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#15: Reactionary Times

Artiom Magun /// Three Passenger-Driver Dialogues

Trip 1. Chkalovskaya Metro Station – Airport

Driver: How much time is there?

Passenger: The question is not how much time there is, but what kind of time it is! We have plenty of time, but all of it is the time of reaction. Look: here in Russia, they are breaking up demonstrations, putting people into prison without due process, and creating loyal oppositional political parties. A small group of people is capable of pushing through any decision it likes. And most of our fellow citizens don’t contest this: they have no time to react! They go to malls, repair their apartments, and discuss their purchases on their mobile phones. People don’t regret their enclosure in private life: in this private life, they satisfy desires shared by others, desires that are advocated in reality shows, TV series and blockbusters! And even to criticize your government makes more sense if you use a mobile phone… But if these fellow citizens actually start thinking about something serious, they will be immediately given some religion or some occult bullshit substitute.

Trip 1. Chkalovskaya Metro Station – Airport

Driver: How much time is there?

Passenger: The question is not how much time there is, but what kind of time it is! We have plenty of time, but all of it is the time of reaction. Look: here in Russia, they are breaking up demonstrations, putting people into prison without due process, and creating loyal oppositional political parties. A small group of people is capable of pushing through any decision it likes. And most of our fellow citizens don’t contest this: they have no time to react! They go to malls, repair their apartments, and discuss their purchases on their mobile phones. People don’t regret their enclosure in private life: in this private life, they satisfy desires shared by others, desires that are advocated in reality shows, TV series and blockbusters! And even to criticize your government makes more sense if you use a mobile phone… But if these fellow citizens actually start thinking about something serious, they will be immediately given some religion or some occult bullshit substitute.

Driver: Yes, our people have gotten worse. It wasn’t like this before. There used to be collectivism; people smiled at one another, and helped one another. But now, it is the time of the wolves. And, as a Russian proverb goes, if you live with wolves, you howl with wolves.

Passenger: Yes, but we don’t have to be like them!

Driver: Ok, so we all become small pretty pussycats. My wife is a kind of pussycat. I buy her cute fur hats and fur coats. But to do this, I need to sit behind this wheel all day long, in this city which (he suddenly brakes and quickly turns the wheel to the right) is full of ignorant motherfuckers who can’t even drive a bike but buy themselves a car!

Passenger: But you say yourself it wasn’t like this before!

Driver: Of course, man, there is no comparison. Back then, the road police was OK. And people were somehow more human. And now, the rabble from Cauacasus is everywhere – they just come down from the mountains, get a broken Zhiguli, and there you go, drive on, Jokhar! What do you want if our president has an aide who is a Chechen!

Passenger (shocked): But what do you want? You want to go back to Soviet times, when they didn’t let you cross the border, and only sold bananas on holidays?

Driver: No, no. There is no chance of returning to Soviet times. They only warm us with their memory. The songs were so touching back then! You know, they didn’t convey anguish, as they do now, but light sadness…”Hope was our compass in the world,” as one of them said. And even the bananas: there was something about those rare bananas, a special tenderness of disappearance. And now – you’re totally right, man – now there’s no hope. You buy your bananas, eat them, and that’s it. They only make you happy if you remember Soviet times while eating them, and at the same time they play Pakhmutova’s songs on TV! I think we need to unite.

Passenger: Who are “we”?

Driver: We, the Russians.
Passenger: ???

Driver: Yes! Since the world is full of wolves, we need to form packs to defend ourselves from our enemies. Have you watched TV lately? Ok, they bullshit there a lot, but one thing is true: everyone around us is trying to fuck us over. Now even the Belorussians, those motherfuckers, want to get rich at our expense! They were our brothers too, and they’re trying to cheat us. You remember the song: “Oh, our young times! Belorussia!” Oh-oh-oh (he sighs).

Passenger: But you just said that you miss the sentiment of brotherhood!

Driver: So? That’s exactly what I’m telling you about! Do you understand Russian or not? (He suspiciously inspects the passenger). Ok, we need to build some kind of brotherhood. Because now, the cops live on Chechen money; the Oligarchs are helped by Israel. And the rulers spend their free time in churches, but keep their billions in the West!

