Is There Anybody Out There?
It was in 1921, when Janet Flanner left New York, and a year later arrived to Paris. There, she wrote to her friend, Jane Grant, who happened to be a wife of Harold Ross, the editor to a fresh and hip magazine, The New Yorker. In what seems to be an ever-appropriate code of conduct, Jane rushed to show the letters to Harold, who was so impressed by what he read, that he invited Flanner to publish letters right there in the magazine. He crowned her with a nickname, Genêt, and for the next fourty-five years Genêt reported to the Americans about the happenings in France, the rise of fascism in Europe, cultural events and juicy anecdotes of the local intellectuals, as well as other intriguing personages.
We constantly report, don’t you think so? We go to schools and report to our parents, then we don’t go to schools and report on why we didn’t go. Who ever had a job, knows all there is about the spartan upbringing into weekly board meetings and evaluations. If that only were the end to it. But no, there are also social contacts and an utterly inexplicable universe of romantic relationships. We wade into the first one and then into all the next ones, seemingly new ones, and tomorrow’s will be again radically different. At least we like to believe so. When we say new, we are contemplating a different cognitive frame, for what we are craving is that certain something that would draw us nearer to freedom. Freedom is nothing other, but sensibility of the Other. A sad fact and my critical mantra: sensibility. has. vanished. We stand zero chance. We are indoctrinated in naked reportership; for here we are, reporting again, this time something new to someone new. Even nowadays, when there is so little new and different, and when not much old and different has survived, we keep looking for details, points of distinction, which we hope will awaken us from existential apathy. Like some kind of a desolated caravan we drag our mighty numb bodies over Karawanks, looking solely in-front- and after- ourselves. Some like to call that a bond between humans.
When I observe the history of myself, I often end up with a slight headache. Nevertheless, I would say that i was quite an exemplary student. Perhaps that is why it seemed almost self-evident that I would have to somehow report about my circulations around the old continent. But, the more I write, the more I am asking myself: is it really that self-assumed? And, the more I write, the more I ask myself: who am I writing to? For, even if today, just like in the time of Janet Flanner, living is ran over by fascism and malevolent attitude of the system – that is, society – towards refugees, profusion of cultural and non-cultural events and non-events, and gossip holding on strong to its perpetuum mobile faculty, there is a difference between the time of Janet Flanner and the time of Nina Dragičević: Genêt was reporting before the digital era.
If Genêt wanted to illustrate the french perspective on the political situation in Europe to the American public, she had to articulate it precisely; her observations became essays on political protagonists. If anyone was, by any chance, interested in a Spanish perspective on the politics of Spain, they can simply jump to Twitter profile of a newspaper they more or less trust. If Genêt wanted to describe the latest ballet by Stravinsky, she had to actually attend the Paris premiere and write, that Stravinsky is always at the boiling point of gaiety or despair, for that is very much how his Rite of spring sounds like. Only through precise conception of texts could the public – a public well known to her – imagine, what kind of music is being played in a land far far away. If anyone is interested in knowing what progressive musicians in Spain are working on today, they’ve already heard it on Soundcloud yesterday. Etcetera.
By all means, the authoress expresses a specific perspective, the one which will always be different in a way. But, who does she express it to? Correspondence, pen-palling, is after all a two-way communication, isn’t it? If I write letters and no one replies to them, is there no one receiving them? Does this no one even exist? If yes, who is it? And, if no one is someone, why doesn’t she reply? Heh, this reminds me of Dr. O’Connor, a transsexual character in Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, where he says: I wouldn’t be telling you about it if I weren’t talking to myself. I talk too much, because I have been made so miserable by what you are keeping hushed. There is no one. Heidegger’s Dasein is in absolute anguish. Imaginarium of presence is not sufficient. Presence is not sufficient. The desperate need to hear.
You know, dislocation is a funny thing. It is beyond the geographical understanding of the term and it is relational. This is precisely why it yearns for a bond, even the endless one, the tiniest, thinnest, most fragile and invisible one. It is at once a farewell to sediments of stillness and lust for precisely that warmth of stability. It is always new and again and again and it is nowhere else. It may seem that dislocation is directly proportional to distance. The further I am from my recipient with my humble, insignificant thoughts, the more we are detached, the less we have in common, and in the end, there is only a blurry silhouette of some ancient story left, right?
I believe that it is really quite the contrary. Distance between subjects awakens a need for specific delicateness. Suddenly, the once hidden finesses are the ones that actually form the bond. That the bond is most precious at the exact moment when it eventually carves its way though superficiality of the object of desire, surely needs not be elaborated further. To see is substituted with the sensual to hear, and to (truly) hear can not keep up with Viber, Snapchat and similar apps. Articulation of sentiment, which is under siege of devaluation through digitalisation of communication, reveals the bond as progressively (and frighteningly) frail.
Janet Flanner liked to say that she keeps going over her sentences, naging, gnawing, patting and flattering them before finally sending them to the recipient. There seems to be no reason for doing it any other way nowadays. Short text messages, for example, hold absolutely no substance. All those <3, xoxo, miss u, lul are nothing by no one. Most of them could (and are) written by anyone. NE1. In order to differentiate herself from the anyone, the random, the authoress must actually take the time to occupy her mind with her thought. Moreover, this brings us to the essential advantage of written communication in comparison to the vocalised form: written has the ability to reject real time, it allows one to travel back in time and space, and most importantly, it opens a path for implantating all the knowledge on recipient’s specifics in articulation. All this with one goal: to strengthen the bond instead of tearing it apart. Becoming closer. Not becoming apart. Otherwise, does communication even make any sense? Is it neccessary? It is certainly not self-assumed. If it was, and if it was reasonable in circumstances of quick and instant reporting, it could be (and more often than not also is) produced by anyone, even no one. This, my dear pen pal, of course brings us to the beginning of my letter, with the question now less ambiguous: if no one doesn’t reply the letter, is it because there isn’t anyone there, or is it because it is much easier to hush instead of sensibilize oneself?
In his last will, Marquis de Sade supposedly wrote: The ditch once covered over, above it acorns shall be strewn, in order that the spot become green again, and the copse grown back thick over it, the traces of my grave may disappear from the face of the earth as I trust the memory of me shall fade out of the minds of all men save nevertheless for those few who in their goodness have loved me until the last and of whom I carry away a sweet remembrance with me to the grave. The dead can say whatever they want. But if there, on the other side of this line, there is still someone alive, won’t you please, please reply.
// By Nina Dragičević.