THE METAMORPHOSES OF UTOPIA*
1996 ventsislav zankov
Thomas Moore called his imaginary island Utopia, having no idea that imagination is maybe more haunting than reality. Moreover: imagination can take the shape of a geographical reality with real inhabitants: and these inhabitants can, on their turn name it the Island of Freedom - Cuba. I do not intend however to discuss the way certain social and economic attitudes were, have been or are to be transformed into utopias: I would rather talk about the metamorphosis of Utopia and the American dream.
Utopia comes out when you see it is there, yet you feel it is out of reach. It is an island in the ocean of consciousness. promising a way out, welfare, order and justice, a longing for what is different, for what is unknown, a craving for what is not here, for a rationalized and not divine way out.
We were in deep dreaming: The American dream was part of it. A way of life, shadows of which came to us and fueled our imagination: a way of life that we thought to be beautiful, virtuous, just; smiling happy people of pin-up proportions driving glossy cars, fighting the evil, sympathetically welcoming any of us who succeeded to get out of it. People filled with love and ready to save us...ready to help....help us become like them.... and live happy lives. And though our bodies lived on our land, our thoughts and feelings were somewhere else. Closed down into the formal regulations of a distorted and barren ideology we faced our inner horizons, set free with the rejection of authorities: a pattern of getting over the historical attempt to lend reality to utopia.
I thank this American dream , ideal and elusive as it was, because the totalitarian force of the moral, ideological and political imperatives fell apart all around it, reduced to inconsistent formatting fields. Once you let the freedom of doubt come over you, doubts grow stronger, suspicion comes into your eyes, revelation - to your thoughts. Categories, long crammed into your head, begin to lose their clarity apriori and definite character: good and evil, beautiful and ugly, right and wrong, the chain of terms is getting more and more confusing: violence - crime - law- punishment. Faith turns into Faithfulness. Things turn into their opposites through metamorphosis. Committed to its mission as it was, the Eisenhower Aircraft Carrier takes the shape of Aurora Cruiser.
I thank this American dream , ideal and elusive as it was, because it gave us a new look and we saw how the glossy surface of the brave new world of unlimited possibilities got transparent. And , yes, these are unlimited possibilities: unlimited military powers, unlimited economic interests. Anything may be qualified to be of national interest and this interest has for long now gone beyond the boundaries of the country, beyond any reasonable limits and inhibitions that the term national may indicate.
With few exceptions the planet was announced to be a zone of national interest and security. The American dream turned into Utopia. The curious thing is that the average American will find nothing wrong about this. The assumption that this is the way social systems function suggests that authority, totalitarian or other, always acts in the same way. Power does not affect action itself and consequently power doesn’t limit action (otherwise it would rather be qualified as violence). Power gives shape and controls the scope of action: in this way it leaves action develop freely...yet within the boundaries of the scope defined. Thus different types of ruling will imply different patterns of shaping and controlling the scope of action and respectively different scope parameters. Difference in parameters comes out of different social and economic relationship. Different patterns of shaping and controlling the scope of action hold one common feature: they are all outward in nature in the sense that they lend the obligatory codes of social behavior, yet at the same time they have their inward character as far as they give shape and structure to the essentials of individual consciousness. It is not easy to discern like outward the parameters of the patterns of thought that appear in this twilight zone, because at the same time they are felt to be inward, intimate, intrinsic, apriori patterns of thought. This is exactly the point of painful collisions in turbulent periods of change and restructuring of social space. Since space was brought up here we could find easy analogies in astrophysics: analogies between the Universe on the one hand and our social, and why not, personal worlds, on the other; analogies unfolding along the axis of unattainable endmost areas of space from both social and physical point of view. The huge mass of the Universe is assumed to cause space distortion, closing the space down with its endmost parts remaining out of reach. Even if we try really hard to keep moving along a straight line to a supposed periphery this line will follow the distortions in space and in the long run will turn curved: thus our journey will find no end and will for good remain within the space in which it was attempted; the periphery will remain out f reach...Every society like a small universe has its own aggravation: the aggravation of social consciousness. Aggravation and integrity bring together, keep together, distort and close down social space and leave its endmost areas out of reach, keeps them unintelligible. Children and crazy people only can cross these territories. The aggravation and integrity of social consciousness , being derivatives of economic and respectively political structures, have in America gone far beyond geography.
High integrity of social consciousness is necessary to hold this social space together and watch for welling up frustrations and centrifugal forces, and turn them into centripetal... And what lies behind, and what remains invisible is the danger of implosion, of reducing the distorted social space to a black whole....Seduced by the global geography of this space we suddenly get trapped and wolfed down there.
