The Palanka Philosophy: Revisiting Sarajevo
. . . To speak has become increasingly difficult. We have become alienated from the direct quest for the language of the real. The most prominent example of this is in the “politicization” of language, or a tendency towards reification, that is, to turn political speech into a singularly viable means of discourse. 1
It would be superfluous to mention that the epoch in which we live—more precisely, the epoch in which we are struggling to live—is an epoch of major impacts, ruptures, and spectacles, all of which call for a new language of the proletariat. Especially in these wretched countries of ours. 2 I used political discourse when I spoke in Sarajevo and about Sarajevo. I come from a country where people tend to keep silent about Sarajevo, and where the political discourse about Sarajevo is just as necessary as the awakening of the self-consciousness of an entire nation. But the Sarajevo I know, the Sarajevans that I was lucky enough to spend time with, and hence, talk to, cannot be interpreted through political discourse. The Sarajevo that I know was revealed to me through Dr. Kasim Prohić, an outstanding interpreter of Adorno 3 and Lukács, 4 and the editor of unique philosophical book series called Logos; Dr. Midhat Begić, the first-class essayist whose magazine Izraz 5 became one of the most important centers of our thoughts. Izraz was our retreat place, in the same way as Čedo Kisić’s Odjek. 6 And finally, I should pay due respect to Ivan Focht, the aesthetician, and Huso Tahmiščić. The Sarajevo that I know is a living thought in the act of creation, a thought which flees from the politicization of language in the sense that it cannot be reduced to a simple abstraction. This politicization is indeed an act of great reductionism at work, especially when it comes to the reduction of thought to the movement, the impossibility of finding a properly representational language, or the impossibility of objective discourse, respectively. Wherever this reductionism is at work, to speak becomes impossible. Thus, if we are really non-existent without a discourse, doesn’t that imply that we also become turned into an impossibility? Furthermore, if this reductionism presently holds such power here, is it indeed demanded only by our people (more precisely, our-and-not-so-much our people) of great ruptures and spectacles? More and more I think that this reductionism is used to reflect our attempts to escape from our own selves, such as the attempt to escape discourse at the cost of escaping uncertainty—without which thought itself is impossible—i.e. escaping one’s own identity. It appears to me as if in all of this reductionism of discourse into an exclusively political discourse, one comes across—even identifies with—the gaze of the Other and that same desire to escape an identity, or even identity as such; as if the violence of the people against their own identities is becoming internalized, culminating in a new kind of desired self-violence.
It is unnecessary—as I do hope—to point out the following: an identity is as inherently political as it is global; consequently, the person’s speech is naturally political speech of a kind. This is not about a selection between political and non-political (or anti-political, if you would prefer such term) discourse. This is about the reclaiming of a non-alienating discourse, which, in itself, is not solely political. This is about our own return to ourselves. Principally, it is about the return to dialogue. I can most certainly say that it is about the return to Sarajevo.
