Memory(ials) Wars

First of May and the clouds weren’t blocking the sunshine in Belgium. What a difference from a couple of days ago when there seemed to be a war of moods going on in the sky resulting in hail, melting snow, rain, and sunshine to compete for attention above our heads. Not a bad day to visit the World War I memorials in the area of Ypres (Ieper), long overdue. Never before had I visited these specific places to my own surprise. Especially, considering I’ve spent most of my life in Belgium, and most of my friends have had school trips to remind them of the importance of the events during that time period for contemporary Belgium – and the world at large. To combat that I mobilized my parents to join me in this campaign.

What follows are flows of thought pivoting around possible experiences of wars and contested memories as they sprung up during the visit and subsequently. Questions ring much stronger than answers at this moment.

To begin with let me just quickly point to the term World War I itself. There are different words to point to this event, or more accurately a set of innumerable events, such as Great War, Global War and War of the Nations. Each set of words has a different ring to it with different associations to be made. But to my knowledge North Korea did not partake in this World War. Of course, the use of singular terms is meant to provide some analytical clarity and one might argue, correctly, that it’s not simply the physicality of war that is at stake here. This is already a reminder that interpretations are political and that any quest to talk about it will have to deal with this.

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The Menin Gate in Ypres.

Be that as it may, let me turn to the Menin Gate in Ypres now. Walking from the central square towards this monument I got the feeling that this was meant to be impressing, and it was. The grandiose grayish triumphal arch greets you with the following words on the top beam: ‘To the armies of the British Empire who stood here from 1914 to 1918 and to those of their dead who have no know grave.’ As with many of the memorials in this region the main focus lays on military casualties of the British Empire, later refashioned as the Commonwealth, but no less imperial.

Standing in the middle of the mausoleum the seemingly endless row of names is griping. So many names, all men, with so many life stories to be untold. Most of them carrying the lowest military rank of private. The lower stratum carrying the heaviest burden, this seems an oddly familiar historical lesson. As much as this visible war debris reveals, nevertheless there is at least as much hidden. What was going on with the family members, partners, friends, … back home? What about the approximately 1.5 million colonial troops and their experiences?

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Explanatory table at the Menin Gate.

I was surprised to read the engraved names of soldiers from the Bhopal infantry, the Sikhs divisions, Burmese and Assam military police, and more. The explanatory plaques accompanying many of the monuments seem to highlight the diversity of people involved in these events, which is a good way forward to counter the whitewashing of history, but the road ahead is still vastly under construction. For example, how many of us who have gone through the primary and secondary school system in Belgium have learned about the wars in Belgian Congo, or for that matter, the vile colonial history of this country?

In psychological literature amnesia is regularly viewed as an adaptation of the mind to deal with troubled memories. In this sense it is a coping mechanism that can help a person from being confronted with painful experiences in the past. The problem of amnesia on a societal scale is that it renders reconciliation very difficult (yes, I know that the idea of reconciliation is a moral stance, but then again what isn’t). The flip-side is that by remembering some things while neglecting others one gets a powerful tool to (re)construct group belongings. A poignant example in this case is the Ijzertoren memorial in Diksmuide that commemorates the killed Flemish soldiers at the Yser front. As such it plays a big role for the idea of the Flemish independence struggle. This is just to state the obvious: dealing with the past is a highly contested power game. Who gets to tell the story is a big ass deal!

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‘You wen to battle brave or afraid. We will never forget the sacrifice you made. So sleep on ya soldiers never to grow old. Your story for evermore forever to be told (R.I.P.). From an ex medic R.A.M.C. “Gloucestershire.”

Back to the Menin Gate. As I walked up the stairs to reach the upper left side of the memorial I encountered rows of circular red rose formations with personal messages. Flowers and death are a common partner around the world. At burial ceremonies in Kinshasa, Jodhpur, Srebrenica, and Antwerp I’ve witnessed the use of flowers with context-dependent meanings. In this specific case it was the written message that got me thinking. A person with an experience in the Royal Army Medical Corps expressing their feelings about this place through charity funded materials. Morphing together contested past, present and future on a paper. One could distill different intended meanings here and result with a multiplicity of interpretations, but this is a reminder that “all of us (without exception) wallow in a phenomenological swamp of signs and symbols” (Bourgois 1990: 53).

