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I very nearly asked Lempereur: ‘So, are you more of a catholic or a fascist or perhaps a mixture of both?’ but managed to hold my tongue at the last moment, I have truly lost touch with the intellectuals of the right, I did not know how to approach him. Then in the distance we suddenly heard something like a continuous banging of firecrackers.” Michel Houellebecq, Soumission

Jasmin B. Frelih, New York City Skyline, 2019


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David Bowie in an American Movie

Uroš Zupan

Is this gentleman with an accent a gangster? Of course he is a gangster. Even from his bed he saw the smooth glimmer of light from the bottom of the lake. With the haste of a discarded shirt of his victims he converted and began to read Derrida. The facts for a dusty biography in a hundred years won’t matter as much. What will matter is that the clothes will continue to dry in fresh air. That the birds will command this same air and that the Spiders from Mars won’t succumb to rust. This gentleman is in all respects a gangster! Even the penguins, playacting as extras, nod in agreement. And the guns? The guns as well. Even though in this case they feel highly neglected. Because our hero operates with knives, sublimely placing them on smooth ebony. Into the evil heart of the celluloid night. Furious Orlando, short of breath – smell of gunpowder – all epics are always just bloody. The movies only sometimes, and then they don’t satisfy us to the final caprice. Thin white duke – it is beautiful to be a renaissance man! Terribly beautiful! But stay with the things for which we admire you: Thursday’s child, changes, life on Mars, Warsaw, and the gaze reaching through us, as if in consolation, caressing the shadows cast by fallen stars and Major Tom, with one eye – blue and the other – brown as cocoa.

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Carl Seffner, Statue of Goethe, 1903 (Leipzig, 03/25/2017, 12:29 pm)

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Leipzig, Germany

03/23 - 03/25/2017

In 2017, in March, I have been invited to attend the Leipzig Book Fair. We flew there with a bunch of people from my publishing house and while they behaved rather strangely from the start, I attributed this to the usual afflictions – envy, haughtiness, spite – and didn’t pay much attention to it. At the airport in Leipzig we were picked up by a van from a car service. I was smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk when I was met by outraged looks from my fellow travelers. As I approached the van, the driver was grinning and I saw the cause of the outrage – in the van was a box with a commercial drone inside, next to a large golden maneki-neko (the Japanese good luck cat with the swinging paw) and a box of oranges. For some reason everybody was looking at me as if I had something to do with this and the funniest part was that it really seemed to me that the looks were ones of envy, as if this was a victory of some kind. Since I’ve learned very early on in my career that you can’t get a straight answer from these people under any circumstance, I outwardly just ignored the whole thing and went along. A drone, a cat, some orange fruit? Really? In the next few days the strangeness of the experience and the hostility of

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the people around me only increased. On day two the publisher organized an event with me and fellow European Union Prize for Literature winners from Luxembourg, Finland, and Romania, and everybody seemed completely on edge, until I grabbed a glass of champagne to break the tension, when they all immediately almost ran to the orange juice glasses, drank them up and went away, it seemed, as soon as possible. I just stood there in bewilderment, when an old dude dressed in brown came with a scowl on his face and poured a glass of half-drunk champagne into the icebox. My editor – who until that event could barely hide his rage – started laughing and came to me, saying, in the most demeaning way: »Ok, time for you to go now – or will you be waiting here until five past six?« I didn’t know what else to think but that I must have done something wrong – was I dressed funny? ugly haircut? bad breath? –, so I just left. Took the tram back to the hotel with the slightest undertones of the Twilight Zone music playing in my head. Now that I am remembering this particular madness – there was absolutely nothing else for me to do but to play it normal and cool, and I kept trying to rationalize everything in my head (»ok, the drone was a weird joke, these people hate me because they ain’t me, nobody wants to drink champagne at three in the afternoon, and my editor is simply a fucking prick ...«), but my rationalizations always somehow came up short. The first day I came to the fair the Slovenian cultural attaché was there to greet me, a shaved guy with glazed over eyes, and he immediately started banging on about how the Germans are handling the refugee crisis extremely well, and when I agreed, he was delighted and said that he will set up a panel the next day and I can speak there, and on and on, and I was just like yeah, cool, I’d be happy – but he was the next day of course nowhere to be seen. Something must have changed in the meantime. But what? Before we said goodbye – he was always checking his watch, mumbling about who he is meeting next and where and when – at one point he just

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fixed his gaze on someone sitting on the couch in the Slovenian stall. When I paused to see what caught his attention, he suddenly snarled at me: »He knows perfectly well he is not allowed to sit there. That is my seat.« What is this, the goddamn musical chairs? Now, how much time should one spend thinking about things like this? I have always been a voracious reader and always strove to experience life to the fullest, so when I was suddenly presented with something so completely out of the ordinary, I don’t think I ever even had a choice – I needed to get to the bottom of it. Just what kind of a game are these people playing? Is it directed squarely at me – it very well might be, and this is not just narcissism speaking – or is this something that is done to everybody, all the time? Why haven’t I then seen it before? Was I throughout my twenties so focused on my own reality I hadn’t noticed that other people are all dancing to a strange and unknowable tune? Was I also dancing to it, without my knowledge? I refuse to believe it. I am the sole owner of my choices. I must be.

Ventspils, Latvia

11/01 - 11/28/2015

So, let’s go back a bit. In November 2015, I was in a writing residency in Ventspils, Latvia. A month and a half in a beautiful, quiet town by the Baltic Sea – perfect for getting some work done. Or it would be, if I didn’t have a book of short stories coming out, and if the refugee crisis were not tearing my country – at least it appeared so from a distance – completely apart. So I rather spent the days refreshing the comments under news articles, aghast at what was coming out of my fellow countrymen. I read books I guess I shouldn’t have been reading at the time – books on

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the psychological effects of terrorism, and death in general, on societies – at the end of which I approached mental states that I more readily associate with after-parties in strange apartments than with completely sober afternoon reading sessions. When Paris was attacked by Belgian jihadists on the 13th, I was at the breaking point. Because my book, coming out that same week, was a collection of short stories I’ve written in the past decade, and there were two short stories in Ventspils Writershouse, 11/13/2015, 11:14 am particular that I was suddenly very concerned about – one written over an April’s weekend in 2010, and the other written over two long years almost right up until the moment of publication. The first one, already published in a student’s review the year it was written (and emailed in English translation to N+1 magazine in 2012 in response to Teju Cole’s excellent article about the White Savior Industrial Complex), was about a young man – not entirely unlike myself – who engineers a refugee crisis with a fake free visas campaign in revenge over his country’s involvement in the illegal invasion of Iraq. Unbeknownst to me – I thought I was doing a forceful cri-de-coeur, mad about the brutality and servility of some and the plight of so many – I was actually writing a script for what was to come. Six months after the story was published (I equipped it with a custom made graphic from my friend - Thich Quang Duc on fire on the table of the Last Supper, surrounded by skeletons, which was actually inspired by seeing a guy setting fire to himself and jumping off a bridge in Budapest, in protest to Orban’s policies … yeah, funny how it all connects),

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The Baltic Sea, 11/19/2015, 03:41 pm

Mohammed Bouazizi set fire to himself in Tunisia, setting off the Arab Spring, which in turn led to the cataclysm in Syria, which in turn led to masses of people escaping certain death by journeying to Europe. Both the left wing and the right wing in my country, faced with the crisis, behaved exactly like I wrote they would five years ago. Then came the barbed wire on the beautiful Kolpa river on our border with Croatia (the wire was manufactured in Riga, in a factory just a hundred kilometers away from my residency and sold to Slovenia through Hungarian intermediaries) – symbolically cutting us off from our recent Yugoslav past of brotherhood and equality, and placing us into the camp of Fortress Europe, alongside nations which scarred our country with barbed wire six decades ago. I was furious. Kept Pink Floyd’s What Shall We Do Now on repeat and dreamt of breaking things. The second story was told through the eyes of someone quite like Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the younger of the two brothers who attacked the Boston marathon in 2013. Inspired by reading DeLillo’s Libra, and watching the horrifying events of the marathon unfold live on Reddit, I somehow instinctively understood that this event was the death knell

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of America’s progressive momentum, set off by Occupy Wall Street in 2011, and through the amazing powers of fiction tried hard to link it – not with Islamic fundamentalism – but with the much more pressing issues of inequality, class resentment, rage of outcasts. It didn’t work – as I was following the trial it became very clear to me how wrong I got it in any case, since the kids did not turn into murderers because of working class anger, but were following Al-Zawahiri’s lead – but I still turned out to be correct in one thing: all the fury at the global disaster inflicted upon us by the subprime mortgage market crisis in 2008 shed its progressive character and began its transformation into the vile othering which brought us a Europe full of despicable speech and hate crimes, the Brexit referendum, and the election of Donald Trump as the president of the USA. So there I was, somewhere far up north, reading those hateful comments, seeing what the Paris attacks had done to the European political compass, suffering the damn barbed wire around my spine, while pushing a book of straight fire literature into the whole mess – and boy, was I drowning. When I got home and someone desecrated the construction site of Ljubljana’s first mosque with pig’s carcass and blood – another scene lifted almost word for word from my refugee story; there they do that to the asylum building – I was just about ready to call it a day, when I instead got a call from the president of the Slovenian Writer’s Association who told me that I won the European Union Prize for Literature for my novel In/Half. Yay.

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New York City, United States of America 10/23 - 11/30/2016

Somehow, I pick myself up, go to Brussels for the award’s ceremony in May (gorgeous!), to Frankfurt for the Book Fair in October (awesome!), and in November 2016 I’m in New York for the presidential election. I have a case of beer riding on Trump being elected since before the Republican primaries, and when I go on my first walk around the city, I’m feeling pretty confident in my chances. I have never seen New 18th Avenue, 86th street, Brooklyn, 11/07/2016, 11:04 am York so seething with disappointment (was it called Bernout?), and if New York is so unhappy, then I’m guessing that across the country Hillary does not stand a chance. And I just do it. Before I arrived I read Peter Dimock’s George Anderson: Notes for a Love Song in Imperial Time, which got my social justice muscles the workout they needed, there I’m reading DeLillo’s Underworld, which, as you all know, is epic, and on the day before election – it’s the day of the New York Marathon – I go to the Staples in the Universal Music building on Broadway where I was sweeping the streets half a decade ago and start printing out copies of two of my stories along their somewhat arresting cover artworks. One story is titled Rothko, a semi-autobiographical tale of a guy whose girlfriend is going blind, so he wants to show her the Rothko chapel in Texas before that happens, a love story basically, and the other is Pressure Cooker, the Tsarnaev tale.

