To speak about the epistemological heritage of the encounter of Europe with the outside world - including the Americas - means speaking about the encounter of Europe with Eastern Europe. This is even more true if we refer to integrational processes and disintegrational procedures, and last but not least, to the wars raging in the Balkans and in the former Soviet Union.
Eastern Europe has always been subjected to different readings. It was often viewed as a land of romantic, mythological events. Seen through a Marxist-Leninist filter Eastern Europe offered the myth of a grand brotherly community and total sexual freedom (which was, due to its materialist nature, devoid of ethics and morals and thus capable of the worst sins) or of an exclusively totalitarian project of a realization of the Eastern despotism in which poverty, misery, mucus and blood decant incessantly. It is exactly this last myth which nowadays presents itself in its most horrible form, for it is moving from the realm of the symbolic into the realm of the real, while we all still aspire it to remain a Western phantasmagoria. The events in former Yugoslavia, first in Croatia and now in Bosnia and Herzegovina are the materialization, the entry of the real into the place of the symbolic.
Reading of the East on the part of the West is exemplified by an absence of communication and with the attitude of "looking but not seeing, listening but not hearing". This last attitude has continued throughout most of the current events in which people in the former Yugoslavia died by the thousands and taked refuge by the millions. Although all this is happening in the heart of Europe this same Europe has repudiate this European heartland, renaming it the "Balkans". As Slavoj Zizek formulated, "Balkan is rational, what is irrational is the view the West has about these events". According to him, nationalism is the "back side" of real socialist systems and not a reaction to the demise of communism.
We can no longer conceive of a future without reflecting on the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That war has put into question the credibility of all fundamental civil legislative relations in the world in which we live, a paradigm of the future, development, humanism and the rhetoric of the industrialized world. Confronted with the proximity of written records, documents and eye-witness accounts we found ourselves in the position of being close-up, albeit from a safe position, protected by various screens (television and film).
Nevertheless, the edge of the general media situation is not ecstasy and decay but the addiction of hyper-primitivism and hyper-imagining. Baudrillard described in Simulacres et Simulation , the current mood: "Melancholy is the quality inherent in the mode of disappearance of meaning, in the mode of volatilization of meaning in operational systems. And we are all melancholic." Melancholia is thus, Martin Jay suggests, not simply an illness but a kind of permanent dimension of the human condition. A great number of authors distinguish between melancholia and mourning, which are not specific states of mind but two different attitudes toward the world.
Relating to the Freud's text "Mania and Mourning" from 1917, Jay pointed out that the refusal to test reality can still help us to make sense of the distinction between mourning and melancholy, for it is precisely the ability to do so that distinguishes the former from the latter. Melancholy, with its maniac depressive symptoms, means the inability to mourn, or to reflect reality. Melancholy wrote Jay, "seems to follow the logic of what Freud calls elsewhere disavowal or foreclosure in which inassimilable material seems to be cast out of the psyche and reappears in the realm of a hallucinatory 'real'. Instead of being able to consciously identify what actually has been lost, he or she remains caught in a perpetually unsubstaintiated dialectic of self punishing fear and maniacal denial."
Mourning is important because allow us the strategical and emotional process of reflectivity which allow us to survive this transitional period. On the other side mourning as a complete working through of lost material is itself a Utopian myth. The hope of finding a means to completely transcend the repetition and displacement characteristic of apocalyptic melancholia is necessarily doomed to failure.
The paradigm of melancholy can be useful for working through the mode of how (Western) Europe and its civil institutions deal with the war on the ex-Yugoslavia territory, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This specific "mode" can be interpreted in similar terms "like the object which is confronted by the impossibility of conscious working through it".
The questions that such hypothesis raises are obvious: what is the object (or objects) whose loss cannot be confronted, and why does it remain so resolutely disavowed, so resistant to a conscious working through? We are trying to locate a specific historical trauma that resists the mourning process. According to Jay: "The monotheistic religions like Judaism and Christianity sought to replace their mother-goddess predecessors with a stern patriarchal deity, and perhaps the lost object can be understood, in a sense, as maternal. Mourning would mean working through the loss produced by the archaic mother's disappearance. An inability to renounce the regressive desire to reunite with the mother in a fantasy of recaptured plenitude, when accompanied by the unconscious self-reproach that her death was covertly desired, would result in melancholia instead."