When it comes to talking about aggravation and space, time often strikes in. The duration of social time is a separate subject, and a large one. What I can do now is to trace out the essence and role of psychoanalysis within the high integrity of social consciousness. This integrity acts like anesthesiologist to individual consciousness, keeping it numb and within the limits of what is socially acceptable. Seemingly free people act freely, freely take decisions, take the right decisions, take the necessary decisions, freely express their opinion, express proper opinion, express socially proper opinion....and for a single moment they can not imagine that they needn’t do that. Cannot help behaving like proper citizens, the paragon citizens for the rest of the world. Sometimes however human nature refuses to comply with all this. Doubts come out to the surface - the pressing integrity of social consciousness that you adopted as your own keeps pressing you spasms seize you,, convulsions go down on you, depressions take their turn. Depressions: either revelations or total loss of sense, elemental darkness and void is all around you and you start random wandering and pushing against the walls of your tunnel of life. Everything around is pressing you, you have no right to take a rest, these are the rule of the game, that you accepted long, long ago, to be let in, to pay the game. You can feel a friendly hand touching your brain gently, gently petting you, you can hear a voice, telling you that you shouldn’t have opened your eyes, for it is not necessary, and besides it is useless to watch in the darkness, ...and darkness does not exit after all, ...and still if it does it is not part of you, and besides there’s light waiting for you in the end. Step by step you get calmed down, the stream of everyday life sweeps you away, and you resign at last and drift along. Light has somehow ran away from your eye, but there’s nothing to worry about, you ‘have taken the right way after all, haven’t you?...You brain is well greased, the creaks - muffled down, your mechanics works fine...again. To put it in a different way the traditional widely spread[read psychoanalytical practice oriented to solving individual problems makes them exterior instead, which is no final solution (though psychoanalysis pretends that this is so) The main objective of pshychoanalysis appears to be to make individuals free of their problems (especially their existential) problems and in this way take them back to their desirable social functions: society cannot afford waiting for anybody to waste their time on solving their personal puzzles, and just think of it, maybe the answer will never be found, maybe there’ s no answer or rather it is dissolved in the process of finding an answer. Well, that does not seem to me like helping somebody find their solution. Psychoanalysis rather provides temporarily satisfactory answers and cuts the process of finding a solution by making individuals dependent on it. The psychoanalyst, helping his patients every now and then, spoiling them, makes them run back to him at every extremity that comes along - to get help, to share their troubles, to shirk from responsibility for things that sometimes they even refuse to face. On the one hand they get stuck to the old Catholic practice of asking for indulgences, on the other hand the sexless figure of the psychoanalyst, in times of extreme alienation and lack of the ability for human relationship, absorbs into a throbbing shapeless whole the remnants all our dear images: Beloved, Brother, Friend, Mother, Dog...present, past and future merge into this shapelessness and you can confide everything to it, ....what you confide will never be yours again because you have transferred it to your healer...and you pay him about that. But don’t forget that heroes from the fairly tales grow up and become heroic battles and victories over mythical fearsome monstrous, battles won after long and lonesome wondering into the woods, with no guides, no hope....and without despair. Mythical creatures at the end of 20 century: if you lose the fight with them you become their slave and if you are the winner you will have to replace them.
The woods of our subconscious are still waiting to be explored and mapped out, we are still in the time of random wondering, we are still after our monster. We still don’t have any idea about what to do when we face him: maybe we have to destroy him like winners do, or maybe we have to reconcile or maybe tame him, why not? Or is it that taming the monster will put us in the role of St. George from a famous Renaissance picture, in which the saint is triumphantly piercing the dragon with his sword, not noticing that the dragon is tied with a thin bracelet to a Princess. We still have time to take our decision, we still don’t have answers about what is here and what is now, who is Saint George and where is the Dragon. Shall we take our time?
I thank the Orient about this peculiar life of thought into the no man’s world of elusive dimensions, of twinkling here and winking there. Its fluidity, its quality of evasiveness and uncertainty allows for resourceful getting over moral imperatives and systems of values. Its lace-like social consciousness guards the way to its endmost areas and you can freely step in once you have taken the risk that what you see beyond will for ever be qualified as groundless, unprovable and beyond the degrees of comparison.
I accept my opponents, my intelligent, rationally open to OTHERNESS opponents, brought up in the spirit of liberalism and tolerance. ‘My Freedom ends where your s begin’ Very good, indeed. What if the opinion or behavior, or the action you are going to openly and liberally embrace, turns out to be the most anti-liberal, disrespectful and neglecting your own? I can tell you what...Your liberal attitude will be either finished or it will turn into another pattern, into the Eastern world-picture, where patience, predestination, resignation and bending down at the feet of Fate take the ruling part. That is the World of Karma, where tolerance expects no response, plays no balancing part, makes no deal. This ‘illogical’ and ‘anti-rational’ attitude may naturally reveal its opposite side; extreme fanaticism, incomparable cruelty, sacrifice....Because the assumption that my freedom ends where yours begin is a one way train, it is ‘the run away train that never comes back, baby’.....
How about Utopia then, where’s the beginning of utopia. maybe it waits where Illusion ends. Utopia turns into a distinct category when you grasp its particular inconsistency, its peculiar impossibility. The process of grasping its meanings is in fact a process of embracing the difference, it is the process of letting belief live their own life in the world. Inner beliefs and convictions can no more be qualified as utopian for a very simple reason: they are possible, they may become real. Whether this is the reality of a sick mind or other makes no difference. An island in the ocean of consciousness. promising a way out, welfare, order and justice, an imaginary island. Utopia will always be fiction.