Passenger: Exactly! That’s why you shouldn’t trust a word of what they say! They feed on the West, they ski there, and for you, they sing songs of the Russian nation so the Westerners don’t jump in with their “democracy.” If we actually had democracy here, we would get rid of the oligarchs.

Driver: Ok, but the West doesn’t want any democracy here! They undestand that if we do have democracy, it will be a national, Russian democracy. That’s why this democracy talk is blablabla. The West just wants Russia to be weak and not dangerous. So they support trouble, support crazy youngsters, and not the will of the Russian people. And at home, in the West, it’s the same thing. They can only think of themselves there!

However, we do have at least some national vector in politics, so it’s gotten a little better these days, at least better than in Yeltsin’s time.

Passenger: But you drive people to the airport. Who would you drive if we actually separated from the West?

Driver: First of all, I’m an engineer by training and not a taxi driver. And second, I don’t mind at all if somebody wants to go to the West, for a short while at least…

Passenger: Thank you very much.

Driver: My pleasure. We’re almost there, by the way. I’ll only charge you 500, because you’re a good, considerate, and Russian person.

Trip 2. Moskovskaya Metro Station – Chkalovskaya

The passenger catches a taxi. A used Toyota stops. Inside, there is a visibly cultured driver in a suit.

Passenger: Hello, would you please give me a ride to Chkalovskaya?

Driver: Yes, please do get in.

Passenger: Thanks. Are you just going in the same direction? Is that why you picked me?

Driver: No, it’s just that the prices went up, and I need to do some work after my lectures to build a bath at my country house. Surplus labor time, as they taught us in Soviet times.

Passenger: Yes… And now, it is the time of reaction!

Driver: No, it is not the time of reaction: it is the place of reaction! It’s our people: whatever you give them, they only obey a strong hand. They don’t have moral interests or values… And they’ve never had them in fact! This is exactly what I’m talking about (He suddenly and quickly turns the wheel). How can you drive like this? For instance you. You’re coming from the airport, right? From Europe? In Europe they would never behave like that crazy driver! Ne-ver!

Passenger: And what about you and I: were we also born slaves?

Driver: No, after all since Peter the Great, there’s been a tradition in Russia to have a small Europeanized class. But we Europeans can’t control this crowd here: they just don’t have human values, period.

Passenger: Just a moment! If the Europeans despise our common people, then the latter become even more like slaves! And the Western journalists and politicians often apply this attitude to all Russians including ourselves! That’s why many are upset! You try to prove you are not a barbarian, that you love Europe wholeheartedly, and they still look at closely to check whether you’re liberal enough! Look at what’s on TV: it’s just one big inferiority complex! “We won’t let anyone offend our dear mother Russia!” “Russia is an energetic superpower, and whoever didn’t get that will be castrated immediately.” This is actually the discourse of resentful slaves who implicitly betray their own slavishness! But these slaves are disappointed in their master, the West!

Driver: But it’s always been like this! The masses have no need for liberal values! They’ve grown up in violence. And it’s not we who despise them. Their own families and streets have no respect for the human personality! They lack culture, and never went through the Enlightenment!

Passenger: But can you get culture through oppression? People should themselves seek their common interest with others!

Driver: Yeah, that’s my only hope. Maybe capitalism and the market will one day form human values in these people! What divides them from the West? It’s better to do business with it! What divides them from the Tadzhiks? Let them work – we can do with the work force anyway!

Passenger: But the problem is that the capitalists have learned to do without human values. Or rather, for them, those who don’t share these values are not even people, but “rogues”. It’s a vicious circle, isn’t it?

Driver: I guess you’re right. These are reactionary times. So what is to be done? We need to smash this immoral rabble: like this one, in the Mercedes. How can he turn like this, at speeds like that! Bush is right to press those people down. And here, they follow these masses…In this country, everything is always wrong! To live with wolves means to howl with wolves! Ok, here we are. 300 rubles, please. Business is business!


Dialogue 3. Utopia and Subjectivity

The passenger comes home. His wife meets him.

Wife: So, how was the trip, sweetie?

Passenger: We are living in reactionary times!