Supplementing the Discourse
Allow me to offer an additional specification. Firstly, we are not at the level of writers only; overall, we are at the level of those who feel a need to speak and to communicate. Now, that was first! The question of literature, be it engaged (littérature engagée) or unengaged, is, of course, one of the possible projections of all existentialist attitudes, regardless of whether or not such attitudes are to be found within or outside of literature. At present, I am not interested in an old topic of writer’s engagement or disengagement. What interests me is a certain phenomenon, which is forcing me to reach to its very core. I refer to the following phenomenon: the necessity for political discourse is one thing, but the abuse of such necessity is something entirely different. In other words, it is a process of rectification, or the absolutization of political discourse, in a way that shows that we cannot exist without politics, or that anything outside of political speech—if we can even call it a speech (I shall further explain this need for division)—cannot be considered a speech. If one perceives history and society grosso modo or through the Sartrian gaze—through the gaze of an early Sartre or late Sartre—then it is close to intelligence to be politically active and engaged. Likewise, it is close to intelligence—if that is the primacy in one’s speech, or if we follow the assumption that one is a mortal being, and not only political—what happens all of a sudden is that as a mortal being, one evaporates into non-existence. When I speak of political topics, I not only refer to the major ones, such as those related to the catastrophe of our once existent country, 7 but I also address the current ferments of political divisions, party discussions, programs, non-programs and anti-programs. In situations like these, people have already chosen their sides, and any time you engage in a conversation with them, it resembles Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, where everyone has an established attitude and an a priori thought. It is an example of an uncanny apriority at work, or more exactly, a type of terror against one’s thought and freedom, where I neither listen to you nor hear what you are saying; nor take a moment to think; nor respond with either words or silence. In other words, we do not communicate. It is a situation where I express my opinion, and that is all: end of story! What stands behind all of this is an evidently powerful thing. There is a novel, shockingly powerful, and international stratum, of course—I am not going to use the term class here—whose calling and a profession is that of a politician. Less and less so, this becomes a question of conscience and consciousness (a phenomenon similar to the one in literature that I mentioned earlier). What is more, it becomes a question of certain profession and axiomatic tyranny over all. There are no doctors, no dentists, no engineers; but, there are politicians! How peculiar! They always pop up on the front pages of the newspapers. I do not like the world in which they happen to be “outstanding”, and make headlines; I like the world in which they fill the last pages. 8 Therefore, it is about time we learn how to communicate. The reasons why I speak about it in this region are not for the purpose of diminishing political consciousness. On the contrary, I speak about it in order to restore political consciousness into the totality of speech: to revisit something that you all managed to remind me of, and—as I must say—incited around Kasim’s work (Allow me to remind you that I wrote a Foreword for Kasim’s Figure otvorenih značenja/The Figures of Forthright Meanings). The problem of candor is an enormous problem. It does not really work like this: I am now outspoken, meaning that we are all outspoken, and that everyone is following that same example. People aspire to some sort of definition, tactfulness, even to a categorization. On top of that, they aspire to a kind of exclusiveness. All of these aspects are parts of the same problem of candor; nonetheless, one needs to hold a position on it. That position, or outlook, is exactly what is fundamental; it is a precondition for a discourse, communication and unity, and not for the confrontation of people and their opinions, as in a classical tragedy. It is beautiful to watch it in the theatre, but when it comes to the confrontation of opinions, we all, including myself, are aware of that. After all, Sarajevo was, in that sense, a vastly significant lesson.
Accordingly, the separation between engagement and disengagement does not constitute an antithesis. That does not exist, and it is, in my opinion, an appalling construction. Every engagement carries with itself a certain level of disengagement. If I am engaged in my role as a writer—from what I have inferred—then I become disengaged as a political animal. If I am engaged politically—when at some point, that outbalances the rest, owing to a plethora of powerful determinants, stronger than my will and consciousness—then I stop being engaged as a writer.
At the time of unfortunate happenings in Sarajevo, 9 there were moments when I believed and stated (as I have already stated here, on two occasions) that a man who does not despair is not really human.
The catastrophe that we were experiencing in Sarajevo, and together with Sarajevo, was not a question of a political opinion—even less an ideological one—but a question of unconditional humaneness. Humanity itself was of the utmost importance. And if that was the case, you did not need to have a thought and an opinion; instead, you had to despair over what was happening in Sarajevo. The question is whether grieving is part of a program? It is not! Is grieving a reflection of humanity? It most certainly is! At that point in time, grieving became a criteria of humanity in my view. It was not an essential agenda, whose importance I am trying not to refute; however, grieving was essential! I would see people in their apathy: I come from a country which was apathetic—and still continues to be so—about certain things that were happening in the country 10 only one or two hundred kilometes away. Thus, the main discourse here is about the awakening of an apathetic human being from the slumber of apathy, i.e. recalling him back to the state of humaneness/humanity. Could I accomplish this through explicitly political speech? Certainly not! I could, however, share my thoughts with him. Nonetheless, what do I demand from such being? I demand that he speaks. But what would he speak? For one, he could tell me something about the very roots of human existence, which, after all, is transitory. Those full of apathy believe that they are immortal. What they all need to be reminded of is that they are, in fact, mortal!