The fogginess of this swamp should not inhibit us from taking a critical stance to question the powers that be. For example, when you reach the top of the staircases there is an etched plaque on the right side referring to the Australian involvement in the war. A part of the writing is explicit about the links between past and present. This is a portrayal that contemporary possibilities in life with a Belgium passport are influenced by these past events. Leading me to ponder about how much of war is related to a form of community-building.

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When past, present and future collide to forge unequal life possibilities.

Beneath, in the middle of this plaque, the phrase ‘Lest we forget’ pops out. A combination of words that I encountered at many different places during this visit. Something very similar is often said and written about Srebrenica: ‘Da se ne zaboravi’ (that it’s not forgotten). The idea of not forgetting seems to be an important part of making sense of violence. I’m not sure how much of it is therapeutic in learning to live with pain. This is very dependent on the context of the violence and personal involvements in it. How different is it to talk about reconciliation with the past form a viewpoint of someone who has lost their entire family due to war, and someone who’s idea of war is rendered through historical and televised images?

Let me finish by coming back to the title of this piece. Using the words memory wars is intended to highlight the continuity of material wars. But the danger exist that this implies rigid opposing views of a war. More accurate is to say that there exist many different conflicts of memory in any one person, and society at large. We can claim, rightly so, that fixed identities are an illusion and that violence is not simply a product of antagonistic identities. Thus that violence is exactly a way in which ideas of fixed identities are produced (see Appadurai 2006). But this does not take away that those varied senses of self that people cling on to are felt as illusions. So when I read on many gravestones that ‘death divides memory clings,’ it is a real expression of separation in flesh and connection in memory. However, Lest we forget indeed, wars are also an exercise in community-building (see Gourevitch 1994), and that, in a perverted way, death divides and unites alike. And contested memory is left to make sense of it all.

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Crap ‘intellectuals’ say & do

Not so long ago I attended a seminar with the appealing title What is the Matter with Sociology? A Seminar on being a public intellectual. The ‘intellectual’ who was going to enlighten us on this occasion was Sudhir Venkatesh, and on the event page he was described as a “William B. Ransford Professor of Sociology and member of the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University. Dr. Venkatesh is known for his best-selling urban ethnographies, including Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist takes to the Streets winner of the Best Book award from The Economist…”

Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of him before the public lecture he gave the day before. I was intrigued by his research topic, and attending the lecture and seminar seemed like a righteous way to procrastinate from working on my thesis.

His talk mostly centered on his research concerning youth violence in Chicago’s neighborhoods. I haven’t read the book Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist takes to the Streets so it’s not my intention to criticize or support the main arguments of this work. Even though, I am amazed at the self-aggrandizing title, not to mention the cover picture with him taking on a tough pose next to a staircase. Blessed be the tenured professor, who daily loadeth us with intellect, even the God of our salvation. Selah (Psalm 68:19 – my interpretation). Excuse my cynicism, or don’t, but, it’s not to be interpreted as an all out negation of the tremendous integrity many in that privileged position do display!

Be that as it may, in this short stream of thought I want to highlight a peculiar distressing thought he displayed after I posed a question regarding his own upbringing in an upper middle class milieu and the way it relates to his research participants. I was pointing to the ways he positions himself among them, which the naive and foolish me thought would be in some sort of friendships. I know, strange of me to assume that the people ‘researchers’ spend so much time with in the field could be considered friends.

He went on to explain that he doesn’t consider them as friends, even though, he is godfather to some of their children. He is after all a scientist, and in order to produce valuable data (you know for the sake of the state – Staatswissenschaft/statistics) one cannot become too intimate with the subjects. Lest we forget, the governing/governed dichotomy should not be undermined too much!

Seemingly the legion of feminist and post-colonial critiques on such an objectifying and dehumanizing gaze have not penetrated to all upper echelons of the intellect.

