The concept of “negative achievement.”

🚨 Assume there are spoilers everywhere. 🚨

The better you’re at it, the more invisible you are.

And what would I have left behind, apart from these shop-soiled mortal remains? Invisible work. A pile of manuals and documents, obscure gazettes, directories and yearbooks, most of them out of print, which I had proofread well, and on which I had therefore left no visible trace. A negative achievement.

The Restless Supermarket” by Ivan Vladislavic

Some notable and humorous typos mentioned in the book are “till we meat again” and “pissed away after a long illness”–both in the death notices of the papers.

In any event, invention never interested me. I had no wish to add to the great bloated mass of the given; I wished to take something away from it. To be not a contributor, but a subtractor.

The Restless Supermarket” by Ivan Vladislavic

Some tragedies are prevented and/or are not even perceived as tragedies because, before they can be registered as such, they are cleared out of the way. There are people who make such things possible. The protagonist in this book sees himself as one of those people. He is a tragedy preventer and/or He Who Renders Tragedies Impossible.

Related to this idea–I watched “Godzilla” recently. (The 1954 film)

One of the main thoughts I had after watching the film was that these government folks in the story need for Godzilla to exist. It is the only way for them to prove their worth.

Part of the reason I felt this way was that, within the story, people seemed so eager for something to do. Ha. It was like, “I’ve been waiting for something close to a disaster my whole working life! Now, finally, I can show the world how much I am needed!”

But the other part was that, as a concept, yes, there is such a thing as a negative achievement. Even if the characters hadn’t been so eager to prove their worth through Godzilla, they still would have needed Godzilla to wreak some havoc before they destroyed it; otherwise, if those people were too efficient and effective every single time a disaster happens, pretty soon others outside of that disaster-prevention workforce might think that such a workforce isn’t needed.

In that case, what is the cause and what is the effect?

In the world of linear time, it seems that the disaster preventers are there because of the likes of Godzilla and people who make typos. But in the world outside of linear time, the disaster preventers need those monsters to exist. Does their need create those monsters? If the monsters were to disappear, would the disaster preventers be happy?

Perhaps the characters in Godzilla may argue that they never wanted so many people to die. But methinks the protagonist of “The Restless Supermarket” won’t find another reason for existence besides attempting to correct people, both on paper as well as everywhere else in life. Perhaps he might admit that he does not want a world free of errors, because then he would be rendered oblivious… if he were honest with himself.

Here are some random quotes from “The Restless Supermarket” that I find beautiful:

The stranger Spilkin, a person whose name I did not even know, finished tearing, crumpled the scrap into a ball and tossed it into the ashtray, where it immediately began to unfold, blossoming like a desert bloom in a time-phase film.

The Restless Supermarket” by Ivan Vladislavic


Sometimes she seemed almost clairaudient. I made a note of the occasion when she began to play the uncharacteristically rowdy theme tune from Zobra the Greek. And who should come bounding through the door not a minute later but Mrs Mavrokordatos’s brother, who went by that name – or something very like it – and answered to that character. I had only seen him in the Café once, and it afterwards transpired that he had just stepped off an aeroplane from Athens after an absence of many months. Instead of greeting his sister with a conventional embrace, he began to kick up his heels to the music in a traditional dance of homecoming.

The Restless Supermarket” by Ivan Vladislavic

Now, I hope I don’t have any typos on this page…

About me

🌊 Call me Ithaka. Everything I do is organized here.