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As soon as I start doing that, the copier next to me gets occupied by a dude copying like a mountain of sheet music. Piano time, apparently. I walk out, and there’s a huge billboard across the street, some Kanye West project, black-white-red color scheme, with a blazing red three in the middle. I take it for a good sign (I am not aware of it yet, but I’m already deep down the rabbit hole by then) – and I head east to the Museum of Modern Art. On the way I’m stopped by an old black bum who wants a cigarette. I’m out, so I give him the one I’m smoking, which makes him very happy (I remember this because half a year later I will be accosted for a cigarette by a drunk white guy in the middle of Amsterdam – but because he was throwing his shoes in the water fountain just moments before and acted belligerent towards his dogs I refused, which made him all angry, and things almost escalated to a fight when he just screamed »Jesus, my ass!« in my face and walked away). In MoMA I pack the stories in envelopes, take one last look at Basquiat’s screaming head, then go out. For some reason I stop in St. Patrick’s cathedral and kneel before taking a breath in the pews. I haven’t done that in ages, so I guess I must know I’m doing something not entirely ok. But the Atlas statue in front of the Rockefeller building sets me straight – don’t shrug, just rest a bit. I go to Bryant Park and address the envelopes, then back to Broadway and inside the Simon & Schuster building, where I inform the desk I have something for Don DeLillo. They laugh and send me into the mail room in the basement. The guy letting me in seems pretty sure that they will be able to get the package to Mr. DeLillo, but ... you know. I have no way of knowing if he ever got it. I like to think he did. Next is the ominous 666 on Broadway where the doorman just lets me in and I take the elevator into the Harper’s magazine offices. Suspiciously easy. I drop an envelope addressed to one of the junior editors because the chief editor was relatively new and could have been just a suit there to cut costs or something and I didn’t want to risk it.

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666 Broadway, 11th floor, 11/07/2016, 04:52 pm

I finish the day in Greenwich Village, knocking on the doors of the self-described Casa del Popolo, Julian Schnabel’s pink Palazzo Chuppi. Out of all his artworks, and lots of them are pretty good, I like his house the best – the poet Hugh Seidman showed it to me from the rooftop of the Westbeth Artists Housing building (which used to be a Bell building, where they had the first functioning TV set in America), and that particular strand of pure, devilish desire I felt in my heart when I saw it for the first time is just as impossible to forget as it is impossible to fully remember. Anyway, the guy behind the desk tells me he will make sure Julian gets it, but doesn’t let me linger about the lobby for too long. Am I not one of the Popolo? Walking to the subway from Palazzo Chuppi, I see a sign advertising a Rothko exhibition in the Pace gallery in Chelsea district. There is a line in my Rothko story about the couple not finding any beauty in the galleries of Chelsea, and this again seems like an interesting, even amusing, omen. So the next day – it’s Election Day now – I wake up early and head to the city straight away. Downtown, first – the offices of The New Yorker

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1 World Trade Center, 11/08/2016, 02:35 pm

magazine are in the One World Trade Center (seven months later I will go to the top of the building in the elevator along with just two people – a kid in his early twenties and his parent both wearing Heritage Foundation baseball caps; when in line for the tickets I will be approached by a dude with a European accent who will sell me the tickets at a discount so I can skip the line and go right up – once up I will take out the Dutch translation of In/Half and take a picture of it in front of the skyline, and someone next to me will exclaim: ‘Oh, that is insane!’ and I will gladly take it like he is talking to me) and I get lost in the new subway station under the Oculus for a bit, before finding my way to the Condé Nast mailroom. Everything goes smoothly there, I address the envelope to the fiction editor of The New Yorker magazine – I will see her in the flesh two years later, interviewing Haruki Marukami at The New Yorker festival on Upper West Side. On my way out I go by the Ground Zero memorial, arresting in its beautiful solemnity and take a picture of a white rose next to one of the names. Three to go. Next up is The Paris Review (I actually loitered about their

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building for a while on the previous evening, but did not find a way in), close to the Rothko exhibition. I am slightly worried about The Paris Review and their infamous CIA background (CIA – Paris Review – Rothko – MoMA – the connections are swirling in my head), but whatever, if they take it for a hit, I’ll be the guy who took a clean shot at the CIA, and if they take it for what it is, I am at that point still dreaming about getting published in a major New York review. The door to the building is open, the elevator works, the door is at the end of a hallway and I just knock. Come in? Inside there’s like half a dozen kids my age, all looking a mix of flustered and bemused. I announce 544 West 27th Street, 11/08/2016, 3:26 pm that I have something for Mr. Stein (who will go down a year later because of #metoo – to me he was then just a guy who translated Houllebecq so I thought he might be interested), and hand the envelope to the girl at the door. She asks, is this … a submission? And I always wince at the word. You’re a literary magazine, not the bloody Moloch, I’m just giving you something I made so you can have a look and, you know, maybe, just maybe, write something back. But in reply I just mumble – kinda, thank her, give them all an approving glance, and leave. The Rothko in Pace is beyond words. The visual part of this whole experience was then made into a report that you can find online. I am just staring transfixed at the canvases and completely lose track of time, at one

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point figuring out I’m one of the few left inside and the guards (all black guys) are starting to seem annoyed. So I paint the canvases on my brain one final time and leave for Columbia University. There is a writer there, a professor whose essay – a response to Franzen’s Mr. Difficult – I’ve translated into Slovenian a few years back and that year he had a fantastic short story in The New Yorker titled Cold Little Bird and I just thought he might find it cool to see what a writer

Columbia University, 11/08/2016, 05:05 pm

from Europe is doing. The subway that takes me uptown is the one line, 1 in a red ball. I have a red ball on the cover of my stories and there was one on a boom lift by the side entrance to MoMA where I smoked, and I am slowly starting to pay attention to it, but it will still take some time before my mind will take such a beating that I will begin thinking about this stuff in terms of red, yellow, green lights. So, apparently I’m going into red, and let me tell you – my mind is in an absolutely fantastic place. The sky is completely clean, sunset just honey on all the buildings, I walk around the University like in a trance, it reminds me of Europe, but larger, and I experience a tingling sensation in my head, one I will be privileged to experience once again in my life on a train leaving Amsterdam for Brussels, one I can only associate with a completely frictionless feeling of gliding through air. Another elevator, the creative writing department, just in time before their office hours end. There is nobody around. I knock, and knock, and

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knock harder – the door is open, but not a soul in sight – until finally a girl comes down the hall, a bit younger than me, and she is looking at me like I am the strangest thing. Can I speak to Mr. Marcus? I don’t think he’s here. But, it’s the office hours, is there anybody? I don’t ... I don’t really know.

Ok, I have an envelope for him, is there a way to leave it here so he could get it? She seems unsure, and asks what my deal is, and I just tell her – I’m from Europe, here on a visit to New York and I want Ben Marcus to read my stories. She doesn’t know what to do, but looks around, and there are wooden inboxes with the professors’ names on one of the walls. Maybe if you put it there? she asks me, and I’m like, great. Pop, in it goes, thank you, goodbye. I walk out like I pulled off the greatest heist in the history of heists, just barging into places I’ve revered since I started reading in English, with no damage done, I just really believed in my work and, well, it really wasn’t so hard. I’m grinning all the way back home – since my phone died, and it was getting late, I don’t go to leave the final envelope at Mr. Dimock’s in Brooklyn, I just head straight home. Family gathers around, we’re waiting for the results of the election. And then Donald Trump wins.

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Leipzig, Germany

03/23 - 03/25/2017

I just remembered a thing that topped the bonkers scale of my Leipzig adventure (this was, again, half a year after the US election). After the event when everyone ran away, the hour was closing in on 4 pm, and I was left at the Slovenian national stand with folks from our book agency, a couple of Slovenian writers, and some people from my publishing house. At a certain point, all of them started going through the bookshelves and picking up a book. An older Slovenian writer picked my book of short stories and a lady from the book agency asked him: “So, you’re going to take him?” and he replied with an exasperated shrug. Soon, everyone was holding a book or a publication of some kind in their hands, looking at me with a mix of contempt and ridicule. Since I had no idea why I should also be holding something in my hands, I just turned to the nearest table and started leafing through a brochure that someone left there – a brochure of a radical left publisher from Amsterdam. Glancing at them glancing at me and at each other, time passed. The writer that was holding my book at some point stood up, came to me, looked at the brochure and angrily asked, “well, what the hell is this?” I just raised my eyebrows at him, because what could I possibly have said? I did not know all of you are sharing a particular brand of insanity and I see no reason to join in? Then the guy in brown poured out the champagne and my editor told me to leave. Strange, I know. Even stranger is the feeling that somebody might be reading this and knowing exactly what was happening, but still, after all this time, refusing or being unable to communicate to me an explanation. I do not believe in magic – whatever it is, it must simply be a sufficiently advanced technology. If this technology is being used to exploit the frailties of the human mind and biology, this constitutes criminal behavior. Which brings us back to the days after Trump won.

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New York City, United States of America 10/23 - 11/30/2016

My glee at getting it right almost immediately got crushed under a wave of pain and fear that shot out of the city, consuming everything in its path. The day after election I went to the Javits center, the Democratic Party headquarters, where a terrible thing had happened the night before. You could smell the defeat in the air, the despondency sticking to the things abandoned in the space – the flyers, the boxes of material, the glitter, everything just lying there, with nobody around, and I felt like I was surveying the battlefield after a Waterloo. The city was empty and I went to the Loews theatre on 34th and bought a ticket for Dr. Strange, which I enjoyed.

Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, 655 West 34th Street, 11/09/2016, 9:22 pm

Then, my phone started acting weird. I paid special attention to how the elections played out on Facebook and Twitter, because I grew up believing that these are the technologies which will free us from the manufactured consent of mass media, not knowing that they will ultimately become tools of a much more sinister regime of oppression. At the time I still had a grip on things, and what I could gleam on my

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subway rides – where the book is virtually extinct, and the screen dominates – was the rift between the responses to the political messaging from both parties. The Democrats were pushing all kinds of riffs on the basic Vonnegut’s dictum – god damn it babies, you have got to be kind; social progress based on statistics, justice based on morals, civilizational progress based on deliberations of experts. Common sense, right? Except – and this was the cause of my bet on Trump after the first debate of Republican candidates – common sense is useless in a situation where the reality of the world is so completely at odds with its representation. I was watching people scrolling down their feeds – and a democratic message of we have to raise the wages a couple of percent, or pass a bill that will cut emissions a couple of percent, or do whichever kind of a complex ritual within the established framework to do the smallest of possible steps in whichever direction, was simply scrolled past without it even registering in the mind of the viewer. While the outrageous, brutal, hilarious, slanderous, and vile messages from the other side were taken in, registered, enjoyed, shown to the person next to you with a knowing smile on your faces that you’ve both, by consuming this strange content, just taken a shot at The Man. Jeb Bush, with his hoodies and skating campaign, completely missed the nature of the moment (or else, the moment proved to be impossible to twist to conform to the set out narrative), and Trump eviscerated him with a couple of off-hand sentences, and from then on it was smooth sailing to the final showdown. So, I was paying attention to everything that came down my digital way and obsessively checking my email to see if anyone had responded to my stories. And not even a week later, I see a recurring ad on Facebook: a picture of a car with a water heater smashed through the windshield, and the text: Do you have insurance for when your DIY project breaks the sound barrier?