Wife: Are you crazy? Reactionary times? What are you talking about? Look at this dishwasher I’ve just bought! It’s a new friend of the family with the foreign name of “Whirlpool”!

Passenger: I mean, people around the world no longer want freedom!

Wife: But that’s exactly what this dishwasher gives you: freedom of time! And what you want is not freedom, but that one fills in all this time with Young Communist League meetings!

Passenger: No, I just want time to become interesting!

Wife: No, our time is not the time of reaction. “Reactionary times” is the slogan of reactionaries themselves! It’s a slogan of resentful nationalists and bored liberals! Quite on the contrary: our time is the time of utopia in the process of its actualization. The time of magic machines. The time in which ancient magic and religion are finally being realized as the dream of the human mastery over nature. (Remember that exhibition I BELIEVE? There was an interesting piece there: an apple rolls over a chamomile flower that is usually used for divination, and in the middle of this flower there is a TV program from the Soviet time.) The human being no longer wants to be a master over other humans. Let bureaucrats deal with that. Well, it’s not surprising that there is a “reaction” to this utopia. In a utopian situation, you are always “a guest in the fairy tale” (there used to be a TV show like that when we were kids). People are afraid of being guests for too long; they want to go home pretty quickly. Of course, it’s scary to see your desires realized: where do you get new ones? Hence, the symbiosis characteristic of today’s utopia: dreams come true, but under the pretext of repairing one’s own home! Utopia triumphs in the context of economy (household-management), as a movement that always returns home! But even such a utopia is scary for many: hence the nostalgia for the Soviet past, for the past of unrealized wishes. Hence, the search for all kinds of identity. People want to know their place, the place they bring all the magic “visitation machines” like cell phones, TV sets, etc.

Passenger: Have you been sleeping with a Derridean while I was away?

Wife: So what if I have? Take back the night! Who I sleep with is none of your business. What’s important is who I live with!

Passenger: I see! Let’s get back to the question. The return you mention is in fact the definition of subjectivity. But I’m talking about subjectivity too, and I don’t see it as something that is already there. For me, the issue is actually how to restore human subjectivity! I think reaction target the democratic subject!

Wife: No. Subjectivity is reactionary itself. Subjectivity is the reaction against utopia. But, of course, the true subject doesn’t satisfy itself with the domesticated forms of subjectivity such as nation, or moral self-consciousness. Subjectivity descends deeper into the night, into disruption, into the pain of the irretrievable past. The subject performs a true revolution with its “reactionary” retreat…
Passenger: But isn’t revolution utopian, on the contrary?

Wife: Well, revolution is, first of all, reactive and subjective (as the word itself shows). But of course, there is also a utopia present there: the utopia that is so overwhelmingly close that one wants to take a step back, to think, to remember oneself.

The progress of revolution is the dialectic of subjectivity and utopia.

When Walter Benjamin writes about the messianic moment, in which all the non-realized opportunities are recalled together, this may sound less enthusiastic than usually understood: in this terrible moment, people can refuse to realize their dreams for the sake of bitter-sweet memories of the non-realized!

Passenger: So you’re justifying the nationalists?

Wife: No, I just don’t want to give them the notion of “reaction” without a fight.

They don’t understand what reaction is. They think it is a return to something positive, external, even natural. But the subject goes deeply inside, further down than the comfort and the family, or into the very uncanniness of the comfort and the family! Similarly, I wouldn’t want to give utopia away to the liberals. Utopia is more than comfortably watching a movie about aliens from outer space or sending an instant message to Hong Kong! Utopia can force you from your home and turn you into a visitor of another world!

Passenger: Now I see. The revolution will mean to seclude oneself from the transparent magic world and to call everyone to visit, becoming like Zarathustra, a guest of guests.

Wife: Or to break down the barriers, to unite, and to build the institutions of true subjectivation: to teach people, how to rule themselves, how to heal themselves, and how to teach themselves…

Passenger: I agree, in principle. Ok, so let’s toast to my return with this national Daghestani brandy, to the revolutionary union of all passengers and all drivers on the Earth!

Wife: Ok, and to our new Whirlpool, of course!

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