on.

I mean, should these everyday topics get into art, it ceases to interest me.

– But if we exclude those everyday topics, won’t art become too aseptic?

– It’s already a sign of professionalism. How you deal with the topic without directly talking about it and without turning the emotion into a lever of influence. For example, one of my favorite directors, Lars von Trier, does it masterfully. I think one of the best samples of 20th-century cinema is “Antichrist”, in which there are both the themes of love and the child, and the connection with nature, but he does all of this very indirectly. Or the final part of “Dogville” movie, when the hero is ordered to kill the children, you, regardless of your will, suddenly realize that you agree with that idea. That’s the art when the film makes you go beyond your borders, to think or feel things you never thought to be possible.

– In other words, should art make you face yourself?

– Yes, it should make you face yourself, get to know yourself. Or the same Jarmusch, where two people are drinking coffee sitting together in his film. (The movie “Coffee and Cigarettes” he means: S.M.). It seems the film is about nothing but when you hear their dialogues, they are about everything. After watching Jarmusch’s films, you usually think you don’t remember anything. He doesn’t force you to do anything: neither to feel, nor to think, nor to remember. But all his films are obviously from literature with open links.

– Okay, if we simply ask, are you more of a writer or a film critic?

– Well, in the 21st century, it’s ridiculous to say I’m a writer, but I’m a writer, more than anything.

– Why is it ridiculous?

– Because literature has become irreverent for people. When you say “I’m a writer”, you seem to be busy with the latest job in the world. But literature is what interests me. Even my entrance exam for the institute was Parajanov as he was interesting to me as a writer too: he wrote not only screenplays for his films, but also short stories.

– He loved to lie as well, as all of the great writers.

– Well, there should always be a myth in literature. Otherwise, who needs art? For example Céline was a naturalist writer and the protagonist of her own story. She was wounded during World War II and started to see a flying train. I want to show that the fairytale must always be present. Few people are interested in reality. I can’t stand “The Little Prince” as I see in it lots of artificial ideas, morals, traces of advices. For me, it’s a black patchwork. At the same time, I think Lewis Carroll’s book “Alice in Wonderland” is brilliant. When you read Carroll, you realize that he doesn’t care whether you read his works or not. He doesn’t try to teach what’s right and what’s wrong. He wrote a children’s book where the caterpillar smokes a hookah.

Literature is not an educational tool. Literature is your personal experience, which may or may not help. This increases the reader’s perception of the world. The reader must find something new, revolutionary not only in literature but also in cinema.

– Are there people in Armenian cinema or literature who still amaze you?

– It’s hard to mention anyone in cinema except Parajanov… Generally, I don’t understand the separation between Armenian and world art. Who considers to be a good writer or a film director? The one who stands still when put next to the world faces. Armenian writers Tumanyan, Saroyan, Teryan, Charents, Kostan Zaryan… Each of them will always be able to stand by the best writers in the world and will remain regardless of time. There are writers whose topics are very local, strictly national, and they are great too, but still I believe it’s not right to create general national characteristics based on the works of one or several writers/film directors. To be honest, I don’t understand the idea of ” national characteristic generalization” at all.

– There is always a problem of self-determination in it. When your identity feels organic and natural to you, you don’t think about its existence or its characteristics.

– Definitely agree.

The search for a national element in art is incomprehensible to me. Generally, there is only one standard in art: whether you like it or not.

I often say that the phrase ”There’s no accounting for taste” is wrong. There is a friend with good taste and a friend with a bad taste. I have been working in the field of books for many years, and many people, listening to my opinion on books, say: “But that’s your taste,” to which I answer: “Yes, but unlike your taste, mine sells.

– Which is better today: modern literature or modern cinema of Armenia?

– It’s hard, I don’t know whose example to bring. There is both a good cinema and good literature. I think it takes time to evaluate. Besides, while answering this question, a problem of sincerity arises. Most of the modern writers know I don’t read their works. I don’t hide it. We see the world differently. Besides, there is the issue of competition. I can’t praise all of them. Generally, I think that praise is the easiest way to spoil a person! Russian writer Marienhof said: “A bad writer slanders about those literary critics who criticize him and praise those who glorify him. While a good writer cares about neither of them.” This is the principle for me. I write the text the way I feel. Honesty is the important thing in the text, for me. And in general. For instance, my works are printed in “Antares”. I have a lot of respect for my colleagues there, I consider them professionals, but I never cross the working boundary. I am a writer, they are publishers. You present a good text, you get it published. This is a worldwide operating system, an ordinary contract work, nothing more.

– But Armenia is very small for pure business relations. The small size of the country always gives room for personal relationships.

– Yes, that’s a big issue, even for the development of literature in general. Most of our writers have never left Armenia. As long as you are not in contact with the world, you are not out of your comfort zone, you can’t create something interesting for the world. It’s very important to see, to recognize the world!

– What do we need for the development of literature?

– Let me give you an example. A while back, Nikol Pashinyan gifted books of modern Armenian writers to the government representatives. By the way, my book was one of them. I wonder if the sales of those books got increased or Pashinyan’s book is still out of competition? It’s not about my book, which’s been sold out a long time ago and the third edition is expected to be published. It’s not also about Pashinyan’s book particularly, which I consider interesting too. The point is that the books of politicians get sold more than the books of writers.

In my opinion, this is the greatest tragedy. Politics is the literature of the 21st century. You don’t even have to burn books in the 21st century, people just don’t read them.

Besides, I think we need to educate ourselves a lot and thoroughly for the development of literature and cinema.

 Interview by  Sona MARTIROSYAN

Translation by Hripsime HAYRAPETYAN