There is such a thing as an enduring, inexhaustible romanticism. The fourth of June is a date, I am convinced, that will go down in the most personal histories of every one of us; it will be the greatest proof and expression of this romanticism, our right to it, or, even more, its right to us. I wonder: did there exist, on that day in Belgrade, a single person who did not feel shaken to her very core, or thrown out of his basic everyday equilibrium? The fourth of June was, for me, a grand poem, a genuinely poetic feat, because it jeopardizes, like the greatest of poems do, my everyday certainties; it menaces not just the drabness into which I have sunk but threatens to bring the death of my security. I know all too well that I cannot exist without my equilibrium and that I will once more cast about for it. But I also know perfectly clearly that the only absolute balance is death itself, ebb tide on the sea, deafness without a breath of wind, when I just am, when I just am to such a degree that I am no longer; I, shut up in the dimensions of the absolutely described world, would then be clearly defined, reduced to exact reckonings and outlays, enclosed in myself, with no exit.
What happened to us up to June 4 was equilibrium, a balance that nothing, no one, no power, had called into question. It was our life, without agitation or any profound vexation of our spirit, lived in an absolute lethargy, half-asleep, and (if I may be so bold as to say it), we were victims of our rationality…
Since I know the degree to which everyone is fond of rationality and reason, and the degree to which my sentence “we are victims of our rationality” will engender resistance, or even fury, in all sorts of people, I am writing these lines in praise of the irrational, in praise of the utopian, Romantic mind, the spirit that does not know of the arguments of reason, of its fences, its proofs and apologies. The truth is that many of the student movement’s demands from the fourth of June are feasible, and we all hope that they will be fulfilled in short order. But this is also true: that much of what the students were seeking on June 4 could, if it crossed the desks of economists and politicians, seem like pure fiction. Are we really economically capable of guaranteeing full employment? Can we achieve equality for everyone, just because we want to? Can we root out, in one fell swoop, injustice, since it is on full display in our society, despite society’s most noble incentives and in spite of the sinister and enduringly powerful people in it who believe that Justice is a lever, in the sign of a policeman’s nightstick?
…Those who speak, in the name of what is reasonable, against irrationality (as that which is unrealizable and thereby contrary to every measure of feasibility) are speaking directly against the reasonable itself, against that reasonableness that is not reasonable if its antithetical unreason does not exist.
We know this, but our intelligentsia often dissuades us with fear, and we trail along behind them. Our fear, the greatest of our fears, is the fear of totality, and violence (to which we blindly resort) is always, in principle, violence against totality, in the name of a power that desires to present itself as absolute, total, all-encompassing, but which is not at all capable of being so. There is no act or type of violence that is not violence against totality, but there is no violence that can be stronger than this totality, for there is no violence that can be above it: totality encompasses it (otherwise it is not totality) and we, in the bankruptcy of violence, discover, even if we aren’t necessarily conscious of it, a proof of that great and highest law, the law of truth as a totality, as that totality in which rationality is the measure of irrationality, and unreason the measure of reason, in which realism is the reverse projection of romanticism, in which sobriety is conceived of only as a function of rapture. Wisdom, if we can be worthy of it, if we are in a position to follow it when we are feeling full and cocksure as well as when we’re hungry; that wisdom that is everywhere put into jeopardy by inertia, habits, routines, satiety as well as hunger, and more than anything – fear. Yes, above all, fear. Wisdom teaches me about this kind of totality, coaxes me towards it, readies me for it. What kind of rationality would I have, if, as far as this wisdom goes, it were without the ecstasy that contradicts it, and what kind of knowledge would I have of what is real and possible, if those two things were devoid of my utopian dreams, of my power of imagination? It would be a sightless world, a world without exits, a blind and closed off world triumphing in its realism, but in a realism that becomes senseless and turns into that drabness, that anemia, that misery of the so-called spirit of realism. Of what use to me would this sobriety be, if it knew nothing of the temptations of dreams and of fervid enthusiasm – if you will, of madness, yes, above all, that. Madness. Capable only of the practical, I am a prisoner of that kind of realism; I am its passive agent. An absolutely realistic mind (if such a thing exists) is a sheer capitulation of consciousness, for it is a complete capitulation of action of any kind: it turns me into an object, and it is the highest form of alienation.
The students, the great heroic children of Novi Beograd, are the essence of poetry, its very personification, the manifestation of its basic principle and fundamental meaning or sense, the sense, if you will, of a poetic, creative, non-rationality, which I will call rational irrationality. This is also the sense of that kind of romanticism that I will call realistic romanticism. This is the type of romanticism without which all our realism is nothing but pure death. The students revealed to us an exceptional moral purpose; they are one great, justified, unavoidable socio-political critique, but I do not see, I even refuse to see, only that in them. I also see in them this sense for poetry, this spirit of poetry, of inspiration, of imagination and utopianism, this voice of romanticism without which no revolution can exist. Every reduction of their movement to an exclusively socio-political phenomenon with contemporary relevance, and even all defenses (even the best-intentioned) of their sense of justification and the rationality of the arguments they muster, which are the contemporary forms and shapes of the arguments but not their intellectual essence, do not necessarily have to but easily might uncouple the movement from itself, by localizing it in every respect, by boiling it down to metrics of attainability and rationality and thereby disengaging it from its core character, which consists not just of a sense of what is reasonable, justified, or feasible, but rather which exists solely because of a sense of the poetic, the meaning in a demand for the impossible, a predilection for momentum and ecstasy, all of which are inseparable from a spirit that is both Romantic and utopian. If there is a chance for anything long-term, profound, and deeply rooted, coming to us from this movement, then it is the opportunity for Romantic ardor, and if that fervor is to have some kind of meaning that transcends the measures and boundaries of the utilitarian world, then for me that lies in a renaissance of the restless Romantic soul. This spirit is not “feasible,” but it is the guarantee for every achievement. It is the driving force. It is the source of every kind of dynamism. It is a slap in the face of our vanity, it provokes us to question our consciences, and its ultimate meaning is its very unattainability; it exceeds the means and measures of any and every solution, which makes it a kind of absolute time serving as a surety for every kind of topical time, and for agency in that time, for the precise reason that its strivings are not brought to a conclusion. It is perpetual motion precisely because it is perpetual unattainability.
Belgrade, June 8, 1968
NB: This text, written on the occasion of the student demonstrations in 1968, was rejected for publication by the newspaper Politika.
First published in Danas, Specijalni dodatak: Odlazak Radomira Konstantinovica (1928-2011), November 5-6, 2011.
Translated by John K. Cox