Allow me to reflect on this topic briefly. It has been discussed so many times, that I find it superfluous to repeat anything. Nationalism has become the absolute evil in this region. It has bore holes in the minds of everything and everyone. When nationalism tells you that it fails to understand you, simply because it speaks a different language—know that it can understand you perfectly—then it transforms into a man who wishes not to understand you. It becomes like a man who wishes not to converse. In this case, a discourse, even a political one, becomes impossible. Nationalism cancels out any type of discourse. Nationalism is terrorism. It does not allow for autonomous speech. Speech is contrary to nationalism in an a priori way, because nationalism itself is an apriority. That is exactly what I mean by opinion. The human being has stepped into his/her own opinion. I repeat that tendencies towards the opinion exist. It is not something that one has to be opposed to in its very nature, but, to reduce a living being to an opinion is an utter mistake, which thus leads to an intentional language splitting. This, in my view, is in perfect correspondence with the splitting of the country, community, and society.
Of course that there are diverse possibilities that can be used for the manipulation of particular specifications of one or the other kind. We all know different specifications (and they are not trivial), but it is evident that there exists a will to make effective communication impossible. Now, the following question arises: Since the exterior factors that may potentially prevent me from corresponding with others are not relevant at this point, to what extent have I made the exterior inferior; to what extent has it become like me? For the people do not speak in such a way simply because they wish to beguile you, aware of that wish themselves—except for the great masters. But the others, 11 they breed terror. Consequently, nationalism (and its devotees) cannot speak of other things: it can speak only of the problems of a nation and the language. Instead of leading it to a nation, I would lead it to a graveyard: soon shall nationalism dwell there! But, it refuses to look into the grave; instead, it chooses to look at the nation. It is not crazy to be looking at the grave; nationalism has to look at the problem of existence. And if it looks at the problem of existence, then it has to be agitated…
On the Future
In my homeland, in which I speak repeatedly—even though I do not consider myself a populist—any time a peasant loses every bit of hope, or any time he sees no new prospects in a certain situation, he would say: “Something will sprout up hopefully!”
Translated with notes by Maja Pašović
Notes / Završne napomene
- An introductory presentation of Radomir Konstantinović delivered at the session of Krug 99 on September 23, 2001. Krug 99/Circle 99 is an Association of Independent Intellectuals, based in Sarajevo. The presentation was first published in The Review of Independent Thought 99, no. 33, 2001. This text was then specially included in the first Sarajevo edition of Konstantinović’s Filosofija palanke, published by Magistrat, and University Press, Sarajevo. Konstantinović’s most important work, Filosofija palanke/The Palanka Philosophy, was first published in 1969, in Belgrade, Serbia (then part of the Republic of Yugoslavia). The word palanka literally means “small town” (in Serbia, for example, there are a number of small towns containing the word palanka in its name); however, in Konstantinović’s work, palanka has come to signify the non-inclusive, nationalistic, and provincial state of mind. In Konstantinović, palanka becomes provincialism at its worst! It is the exact same provincialism that led to the destruction of the once united—both socially and politically—Yugoslav countries, and the establishment of a radical, nationalistic rhetoric that triggered the 1990s conflicts in the Balkans. ↩
- Konstantinović here refers to the ex-Yugoslav countries, specifically. ↩
- Theodor Adorno was a German philosopher and sociologist, as well as one of the most renowned representatives of the Frankfurt School, known for his critique of late capitalism. ↩
- Georg Lukács was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher and literary critic, best known for his contributions to so-called Western Marxism. ↩
- The literal translation of the word izraz is expression. ↩
- Odjek, translated as The Echo, was an acclaimed magazine for the arts, humanities and social sciences, founded in 1947, in Sarajevo. ↩
- Konstantinović refers to Yugoslavia again. ↩
- Once again, Konstantinović’s whimsical satire reaches its pinnacle here! When he speaks of the last pages in the newspapers, Konstantinović refers to the pages that display the list of the deceased. ↩
- Konstantinović here refers to the calamities during the 1990s war in Sarajevo, and the rest of Bosnia. ↩
- Konstantinović refers to Bosnia and Herzegovina here. ↩
- Referring to the nationalists. ↩
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