“The Palanka Philosophy”: Selected Excerpts
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“The Palanka Philosophy”: Selected Excerpts

Our experience is the experience of provincialism. 1 At times, it is dangerous (even punishable) to disclose such statements to provincial arrogance. At other times, however, the word palanka explores the concept of destiny: it is said that palanka is our destiny, our evil doom. There are no changes, and there can be none. History has forgotten us, as if greatly engrossed in other matters. Thus forgotten, the world of palanka is neither a city nor a village: it is something in between. Nonetheless, its spirit is the spirit that floats between the tribal spirit, as ideal-unique, and world spirit, as ideal-open. When the spirit of the palanka speaks of its evil doom, it in fact speaks of its exclusion from history. But even when that spirit displays the selfsame exclusion as a curse, it actually desires that exclusion. The foremost assumption of the palanka spirit lies precisely in that exclusion: cast off by history, it is a spirit which attempts to transform this accursed doom into its privilege. It will achieve that by a self-casting-off of this very history (as if fighting fire with fire): in this state of oblivion, it will remain in its devout commitment to duration, on the other side of time. Time itself is on the other side of the mountain: it is where the world chaos, or the chaos of an absolute-open world begins. [p. 19]

[…] The tyranny of palanka is the tyranny of outright insight, or the tyranny of absolute clarity and publicity of all. Palanka is disparate with darkness and its respective demonology. Even if the palanka embodies certain exceptions at all times, these exceptions act grammatically: as an affirmation of rules and their glorification, when, in reality, such rules are worthy of contempt and derision instead. That which is an exception is to be understood as an imperfection, again worthy of derisive laughter by the palanka spirit. This impulse for the derision of everything disorderly, or everything that falls outside the defined rules of the ordinary, is exceptionally strong in the palanka spirit, and spans to the repudiation—again by means of ridicule—of the person’s physical impairments. The ridicule of the physical impairment of any kind awaits readily in the palanka, and so does the ridicule of physical characteristics that are outside the norm. Not a single characteristic is received with delight, regardless of its manifestation[.] […] People are ascribed names precisely according to their characteristics, with a specific characteristic accentuated, not for the sake of respect or reputation, but for the sake of ridicule. In a way, the palanka spirit always keeps a vigilant eye on one’s characteristics: it remembers all, never misses anything, and always keeps a record of everything. Most frequently, when it comes to tendencies that have been manifested in a grotesque manner, during a memorable situation narrated with remarkable passion, the tendency is what dictates the nickname or denomination. By ascribing names to individuals, the palanka transforms itself into a grand theater, very similar to the medieval miracle and mystery plays of the Catholic Europe, where abstract concepts (such as Love, Death, and Insolence) become concrete[.] [p. 30]

[…] The palanka philosophy is the philosophy of a closed cycle, which allows for no apostasy at any place or occasion. In other words, it does not permit complete detachment without which creation is non-existent. This creation is nothing but the formation of the subject in himself/herself, always administered in the direction of the negation of that which exists; however, this negation does not terminate in itself, but manifests itself as a quintessential affirmation, i.e. as the installation of the subject. In that sense, the palanka is the philosophy of coherent determinism, which refuses to know any event, and undermines that same event through its subjection to a defined normative value. Additionally, the palanka is the philosophy of rationalism, since the philosophy of the palanka spirit is a public spirit spanning everywhere and encompassing all: no secret can ever escape it! [p. 50]

[…] Mystery itself is not intrinsic to the palanka philosophy. In order to sustain itself, the spirit of the palanka does not make use of the mystery of the world to which it belongs. Moreover, the palanka spirit dislikes the ineffable. It desires to attain “efficiency”, the “naturalness” of an attitude validated by experience and positioned on the line of normativity where that same (untimely) experience is installed. At the same time, the attitude would occupy the line of the possible absolute expansion of palanka’s unique spirit. […] The language of politics, like the language of the Day, is considerably closer to the palanka spirit than the language of mystery. The palanka philosophy—which is the philosophy of outer-subjectivity—is the philosophy of perpetual reference to realism. [p. 51]

