Text: Elma Talić
YUGOFUTURISM - OUT OF THE GLITCH
Our capability to imagine possible, collective futures has arguably disappeared. The dead-end of possible imaginaries seems to have been reached. Futurism, as a practice, diminished. In the ex-and-post-Yugoslav region, the millennial generation in particular has been subjected to the experience of existing in a glitch.
The memory of the witness to the practice of ‘Yugofuturism’ – for which the definition is still in the making – is set next to the feeling of exhaustion that characterizes the present; the feeling that embodies what Mark Fisher referred to as “capitalist realism”. If entering capitalism is the point both in time and space to look for the origin of this exhaustion of the futures, and if so-called capitalist realism is what took over and fully replaced futurism as a practice, what we need to do is look back – both in time and in space – and trace it; highlight the contours of the Yugofuturism practice; see what it can tell us.
But firstly – can the (Yugo)future be in the making?
And if so, do we dare to practice it?
Illustration by Nikolai Lutohin for Yugoslav science magazine Galaksija
Future in Yugoslavia with Sirius
For the first issue of Yugoslav sci-fi magazine Sirius, in 1976, Krsto Mažuranić wrote: “Svi maštamo. O svačemu, bilo čemu.”
“All of us fantasize. About everything; anything.”
Mažuranić begins the “about everything; anything” sequence with the humorous “meeting of Sophia Loren on a deserted island” and the “marriage without the mother-in-law”. The sequence, soon enough, reaches the future.“Future…What does it bring? Working Saturday? The first rendez-vous? New Year? A diploma, new job position, retirement? A new apartment? Many new worries or truly nothing in particular? And what about tomorrow? 15 billion residents of the planet Earth? Meeting of the aliens? Technological paradise (lunch with the press of a button, a videophone)? A total collapse? Interplanetary war? Collective autophagy? Definite freedom from work (interestingly: would this be a paradise or a complete decadence)? The list could be extended endlessly.”
Already in 1976, as Sirius exemplifies, science fiction is recognized as a literary mode of production that offers a “holistic” vision of the future of society. The society in which Sirius emerges is the one of SFR of Yugoslavia; the country which, not belonging to either the Western or the Eastern bloc, drew inspiration from both. The social reality of Yugoslavia was, however, very much different from the social reality of the countries of either of the blocs; the countries where the translated works came from.
Sirius, besides in the SFRY reality, emerges in a particular science fiction community. Dinko Kreho, at the 2021 YU FU Conference, described Yugoslav sci-fi community as a community heavily based on the “technical culture” (tehnička kultura) – meaning, the culture of popular science clubs and computer enthusiasts, but also engineers and scientists. Furthermore, Sirius, somewhat modeled after American pulp magazines, emerged as a print of Vjesnik, which aimed for very broad audiences.
The question of how much the futurism-practice of Sirius and the Yugoslav science fiction community overlaps (and supports) the idea of the future which Yugoslavia was based on, emerges as a complex one. What were the future outlines captured by Sirius? In many cases, the local sci-fi production offered a vision of the future that was a socialist/communist one; the futurism that was not ethno-futurism, in the sense that differences between the ethic groups were overcome with the idea of Yugoslavia being “a cultural, political and social project that was a lot more than the sum of its parts”, as Dinko Kreho puts it. On the other hand, the works of the local sci-fi production followed global trends (e.g. the theme of post-apocalyptic). The translated works, coming from different social realities, presumably went in opposite directions.
The cover of magazine Xenotopia, Vol 1 (2020). Part of the Technologie und das Unheimliche series
Anywhere to go? Other futures.
“We are in a glitch of history, but the potentialities of some ideas and materialities had not yet been played out. We believe that some of these, if selected carefully and altered for the times to come, can open future horizons.” This was suggested at the beginning of the Ljubljana 2021 YU FU conference. Examples of ethnofuturism practices, such as Afrofuturism and Hungarofuturism, further affirm – there is somewhere to go; future horizons can be open.
Afrofuturist writer Ytasha Womack defined futurism-practice as “an intersection of imagination, technology, the future, and liberation.” Afrofuturism, practiced for many decades through art and writing (like science fiction), has also become a fertile ground for study and a model of futurism practice strategies. For afrofuturists, an imaginative approach to history is a way towards an alternative future; the path to liberation. The digital technologies are give the role of “flame keepers'', as they support the identification with and the usage of Afrofuturist ideas to “educate, share stories, fight oppression, and help build communities in need”.
Hungarofuturism, on the other hand, emerges in the digital space. It is a newer practice of the imaginary that applies strategies learnt from Afrofuturism in a different cultural context. Hungarofuturism is an example of an alternative cultural and identical becoming, that attempts to transgress the self-colonizing nationalist narratives. As such, it speaks closely to the post-Yugoslav spaces of the increasing natio-and-ethnocentrism.
Recognizing and creating the (Post-)Yugofuturist landscape might be a greater challenge than the one standing in front of Hungarofuturists. The question of “where do tomorrow’s Yugoslavs linger, as Yugoslavia does not exist any longer” highlights the complexity of this imagination exercise. Creating a path towards liberation, if deeming yourself “free(d)”, might be perplexing.
Yet, we are not alone.
Futurism practices, like Afrofuturism and Hungarofuturism, offer us effective strategies in our pursuit. “Through the creative rechanneling of narratives of origin and a restoration of hope in futures past, or even speculative utopian futures that never have been or never will be”, as Hungarofuturists put it, the space, where futurism can be practised, will be reached, and this space has, slowly but surely, started to emerge. Recognizing how Yugoslavia, discontinued, is still a building block of our present, and how, at the same time, the nationalist ideologies occupy the past and the present, we need to step into this open space – the landscape of Yugofuturism – and engage in the exercise of reimagining the past, (re)imagining the future, and, eventually (but, paradoxically, the most urgently) subverting the present.
And science fiction might be a good starting point.