#15: Reactionary Times
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!
I have been living in the EU for a month now… It’s not what I expected it to be… I mean, you only need to look at the holes on the roads they have all over there! Just the other day I drove somebody off to Sofia Airport – my God, what a dreadful ride! And they say EU is an elite club…, elite my ass, I say!
At least the government of this country, not that I voted for them mind you, has already started the procedure for Bulgaria to join the Euro zone as soon as possible, like in 2-3 years. That’s good I tell you, for they will finally get off our backs. They will have to recognize our home-made money; all those Euro bills that we are traditionally printing here in the country will no longer be treated as forgery!
I am not so sure about salaries though… The other day somebody published the findings of an economical forecast research saying that the average pay in Bulgaria will reach EU standards by the year 2230… In fact I should not be worried at all, in fact – that’s not my problem at all. Actually, things changed for me overnight in this department, which is great! You see, until January 1st 2007 I never made a single penny as an artist in my own country! I always provided for my family and myself by commuting to work in places West, South, North and sometimes East of the borders of Bulgaria, everywhere else but… So, now that my home country is in fact the whole European Union I can safely say that most of the work I do and most of the money I earn for the work that I do, I earn at home. And that’s a big relief, I tell you!
The kaleidoscope must be smashed.Walter Benjamin, “Central Park”
The political in art does not consist of the degree of engagement in its form, but in the basic quality of the artist’s perception of reality and the social context, which, in turn, rests upon the immediate interaction between the author and his audience. The phenomenon of the artwork as both object and subject at once as an independent aesthetic value – impossible outside a multi-faceted interaction with its situation – defines its real political quality. It is reality as a concrete historical condition experienced by society that is the basis and the determining resource for the work of the artist and the creation of active, living culture.
It is late in the evening in the Moscow Metro but the train is full, nevertheless. An Activist and a Theoretician are riding together. Across from them, there is a glossy advertisement for some kind of pate, flying off into outer space to the slogan “The whole world is not enough!” Beneath it, one can see a public notice from the militia informing all visitors to the city that registration is mandatory. A travelling salesman with a big plastic bag is demonstrating the newest kind of glass cutter, dissecting glass samples for the passengers’ pleasure: “If I’ve caught your interest, don’t hesitate to ask.” A Chinese man sits nearby, flipping through a book with hieroglyphs on the cover. Across from him, a group of teenagers is loudly discussing the newest types of smartphones. A 40-year old man is stretched out sleeping on one of the benches at the back of the car. An empty beer bottle rolls back and forth on the floor to the rocking of the train.
Theorician: So how many new members have joined your organization lately?
Activist: Not many, only a few. But they are becoming more and more active and conscious!
Theorician: Remember how five or six years ago, everyone was talking about a “shift to the left.” It seemed as though “protest potential” were haunting society as a whole, and that these potentials would only have to be harnessed properly. Just take those desperate manifestations against the monetization of pensioner’s privileges. Liberal intellectuals of the older generation accused us of conforming to a general trend. We answered that it wasn’t just fashion and not just another “discourse,” but the action of a reality that they were refusing to acknowledge! We talked a lot about the left’s “counter-hegemony” in politics and culture. But where is all of this today? Nothing has changed one single bit.
The end of the 20th century brought on the complete negation of everything that gave it content and meaning. It was no coincidence that the fashionable philosopher Francis Fukuyama took to writing on the end of history. There was massive rejection of the many ideals that people fought and died for. The slogans of the bygone epoch were subjected to ridicule and declared meaningless. It seemed that some strange magic had turned back the hands on the clock by one hundred years, not only stopping the clockwork, but also breaking the clock entirely to prevent it from ever ticking again.
Of course, the 20th century’s technologies were not lost. But its cumulative social experience sank to oblivion.
The 20th century was a century of struggle for socialism, a struggle that proved tragic, and bloody, largely leading to failure. In the final analysis, it produced a “universal certainty” that capitalism was the only possible, natural, and eternal form of human coexistence. The 20th century began with the Russian revolution and ended with capitalism’s restoration. The Byzantine double-headed eagle once again took wing. Adam Smith, though already outdated in the late 19th century, was elevated to the throne of absolute truth in the realm of economic theory. But most importantly, politicians, ideologues, and intellectuals who had made careers of propagating socialism now became its chief denouncers.