[…] The palanka philosophy is the philosophy of normativity and standardization: it is an outer-personal and impersonal philosophy. In that sense, it seeks and creates normativity at all places, thereby turning everything into a matter of norm, and reducing every single thing—including religion—into ossified forms of normativity. If the determinism of the palanka philosophy is obligated to transform into theism, into the study of God, the Punisher as a supreme super-ego (into which we are consecrated by the palanka spirit, i.e. the parental-ancestral spirit of survival where an individual blends in), then that same theism remains, almost regularly, in the sphere of coherent rationalism, which handles concepts, but rejects ethical intuitionism. The Divine is also a type of norm, or a value of the palanka spirit, manifested as the spirit of the universal super-ego. The palanka spirit—regardless of the number of times it invokes God as Supreme Will, thus granting Him priority—makes God into its own function and keeps him in the sphere of the rational and conceptual. God is “the first source”, “the omnipresent” and “the omniscient”: the one who knows all, and of whom nothing can be known. He is above us, and accordingly, outside of the cognitive abilities of humans. Our responsibility is not to know Him, to inquire about Him, or to communicate with Him: instead, our responsibility is to follow and express His will. […] Mysticism, as a matter of personal communion, is disparate from the normative-rationalistic and soundly rational (“sober”, “abstinent”) spirit of the palanka. That is why normative theism is largely ethical, rather than speculative-metaphysical, let alone mystical. Even more so, normative theism is “positive” throughout, and positively (and positivistically) continual: in its essence, it is an atheism with which the palanka philosophy confirms that it perceives God as a mere function, compelled to comply with its norms. For palanka, the divine becomes the god of “social” life: the god of Day, not the god of Night. In its commitment against the Night, the palanka turns against the Divine. Thus, God becomes encased inside the norm, turning into a category. Deprived of Night itself, He becomes a paradoxical “rationalist” god destroyed by the daily light of empiricism; in other words, He becomes the impossible “rationalist” god of an impossible (because rationalist) human subject. [pp. 52-3]

[…] Escape into nature is an escape into sensory experience, i.e. sensory animalism. For the spirit of the palanka, nature itself can be solely animalistic, and nothing else outside of that. Nature is the real world where the human being (i.e. the provincial man or palančanin) returns to his Reality: in other words, to his lost biological-irrationalist kingdom. Yielding himself to nature, the palančanin will reinstate himself as animal. His synthesis with nature (or the return to nature itself) is a return to the body. The path of return for the palančanin unfolds from language to the body, meaning that the palančanin passes from Symbolic into the “Real” (i.e. the pre-symbolic reality). In that sense, his central movement is the movement of desymbolization. It is performed in the same way as its reciprocal movement, where the palanka spirit was—in its very essence—the movement of symbolization (of transcendence into a general and higher value), i.e. the movement entailed by the need for survival. If the palanka spirit was unable to find death in the palanka itself (or in the palanka graveyard), it is very debatable whether the world of the palanka really “has” a graveyard. In its instinctive knowledge that “real” death always signifies the death of symbols, the reinstatement of the body from the surviving symbol into a state of the decaying (and decay-prone) body, it appears as if in this attempt to return to nature—as a principal attempt for the liberation from abstraction (ratiocination) into a symbol—the palanka spirit has to revert to death. [pp. 125-6]

[…] And indeed, it cannot be any different than this. The type of nature sought after the palančanin—nature not as the palanka, consciousness, or language, but as a mere sensory experience on the other side of the suppressing power—becomes the death of that same palanka, consciousness and language. Above all, that very nature is an attempt to repudiate the importance of duration in time. […] The provincial man (palančanin) who retreats into “nature” is the man who returns or strives to return to his animalism. In nature, the palančanin is in search of his natural body, or his biologically irrational being on the other side of memory and symbolic transcendence. He has no body in the palanka, and is, therefore, stretched between body and symbol, between the call of an irrational being and rationality, all through the system of constant suppression. If he is human, the human being is henceforth deprived of a body. The human being is incorporeal, as equally as his culture (in all of its aspects), and the spirit. Only animals are corporeal. The body is animalistic, its expression being the one of pure animalism. According to an unwritten law of the palanka philosophy, the body is the black privilege of an animal. Culture, on the other hand, signifies the cultivation of that animal: the splintering and the taming of the animal within, with our bare hands. […] As an inalienable entity of humanity, the animal does not advance with the human being. She is completely discarded, and concealed in the past. The history of humanity is the history of human attempts to liberate oneself from the clutches of animalism. If in an attempt to reunite with the body, a human being tries to reunite with the animal, that is primarily because the very notion of animalism is not where he is; instead, it is somewhere behind him. Man denies his eternally-current animalism (as an eternally-current source of humanity, but also the eternally-current method of dying) in the exact same manner as the palanka spirit. In doing so, he denies his own “natural state”: nature, in any of its shapes and aspects, cannot reside in the palanka. Palanka is the caesura of nature: it refutes nature through the denial of the animalistic and the irrational. Nature within palanka is the acknowledged caesura in the denial of nature, or the induction of nature into the palanka. [pp. 126-7]

Translated with notes by Maja Pašović

Notes / Završne napomene

  1. Radomir Konstantinović uses the word palanka throughout, in order to refer to the provincial spirit or provincial state of mind. This text is found 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. 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.

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