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Remember, I am starved for a response as it is, and when I see this I start believing that someone actually saw my work. But, the form of this response was very strange. Insurance? For what? DIY – do it yourself – was obviously referring to my solo-action, and the sound barrier to the noise of culture. Could it be … Did it actually … No, it can’t be, this is just some weird coincidence, whatever, stay focused. I take on the city’s gloom and keep exploring but my dismay is apparently noticeable enough that I start getting ads from Absolut, telling me – what’s the matter? You should be celebrating. Talking to myself in the mirror it’s all very – why? Because of Melania? That’s nice, I suppose, having a first lady born in the same country as you were (Yugoslavia, heh), but I don’t feel like celebrating when the city is dropping dead all around me. Late at night, on a subway station, waiting for a train home, a dark-skinned guy with a towel wrapped around his head sits next to me on the bench. Towelhead, I get it, I feel you buddy. But he looks at me for a minute, then stands up and goes back up the stairs and I get the impression that he came to sit next to me on purpose. Wait … do these guys think I’m on the other side? … Why? By now I’m also obsessing over the websites and Twitter feeds of the publications I sent the stories to, with a hyper-charged confirmation bias looking for any kind of message in reply, and naturally I convince myself there are plenty. I prefaced the stories with a bunch of quotes from American authors, one of them by Jonathan Franzen from his editorial to a collection of best essays he edited that year, something about a writer being like a fire-fighter, always running straight into the fire, and an essay the Paris Review published online that week ended with a similar notion (nov. 15, by Megan Mayhew Bergman: “In his conclusion, Watts recounts a story from a Chinese sage that echoes the exit of Hell in Dante’s Divine

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Comedy. ‘How shall we escape the heat?’ the sage is asked. His answer is unsettling: ‘Go right into the middle of the fire.’”), so I, of course, thought of this as an invitation. But to where? Where would that fire be, and would it be a real fire – like, a real political showdown, where we’ll be plotting to overthrow the Nazis, save the world, plant the seeds of a new, more just society – or will it be a metaphorical fire, a trial by fire type of situation, where I’ll go to show my mug to a bunch of people I don’t know so they can then judge me? I don’t know – and since, being poor, there are not a lot of things I personally hate more than being sized up and down and dismissed with a single glance by anyone from a situation of great privilege, I err on the safe side (safe for my ego) and stop looking for wherever this fire might be (I somehow get a sense that there’s a gala event at the Lincoln center that might be worth my while, but, again, I have literally nothing to wear). It’s late night again and I’m in the subway station, heading home (I think it was Union Square, but I can’t remember for certain, possibly Herald Square). There are not a lot of people around, on my platform just an octet of buskers – violins, flutes, a guitar, a tiny battery of drums – and they start playing The girl from Ipanema. I find it somewhat bizarre; it’s November, cold and moist, deep night outside, deep night inside, there’s maybe three of us around and you’re taking us to a beach in Brazil? I notice somebody standing a few feet next to me and when I look at him (he looks like Sam Waterston from Newsroom, sporting a dark green wool beret), his squinting eyes are fixed on me, his lips are pursed and he is nodding. I raise my eyebrows, flash a little sigh-smile, like, what?, and he tilts his head at the band playing. I nod, smile, and look away, for a minute vainly content that at least an old gay dude found me attractive. But then on the train, reading Underworld, I suddenly remember a line from DeLillo from an interview he gave to the Paris Review:

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“We have a rich literature. But sometimes it’s a literature too ready to be neutralized, to be incorporated into the ambient noise. This is why we need the writer in opposition, the novelist who writes against power, who writes against the corporation or the state or the whole apparatus of assimilation. We’re all one beat away from becoming elevator music.” And I also remember that I jokingly replied to a Paris Review’s tweet with this last line back in 2015 that, in this case, I would like to be The girl from Ipanema. Muzak, baby. I get home somewhat shaken. These weird coincidences are starting to pile up. I don’t have a data plan in the city, so I’m offline while out and about, and only check the phone at home. And this evening I am presented (as sponsored content, meaning someone had to pay for me to see this, and I have no way of knowing how tight the net of targeting is, it could very well be individually targeted, since I don’t know if there is a minimum audience for Facebook’s ads, and there is no way of finding out who paid for it if there is no logo or a signature next to it) with a gif of a guy narrowly escaping death by jumping away from an incoming truck, with the text: when it’s just not your time yet. And this one, I take personally, and I take it literally. Someone wants to kill me. The fire was a trap. Fuck the Paris Review. When I was considering the risk I was taking on by submitting what could ostensibly be construed as extremist content to big American literary reviews, the worst option was that someone would find me and shoot me in the head. Possible, in America, but to my mind just as possible even if I don’t send the stories out. They were already published, I already had the European Union Prize for Literature, so for anyone preoccupied with the war on terror and in possession of the vast arsenal of surveillance, I might already be flagged, and if deemed too great a threat, subject to removal. So the rational way was for me to somehow prove I’m not a threat – and

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submitting the stories to the gatekeepers to await their judgment, without otherwise drawing too much attention to myself (as opposed to say, for instance, copying hundreds of them and pushing them down every which way I could find), was a way to do just that. Those guys have the experience and I put my trust in them. (Though it’s impossible to overstate how gravely my trust was misplaced.) The slightly less worse option was that the FBI breaks down my door at night and I go to trial on a charge that I have no way of knowing for sure I can beat. Thinking about the famous trials of Joyce’s Ulysses and Ginsberg’s Howl, there is one particular sentence singing loudly in my ears. Of a redeeming social value. That is all I need, I firmly believe that is what I have, and I am ready to take the risk. As for why take the risk in the first place, having a decent life, surrounded by decent people, with a literary success already on my hands: I have an unnatural aversion to leading an existence dictated by others (unnatural to the extent that I am willing to risk death, rendition, jail, to escape it – I think, know, this is a consequence of personal trauma), and since this means I do not fit in well within any society, I am beholden to myself to find a way out of society. And since the love of my life has medical issues that will possibly (hopefully not) at some point need a society to be alleviated, my only option left is striving for financial security. The dream is – always was – to spend my life writing in as much isolation as possible, while providing for my family. I am still holding on to this dream, since without it it’s to the rafters with me, even though rationally, after all of this, it appears more distant than ever. Fear is a tricky emotion and it has many faces. The one I experienced then was the primal fear, the any-moment-now, the say-your-prayers-andcheck-out fear, the tether-connecting-you-to-existence-is-snapping-withthe-sound-of-the-trumpets-of-apocalypse fear. And, of course, I yield. The next day it rains and I take out my raincoat and go wandering around Brooklyn, refusing all man-made things, focusing on nature. What is a tree.

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What is a leaf. What is a puddle. What is the ocean. What is the beach. What is a pebble, the sound of a flock of gulls, the taste of rain, the burst of wind. When you are locked in a vision of imminent demise, any slice of reality is imbued with infinite presence. The quotidian and the prosaic do not exist, nothing is ordinary, everything greets you on your crossing to the other side, any constellation of sensory input perhaps your final one and thus maybe the most important one. I want to make it easy for my killers, I don’t want to hide, run, scream, fight, … I just want it to be over with as soon as possible. I have no regrets, except maybe that I won’t know for certain who will kill me or even why I had to be killed – but faced with eternity, these questions are trivial, and it doesn’t matter. Nothing happens. I get home alive. A bit disappointed, even, because now I am forced to think. The stress of fear does something to your mind – it relegates you to a different plane of thought, where every old pattern of thinking gets to be re-examined, all neuronal bridges are in need of repair, all pathways of known truth are suspect. And I don’t know whether I’m drowning or my mind is on fire – but for the first time I start seriously entertaining the possibility that perhaps my artistic action not only correctly called it for Trump, but was somehow instrumental in getting him over the finish line. (While remembering reading in In the wake of 9/11 that it is a common trait of paranoid schizophrenia to consider yourself culpable for world events – so even if my mind buckled under the stress, and delusions started seeping in, I still retained at least an outline of an objective rationality examining the very processes of the mind in the act of being damaged.) And if it was not instrumental – because, rationally, that would be impossible – my actions must then allow the interpretation of casting a vote in his direction. Why else would the Paris Review want me dead? Brennan, a scholar of Islam, hates Trump’s guts – even if all the connections were true, why would they consider me an enemy?

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Help comes from an unlikely place – The New York Times. Suddenly my feed is full of ads for an NYT article with the text: Truman Capote’s masked ball that thoroughly re-arranged New York’s social scene. I grab it from the quicksand and confidence briefly illuminates my sense of self. Truman Capote, exactly! He wrote In Cold Blood, walked miles in the shoes of killers to bear witness both to the events that shape our time and to the truth of the men who cause them. It ruined him – the brilliant curse of Burroughs perhaps not a cause, but nonetheless a damn good explanation – since, and now this is me speaking with some authority on the subject, on matters of human life and death it is impossible to simultaneously write of the truth and for an audience. Before I started writing Pressure Cooker, for instance, I was adamantly against the death penalty – a barbaric practice that stains the entire society with murder – but after doing the research, following the trial, and really taking a good hard look at the cost of the actions of one individual, I couldn’t help catching myself thinking – well, if there ever was a wretch who deserved it … And I am still not entirely certain why staring at the abyss makes so many of us turn right-wing (again, Terror Management Theory from the books I read in Latvia has an explanation), but I also can’t agree entirely with Burroughs who tackled the hard issues from all kinds of vantage points but never straightforward (it is understandable to rage against the fascism of state violence when you refuse to admit to yourself you shot and killed your wife). In the same way that it is easy to put the Son of Sam on a t-shirt to shock the club-goers, it is hard to consider Berkowitz as a four year old getting beaten up by his dad, and harder still to consider the lives and final moments of any one of the people at the end of his gun. Right now I can think of only Sufjan Stevens’ John Wayne Gacy Jr. as a work of art that

