I would have to find out by going there, but in thinking about it,
I imagine the film would be about living with crime.
But because this is such a common activity, because we ourselves have
so much experience with it, perhaps it is more useful to try to describe
the simplicity of crime. Or, if simplicity seems too complacent, then
the ease with which it can happen, the way that the crimes we live with
become imbedded in a dense logic of apparent necessities, and permit
an all but natural process of coming to live normally with crime. This
atmosphere of justification is so rich, it is so logical, that the crimes
either lose their discrete character and all but disappear, or indeed
remain, but as minor details in a much more complicated picture. The
hermetic nature of this situation, its in-turning, the pathology of
persecution and paranoia that accompany it, is only reinforced by the
certainty that "no one who is not us can understand."
This is an old story. At the scale we are discussing, it is as old
as the nation state and its systematic organization of information.
It is as old as nationalism itself, and the inevitable racism that accompanies
it. We are in the realm of "the banality of evil," of which we have
had so much direct experience in our times.
Of course I am thinking of German people inside Nazi Germany, but
I am also thinking of American people during the war in Vietnam, of
the metropole French during the war in Algeria, of Soviet citizens during
the War in Afghanistan, of all of us during the permanent wars in Angola
and Timor, or confronted by more subtle cases like Chile, Argentina,
Salvador, where nationalism was transmuted into a political phobia that
masqueraded as an internal affair. I could continue, listing the wars
characteristic of the New World Order, beginning with Grenada, the Gulf
War, the interventions in Haiti and Somalia, the renewal of bombing
against Iraq which continues to this day, but I am afraid that the matter
of living with crime will get lost in all the different justifications
for actions taken or not, and in the differences of scale and distance
from the crime itself.
The fact of the matter is, what the Yugoslav people are living, and
living with, ought to be very familiar to us. It represents the culmination
of a politics that is everywhere the same, that is the raw expression
of national self-interest, and that this politics will inevitably lead
to any extremes, whether the atomic bomb, carpet bombing and defoliation,
the Phoenix Program of assasination or My Lai, and that this politics
depends absolutely on the complicity of its people and their tacit capacity
to live with crime, and then to even transform crime itself into a national
heritage of righteous struggle and self-affirmation.
I think most of us have been there in our time. We know about living
with lies, international or domestic. And we know about accepting representatives
who don't represent us. We know about hiding behind representation,
when we are actually at sea, indifferent or absent, or only bored by
the very intricacy of the fabric. Internal exile-- sexuality, art, information
and religion are vast resevoirs. There are other strategies. All of
them eat the soul and eventually corrode a capacity to see. This is
our situation. If you can accept the next step, once the bombs start
falling on your head, once there is martial law, the strategies of internal
exile become more complicated, there are fewer sanctuaries, and actually
living with crime becomes easier because inseperable from survival and
the various cycles of sacrifice and self-respect.
You might say that the difference between the experience of an American
citizen and a Yugoslav citizen is the difference between cyber-sex and
To be very clear, I am not justifying the politics of Belgrade. Nor
do I have any easy proposals for the equitable resolution of this war.
I would like to see everyone throughout Europe simply stop what they
were doing and converge on Kosovo, to drown the violence with all our
bodies like white cells flooding to the heart of infection. It seems
to me to be one of the few exemplary actions in a situation where there
is little qualitative difference in the paradigms that guide either
the U.S./NATO or Belgrade. Imagined flocking of bodies to the site of
the crime is a highly significant sign of separation from representation,
and it suggests another paradigm. You will say it's not realistic. No,
probably not, and I know we're certainly not there.
This is a way of saying that I did not start with the thought of going
to Belgrade. In fact, conversations I had with young people who feel
much more strongly than I do the weight of complicity, powerlessness
and inaction, who actually do feel something strong when they see or
hear the testimony of refugees, or the proofs of genocide, made me feel
how much my own distance has developed, and how effectively I have come
to insulate myself. The very accumulation of defeats, and a certain
repetition of isolation has probably done its work. Living with crime
is like other habits, closing around you until it becomes how things
are. While one could find a nicer word, I suppose cynicism will do,
especially since post-modern is even worse.
So, again following the line of thought of these young people, I got
around to walking to Kosovo: alone, with others, whatever, and of course
with a camera.
And then I had to accept what has happened, there is no good in denying
what has happened with time, and that I know too well the voice of victims,
and that this would be easier (for me, with a certain experience), and
what would I have to add to what is already being done with these voices
and these images, except to do it better and certainly make it more
complicated? At which point I begin to think some sharply simple thoughts.
This apparent unanimity that Belgrade projects, what is this? Who knows
what and what do they do with what they know? How does it work (each
time, and I do know, there were 15 years of it in the States,and bombing
of course has a further predictable effect whether in Germany or England,
Iraq or Vietnam)? And what does it cost, this complicity? Or is that
only an old judeo-christian turn of thought? And is it so simple as
only human all too human, or is there something to be learned even from
this, because this is about us, about us in our hometowns and in our
occupations, it is about me too, and it is about us in our barren state,
our coat upon a stick state.
My questions range from understanding the use of state power through
a police and army, the control of information, the manipulation of open
and secret strategies, and on into the more difficult realms of individual
adaptation and the grotesque dances of survival. And I want to take
this magma, this mass of question and bad conscience (on all our parts),
and let it lead me through a Belgrade that is neither a geographical
nor a political entity (not the way I am approaching it anyway), but
a state of mind separated from ours by the level of violence alone,
by a matter of quantity and not of quality, and by not so many kilometers.
And there is another element. These "young people" I mentioned, they
are, as you might imagine, filmmakers. And these women still think about
going the other way, south, toward Kosovo, since that's where their
instincts leads them. And what if, in the end, the film, or a film,
was made up of the dialogue between these two instincts. One fresh and
coming of age with this war (it always seems to be the wars that mark,
and this is very much a part of the story), and another instinct, rather
more used, more dogged surely, persistant, loyal above all else to an
uncorroborated practise of not letting go, of forcing to put new states
of mind in difficult situations, and continuing to be present. What
if that was the movie?
4 May 1999