This piece is not meant to single out one person. I simply used this example because it was the latest one I encountered in a long list of crap ‘intellectuals’ say and do.

 

 

The movement of anxiety

It starts of as a small piece of potential residing in all of us. Not sure how it will unfold it starts moving in all directions at the same time, and, as it expands, it opens up possible life trajectories on which we can build an essence – you know, that presumed to be Real us. Throughout our lives these lines have different impact points that can reveal themselves in the most unexpected ways. They may surface as an unsuccessful love story, where we invested a major part of our time, but nevertheless it ended without the house, garden and dog. It can be the realization that no matter how much you try, you’ll never be able to understand the meanings of life. Or, it may be that one day you’re sitting at a bar with some friends and you notice that it all feels surreal, maybe even unreal.

The body can only take so much, until it starts to externalize its internal struggles. Anxious thoughts that you managed to hide so eloquently from the rest for so long, can one day become a tick whereby you make a small noise when you breath just to remind yourself that you’re still alive. It can be that you stare at your body in the mirror for extended periods of times, and question why it is not perfect. Even though, you are aware that perfection is an ideal non can have, this notion ads to your drive to be.

 

Ideologische oorlogsvoering

“Die radicalisering kunt ge niet los zien van de Islam, hé. Dat kunt ge daar niet van los zien.”

–Bart De Wever (Reyers Laat 7 januari 2015)

“…the range from fatalism to fanaticism sums up the spectrum of subject positions available to Muslims within the Western imaginary.”

–Salman Sayyid (2014: 4)

 

“Laat het geen moslims zijn,” was mijn intuïtieve gedachte op de moorden door de broers Said en Chérif Kouacki in en rond het gebouw van Charlie Hebdo. Het feit dat ik zo’n gedachte haast spontaan kreeg, alsof het een Pavloviaanse conditionering betreft als het over moslims en geweld gaat, spreekt boekdelen. Ze kwamen de profeet wreken, die in 2005 door het Deense dagblad Jyllandsposten karikaturaal werd afgebeeld en kort daarop door het Franse satirische weekblad Charlie Hebdo werd overgenomen. De hashtags die volgden en de leuzen dat ‘onze’ vrijheid (van meningsuiting) en ‘onze’ liberale waarden aangevallen worden vertellen veel over de huidige dominante discoursen in Europa, maar ze verhullen de overkoepelende structurele problemen. In dit essay baseer ik mij op de uitspraken van Antwerps burgemeester Bart De Wever in het praatprogramma Reyers Laat van woensdag 7 januari,[i] en op een kort opinieartikel op de website van Al Jazeera van Soedanees cartoonist Khalid Albaih.[ii]

In Reyers Laat kan De Wever niet vatten dat iemand die zich zo beledigd voelt door een cartoon, in staat is tot dergelijke extreme daden. Dit is een gedachte die dominant is in België (en Europa) en die verwijst naar het verschil waarop er gekeken wordt naar een ding en de representatie van dat ding. Saba Mahmood’s deconstructivistische methode, gebaseerd op de discursieve traditie van Talal Asad, is verhelderend in dit opzicht. Zij expliciteert hoe de categorie van religie in de ‘moderne’ wereld gecontrasteerd wordt met het sociale. Dit is een machtskwestie die ervoor zorgt dat religie in het privédomein terechtkomt. In Religious Reason and Secular Affect: An Incommensurable Divide? (2009) legt Mahmood uit hoe de islamitische traditie van toewijding ervoor zorgt dat er een persoonlijke band met de profeet Mohammed wordt gecultiveerd, die een verlengde is van het zelf van de gelovige. Dit staat in tegenstelling tot een seculier begrip van vrijheid van meningsuiting die aandringt op een duidelijke differentiatie tussen signifiant en signifié.[iii] De manier waarop affect wordt gecultiveerd wordt aldus op verschillende manier geïnterpreteerd, wat ervoor zorgt dat de vraag dient gesteld te worden in hoeverre een relativistische multiculturele aanpak (nog) werkzaam is – als het dat ooit was. Indien Bruno Latour (2002) gelijk heeft dat we nu in een tijd van multinaturalistische tendensen leven waar fundamentele metafysische oorlogen gevoerd worden, met als beloning de hegemonische machtspositie, dan kunnen we begrijpen dat wat natuurlijk (rationeel) lijkt vanuit een seculiere ooghoek, op een andere manier geïnternaliseerd wordt door een moslim.[iv] Wat de moorden van de afgelopen dagen ons in dit opzicht kunnen leren is dat de oorlog zich niet louter op een metafysisch niveau afspeelt en dat de fysieke confrontaties steeds dichterbij komen. In dit opzicht heeft Arjun Appadurai (2006: 18,113) gelijk wanneer hij stelt dat we niet in een clash of civilizations leven, maar in een worldwide civilization of clashes, in het kort: een wereld van ideologische oorlogsvoering.