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approaches a killer through Christian love, and humanizes him without exploiting the victims – but again, can the families of the dead be expected to enjoy the song? And if they can’t – why are we allowed to? The bottom line for me when deliberating whether I was doing something that is not honorable when writing about Boston was – the kid survived the Grozny siege (Putin at his worst), came as a Muslim refugee to post 9/11 America, and whatever his life caused him to do in the end, he is still a human being and he is still, to put it in the most basic possible terms, loved by Jesus. This passage served to illustrate how my mind works when I am confident about myself. Arguments! Connections! Thought! With the New York Times on my side (I don’t stop to ask myself how they even heard of my stories – by now they’re obviously everywhere!) I am back to checking my emails, waiting for who will be the first to make my dreams come true. I mean, Truman Capote – check. The masked ball – ball, from the story cover, get it? Check. Re-arranging the social scene? Hm … Could it be that right now people are arguing about my work? About what it means? Where it came from and why? This is perfect! I should … I should … I should what? I don’t know anybody, I don’t know what their deal is … I should just wait and see what happens. Since I have already resigned myself to the possibility of death, this shouldn’t be too hard, right? Then one evening I am reading an essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books (by David M. Higgins) about the movie Dr. Strange and I am (again) seduced by its penultimate sentence: “We can only ‘change destiny itself and thereby insert new possibility into the past,’ as Žižek and Doctor Strange suggest, if we’re willing (all of us) to revisit the a priori assumptions that structure the keyholes of our personal and collective media bubbles and begin communicating in earnest with the aliens that occupy other nearby worlds,” and I gather the courage and press the heart under the Twitter link of the essay. I like this essay. It is

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a good essay. But the next ad I see is completely different from the ones before (I think it was to do with an online game of some kind) and it says, in capital letters: OPPORTUNITY SEIZED! What fucking opportunity, though? As far as I can see I’m still exactly nowhere, only now someone wants to kill me, and I’m talking with the ads someone is serving me on my cellphone. There’s Red Bull asking me: Lunacy or a calculated risk? I don’t know, man. The North Face telling me: It’s a long way down – good. Whatever. But I do have to buy myself a winter jacket, and I do like the North Face ones, so I go to their store on Wooster Street and I buy myself a green and orange one (I saw Rothko’s No. 3/No. 13 in MoMA that past week and liked the colors) – on the way back I go past a group of protesters; one of them shows me a video on his iPad of how they pluck geese for Canadian Goose clothes – horrible, good thing I went for a North Face, right? But when I get home, there’s an ad from North Face which I can’t help but construe as being angry with me: a picture of a huge black winter jacket with the text: This winter, drop dead! Honestly, what the fuck is going on. At this point, I’m starting to get annoyed with all of this crap that pertains to me. You guys have my e-mail, you are welcome to put my name in print, other than that, shoot me or leave me alone. (Narrator: they do neither.) I go to see the Letters to Andy Warhol exhibition in the Cadillac building – 330 Hudson. There’s a bit about rejection I take to heart – MoMA refusing to take one of his drawings into their collection early in his career. A letter from Marian Ives (? – she seems to be a fictional character so I don’t

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know what’s up with that) to Warhol: “Have you met Capote? […] He said he’d been receiving some inane notes from one Warhol and thinks you must be slightly insane. So of course I told him you were,” that I like as well. One of the employees tells me to take a picture at the machine (some type of an installation, you put in your email and they send you the picture; which makes me think of a picture I still have at home, taken on top of the Twin Towers when I was a kid, my winking face on Indiana Jones’ body), and I’m like, well I don’t know, what with the surveillance state and all, and the employee goes, come on man, it’s Cadillac. So I do it – but I don’t receive the picture to my email nonetheless. Then I head to Whitney for the first time in my life and it is glorious. Bellows, Basquiat, Drexler, all kinds of beautiful stuff I haven’t even known about before, and a gor geous retrospective of Carmen Herrera. I spend hours in there, and by closing time I find a room with Robert Beck’s Thirteen Shooters – portraits of kids who went on to become school shooters. Drawing on Andy Warhol’s 13 Most Wanted Men mugshots, Beck’s work is a critique of the media narratives that transform these boys into monsters. Ok … I’m getting that Alice in Wonderland feeling again … In this room there is a wall, and behind that wall is a sculpture by Urs Fischer, a sculpture of his friend Julian Schnabel cast in wax, lit as a candle, with his face already melted down, lying on the floor. I have apparently executed the perfect artwork. It is completely of the moment, corresponding perfectly with the apex art institutions of the world, it is an examination of human consciousness in liminal moments, it has a Russian antagonist hurting America (the calls are growing louder that Putin somehow helped Trump win), it has a Slovenian protagonist loving America (a child of our nation is now the freaking First Lady!), it is about the rage of powerlessness and how we escape it on our quests towards beauty, love, and truth, the tragedy of hate and the tragedy of

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love in balance, it is about the choice we make, the choices we are making, the choices we have made and now have to survive. It is not my fault that America voted to blow shit up – but I was there and I presented that choice as best and as pertinent as any artist could. As a reward, I was given nothing I wanted and nothing I needed, but was saddled with responsibilities that, as best as I can tell, were outsourced to me as a joke by people who do not take these responsibilities even remotely seriously, without being handed either the tools or the knowledge to be able to fulfill them. Since then I have been pushed into one impossible situation after another for the entertainment of strangers, while being progressively and deliberately stripped of my ability to function in the world. Everything I have done since then I have performed professionally and cordially, while being subject to an increasingly deranged environment, one that I will never accept as anything but a malevolent lunacy of the highest order.

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MPA, The Interview, 2015/2016 (Whitney Museum of American Art, 11/21/2016, 5:29 pm)

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MORNING Did I not have once upon a time a lovable childhood, heroic and fabulous, to be written on leaves of gold, an excess of good fortune? By what crime or mistake have I deserved my present weakness? You who claim that animals sob with grief, that sick men give up hope, that dead men have bad dreams, see if you can tell the story of my collapse and sleep. For my part, I can no more explain myself than the beggar with his continual Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s. I can no longer speak. And yet today I think I have finished the account of my sojourn in Hell. It was Hell, all right: the ancient one, whose gates were opened by the Son of Man.


Looking up from the same desert, to the same night, always my weary eyes awaken to the silver star – always, whilst nothing troubles the Kings of Life, the three Magi: heart, soul and mind. When shall we go beyond the mountains, to salute the birth of the new work, the new wisdom, the putting to flight of tyrants and demons, the end of superstition; to adore – the first to do so – Christmas upon earth? The song of the skies, the march of the nations – slaves, let us not curse life.” Arthur Rimbaud, Une Saison en enfer

Jasmin B. Frelih, Brussels Skyline, 2019


Saint-Gilles, Brussels, 05/05/2017, 8:30 pm

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Brussels, Belgium

05/01 - 06/11/2017

It is May 2017, half a year after the election, two months after Leipzig, and I am in Brussels in a writing residency, completely embroiled in what is, to my mind, a fight for my life. I am alone, I have nobody on my side, I do not understand the rules (though I am beginning to see that trivial choices I make have real life consequences), and I am trying to prevent the Americans, the Russians, the British, the Nazis, and the Communists from destroying the European Union. (Tall order, I know, but hey, I pulled it off!) Since I believe I will be murdered if I openly declare for a side, I must at all times appear ignorant to what is happening around me, and since it is completely impossible to ignore that extremely strange things are in fact happening around me – things that others can also see and are hard to ignore, I must also at all times appear as if I know what I am doing. By now I am being talked to by everyone and everything and my brain is in a constant state of fever. I’m working out the connections – who is who, who wants what, how does the signaling work, how much of a signal can I trust, how much am I being lied to, and then – why am I being lied to this much from this actor at this moment, to what does it point to, and of

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course, since there is an entire world of this, I am barely scratching at the surface. A lattice is being built in my mind, an arrangement of color and numbers, time matters, dates matter – after the Leipzig incident I am paying attention to what I touch and when I touch it (the fact that this actually works is what bothers me the most; I have either already been shot and killed and am now in a purgatory of some kind, or I am insane to the degree where I am having completely realistic hallucinations that span all of my surroundings with predictable effects within a system I am only learning about as I go, which would mean that I have a mental illness that is teaching me a highly complex social structure that will, in the end, make sense also to my reasoning faculties – which seems to me so impossible I have no other option but to reluctantly remain at a position that all of this is somehow real), to what I wear and when, to what I eat and when, to what I buy and where I buy it and how much did it cost and when did I buy it. So, the logical assumption that I am simply under too much self-induced stress and my brain is defending itself against chaos by first building patterns, frameworks, structures out of disparate elements and then seeking proof of these patterns with confirmation bias is still there – but even in this case it is clear to me – given the nature of things that happened to me before I was in this state of mind – that I was then deliberately guided into this state by someone who wishes me harm. Which leaves the questions of who and why still unanswered, and my only way of answering them to proceed with the inquiry. It starts off innocuous enough. In St. Gilles, a minute’s walk from the apartment that I’m staying in, is a café called Maison du Peuple (Casa del Popolo, remember?). In the evenings I go there for a beer, and the second time that I’m there I am approached by a man in his late forties, wearing a blue NY Yankees hat, and we get to talking. He asks me what I’m doing here, and I tell him I’m a writer, just arrived on a residency, getting to know

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Brussels. He tells me that I should go to a different bar. I ask him why? He says that there is a better cross-section of Brussels society in a bar a bit further away, called Le Louvre de Saint-Gilles. I thank him and say that I was going to check out all the places anyway, as I’m still trying to figure out how things work around here. He says, you’ll never figure it out, and leaves. Well, thanks for the vote of confidence, I guess, and while I’m trying not to ascribe too much significance to this encounter, apparently being seen talking to this guy is enough that things change for me. The next morning I go to the nearest Carrefour to get cigarettes and it is completely empty and in the middle of the aisle is a gray bucket turned on its head, with the word traitre written on it with red spray. Uh-oh. No, scratch that – FUCK! My mind is spinning – who considers me a traitor and why? The Carrefour is run by a French-speaking Muslim family, so did I betray a class, a religion, a company, a city, a country, … I don’t get it, but I am dismayed. How do I defend myself against an accusation I am not supposed to acknowledge I think is directed at me in the first place? By ignoring it, right? There is nothing else I can do. I go back to the apartment, smoke on the balcony, and think. There’s a pirate flag hanging from a window, caught in the thin anti-pigeon spikes on the window sill – whenever the wind blows the flag untangles itself and flies free. Jolly Roger. So … they think I am a traitor. I consider this from all angles and get absolutely nowhere – other than talk to the guy the night before, I didn’t do a goddamn thing that could be interpreted as treasonous, so it must be some American bullshit, they must think I’m American, and since Trump is acting all belligerent towards the EU, they think I’m with the enemy. Possibly? I don’t know. What can I do about it? Nothing. Except not hide in the apartment, letting whatever narrative has been spun around me blindly run its course.

