From Novi Sad, Serbia, A Proposal.
Hello. It’s November 27.
I am in Novi Sad, where three years ago Kulturanova did a Serbian-language version of my play Open House, which is performed in homes.
I’m here in the aftermath of the November 8 US election, wondering what to do. I’m talking to people about former President Milosevic, current President Nikolić (possibly worse, depending on who you talk to), the future of this place, and our place in the future. I think maybe the project will be called Language Reversal, and will be about translation of time, history and words.
Language Reversal is going to be (I hope) created through a series of conversations among Serbians at a table with an American and a translator, about three things: the onset of fascism under Milosevic and Trump; the ineffectuality of language as an intimate mediating tool between cultures; a philosophical treatise on the value of being together, and making culture, despite what our histories may not share. We will stage conversations over two trips to Serbia, plus three in the US, over the next six months. From there I will put together a text that will be translated into both languages.
In the US we are facing the possible onset of fascism. It may or may not come to pass. It’s a test of our wills, a fight between the nihilism and chaos that leads to the crackdown, a presentation of ourselves as limited and unexceptional, far beyond the due date of that ideology. One Wikipedia post about Milosevic: “Milošević exploited nationalism as a tool to seize power… while not holding any particular commitment to it.” Sound familiar?
A very smart artist, Melissa Potter, who has worked in Serbia a lot says she thinks of Trump as “Milosevic without the IQ.” In the US we are on the brink of a truly plural society – meaning more than one – rural/suburban and urban, white people in the minority, elite and uneducated. The cities go blue (in two senses of the word) and the country goes red, and the system set up to control for extremism, to wrest power from its most extreme elements, does the opposite. The popular vote is the cosmopolitan vote, with its flaws intact. The electoral college goes for the idiot, but maybe out of habit, out of a lingering sense of exceptionalism. We have lost ourselves.
Serbia is being held at bay from the EU, last to be invited into the failing experiment known as unity. Both countries harbor and cleave to long-dead myths. We are coming to an unraveling we cannot stop from happening. Is progress real if only some of us are lucky or privileged enough to see it? Nothing is self-evident. We started destroying ourselves so long ago.
What Are We Doing?
I started thinking about this project right after Trump’s election, when I had the first of two visits to Serbia planned, and didn’t have anything prepared. I am trying to make sense of this time by being somewhere unfamiliar, where I don’t speak the language and where I don’t really know what has been done.