It seems that "civilized" Christian Europe is regulated right by the symbolization, to reunite with the remains of Christian parts, which is constantly fortified and destabilized by the Muslim "other". What was also formulated straightforwardly by Tomas Mastnak : "European peace has never parted from war. The way of freeing Europe from wars was to export them to non-European territories, or to the margins of Europe. Moreover, the idea of European unity is intimately connected to the idea of war, or a real war, against an enemy from without, and as a rule that enemy is the Muslim. The Muslim is the symbolic enemy of Europe, and I do not believe that it is by accident that Euro-Serbian policy has made Muslims out of the Bosnians. The image of the warring Muslim invokes both the Urangst of the Christian, cultured, and civilized West, and the more recent spectre haunting Western politician and intellectuals, that of "Islamic fundamentalism". The Slavs, it is true, are only second class, or potential, Europeans, but Muslims simply do not belong to Europe. That is why it is assumed that the Bosnians are not Slavs".
The Muslim reality in Europe, if I may cynically paraphrase Derrida: is understood both like poison and a cure.
The East is a stranger for Western Europe, the one who (from you!) steals or endangers the national substance of the emerging united Europe. Every construction of the "foreigner" requires somebody who steals or endangers our national substance.
My intention is not so much to speak about East-West relations as about this intermediary situation, when the East is still the East and when it is acquiring its bastardly Western form. What I am proposing here, is a change in starting position. The ever repeating phrase how to read "their identity in our own mirrors", used by Homi Bhaba at the conference "The Expanded Internationalism" (Venice, 1990), where "their" represents the Third world, the socialist and East European countries, and "our own mirrors" represents the Western Europe and the North America, should be changed: instead of accepting the until now only valid option of reading "the East in the mirror of the West", let ask ourselves how the East reads the West and especially how the East reads itself?
What I am interested in is a kind of "internal multiculturalism" being engendered beyond the neo-colonial positions of the West, the one that lives "here", without being recognised as such. What we are witnessing is a process of mirroring and reflection of one's own self and of one's own "Eastern" position, when the recycling of different histories does not refer to Western but to Eastern positions and conditions. For the East one topic only is typical: History. The reappropriation of history.
The whole socialist machine was aimed at neutralizing the side effects of a pertinent interpretation of its reality and of art production, at covering up or renaming of history. An alternative history of the East signifies though a demand for the redefinition of this relation within contemporary constructions and relations of power. In this case it refers to an insistence on the pluralism of differences and doesn't signify a juxtaposition of cultures in a simple geographic sense. If we deal with cartography (and this seems to be what is all about in Europe) it is than a political cartography and not one hidden behind a vague scientificity. What needs to be understood is the context, or geography as political genius loci. When speaking about differences we should speak about conditions, although it may seem that productions are similar in different part of Europe, we should be aware that the conditions are different and therefore their effects as well. With what we are dealing here now is a deconstruction and a renewed construction of the same History, but a History which is now augmented with thoughts, images and facts which were so far inexpressible.
Changes and cultural traditions originating in Eastern Europe at the time of real socialism and before it - including cultural strategies and tactics as well as strategies and tactics of civil movements in these regions - should be taken into consideration when trying to define the new European culture.
Some of them are articulated in the Moscow Declaration which was written at the time of the "APT ART" and the "NSK Embassy" projects of the group IRWIN on 26 May 1992 in Moscow.
The "Moscow Declaration" points to the crucial issue of how to retain, in the present international constellation, specific cultural contexts and how to avoid standardization. In other words, how to present and interpret the specific identity of other cultures and productions without eliminating them with the one-sided and already formed view of the dominant culture.