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So I go out, hitting the streets at random, under the – by now familiar to the extent I’m no longer terrified but simply exasperated – cloud of ‘you are going to get shot at any moment’. Well, here I, yet again, am, so feel free. At some point I go for a coffee in a place called Louise Factory (there’s a red infinity sign on the door that I’m drawn to) and drink it as the day takes on the colors of a storm. Back to the streets, I head towards the Palais de Justice (under renovation, which I think is an apt metaphor for the state of the world). I like the way Brussels looks from the platform in front of the courthouse and I linger for a moment. As I head back the way I came, there is a muscular guy walking right in front of me, all dressed in gray, except there are red circles on the backs of his shoes. My attention zeroes in on them, fever grips my head, and when he glances back as if to check if I’m following, I’m immediately like – fuck that, stop and look to the right. An old man dressed in beige is coming towards me from the courthouse, with a bright green folder in his hands, smiling at me as if in reassurance. I’m still like – fuck that, turn back, and there is a car parked on the pavement and I glance at the plates and see it, clear as day, the plates are: CIA 14. Fuck this, fuck that, fuck everything, what the fuck have I gotten myself into and how the fuck am I going to get out of it? I see a dude about my age, dressed in dark blue and green, with an orange backpack, and he is either frowning or thinking hard about something, and I follow him to the elevator that takes us to the street below. We get out of the elevator and he turns right, and I don’t know why I’m thinking at this point that this guy is safe, but I do, and I want to follow him, but there is a well-off couple – the woman is wearing a huge red scarf – loudly arguing in Russian in front of a display window on the street, they glance at me, and I’m all fuck that again, turn around and walk straight back to the apartment, terrified.

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Why the 14, though? That is the principal thing on my mind. What does it mean? At that point, I have no idea, and I don’t remember when exactly I started thinking that maybe it has something to do with the clock. 14 o’clock is 2 pm in Europe, and it could be that I went for coffee at that time, and in this way gave a signal of some kind? But that is clearly insane, that can’t be real. It would mean that I can’t even grab something to eat without worrying how that will be interpreted by who knows who. I’m paralyzed and I stay in the apartment for the next few days, munching on sandwiches and nuts, freaking out as I watch my tobacco reserves dwindle to nothing. One of my biggest regrets from that time is that I did not keep a journal, so I am not entirely sure that the sequence of events I’m recounting here is correct, and I do not know any of the exact dates. (The biggest regret by far is that I did not throw my phone out the window the second things started getting weird – I just kept looking at people trying to hurt me like an idiot.) I emerge from the apartment completely famished – starvation finally overcomes the paralysis of having to make a choice with consequences within a system I have no idea about, despite still not being in any way certain if it even exists – and again, go at it at random. I need real food, so all the fast food options are a no-go, I need a full, wholesome, meaty meal. It’s afternoon, and I stop by a restaurant called Jughurta – North African food. Awesome. I’m trying not to think too much (the associations are drawing a blank, and I like that), the time is about half past four (again, no idea what that means, if anything), and I go in. The place looks like it’s closed – there are a couple of people sitting behind a table at the front, I get the impression it’s the owner and his family, and they all look at me as I come in. Um, are you guys closed? They take a second to confer with each other and apparently decide I’m ok, a guy stands up and waves me in. Why does everything have to be so goddamn weird?

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The guy comes to me, explains that the kitchen is just getting started, and it will take some time. I’m ok with that and I order the largest meal on the menu – he gives me the not bad look and then I wait a half an hour with just the family still in. As he finally starts bringing over the food, he kind of rushes to my table saying, ouch, ouch, ouch, the plate is very hot, very hot, be careful. The plate is yellow and blue. There’s something in his look that makes me pay attention to this. Am I making somebody mad? I eat to my heart’s content, like three full plates of lamb, chicken and beef. (While I eat, people start coming in – I still remember an elderly Austrian couple, because the guy was extremely tall, looked straight at me the whole time, and when they walked in the place started smelling of sulfur. Classic Lucifer, I’m thinking.) When I ask for the bill, the guy comes and looks at the plates, and goes ho-ho-ho. I smile, pay, and leave. When I get out, I see the street sign – the street I’m on is called Rue de Moscou. Oops? The city is by now turning openly hostile towards me. As I head towards Carrefour to stock up on cigarettes, there are like twenty kids on the left side of the street, and a single kid wearing another blue Yankees hat holding an umbrella sitting on a post on the right side of the street, smiling contentedly. I have to go between them. As I walk the kids on the left start jeering, they kind of bustle about me and try to get in my face – I have my eyebrows raised and I’m simply telling them to move – and one of them kicks an empty box of Marlboro Reds in front of my feet, so I have to walk over it. When I do, the kids start cheering, but by now the bewilderment at these strange events is subsiding, I’m just noting what happens and carrying on. I get my cigarettes, go back the way I came and the kids are still there, acting like nothing happened. Ok. I start meticulously planning my trips to the store so I won’t have to make more than necessary. I need non-perishables and I’m going to buy a whole lot of meals for the microwave. The next time I go there, I go right before closing time. The workers are now rolling their eyes when they see me, but

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I’m past the point of caring. Even before I get in, I notice a guy following me, he is wearing blue jeans, otherwise he is all dressed in black. He seems very nervous for some reason. I tarry about the store, picking up my things, and I see him walking around just wasting time, and I get the feeling that he is waiting for me. Why? No clue. And sure enough, when I go to the register, he comes in line behind me, and the workers are exchanging angry glances. I pay, put my stuff into bags, and he gets his own stuff. At some point I catch his eyes and they are desperate. He looks down twice and I follow his gaze. His thumb is furiously stroking his black wallet. On the day when I’m waiting for the results of the French election (this would be the 7th of May, so all of the above happened in my first week in Brussels – five more grueling weeks to go), I am eating a microwaved salmon meal, completely despondent at what an incomprehensible mess my life had become.

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Politically, the world is looney tunes all around and I’m right there in the middle of it, Trump is coming to Brussels on the 25th to open the new NATO headquarters (after threating to torpedo the alliance), the UK is, a month after triggering article 50, getting absolutely roiled by terrorist and cyber-attacks, North Korea is threatening nuclear war and Wannacry will wreak havoc in just a couple of days, and anyone with any political power is apparently considering the state of the world to be a giant, open free for all where anything is possible, meaning that this would also be a perfect time for me to smack capitalism on the head and get it to share the spoils it has been hoarding since Reagan (and somehow kept hoarding even after almost destroying the world under its own damn rules), except that at the end of this road I see nothing but Nazi triumphs (which is also why I hate that the communists are pushing forward; all you are doing is further unlocking their cage) and the fact that I have, in the aftermath of the refugee crisis, slowly fallen out of love with the people (if I scratch your solidarity and find virulent racism underneath, then I also know exactly why the military-industrial complex is going to keep eating your lunch). Artistically, the world is becoming new to me, new and entirely unknown. I am finding out that all elements of reality have already been furnished with meaning, that all metaphors already have owners and that the owners are now coming to see what is being done with their property. A Belgian poet tells me that Brussels once had a river, but that they buried it. We talk for a bit and at the end he looks at me and repeats: we will bury the river. What does he mean? This is the lattice, the cypher, the system of metaphor with which people embellish the insignificance of their individual longings, latching on to vaster structures of meaning (ones cultivated throughout history, ones shared by society precisely because they are so imprecise) that allow anyone to mean vastly while speaking about hardly anything at all. And I hate it. I automatically hate it because all elements of reality are, speaking as a writer, rightfully mine and I don’t need all their previous

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owners coming in going roughshod over MY work, and I am slowly beginning to REALLY hate it, because I am starting to see that this system constitutes a prison for the mind of the individual. And personally, I am a thirty year old dude from Slovenia, whose novel was translated into Dutch to be published in Amsterdam, I am in a residency in a gorgeous apartment in the capital of Europe, guest of a prestigious literary establishment, which is exactly where I deserve to be and no amount of harassment from anyone is going to make me run home. I am alone, I am afraid, my mind is buckling under the pressure, the world is falling apart, people around me are engaged in a strange and inscrutable game, but I have things I need to do and I am going to make sure I do them well. To get my mind off things, I decide I want to watch a Champions League football match. That’s normal, right? Everybody loves football. I am a fan of Juventus since the times of Edgard Davids and then Pavel Nedved, and the team is playing the return leg with Monaco (this would be the 9th of May). I walk out of the apartment in the evening and I have to find a place where they’re showing the match – as it happens, they’re showing it in a bar right next door, called Café Volders. Perfect. I get in, sit down, order a beer, stare at the TV. The atmosphere in the bar is somewhat tense, a bunch of kids in their twenties are huddled together also watching the game, speaking in Spanish, but they don’t look like Spaniards, I’m thinking Latin America, maybe? As the second half starts, a man walks in – one I will see a couple of times in the next few weeks, never happy to see me – holding a BNP Paribas bag. He sets it on the bar and talks to the bartender and the kids, barely glancing at me. As the game goes on, they start laughing. As soon as it ends, the bartender puts on the music and they start dancing. I’m amused at their antics and in a good mood since Juve won. Another guy walks in, dressed all in blue, he walks straight to the bar, picks up the menu and goes to sit down – the menu is red and I’m primed

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for what this means since I just watched the match. The dancing stops, the laughter quiets down, and the glances thrown in my direction turn sour. I finish my beer looking at the commercials. When I am leaving, the blue guy is out smoking and I ask him for a lighter. He gives it to me, I light my cigarette, I give the lighter back, and again notice desperation on his face, only now giving way to relief. He says, quietly, but with full force of breath, thank you. A guy walks by with his head down carrying a black tote bag with white writing: Keep calm and play the piano. Whoever set me down this path did a good job – I have lost the ability to distinguish between signal and noise. At this point I have to reiterate that while the interpretation of the events I am recounting here is mine, the facts are not. These things did in fact happen. The guy did in fact sigh thank you in relief after giving me a lighter. What is not clear is why I asked him for it in the first place – I’m a heavy smoker and I am rarely without a lighter and I was not without a lighter then. The Leipzig fiasco taught me a different way of looking at things, instilled in me a suspicion that perhaps there exists a covert language, another way to communicate, and since all I saw were a few strange instances, I had to build from them. Touch apparently mattered, and once I started paying attention to that, I really can’t tell you just how many people I’ve seen touching white surfaces upon seeing me (radiators were very popular and as you can imagine it’s hard to do that smoothly), or that afterwards I rarely saw anyone walk through a doorway without holding onto something. And since I like the blue guys (I associate the color with thought and sadness, my people, basically, most of the time) I felt like I did something wrong within this opaque system when going to that place at that time ordering what I did (again, no idea what, or if anything) so I wanted to rectify that somehow and the thing that came to mind was to ask him for a lighter. And then the dude said thank you.