Het is misleidend en angstzaaiend wanneer De Wever in Reyers Laat verklaart dat er nu pas een dreiging in Europa is en dat we ons “maximaal (moeten) beveiligen.” Dit gaat in tegen de idee van Latour (2002: 3) dat het ‘moderne tijdperk’ heel de tijd al in een status van oorlog verkeert. Je kan stellen dat het hier over twee verschillende niveaus van oorlog gaat en dat je ze niet mag samenvoegen, maar dat lijkt mij een veronachtzaming van het fundamentele relationele aspect dat een prominente plaats vervult in de islamitische traditie betreffende de manier waarop een subject wordt gevormd (Mahmood 2005). Om het debat breder te kaderen is het interessant om te wijzen, zoals Khalid Albaih en vele anderen doen, op de bredere geopolitieke ontwikkelingen in het Midden-Oosten. Zoals Albaih aankaart is het één ding om de vrijheid van meningsuiting te verdedigen, maar hoe je met die vrijheid omgaat is ook belangrijk. We leven niet in een vacuüm en een discussie over de moorden die in termen van seculiere waarden van vrijheid versus barbaarse waarden wordt gevoerd, is een miskenning van de politieke machtsstrijd die in de kern van de zaak zit. In lijn met Ruth Marschall (2009) kunnen we stellen dat er zich een crisis van representatie voordoet bij radicaliserende moslimjongeren in Europa waar de opkomende militante islamitische groeperingen gebruik van maken.[v] Het lijkt dus dat er een morele leegheid in de publieke sfeer wordt ervaren door deze jongeren waardoor ze zich vervreemden van een samenleving waar ze vaak in geboren zijn. Net zoals de wedergeboorte beweging in Nigeria een narratief van kritiek ontwikkelde tegenover de regering en zijn immoraliteit, kunnen we stellen dat bepaalde militante islamitische groeperingen een kritiek ontwikkelen die niet louter beperkt blijft tot een bepaalde natiestaat, maar ook het (imaginaire) ‘Westen’ als focus neemt.[vi] Vanuit deze oogopslag kunnen we stellen dat het religieus imaginaire waartoe de broers Said en Chérif Kouacki en Amedy Coulibaly zich tot aangetrokken voelden, geen eenvoudige sociale imaginaire is, maar dat het op een originele manier orde en betekenis geeft aan het menselijk bestaan, en verder, dat het een nieuwe wereld tot werkelijkheid brengt (Marshall 2009: 124-125). Provocerend kan men stellen dat wat groeperingen zoals Al Qaida en ISIS doen, een poging is om toegang te krijgen tot het universele en een bepaalde soevereiniteit tot stand te brengen. Dit kan gelezen worden als een (gewelddadige) act van deconstructie en heruitvinding, zoals Marshall (ibid.: 199) schrijft: “a power confiscated, a vocabulary appropriated and turned against its users.”