The "APT-ART" project which was started in the eighties in Moscow represents an attempt to search for political and personal/artistic genealogies which run parallel and are physically connected, but politically and culturally wide apart. APT- ART literally means "apartment art" and is an attempt to revive the habit of holding avant-garde exhibitions in private apartments in Moscow. It enabled artists and avant-garde art before the period of Perestroika and Glasnost to survive. APT ART which emerged at the time of Brezhnev represented also an ironic paraphrase of the American POP ART movement. The private apartment thus became a cultural space as the center of spiritual communication. APT ART INTERNATIONAL which follows in the nineties meant an artistic internationalization of the project, as the Russian artists put it, a big kitchen table, surrounded by art works, brings together the private and the public - now the international public.
In the context of the APT ART INTERNATIONAL PROJECT the group of painters IRWIN established an Embassy the NEUE SLOWENISCHE KUNST (NSK) Embassy in a private apartment on the Lenin Prospect No. 12, apt. 24, in the center of Moscow, in May and June 1992 Moscow as a social installation. The specific Moscow project, showed that communist totalitarianism, in Russia as its epicenter, destroyed all possibility for other discourses to emerge. In this respect Slovenia was a very different story, for it was on the margins, in the periphery of this exclusive totalitarianism. This enabled it to preserve a relative freedom and a coexistence of different political and artistic discourses. These concepts function as the "institution of different cultural and artistic projects and histories into the visible ". To make seen what was thus far hidden to the eyes.
With the demise of socialism and communism and in spite of the integrational processes in Europe, this continent is more divided than it was for a long time. The media might be opening up, but spiritually the continent is closing. "We live in the present, which is being constantly spilled into the past and this past is our future", sings the Laibach group. The simplified version of equilibrium between the East and the West, which sought an identification of the East with the West, is no longer possible. To persevere in the belief of equal opportunities is more than utopian, it is suicidal.
SPECTRE(S) OF EUROPE
One always searches for some symbolic point for which one can say that something ended and something else began, even though there are no beginnings and no endings. But in the imaginary sphere we can find many such symbolic departures and endings. From a West European or an American point of view the changes that affected Eastern Europe were symbolized by the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. From an ex-Yugoslav point of view, this point would be the 1980s when Tito died. Sol Yurick asked himself, how we will denote this developing, but not yet complete, New World Order. He named it as post-industrialist, postmodern, post-nationalist, post-neocolonial, post-structural, porous- bordered, cannibalistic, post-materialist, hyper-polluted and so on ad infinitum.
I will call it post-socialist. To what other possible symbolic, social, artistic and political space we can refer anyway, if we want to talk about the processes in art and culture in the territory of ex-Yugoslavia and Central/Eastern Europe, than to the post-socialist one, to deconstruct the modern myth of a global world, a world without cultural, social or political specificity, without centers and peripheries?
How to understand post-socialism itself, which seems to be for most of the countries of the once Eastern (Central) European block the basic cultural, social and political condition? Post-socialism is a generative matrix that regulates the relationship between visible and non-visible, between imaginable and non-imaginable. This is an act of mapping that points out not the point at which differences manifest themselves, but the point in the post-socialist map where the effects of these differences are represented.
In the 1990's Peter Weibel launched a discursive matrix named "Retroavantgarde" in one of the catalogues of the Steiresche Herbst exhibitions in Graz with which he coded the ex-Yugoslav territory from "outside" and subsumed the productions of the Croat artist Mladen Stilinoviæ, the projects in the 80s of copying the most known paintings, sculpture from the avantgarde and neoavantgarde period signed by the name of Kasimir Malevich with a specification - Belgrade, and IRWIN (Neue Slowenische Kunst) under a common signifier. I developed a dialectical interrelationship within which I designated their positions as those in a Hegelian triad: Mladen Stilinovic -as a thesis, Malevich from Belgrade with his projects of copying - as an antithesis, and IRWIN with the projects of NSK EMBASSIES (in the context of the NSK STATE IN TIME) as synthesis.