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After my first lunch at Passa Porta I was followed for a while by a guy on my daily walks around the city. At first I thought he was my assassin, then that he was a fan, and then I began to think of him as my cleaner. As in, someone who rectifies the mistakes I make when blundering through this ridiculous maze. He diligently walked into bars after me, always sat on the seat I was sitting in before, and ordered, I guess, the correct choice so as not to upend whatever role was assigned to me within this … thing. The last time I saw him was just outside my apartment, I was walking in, he was walking by, we looked at each other, he gave me a thumb up, asking with his expression and a quick nod – we good? – and I nodded back – all ok, man – and he put his earphones in and was gone. Who the fuck knows, right? But after the Champions League match I had another piece of the puzzle. Previously, all my attention was focused on the politics of the situation and the reason I found the whole thing as rarely making any sense was that the signals of alliances and antagonisms I was privy to were completely at odds with the conventional, newspaper view of power relations in the contemporary world. It started making sense only when I added another factor into the mix. What is the one thing that could make so many people around me behave so completely abnormally? Patriotism? Fear? Love? Political persuasion? Ideology? Faith? Sense of community? Horror vacui? Art? I am a romantic idealist and I would prefer any of the above (well, except fear) to the actual answer, which is also the reason it took me so long to even get there. But the whole system unfortunately runs on money. And I already wrote about all these things – I wrote about the memeplex of society, structured like a text (I named it literadrome), I wrote how in a post-MAD world violence can no longer be the ultimate arbiter of social reality, leaving us with either annihilation or consensus (this imperative consensus then also allows the free-floating exchange rate system of

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currency to actually work), I prefaced Tiny Ideologies (the collection of my short stories) with an extremely succinct manifesto that strikes at the heart of the matter – so I have understood all this even before I saw it in action, but nothing could have prepared me for how ugly the whole thing actually is. And I suppose it makes sense that it is ugly – humanity has throughout its history proved an expert on ugliness – since the entire chain of supply starts with a poor broken soul somewhere slaving for pennies, the product of that person’s hands then making its way through the world amidst the burning of fossil fuels, all that smoke and grease, entering a society multiplied with its representations as advertisements, all trying to cut out a piece of your time, preying on your needs, desires, inadequacies, your will to power, all relying on the fact that you consider yourself important as a member of society, as just so slightly more important than the person next to you, presenting itself as the tool that will establish your true worth in the eyes of others … Even this is to me ugly, the Kafkaesque power trips on every single rung of the social hierarchy, the pompousness, self-importance and self-righteousness of people stuck in the exact same circle of hell, the haste of people running to be owned by someone or something only so they can then yell losers at people who had the misfortune or the good sense to keep at least some aspect of themselves in the end owned by themselves, all of this is ugly … Not to mention the real ugliness of resource extraction, the planet disfiguring ugliness of machines tearing up the natural world to feed the already fed, to decorate the already beautiful, all the violence and ugliness of both hunger and the production of food, the extreme and completely inexcusable ugliness of people on top pushing down … My working proposition now is that there exists a weird system of politics, structured as a game, for the allocation of resources produced by the global supply chain. And, as I said, I absolutely loathe it, mostly because it hijacks and assimilates all elements of human reality, leaving

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me unable to express myself freely without tugging at its parts. I mean, I can express myself freely, but I am unable to share this expression without encountering resistance from actors who consider themselves the rightful owners of parts of this expression. Since they have power and I do not, I am expected to submit. This gives me the choice of either learning about the system and with my expressions then fine-tune tiny parts of it in accord with the preferences of those with power – to be co-opted and to conform (this constituted my biggest disillusionment with all the realms of art in human society I used to love; how enormous is the field of expression this system prevents and how invisible are those who work within it; and how all of those who were presented to me as idols barely own their own work) – or to shut up. Well … Anyway, now I find myself in a tricky position. I am trying to convince you I am not lying and that I am not mentally ill, despite knowing that if all of the above is true I am not doing you a favor by bringing this to your attention. Living is easy with eyes closed and all of that. The fact that I am writing this after having two full years to observe and learn about this system (which is extremely hard to do when half of the time you don’t want to believe it to be real and would prefer to be insane, and are the other half of the time, when you simply must concede its reality, consumed with rage at the pervasiveness and oppressiveness of it) also opens me up to the questioning of my motives and to a charge of a selective presentation of it in service to some unknown agenda. I am at this point also reluctant to set to the page the entire scope of it – as I see it – since I believe that I have up until now presented my arguments well enough for this essay not to be dismissed out of hand, and pushing forward with all the elements of it that common sense must find abhorrent and impossible would set me back into the camp of the injured and the insane. As for my agenda, I want to free myself, I want to liberate my expression,

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and since I believe that the whole thing stands and falls with the number of people robbed of their own minds, I also want to somehow relate to others who are aware of it that those who are willing participants are not worthy of any respect whatsoever (they deserve pity and contempt in equal measure) and those who are trapped by it are not alone and that we have to figure out a way to rescue our minds. But honestly, at this stage in my life I would be content with freeing myself, and the only tool of contemporary civilization that at least on its face offers to deliver on that promise is the free market; the mass of consumers whose individual choices would in aggregate grant me the freedom to continue doing what I do best, with my only obligation to them the quality of my work. Here it has to be noted that this system of control has already rendered the free market almost irrelevant – part of this process actually serves a good cause; in the interests of profit maximization it is necessary to reduce waste throughout the entire chain of supply, most easily achieved with accurate prediction of the consumers’ choices, which is good for the planet but not so good for the individual. Since, in order to accurately predict the quantity of a certain product a certain market will consume, use, buy, in a certain timeframe, you need to know the customers’ needs. The sellers with the best knowledge of their market will come out on top – less waste, more profit: competitive advantage. But since societies are on their way through time defined by feedback loops, the situation on the ground is always rapidly changing. A sure thing can turn out to be a miss, and once there are enough interests backing this sure thing, what do you think is more reasonable to expect? That the powerful will continue to rely on the roll of the dice, or that they will actively manage consumer preferences in order for their predictions to turn out accurate? And yes, it has always been so, but with the tools now at their disposal (the entire digital machine capturing the attention bandwidth of

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whole societies) at both the knowledge end (who is the consumer, with his tracking device always in his pocket) and the management end (individually targeted ads and search results, algorithmically served content at all of the steps of deliberation and at the exact moment of choice) it is becoming easier and easier to imagine the merger of what we used to call capitalism with a centrally planned economy. This would take another essay to convincingly argue, but the only thing worse than a centrally planned economy (from the standpoint of individual freedom) is a centrally planned economy masquerading as a free market, where all human expression is made subservient to the needs of deals that have al ready been decided among parties in ways that an individual is forbidden from accessing outside the rules, which are for obvious reasons deliberately kept obscure. In this situation an artist is not only an ideological nuisance, a rabble-rouser, a game-changer, a heretic, a disruptor, or a disloyal team-mate, the artist’s free expressions can in this case cause actual economic damage. Well, at least I can’t explain the things that I have experienced in any other way. And I would condone this system on the grounds of a planetary emergency, given that it would be properly explained and executed in a just and righteous fashion. But as long as ostentation reigns among the powerful, I find it hard to consider it as anything but a pernicious system of control, perhaps once built for a reason, but that reason long since forgotten (it is perfectly clear that it is not operated with reason in mind), with control now enjoyed for its own sake.

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So, to that end, let me ask you – who are the purple ones? Yoga? Moonlight? Selfless courage? A higher perspective? The elders? The gardeners? The dreamers? A great fortune? Magicians? KKR? Apollo? Petraeus? Obama? Hollywood? The royals? The twenties? Mondelez? NYU? The independents? People of faith? The vineyards? The blueberries? The painkillers? The bruised hearts? Or rather the evil heart of the celluloid night? … All these associations have at some point been presented to me, with the expectation, I guess, that I will relinquish my ownership of these elements to people who are clearly much more powerful than I am, or else continue to use them in submission as a signal of alliance with these same people. And honestly, who would not want to be allied with such ancient and mighty forces? I just don’t know why everything has to be so clandestine, when anyone could make these connections if he was just given a look at the books …

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Jan & Hubert van Eyck, Het Lam Gods, 1432 (St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent, 05/11/2017, 1:42 pm)

I am in Brussels on a terribly gray afternoon, having just come back from Ghent where I visited students learning Slovenian language at the university and after that got to see the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Van Eycks, wandering somewhere around Gare du Midi, trying to find something for dinner. The storm has passed, but even though it’s a workday everything is closed and the people around me are all very slow and seem somehow absent. As I cross the street I notice a beautiful redheaded girl in a summer dress in high platform heels slowly walking alongside her bike wearing a comically large gray helmet. She is headed the same way as I am and at some point I pass her on the right. Walking past her, I notice her tensing up, looking at me from the corner of her eye, but I just go on. At the end of the street I turn around and see her walking, just as slowly, back the way she came. What did I just do? Does the helmet mean something? Before it was baseball hats, now we’re apparently already in helmet territory. Why would anyone want to give me a helmet? Will I need it? I don’t even want to know what it will cost me. So I hurry back, pass her on the left while humming nuh-uh in an understandable but plausibly deni-

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able way, hoping that I got it right, and slowly make my way back to where I was headed, the day somehow becoming even more downcast. There is a Jeep, an older model, parked on the street, completely covered with stickers, but the one that jumps out at me says: And you said you were a man of peace. What the hell kind of a sticker is that? It’s not funny, it’s not clever, it’s not pretty, it’s just a cynical reproach aimed at no one in particular and I have no idea why anyone would put that on his car. I’m thinking about it, trying to push it out of my mind because I don’t like the implications (as I said, the ability to distinguish between signal and noise is long gone, everything is either meaningless or directed squarely at me), and at this point I’m getting very hungry. But not even the fruit vendors are open, the streets are empty, the air is damp and stale and thick, somehow hard to move through, as if the very city was in the process of closing itself to me. Then finally, in the distance, someone walks out of a place with a pizza box in his hands. A pizzeria. Perfect. I head over there, the place is called Bella Italia, bella indeed, and in front of the restaurant stands a life-sized plastic chef in a chef ’s hat offering a plate of pasta. As I’m finishing my cigarette, I see it. There are purple shoelaces tied around the chef ’s feet. It looks absolutely ridiculous, but I take it to mean I still have a friend in the city. Because I also have purple shoelaces. The Converse All-Stars shoes I bought just before I left New York have purple shoelaces, and I have by that point already grown reluctant to wear them because I noticed people behaving extra differently when I had them on (not to mention what was happening on my phone: “Oh, a blueberry, we love them, but why just one?”, “Don’t waste your moonshots!” etc.), something I then attributed to the association of the color with royalty and the general need of people to hate everyone they think thinks he’s better than them. So I just rarely put them on, and I didn’t wear them then (though I did have them on once or twice in Brussels before that), but there they were, purple shoelaces tied around a mannequin’s feet.