Dat fundamentalisten zichzelf construeren (Harding 1991: 373) wordt duidelijk uit de manier waarop de moordenaars gehandeld hebben. Dat aan de andere kant fundamentalisten gevormd worden door moderne discursieve praktijken en dat de pers daar een belangrijke rol in speelt (ibid.: 374-376) wordt zichtbaar door de stroom aan krantenkoppen in nasleep van de moorden. Daarin wordt impliciet (en soms expliciet) de scheiding gemaakt tussen de fundamentalisten die achtergesteld zijn en de liberale, rationele, vrije moderne subjecten, die zodanig als de neutrale norm van de geschiedenis worden geconstitueerd. Dat in dit moderne discours de link tussen ‘Islam’ en ‘fundamentalisme’ zeer sterk wordt getrokken, demonstreren onder andere De Wevers woorden in Reyers Laat: “Der is een probleem in de Islam in Europa op dit moment … Die radicalisering kunt ge niet los zien van de Islam, hé. Dat kunt ge daar niet van los zien.”[vii] Hier verbaliseert De Wever onverbloemd het racistische idee dat er iets in het DNA van de Islam aanwezig is dat zondermeer radicalisering aanstookt. Deze visie strookt met het idee dat moslims in het Westers imaginaire louter twee uiterste posities kunnen belichamen: fanatisme en fatalisme (Sayyid 2014: 4). De moorden zijn aldus (nog eens) een bevestiging van de fanatieke aard van moslims, waardoor ze moeilijk te rijmen zijn met ‘onze’ westerse levensstijl. Langs de andere kant wordt de meerderheid van de moslims in Europa gelijkgesteld met een fatalisme. Zij zijn apathisch en dociel. Dit verklaart ook de hunker naar distantiëring van de moorden door de ‘moslimwereld’ waar velen in Europa zo naar verlangen. Men kan zeggen dat dit fatalisme door moslims geïnternaliseerd is, wat ook geuit wordt in #NietmijnIslam.[viii]

Een van de lessen die de voorvallen van de laatste dagen ons leren is dat er een strijd bestaat om te definiëren wat er onder Islam begrepen wordt. Dit is een globale strijd aangezien wat er onder de ontologische karakteristiek van Islam begrepen wordt, bepalend is voor haar ontische manifestatie (Sayyid 2014: 8). Deze strijd is al een tijd gaande in de ‘moslimwereld’. Wat Charlie Hebdo laat zien is dat die strijd ook in Europa gevoerd wordt en dat het door Europeanen gevoerd wordt. Het zijn ‘onze terroristen’ (Appadurai 2006: 109) die hier geboren en getogen zijn, die hier vervreemden en die je niet zomaar kan amputeren en denken dat het opgelost is. Neen, deze en andere voorvallen zijn een teken dat Europa aan het ontwortelen is en dat ze niet beseft hoe er juist mee om te gaan.

 

Eindnoten

[i] Reyers Laat, januari 7, 2015, geraadpleegd op 9 januari, 2015, http://deredactie.be/cm/vrtnieuws/-videozone/programmas/reyerslaat/2.37104.

[ii] Khalid Albaih, “When cartoons upset the ‘wrong people’,” Al Jazeera, January 8, 2015, geraadpleegd op 9 januari, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/01/paris-charlie-hebdo-cartoons-att-20151810528121783.html.

[iii] Dit is een distinctie die gebaseerd is op de taaltheorie van Ferdinand de Saussure. Samuli Schielke (2010: 6) is het niet geheel eens met die visie van Mahmood. Hij is van mening dat Europeanen wel degelijk in staat zijn om de waarde van het onderscheid tussen de profeet Mohammed en een afbeelding ervan te vatten. Volgens hem is het veeleer een kwestie van politieke en ideologische concessies waardoor bepaalde individuen dit onderscheid niet willen maken.

[iv] Het is belangrijk om te wijzen op de meerdere lagen die hier actief zijn als je het op een pragmatisch alledaags niveau bekijkt, waardoor je niet zondermeer een absolute afsluiting hebt tussen liberale en islamitische noties van agency en selfhood (zie Fadil 2009).

[v] Hier is veeleer spraken van een crisis van de hegemonie van de moderniteit, dat verder reikt dan de crisis van representatie in het ‘globale zuiden’ zoals aangekaart door Ruth Marshall en Achille Mbembe.

[vi] Net zoals er sprake is van een oriëntalisme dat nog steeds hoogtij viert in Europa en Noord-Amerika, is er eveneens een occidentalisme dat een prominente rol speelt in de visie op wat het ‘Westen’ belichaamt.

