Letter from Barcelona, pt. 1, by Nina Dragičević

There was nowhere to go, so I went

It was thirteen years ago when I came to Ljubljana, Slovenia. I hadn’t even unpacked yet, when they started announcing that we will have pack our bags and leave this place behind, explaining that there is absolutely nothing here. Here being there. Which soon shows to be here. It was just like in On the Road, when Neal Cassady alias Dean Mortiary says: “Sal, we gotta go and never stop going ’till we get there,” and Sal Paradise (who is also Jack Kerouac) asks: “Where we going, man?” and Dean replies: “I don’t know but we gotta go.” You close the book, close the door as well, open your ears and Mladenović of EKV calls upon you with Hodaj! and Walk! Where to, man, where to?! For it is clear: the illusion of potential still existing, the mirage that somewhere there, there is that something, which is better, and better for the sole reason that is is other, has long vanished.

It supposedly all started when emperor Augustus and his army mopped the Mediterranean of those horrifying creatures, that were, apart from a few rebel slaves, most disturbing to peace and order of the empire: the pirates. Finally, the coast was polished, likewise the roads, and the exhausted aristocracy could (and did) come up with a joyous phenomenon called travelling. Ever since, there is a perspective that travelling is a luxury reserverd for the well-off. It is a belief that should be re-examinated in the context of current times and changes, so let us do that.

Travelling and going places is more often than not associated with leisure, which is to occur by a subject’s mere dislocation from their every-day habitat, phisically or geographically. This does not strike us as odd, since the environment of everyday life is intensly concentrated with work, social relations, future, in short, with all constituents of subjectivity, and it is precicely that which makes life troublesome. One needs to stop for a while, get some rest, gather new strengths, for retirement is still far far away, or nowhere.

But, the times have changed. Philosophers write about it, and the rest of us live it. To start with, we can observe an important shift in forms of work: society has traversed from manual labour as crucial means of production, characterised by repetitive bodily movements, hard physical tasks or having to fill out the same paper forms again and again all day long, into an era of cognitive production factors. Meanwhile, digitalisation gained momentum and taking on its rapid development in order to help workers by pushing them into speed-of-thought production mode, as well as enabling them to work all the time and everywhere. The end-result is not only physical, but mental enervation. Accompanied by anxiety, feeling of alienation and, depression, of course. That is, should the worker actually be employed. Further more, these effects stretch beyond individual’s personal issues and become common to everybody and everymind.

The plot of this burlesque is similar on a socio-political level: the economic crisis has long stopped being a threat to some distant country’s welfare, and Near East is nearer then ever. Wherever we go, the situation proves to be the same. Not similar, but the same. And more, the present state persuasively shows that taking time to rest in leisure, all worn out by our hyper-accelerated lives, is simply impossible, and so is fleeing from numerous crises across the globe. When we then contextualise travelling to distant places in terms of the present, we can (and do) say that it is not going, but staying that is a luxury of present times.

So I went. And, while I was packing for Barcelona last month, many have asked me, where I was going. Not many have asked me why. It is clear that questioning reasons and perspectives is a rather risky business, since the answer will almost certainly be something eerie (it could prove itself to be uncanny, but let us leave Freud aside). In some cases, the answer to why? will be I don’t know, which is equally spine-chilling. Anyway, when I arrived to Barcelona, many have asked me where I came from. Not that many were interested in why.

And precisely that is a specific of contemporary social contexts. There is no more time for questioning reasons and perspectives, there is only doing, self-reliance is enormous, everyone is incredibly into themselves, throwing unreflected thoughts and words into the air, splashing the grounds with thick drops bursting directly out of their ADD mindsets, opening mouths and closing borders. Naturally, they are then worried, because apparently, the razor-wire fence is predominantly a threat to flora and fauna, a lady and a lady by the counter are discussing our lives, asking where will we go, when all of them arrive, they fail to notice that the we are leaving and the they will be liquidated one way or another. On the other side of the town, mister doctor is urging miss patient to finally comprehend that he has no time for her whatsoever and should she die in the meantime, he will simply visit her at the cemetery to bless her grave, and that it is best if she left right away. The in-love couples, trios and quartets have become a joke of each networking event and every social convention. The winter is stone cold, it is sincere, everyone caught a cold and one can not even visit anyone at the hospital, since they took measures to prevent sick people from getting sick, but the letter of precaution does not inform the visitors that the hospital entrance is flooded with cockroaches, and it does not really matter, since there is noone to be visited, since everyone is left to themselves, to mercy, or is at the cemetery. It is therefore clear: the sinister why should have been abolished ages ago, as the argument will nearly every time be grisly. It is also clear that going will have to be carried out ASAP.

A crucial note: going is not to be mis-interpreted as escaping. Going is in its finality a distance, which brings to the awareness that there exists something apart from me. That something, which is that somebody or is those everybody, is and are unreachable and are so even before I am going. Escapism, on the other hand, is nothing more than desire to be where I am escaping from. But, as the conditions for existence appear to be uniformed across the terrain, so does the desire to be. In short: escaping is in its ground principle impossible. Hence, I went, because there is nowhere to go.

And so I went. I arrived to Barcelona and to a minefield of cultural shocks. I see a gay couple, proudly holding hands as they parade across one of the touristic promenades, minutes later, in a near-by alley, some proper local macho bolide nonchalantly spits some lesbian in her face. Or was that some other gentle burgeois in Metelkova City, on the square in front of Club Gromka last summer? Ah, well, enough with the parallells. Thirty-year-old graduates are flying and fleeing from Spain to Slovenia in search of work. And vice versa. We are on a never-ending Erasmus program. Here, everyone is an artist. There, everyone is a cultural-worker. We sing No hope, no fear, we go and we guest, we are forever guests on a circular tour, we metamorphose into homeless and countryless nomads, into Tomas Hammar’s denizens. In one place, we have enough for some tapas, but are lacking for a new suit fot that job interview for which we are over-qualified, in another we prosper in student-work, but can’t afford more than a burek. Well, those who have burek are of a wrong surname, anyway.

Naked motion is what leads us, that cold walk. Going and going because there is nowhere to go. And moreover, if every place is characterised by the unbearable, if there really is nowhere to go, then, in a big-picture perspective, it is as if I never left. But, that also means that there is nowehere to return to. So I don’t.

*Originally published on Radio Študent, 4 March 2016.

 

// By Nina Dragičević.

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