The essence of the presentation of the triad composed of IRWIN, Kasimir Malevich from Belgrade and Mladen Stilinovic, is a journey from frontier to frontier, a journey which by the inexorable presence of artifacts materializes the dialectical, cultural, political and, above all, artistic environment that is coded as Eastern Europe, stigmatized as the Balkan, and traumatized as the former Yugoslavia. All three artists/groups or art projects realized specific strategies of visual display techniques to portray socialist and post-socialist ideology.
In the Introduction to Mapping Ideology, a book edited by Zizek in 1994 he not only tries to present, through his own texts and texts by other philosophers, the importance of the notion of ideology today, but he is proposes to read "the logico narrative reconstruction of the notion of ideology" as a Hegelian triad of Ideology In-itself, For-itself and In-and -For-itself.
Understanding the Retroavantgarda processes means to juxtapose them with the proposed Hegelian's Ideology triad by Zizek. It is an operation that on one hand, has to condens the elements of the three proposed reversals of Ideology, which Zizek reflected grosso modo, and did not interpret specifically as capitalist or post-socialist, and on the other hand, has to juxtapose to each level of the triadic presentation of Ideology one of the Retroavantgarde.
To perceive the work of the triad coined as "Retroavantgarde" we have not to leave the dialectical Hegelian-Marxist structure but to double it: instead of directly evaluating the adequacy or "truth" of different notions of ideology, one should read the proposed reversals of ideology: ideology In- itself, ideology For-itself, and ideology In-and- For itself also as indexes of the different concrete historical situations of post-socialism.
And now to the conclusion. I will focused myself only on the third final step, when the ideological externalization is 'reflected into self': ideology In-and-For itself. What takes place in this third step of the conceptualization of ideology is the disintegration, self-limitation and self dispersal of the notion of ideology. It seems that the system for the most part bypasses ideology in its reproduction and relies on economical coercion, legal and state regulations. Here however, as Zizek warns us, things become blurred again, since the moments we take a closer look at these allegedly extra ideological mechanisms that regulate social reproduction we find ourselves in ideology. What we come across here, therefore, is the third reversal of non-ideology into ideology: All of a sudden we become aware of a for-itself of ideology at work in the very in-itself of extra-ideological actuality.
In the NSK Embassy projects IRWIN presented these assumptions in almost a concentrated form. The NSK EMBASSY and NSK CONSULATE projects can be read as specific social installations which symbolically and artistically simulate the transfer of the phenomenon of NSK into another cultural, social and political context. NSK Embassies were realized in Moscow in 1992, in Gent (Belgium) in 1993, and at the Berlin Volksbühne in 1993; NSK consulates were opened in Florence, Italy in 1993, at the Hotel Ambasciatori, and in Umag (Croatia) in 1994, in the kitchen of the private apartment belonging to the gallery-owner Marino Cettina. The group IRWIN established the NSK Embassy in Moscow in a private apartment (address: Lenin Prospect 12, apt. 24) in May and June 1992. The facade of the residential dwelling was embellished with the artistically articulated insignia of a state embassy.
In his recent book Spectres de Marx Derrida put into play the term "spectre" to indicate the elusive pseudo-materiality that subverts the classic ontological oppositions of reality and illusion. Zizek is arguing that perhaps it is here that we should look for the last resort of ideology, for the formal matrix, onto which are grafted various ideological formations. We should recognize the fact that there is no reality without the spectre, that the circle of reality can be closed only by means of an uncanny supplement, the spectre. "Spectre" should not be confused with symbolic fiction; reality is never directly itself, argued Zizek, it presents itself only via its incomplete-failed symbolization, and spectral apparitions emerge in this very gap that forever separates reality from the real, on account of which reality has the character of a symbolic fiction: the spectre gives body to that which escapes (the symbolically structured reality).
To derive a conclusion, trying to emphasize the synthetic dialectical moment developed in the NSK state - in time, in the embassies in private apartments, in the IRWIN consulates in a hotel room and in a kitchen, we are compelled to ask ourselves how we can label this spiritual element of corporeality (NSK state in time) and this corporeal element of spirituality (embassies in concrete private spaces)? SPECTRES. Let me just state the following: the NSK state in time is the spectre of the state, NSK Embassies are spectres of Embassies. (Marina Grzinic)