[vii] Ik gebruik hier de singuliere Islam om te duiden op een wijdverspreid idee omtrent de eenduidigheid van de religie en de onverenigbaarheid ervan met Europese waarden en normen. Dat De Wevers woorden een brede laag van de bevolking aanspreken blijkt ook uit de Ipsos-Mori poll betreffende de misperceptie van Europeanen over het aantal moslims in hun land. “Islam in Europe,” The Economist, January 7, 2015, geraadpleegd op 9 januari, 2015, http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2015/01/daily-chart-2?fsrc=scn/fb/wl/bl/islamineurope

[viii] Natuurlijk beweer ik niet dat het enkel een uiting van fatalisme is. Er zijn veel motieven die hun weerslag vinden in het zich afzetten tegen de moorden, maar dat neemt niet weg dat er binnen het Westers imaginaire zo’n dominante tweedeling bestaat betreffende moslims. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nietmijnislam/429679170522852?ref=br_tf

 

Bibliografie

Appadurai, Arjun, 2006 Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Fadil, Nadia, 2009 Managing affects and sensibilities: The case of not-handshaking and not-fasting. Social Anthropology 17(4):439-454.

Harding, Susan, 1991 Representing Fundamentalism: The Problem of the Repugnant Cultural Other. Social Research 58(2):373-393.

Latour, Bruno, 2002 War of the Worlds: What about Peace? Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Mahmood, Saba, 2005 Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Mahmoud, Saba, 2009 Religious reason and Secular Affect: An Incommensurable Divide? In Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury and Free Speech. Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, and Saba Mahmood. Pp. 64-100. Berkley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.

Marshall, Ruth, 2009 Political Spiritualities: The Pentecostal Revolution in Nigeria. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Sayyid, Salman, 2014 Recalling the Caliphate: Decolonisation and World Order. London: Hurst & Company.

Schielke, Samuli, 2010 Second Thoughts About the Anthropology of Islam, or How to Make Sense of Grand Schemes in Everyday Life. Zentrum Moderner Orient Working Papers 2:1-16.

What is fieldwork?

What do we label under doing ethnographic fieldwork? I’m posing this question because sometimes I have the feeling that what I am doing doesn’t fall under the register of fieldwork.

Maybe I have this feeling because I didn’t’ arrive at my so-called field with a fixed idea of what and who I would be studying. Of course, I had many ideas and possible different directions I could go to, but it was an explicit choice to come to Sarajevo with a very open attitude. On top of that I chose not to work through an organization to gain access to people. There are many different reasons for this, but a specific one is that it often seems to me that people do fieldwork with a very select few via an organization and then start generalizing tremendously. In a sense I wanted to get in touch with a diverse crowd, and specifically those that don’t engage with different kinds of organizations.

Often I’m engaging with someone without explicitly thinking that it is part of my fieldwork. But soon I realize that what they are saying, and how they are behaving, could be useful for my research. This leads me to a feeling that almost every interaction is part of my ‘field’. This can range from conversations with family members, relaxing in cafe’s with friends, strolling through the city and thinking about the sensual experiences, …

Last night I was talking with a friend about what it is that I exactly do. I spontaneously grabbed my little notebook from the back pocket of my jeans, and went on to explain that I always have it with me. By this gesture I tried to say that for me anthropological fieldwork is an all encompassing act that is difficult to boil down to a well defined strategy.  Of course I said that there is the idea of participant observation, but that in reality this often is very messy. I also noted that for now I haven’t been doing many formal interviews because it seems not the appropriate time. For now it revolves mostly around informal talks and the multitude of experiences that run through me.

I’ve wondered if it would have been easier to work via an organization. Maybe it would have eased my acces to certain people, and it probably would have confined my research area. But then again, this is not what I was aiming for when I came here. I wanted to try and look at everyday life, the small seemingly basal things that people do, and the way they interact, that seems to escape a lot of social research. Not to say that this is not possible to research when you take an institutional approach, but there seems to be something lacking there.