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The pizza was so-so, the staff was decidedly less friendly than I had expected given the strange welcome I thought I had received, and the whole time I was eating I was being stared at by a blonde Scandinavian dude wearing a T-shirt of one of my high-school favorite bands, Dream Theater, who gruffly declined conversation even when I pointed at the shirt and said that they’re great. In the park outside my apartment I cross paths with an old drunk who was just screaming obscenities in Slavic to his drinking partner. He digs in with his feet to stop his swaying and puts out his hand. I decline to help him. On his breast pocket it says in yellow on gray: winner. When I started writing this essay I had already all but given up and I just wanted to document the weird events of the past two years of my life before they sunk into oblivion in an effort to prove – if at least to myself – that I had been, for the crime of creating art more powerful than apparently it had the right to be, subject to what I can only describe as an absurdly unjust regime of mental torture. It had been made impossible for me to freely participate in the world by burdening my every choice – what I wear, what I eat, what I buy, where I go, what I touch, what button I press on the internet, and at what exact time I do any of the above (but not what I actually say, and that is the most terrible sentence for a writer; the fact that the trivial choices I make about the necessities of life matter and the words I express, the clear and undeniable meaning of them, are relevant only as markers of metaphors that are not my own) – with implications I do not understand and consequences I do not desire. Now, seeing the whole thing on the page, I am again convinced that it is not just a delusion and not just my personal punishment, but that this system of control does in fact exist and that it is what malicious and stupid people are prepared to accept as the system of arbitration of power, thus condemning to it also those who strive towards some kind of good.

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Imagine that I did not care. Imagine that I found myself delighted that I can cause havoc with a simple push of a button on my phone. That I would learn and be conscious about the consequences, but would just keep on doing it. They would call it flying. They would call it a great song. They would call me a beast or a monster or a shark and I would take it as a compliment. Now imagine that you find yourself in a world chock full of exactly this kind of people. It shouldn’t be that hard, because that is exactly where you are. So excuse me if I recently did not pay enough attention to the crisis of climate, to the ludicrous levels of economic inequality, to the plight of refugees, to the fact that white supremacy has been entrusted with legitimate reins of power, to the war on women by both predatory scum and religious fanatics, to institutional and societal bigotry elevated to a form of virtue, to all kinds of abuse of power that should warrant instant emancipatory action, ‌ I was busy. Busy staring at what I recognized as my number one enemy the second I caught an inkling of its existence, the second I first saw its brief and horrifying outline in the dark. They can physically enslave all of us for centuries, societies can undergo and sur vive all kinds of cataclysms and paroxysms, they can legitimize mass murder and make a spectacle out of the violence borne by the weakest among us, they can always trample the individual being into nothingness, but men die, time passes, and societies change by the ever continuing interplay of necessity and reason. Necessity will not abandon us, the passage of time will continue to exact its price on the human body, but should they ever manage to destroy reason, should they ever convince a mind it is not the sole and absolute arbiter of reality, then the entire project of humankind, from the first line of paint in a cave to the last line of code in a cloud, will be rendered meaningless and purposeless, devoid of

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both essence and phenomena, turned into mere indistinguishable bits of matter shaking from nothing into nothing, from nothing unto nothing, forever. Every time you write a script for, or entrust a human life to a mandatory program, you make a mockery out of the entire breadth of human sacrifice, human volition, and human desire throughout all the ages that came before you, and language here truly lacks the power of proper condemnation for this crime.

Mont des Arts, Brussels, 06/10/2017, 12:46 pm

One last anecdote from my days in Brussels. Remember, I see the lattice, but I don’t understand it, so my only way of learning more about it is by making slight moves and gauging the responses, all while frantically trying to determine what kind of move can I even make without damaging my objective (this will also be the story of one of my digital artworks, hastily concluded – after an idiot from Florida started

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sending mail-bombs to Democrats – with a graphic inspired by the rooftop of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan; only to have someone shoot up a Pittsburgh synagogue just three days later, again making me wonder whether I actually see the future or I just proved that this horrible system exists). I don’t know the exact date, I think it was just before the twenty-fifth of May, when I was already so ravaged by all this madness (mostly by the fact that I simply could not find a path towards anything where I would not be haunted by it) that I just said fuck it, let’s go big and see what happens. I try to think of everything, plan what I’ll wear, when and where I’ll go, what I’ll order, but it’s extremely hard, because I simply have little clue about what any of it means, leaving me to the most outrageous exercises in guesswork. So I go to the Luxembourg square, right in front of the European Parliament, at two in the afternoon, and sit down at the Grapevine. Even before I get in I cross paths with a really tough looking black guy, all clad in gray, who kind of angrily harrumphs and flexes his muscles at me, and I interpret this as a yeah man, just do it, and am only now realizing he might have wanted to dissuade me from going into that particular establishment. The place is not full, sitting by a table next to me is just an Englishman in a purple shirt (he looks like Jeremy Clarkson), finishing his meal. The waitress comes and I order a steak and a bottle of water. Anything else, sir? Uh, yeah, let me also have a coffee. When I say this, the Englishman starts shaking his head and waving his hand in dismissal, stands up, goes in to pay, and then walks out looking at me with his eyebrows raised, giving me a curt wave of goodbye. Ok, noted. The coffee at that time was not ok if I wanted to be cool with the purple English. I still consider the whole thing absurd, but I can’t deny that it did, in fact, happen. And who comes to sit at the table previously occupied by the Englishman but two somewhat vicious looking gray blue Americans, joined soon thereafter by one of their sons (a military jock type in a plain T-shirt) and

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one tall and thin suited Scandinavian, reservedly staring at the distance, all throughout their meal appearing teeming with subdued excitement, as if they just concluded a lucrative but illegal, or at the very least morally wrong, deal. They smile at me, I smile back, I finish the steak, the coffee, I down the water, I go in to pay, and I walk out. And I can’t believe my eyes. I look around, like, is anybody else seeing this, but nobody seems to be paying attention. Literally everybody on the entire square is completely dressed in gray. I’m telling myself don’t get scared, don’t act out, they didn’t shoot you then, so it’s quite possible they won’t shoot you now, just pretend everything is normal. So I fix my gaze straight ahead and slowly walk towards the parliament, lounge about for a bit, smoke a cigarette, then head back towards the metro. There is a single Asian girl in a white-on-black Yankees baseball hat now on the square, everyone else is still gray, she is walking away from me, glances back, but I don’t follow her. I am now picking the streets at random, making my way to the metro, marveling at having acquired the single weirdest mental illness that populates the entire city with people dressed exclusively in gray. I am almost at the station, I turn the corner, and there is a guy with a gray Yankees hat right in front of me, he turns around, and on the back of his cap are embroidered words: keep it. Keep it? Why? And even more important to me then – how? Even if I somehow get how the whole thing is supposed to work, I will at some point have to go in another place and order myself another coffee and how the hell am I supposed to know what that will mean, to whom and why. So I just choose to keep ignoring it. I go to the station but the trains are not running because of an accident and it’s a long walk back to the apartment. Great. More of this madness. I’m choosing the streets that seem emptier and the grayness soon abates. At some point I rest on a bench in a park somewhere (now I checked and ironically it’s named Liberty Square). Someone joins me on the bench, I look, and it’s an imam, all dressed in white, holding car keys in one hand,

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clutching his bare arm with the other, and I don’t think I understood this then like I interpret it now (put your skin in the game and drive) I was mostly just – yoohoo! danger! – and noped the hell away. Crazy, I know. I will never forget that day. The question I am actually grappling with the most since then is not really a question of my sanity (I can never again be convinced it was all in my mind, I’ve simply seen too much of it, and I will forever consider all attempts to persuade me otherwise as hostile action), but the question of my cowardice. I make my way to Mont des Arts, sit on the bench and refuse to pay attention any longer. What am I to do with all this uncertain knowledge? Am I powerful? Is an elephant in a porcelain store powerful? Every move full of consequence, yet all consequence destruction. Is this man’s fate? How to turn this power into creation? How to help? The elephant not wishing to contribute to further destruction must accept its paralysis. But who put the elephant there in the first place? The world full of want. To make an omelet you must break some eggs. Destroy the porcelain store with a grand bellow, run free, chased only by the knowledge of horrors past, hoping that freedom will grant you the means to atone for its cost? Or else stay put, forever focused on the trembling of porcelain in tune with the beating of your craven heart, listening with dismay to the destruction continuing outside your store, destruction you’ve resolved yourself to do nothing to prevent? My mind is eroded to its basic form by this quandary and I am carried forward by the mere impossibility of stasis. Up the stairs there is a café, do I dare have another? A guy my age stops next to me, looking at the park, gray shirt, black writing: this is truly crazy. A girl laughs by, black sweater, white writing: awesome. A couple of rich looking Asian kids are contemplating that same café, one of them in a gray shirt with yellow writing: kill the ape. I send a couple of neuron bursts towards that last one. Is this, within the politics of the situation, a racist message? Or is it about the eight hundred

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pound gorilla coming to town? I don’t know and I have no more patience for ambiguity. I press on, the city swirling and swarming around me, loud and getting louder, and at some point almost spitefully barge into a place called Berlin Fabrik, where I order a burger and a Schweppes tonic. The place is mostly empty and the staff is acting normally, for which I am grateful. As I take a bite into the burger the music in the place abruptly stops. The song was Patrick Bryze’s and Jim Tonique’s Better World. The last verse I heard: If it wasn’t for this. Make of it what you will. When I get back on Avenue Jean Volders, just as I am entering the building, three black kids in uproarious laughter walk past me. They are all wearing red Yankees hats. Is it possible I have played this game so poorly that the only allies left to me now are also my sworn political enemies? Or is the refusal to play, to engage, the insistence on choosing to ignore what every reasonable person must consider as broad and unacceptable insanity, the very thing that in the end aligns you firmly with the current hierarchy of power? The porcelain invisible to everyone but the elephant until the moment it breaks, the elephant constantly goaded into movement, with swift retribution following for every broken piece. A very cruel and a highly unusual form of punishment, wouldn’t you say? Who wants to live in a world where to act is criminal and where not to act is to condone the crimes of the powerful? Only those who can, I suppose. Are you one of them? Am I? Because if we do not consciously stop the spread of this madness, which must by definition mean acting against our own best interests, against our own selfish impulses, we will all have to be.

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In retrospect, the best thing for me to do then would absolutely be to just dismiss all this nonsense, cut through the noise and keep roaring the song of human rights, decency and kindness, but this text must serve as an explanation why I found that impossible. Maybe I should have been tougher, more focused, more conscious of what I want and more ruthless in getting it – and from the perspective of society as a bunch of mindless primates those are all valid criticisms – or maybe, just maybe, things could be a whole lot different for a whole lot of people if I didn’t have to go through this alone, if I wasn’t taught this whole spiel in the most brutally inefficient way, all while being endlessly harassed, threatened, insulted, and slandered by people whom I have not yet found a reason to respect and consider barely in possession of their minds at best and willingly, pleadingly brainwashed at worst, people for whom I fought for to the ends of sanity and were always more than happy to exploit my choices, only to be then offered suicide as the only way out from a totally dictated existence. And what – have I not gone straight into the fire? Have I not tried to show the people the shape of the prison they are in as soon as I was shown it? Have I not borne the savagery of envy and malice as kindly as I could? Have I not relentlessly pursued my quest for an expression that would not be immediately corrupted by the despicable machinations of the utterly and irredeemably corrupt? I have. So what am I now – to you? The dog, the spy, the pig guest of the CIA? The tortured naïf, the lion in a cage? The crying baby, the pet, the toy, the too expensive rabbit? Or else the killer, the bank robber, the hitman, the thrice aborted fetus, the eternal loser, compelled to play but forbidden from winning? I am none of those things.

