Radomir Konstaninovic is the author of Filosofija palanke. This is his speech from the first session of the Belgrade Circle, given on April 11, 1991.
This is the first conversation in the set of meetings called the Other Serbia, organized by the Belgrade Circle. For every one of us this means something. Something more than simply a promise: each of us is becoming more isolated, each of us has less and less interaction, and even less desire for interaction, and the violence of totalitarianism is ever greater. Solitude – that is the existential reality of totalitarianism.
We are living under nationalist totalitarianism, and it grows more bloodthirsty by the day: behold Kupres, awash in blood, and Sarajevo, in blood and fear. Did we expect this to happen? Three years ago, in March of 1989, in that very city of Sarajevo, in a discussion held on the 20th anniversary of the publication of Filosofija palanke, I said this: “Our lives are at stake – you should know that. This violence is predictable, for violence is in the very nature of nationalism, and that’s because nationalism, in demanding absolute unity, an absence of contradiction, is condemned to clash with reality, which is, of course, contradictory: nationalism is condemned to violence.”
Do you recall, by the way, the brutal intolerance with which some people greeted even the news of the founding of this Belgrade Circle? This was even before the Circle had begun to function. What’s important here is that most of the people who took part in this brutality were those who portrayed themselves as democrats and who – and I’m convinced of this – actually wanted to be democrats. At that time I also heard it said that I had been languishing for a long time under the ashes but was suddenly resurfacing because I’d been put in charge, by acclamation. Let’s assume all that is true: should I then conceive of my words here as a statement of welcome, the friendly expression of understandable delight at having re-emerged from the ashes, having liberated myself from dreadful tedium – that I underwent some sort of resurrection? Or, in a completely opposite way, should I understand this as an expression of a wish (even if a completely unconscious one) to remain under the ashes, to hold my tongue, to be in some way dead again? Should I die once more?
There is in this a reflexive reaction to violence, no doubt. But we are up to our ears in totalitarianism, and totalitarianism means infection with violence, the aspiration to total violence, or to violence as a universal method, in dealing with others, but also ourselves. Totalitarianism is the totalization of violence. It conquers us; it perverts us, just as it corrupts, to the point of monstrosity, everything that it touches. I’d even say – precisely because it seeks absolute unity (and is for that very reason condemned to violence) – that it is the unsurpassed master of monstrosity and the inimitable creator of monsters as failed hybrids, of aborted cross-pollination, of impossible, crippled synthesis, all-conquering paradox, in the general triumph of two-headedness. Behold, the monsters with two heads that never cease biting and devouring themselves: this is the monstrosity of the nationalist democrat (or the democratic nationalist), and it is the monstrosity of clerico-Nazism (Christian Nazis) in the habit of a TV monk who, under the sun gun, plays with children’s skulls and carries a hawthorn stick instead of a cross, or who prays on television for God to save him not from his own sins but from the president of the republic; and it is the monstrosity of the communist anti-communist, in the style of Balkan McCarthyism under the direction of people who were communist bigwigs until yesterday.
These are the depraved beings found at every step in these scenes choreographed by totalitarian violence, monstrous failures and hopeless disconnects: they are inundating this world, overrunning more and more of it, so that it’s already starting to seem “normal” this way. Monstrosity, where violence has been made king, where everything warps under the weight of violence – this Monstrosity becomes ever more normal, as if we were living under the paradox of normal monstrosity: the essential expression of the nature of paradox is Monstrosity as normality.
So it’s not just that we live on a daily basis amidst this normal monstrousness, or that we have grown used to it, or married into its clan – the point is also that we ourselves are turning into monsters; living under the violence of totalitarian nationalism means, from day to day, consenting more and more to that violence, and, furthermore, accepting it as our own – accepting the unacceptable: accepting the monstrous as natural. We live in a world (if this is living) in which the monstrous is coming to be natural, and the natural monstrous. Because of this, our humanity, when we encounter it, appears unreal; but also because of this we barely take notice of the monstrosity that is everywhere. Living with a monster means not noticing it, not seeing the monster as a monster.
Totalitarianism renders people blind to monstrosity, and that’s the most horrific thing about it: in totalitarianism what is horrible is that there is ever less of the horrible. The nonexistence of the horrific, the inconceivability of the monstrous, the invisibility of monsters, the phantomization of monsters – are these signs that we are submerged in monstrosity? If I see no monster, is it because I myself have become one? The fundamental aspiration of every totalitarianism, as the demiurge of monstrosity, is this striving for its own invisibility: a striving to conquer us completely, to become our “we.” Therefore a majority of people do not perceive totalitarianism at all; they neither experience nor regard it as totalitarianism. More frequently than not, we ourselves are totalitarianized and it goes without saying that we are not aware of this in the least. There is no way for totalitarianism to be self-conscious.
The mind and totalitarianism are irreconcilable. The mind and Monstrosity are irreconcilable: let the work of the Belgrade Circle begin.
Reprinted from Revija slobodne misli (Sarajevo), 99:7-8, April/June 1997.
Translated by John K. Cox