One of the biggest issues for now has been to get in touch with specific people. Not that I have a lack of engagement in general. No, it’s more that it’s too widespread – or better, it seems too widespread for now – to have much coherence. Of course I’m not saying that I’m per se trying to impose structure, but it’s more an issues for me of having a certain overview.

Maybe this will only emerge later on when I have more time to sit and analyze more thoroughly what I’ve been doing. I’m glad that I have the opportunity to return to Sarajevo in January, and maybe latter on also. Because there is so much that I feel is lacking now, and I hope this will slowly get filled as time progresses.

 

 

Concrete poiesis

“Choose love”, near the old town in Sarajevo.

Izaberi ljubav (adj-s)

Strolling through the streets my attention is often pulled by tags on walls. The ones that grab my intention the most are writings/drawings that offer a certain critique on the current state in the country. I catch myself wondering why someone wrote such a message, when they did it, was it an intuitive outburst or a well thought out idea, did they get caught, …

Thinking about this as a performance act, my thoughts drift to the idea of poieses. This concept has been fascinating me for a while now because of its reference to making. Making has multiple meanings in this context: first, there is the act of making the tag by using certain materials and applying it to the wall, then, there’s also the notion of making in that it produces a message that is in the public sphere and that is interpretable differently, there’s also making in a way that it forms (maybe just slightly) the maker, and so forth.

“Wake up people”, on a flat in my suburb Alipašino polje.

Probudi se narode (adj-s)

Do these messages indicate a form of poiesis that’s not a performance as mimesis (let us say mimicry), but more an art as part of the contemporary world that is reflexive and fixated on theatricalizations?

Different tags as seen from my apartment in Alipašino polje.

Wall tags (adj-s)

It’s interesting to think about the different narrative layers that emerge from looking at the inscripted facades. Especially the picture above seems interesting. You can see the damaged walls that were hit by bullets and grenades, of which some are filled in, and on top of that you have the graffiti tags. What could this mean in terms of interaction between different life stories?

Rooftops seen from 9 high.Rooftop tags (adj-s)
“Love each other, you people eaters,” written along the Miljacka river near the old town.Voli te se ljudozderi (adj)
Self explanatory (kind of) on a flat in Alipašino polje.We are anarchy (adj-s)

A smokers delight

This city is meant for smokers.

Every inhale and exhale marks a step towards self-destruction. Just like a cigarette has the potential to sooth, to calm, to make normal, so this city has such potential. But, behind this benevolent aspect lies the macabre side of the smoke of the city-as-cigarette that kills. That’s why I light one up.

Maybe by confronting it head on we can cheat death? Better yet, turn death-in-potens to life-in-potens.

Some statistics

Tobacco harms the health, the treasury, and the spirit of Bosnia and Herzegovina.” While we can agree on the first (and maybe the second) statement, the third one is simply ludicrous. What do they even mean with “the spirit of Bosnia and Hercegovina?”

I would argue on the contrary that smoking adds to a specific life ‘spirit’ in this country. Can it not be that lighting a cigarette signifies for some (many?) an act of normality? In the gesture of inhaling and exhaling, that has become intuitive, one performs routine. In a place where many started smoking during the war by prescription of doctors, is it not possible that consuming cigarettes is sensible?

Don’t get me wrong. I am by no means denying the vultaristic venture of the global tobacco industry. And I am also not denying the devastating effects the drug has on our (physical) health. But, to miss the social context of smoking makes us resort to some imperious high ground moral judging.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is rocking the 8th place in number of cigarettes per adult per year (2,278). It’s fascinating that Eastern European countries are the leaders in this list…

Café society

Maybe smoking is so prevalent due to the fact that going to cafes and drinking coffee is in many parts of this region of the world a social fact. A cigarette in this setting is not and add on, but it’s part of the experience. Maybe health – physical that is – is not so fetishized in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Like Miljenko Jergović wrote beautifully in his short novel Sarajevo Marlboro on life in besieged Sarajevo: “Among his staple of ingredients was the odd spoonful of Bosnian metaphysics that was strongly opposed to the idea of nutrition or a healthy diet, beings more interested in unadulterated hedonism.”