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Saint-Gilles, Brussels, 05/24/2017, 10:04 pm

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What I am is fucked. What I am is being actively prevented from seeking independence by people who seem to have nothing better to do in their infinite power and infinite malaise than to control others. What I am is still being pushed down this or that predetermined path for the sheer joy my anguish at these unthinkable choices sparks in the chests of heartless men. What I am is still unwilling to pledge allegiance to anyone out of desperation, only from a standpoint of a free and reasoned decision. What I am is still being actively convinced I am not in the possession of my own mind by people who stand to enjoy complete control once they achieve this for everyone. What I am is being aggressively programmed to fail. What I am is being completely dependent on either pity or mercy of strangers as my only way of surviving the hellscape I was cast in for the horrifying crime of trying to understand how the world really works and not having enough good sense to be quiet about it until I either had loads of money or an arsenal of guns at my disposal. What I am is fucked. Royally, epically, astronomically, and outrageously fucked.

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Saint-Gilles, Brussels, 06/11/2017, 08:08 am

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Why I am a Fascist

TomaĹž Ĺ alamun

Enough with the social mimicry. Only the killing of people is real action, intense, exciting, fantastic. You can hear, see, scent feel and touch the sizzling of flesh. Blessed war. Only a mother, when you step with your boot on the skull of her son, cries out in genuine pain and you need not fear she is bluffing. The grandest truth is also the greatest source of aesthetic pleasure. The largest information is to strike down and torture the person you love the most. I am not a fiery proponent of the killing of foreigners, a stranger is worth killing only for the money, not for art. When a soldier kills a soldier, that is something average. But when a handsome, beautiful, elegant young man forcefully rips off the jaw of his mother or with his thumb makes a hole in the skull of his little brother, while casually in conversation and his religious, calm, open and blue gaze loses none of its innocence ... Oh, light! It is also nice when two naked soldiers make love. A billionaire is more pretty than a craftsman and a married couple making love remind me of a fat, disgusting porter eating tripe. From this perspective it is also interesting to watch mature black men masturbate. White men are often scared, but the black men shriek and rasp, as if you mixed the noise of a bee swarm with an unoiled cart squeaking down the train

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tracks. Besides they are thin in the hips and without fat. The socialist managers are obese, fascism is clean cut. Fascism means youth, freshness, power, action and vitality, the jewish swine are festering, saliva is gathering around the corners of their mouth. But who blinded you that you can’t see things that are so clear? Fascism means power and command and I would like to see the one who would really prefer to be stupid, weak and hounded. Was god a democrat when he with a single stroke ripped the water from the heavens? Whoever manages to convince me this will turn TomaŞ Šalamun into a sheep, and the grandchildren of my grandchildren will be in thrall to his clan. Until then I will stay who I am, and until I gather enough guns, money and people, until I gather enough cloth for the uniforms of my boys, until I infiltrate enough young geniuses into the army and the secret service, I will write poems on the beauty of nature, calmly and humbly preparing for the day to come.

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This was a poem by one of the arch-poets, a true grand-master of Slovenian poetry, Tomaž Šalamun, written during his younger years, presumably aghast at the oppression everyone had to endure under the Yugoslav socialist system, taking for his subject something that was completely anathema to Slovenian society at a time when the wounds were still fresh from the fascist occupation during World War 2. I don’t think he actually spent any time in prison for this one (he did for a different poem, when one of the party functionaries recognized himself in the simile of a dead cat). I am tempted to just rest my case. But I have to add that the fascist and anti-semitic tropes that we today see in contemporary art, hiding behind the cool and hip mask of subversion and transgression, are not that subversive and transgressive when we in fact live in a fascist society. State violence is employed against people based on arbitrary distinctions and nebulous conceptions of things that only exist in the mind. A border is not a thing that exists in reality, independent of the mind, nor is a nation. And while it is easy to understand how the border leaps out of the mind and transforms itself into a material thing – with the wall, the fence, the barbed wire cutting a wound into the landscape – the same understanding is not afforded to all of the transformations of a nation into a material thing through the collective actions of its members. A trophy won in a sport’s championship is owned by all the people of the flag, a person beaten and left to drown at the material or immaterial barrier of the collective mind of a people is ejected from history, left alone with one’s personal fate just as an errant asteroid burns up upon entering the earth’s atmosphere, leaving no imprint on the life of mankind. But a human being is not a clump of space dust. Or, technically, it is. But we cannot have it both ways – either we discontinue our attempts to materialize our nations with the achievements of its members and realize that consequently the use of force cannot be legitimized and all use of it

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now de facto belongs to criminals and lawless men, or we fully consciously accept that the material reality of a nation is not only its libraries, its laws, the sum of courageous expressions of its members, but also the minds and bodies suffering under the nation’s use of force. A great nation is one where the largest number of minds are afforded the most boundless spaces of expression, and one where the forces of exclusion and violence are focused primarily on the elements of reality which seek to limit these spaces. A nation that seeks to exclude ignorance and hate. A nation that is violent against sadism and economic enslavement. That nation can, perhaps, in time and taking into full account all aspects of its existence, honestly proclaim itself to be, ever so briefly, great, and that would truly be a profound achievement for mankind. Until then a nation remains an embarrassment to the individual, something to be talked about quietly and beyond the reach of ears of a polite society, nurtured and cared for in private until it is no longer a monstrosity dripping with blood and bone and oil and smoke and charred earth, hastily decorated with a forged historical memory and a few flashes of present beauty, just as a rotting corpse is made up by a mortician and doused with perfume so the pall-bearers don’t retch with disgust as they carry it to its grave. If a nation does not seek greatness, true greatness, and would prefer to remain an extravagant cover for the crimes of the unjust, the grave is exactly where it belongs. What we hold in the mind matters. It matters greatly. Now, what about the tale that I recounted,“the facts for a dusty biography in a hundred years” – will they matter? Was I truly a victim of a coincidence so profound and all-encompassing I began to discern the method behind the madness (which would mean that the method is now my proprietary creative work, making me a certifiable genius)? Or does the lattice in fact exist, a structure of the elements

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of human reality all imbued with hazy meaning that solidifies upon our conscious interaction, like a language of sorts? A free-floating system of metaphor, used by the powerful in diplomacy, espionage, and business, because it is covert, difficult to trace and to prove, invisible to most even while they are using it, and yet also all-encompassing and extremely potent in its consequences (again, nothing magical about these consequences, it is fueled by capital), which makes it impossible to dismiss or ignore, beholding everyone who wishes to leave a mark upon this world to, willingly or not, recognize it, learn about it and, ultimately, play along. The poem that opened this text, David Bowie in an American Movie by Uroš Zupan, was published on November 20th in 2015 on the website of the same publisher that published my short stories. I wrote a rather cynically aggressive Facebook comment denouncing our state’s handling of the refugee crisis in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, and while the comment got little or no attention (meaning, almost no likes, though it did conclude one particularly heated debate), I have gravely misjudged the force of my intellect when I, in a panicked effort to turn the attention of the terrified and hysterical public from the refugees (having studied history I understood that this is exactly how mass killings start) to literally anything else, went all out and personally attacked members of the government, spun a geopolitical conspiracy linking the problems at the border to a different scandal (still ongoing, the Slovenian-Croatian border dispute), and topped it all off with a threat to suspend laissez-faire and called for a revolution. In effect, putting out the fire with gasoline. To my mind, I was right to do it (after spending months reading comments calling for “extermination of the vermin” my beliefs on what constituted civil discourse were under great strain), and while I still think that in my role as a public intellectual who just published a book dealing with those exact subjects it was a correct call,

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I do not know if I would now have the courage to do the same. After the comment was posted, I first got a notice of some problems from our tax service, then the residency in Latvia got an unannounced (and never clearly explained to me) arrival, a dangerous looking Georgian who refused to converse with me in English, saying he only spoke German and Russian, though in the common kitchen he freely spoke English with others and took pains to at all times point his kitchen knife at me, and then that strange poem was posted online. I felt it was directed at me, but with the exception of being just a tiny bit proud at the insults (I am no gangster! What goddamn knives? Brown? That’s either racist, because my father was born in Montenegro, or, brown shirts and all, I was just called a fascist!) I understood none of it. Whereas now it all somehow neatly fits within my lattice. So, enough with the social mimicry: I want to break the goddamn thing. But, being fucked as I am, performing this striptease to the bone while still without money, without guns, without any young geniuses in the army or the secret service, I have made it almost completely impossible for me to do so. I need you, dear reader. Whoever you are, wherever and whenever you are, and however you feel about any part of what you have just read, to agree with me on just one thing, on just this one thing, that no matter what kind of a system of control we face, its violence either physical or mental, its origins either state or private, its nature either religious or ideological, we will continue, as human beings, to consider every single human being’s quest for independence, every single human being’s journey towards freedom, as necessary and legitimate and just, and that it is precisely for this reason that we will recognize the utmost importance

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of not relinquishing our minds to any one thing, no matter how beneficial or total or sublime it might appear, that we will continue to doubt and annoy and express ourselves freely, that we will continue to risk it, to risk it all for another warm summer’s sunset, another snowflake melting on our tongues, another lonely night and another walk in the woods, for just another day when we will know in our hearts that we are free, and that – most importantly! – our freedom is not ours to give away. It is the only thing that we have that belongs to everyone else. I just need you to agree with me that we will never, ever submit.

Kranj, Slovenija 05/19 - 09/05/2019

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The Vessel, Hudson Yards, Manhattan, 10/19/2019, 6:00 pm

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A n e xt e n de d e s s ay, r e c ou n t i n g t h e e x pe r i e n c e s of t h e au t h or a f t e r s u b m i t t i n g t wo s h ort stor i e s on t h e ev e of t h e pr e s i de n t ia l e le c t i on i n New Yor k C i t y to Th e New Yor k e r , Th e Pa r i s R ev i ew, H a r pe r’s M ag a z i n e , D e L i llo, S c h na be l a n d C olu m bia Un i v e r s i t y, t hat stay e d w i t h h i m t h rou g h a Pa s s a Porta li t e ra ry r e s i de n c y i n B ru s s e l s , B e lg i u m , s i x m on t h s l at e r . A ta le of e i t h e r be au t i f u l m a dn e s s or s om et h i n g e l s e .

Profile for Jasmin B. Frelih

Submissions  

An extended essay, recounting the experiences of the author after submitting two short stories on the eve of the presidential election in Ne...

Submissions  

An extended essay, recounting the experiences of the author after submitting two short stories on the eve of the presidential election in Ne...

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