I was watching the Larry King’s Show on CNN on live the other day when somebody called in the studio to tell that CNN manipulates, that there’s a real censorship at work...But you see, this call was on air, how come that the censorship let it go? Our attention is kindly invited to leave all doubts about manipulation and censorship and consider the fact that the subject about censorship is openly brought up to the studio....waiting to be discussed. Well, that is exactly the point where my doubts begin. How come that this call came in the right moment at the right place to make clear to everybody that censorship simply will not work with the CNN guys. At the same time there’s already a CNN E-mail address to serve the opinion and recommendations of the public. Possibly the babies-in-the wood will not be late to send their views and critical notes to reduce and, why not, to avoid manipulation and censorship, having no idea that this hot line may be open to serve other purposes. It will for sure improve public trust in CNN, because it provides the feedback, doesn’t it? And come to think of it isn’t it the right feedback that CNN needs: gathering negative opinions and critical notes may wisely turn into a good lesson about how to manipulate better.
I watch CNN now and then and sometimes I make pictures. And sometimes I wonder where I am. Society, media, personal life, seduction and rejection, acceptance and performance. Is life like a work of art, after all? Who needs the unity of the art, the artist, his public image and his work? Who need the union of life and art into a strange, illogical, unique, authentic life: a guarantee for masterpiece; a masterpiece generator. A concoction, made after the old recipe: - a dose of skillfulness ( that lends uniqueness) - a dose f strangeness ( that lends healthy incomprehensibility) - a dose of craze (i.e. lack of understanding) - a dose of suffering ( that mercifully lends relief to poor talents) - a dose of courage ( that provides the admiration of the public) - a dose of poverty ( that lends relief to the rich) and a dose of tragedy to gulp down ‘genius’ smoothly.
Warmed up on slow fire of experts’ evaluations. Served flambe with yellow media flames.
The attempt to merge into one personal life, artistic activities and to live the works of art that you create has for long now been doomed to failure and worse has turned into a cliche. Yet this attempt was nevertheless saved in the attitude of the merchant of works of art, who sells in fact pieces of life, pieces of extravagant artistic life that his clients cannot afford living.
Sometimes I make pictures and sometimes I think about past times. I go back to the Middle Ages. It was pretty enough for a small village to prosper in these times to have relics of a Saint, hidden somewhere around. If relics are not available they may be produced. Or provided. The important thing is to stimulate visitors...and then visitors will stimulate trade... and that is how the world keeps going round and round...Our time has also produced its saints: a picture or two By Van Gogh can turn any small French town into a tourists’ attraction.
It seems that what you make counts little: HOW YOU MAKE IT counts the world. The world may choose whether to follow a work of art and grow a better world...maybe some day the world will grow better out of some work of art: ‘make a wish....make it happen’ . Till that day comes, however, if it comes at all, artists who want to change the world will have a hard time, thwey will have a painful time....a time of resistance...a life time of rejection, because participation in the change they cherish is not free....participation may be questioned, and price may be too high...as to promises...no promises, I am afraid.
Sometimes I make pictures ...I want to draw a picture of a srawberry for some days now, I want to draw my strawbery, feeling free and young...Past days come back to me, the days of my life, when the word performance was exotic in the sense that there were no genre prescriptions, no clarity, no art rules. Artists in these days presented themselves though something that later turned out to be performances just as they turned out to be performers. I mean that artists in these days did not present performances to the public, they rather showed performances, letting their inner world come out and get shaped as action, as something still free of genre divisions. ..And they did it for the innocent unprejudiced public, that sincerely joined this unusual experience, beyond its everyday expectations. Because the public felt that to be a part of the unusual days of changes and transformations, part of their unusual days, surprise to their usual lives.
The world may choose to make its authenticity legitimate and may produce pieces of eternity to compare them to yesterday pieces of eternity, that were just yesterday produced. Our need for history and ‘historicism’ is but the acknowledgment of our intellectual immunity sufficiency.
I want to draw my strawberry, feeling free and young, I do not want to know why I want that. Time interprets things in one way or another, now lending them the privilege of naming them works of art, then refusing them that same privilege, depending on what it needs. I can do that too. I am the navel string of my works and society, I cannot represent that string: I can only be it.
Yet this pattern belongs to my country only, it is a room in my house. A room with a view. I can not imagine the contexts I have to fit into outside that room, and I have to hide behind my work of art, behind the text I present. I have to hide behind what will be exposed to further interpretations, evaluations, opinions, beyond my wish, awareness control.
I am drawing my strawberry in my room, and yet I am getting ready to leave it. I have been invited somewhere, somewhere wished me to go. I don’t feel like a missionary, neither like an exotic animal. I accept to go there and to be different. Or is it that I want to make my strawberry legitimate?
Performance ends where Genre begins.
Sofia, March 19th 96.
* This text was presented at the Annual Conference of the Preformance Studies Department, The Northwestern University in Chicago, held in March 1996