Radio Robida


On Small Things - updated on 16/2/2023

on: 20/10/2022
by: Aljaž Škrlep

On Small Things

On Memories


When the two of us closed Izba's door behind us and set off along the paved path, past the fountain, the piazzetta and the hen house, the New Year's Eve in Topolove — it must have been half past midnight by now — pushed memories some into me, which diligently followed the places we visited one by one left behind. By the well, in my mind I saw Blaso, a new Topolučan, who in the summer of 2022 was standing there by the path, which the well turns into a crossroad, and told me that he was going down the path, towards the forest, a climbing wall that he carved in the hard rock. I remember that I had never gone down that road before. As we walked past the piazzetta, I remembered that it was there that I told her I loved her for the first time. We both sat on the cold floor and I whispered words that blended with the magical verses of Srečko Kosovel, which came to us from Postaja's stage, in July 2018. And I didn't even notice the henhouse before we surrounded it with a new fence in 2021. We carefully filled even the smallest holes through which forest animals could crawl in at night. But in the end, they always find an opening, and the henhouse remained empty again after a year. I thought that specific spaces extract these memories from me, the memories which no longer find their place in my head when I work and read every day. I place them on carefully selected stones, paths, trees and places in the village. I exteriorize memories, restore them, export them from myself to space, to this prosthesis that I can attach to myself whenever I want, by simply looking at a space or an object. I am exchanging the immaterial space of classical, mental memory for the material space of memory. "Nothing new," I thought, "we cannot think of technology and man without the other." Plato fought against this equation and against the exteriorization of memory. He was against writing, which was supposed to implant forgetfulness in the human soul. We must keep knowledge in our heads! Ancient mythology nods when it teaches us that Prometheus entrusted his brother Epimetheus with the task assigned to him by the gods, namely to give the newly created living creatures their own characteristics that will help them survive. Epimetheus, the foolish of the two brothers, dutifully assigned the attributes. But when he reached a human being, he found that his bag of attributes was empty. Man was left without survival qualities. We know the continuation of the story: Prometheus stole fire from the gods and thus man and technology were born side by side, one with the other. Man was left with no memory, but now he knew how to create his own memory, and thus today perhaps more and more forgetfulness is really being implanted in the soul of man. But it must be said: not remembering and then suddenly remembering, due to a random glimpse of a stone, tree or forest path, is the sweetest thing that can happen to someone who is going home from the top of the village on New Year's Eve.

On Hibernation


I sat down at the computer in order to reveal at least a little bit of my self through words, which in the cold, ice-cold days increasingly withdraws into itself and into its warm lair in lower Topolove. I try to listen to him and immediately after I fall silent to hear what he has to say, I unexpectedly encourage him: "Well, what are you going to tell me today? Open up already, talk to me!” The answer: an inaudible snore of hibernation. I get tired and step out on the balcony. A tiny snowflake flies into my cup of coffee. The first one this winter. In a few seconds, maybe minutes, the sporadically falling white crystals turn into a real collision, a fairy-tale dance, which perhaps two hundred meters lower, in the neighboring village Seuca, no longer has the opportunity to be admired. I stand there and watch how my Self detaches itself from me and spills over the Rečanska dolina, the valley, in the form of an non-heard echo. I stand there for several days, turning into an iceberg. Russian fatalism, as the great German poet Friedrich Nietzsche called it in 1888, after wildly reading Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, "that fatalism without revolt which is exemplified by a Russian soldier who, finding a campaign too strenuous, finally lies down in the snow. No longer to accept anything at all, no longer to take anything, no longer to absorb anything—to cease reacting altogether.” He cursed it, this fatalism in which ressentiment and no will to power, no will to life, no will to will is manifested. But he himself sometimes relied on it: "his fatalism is not always merely the courage to die; it can also preserve life under the most perilous conditions by reducing the metabolism, slowing it down, as a kind of will to hibernate.” The will to hibernate is necessary in the most life-threatening conditions. Is humanity capable of such hibernation? Some believe that this latent ability is hidden in all mammals, including humans. Unfortunately, humanity doesn't know that perhaps a slowed-down metabolism is what could save it, that the rift between us - culture - and nature is actually a rift in the metabolism, which we caused through agricultural revolutions and the consequent depletion of the earth. And various other revolutions — technological, digital, internet revolutions — are causing cracks in ourselves so that I can even talk to my Self in this piece of writing. And it is precisely these that cause me to have restless legs before sleeping, which would like to run even through the night in the rhythm of the modern world, which never sleeps, and if it does fall asleep, it moves, turns and folds in its sleep so as not to let other possible worlds fall asleep. And not even really wake up.

Sleep, Self, sleep. You will talk about yourself some other time. And sweet dreams.

On Ground


Together with the other members of the Robida collective, we spent the weekend between November 25 and 27 in Milano, where we attended a fair of independent art books and magazines. Vida spoke at the round table, where two other collectives very similar to Robida were present. We have seen that the revitalization of local territories and the attempt to develop strategies for possible ways of working and living in rural Italian areas, the attempt to develop something that could be called a cult(r)ural future, is on the right track. More and more young people are searching for new vocabularies like we do. More and more young people are dissatisfied with the landscapes that the urban environment offers them: natural landscapes, sound landscapes, visual landscapes, landscapes of human connections. All of these are marked by pollution and overload: dirt, noise, the blinding light of colorful billboards, too many acquaintances, not enough friends. As I looked at the group of people walking down the street of Buenos Aires in Milano, I noticed that we were not walking on earth that our feet would stick to and make us grounded, as we do in Topolove. But we still walk on the ground. And doesn't every ground, as the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze once asked himself, "bring with it unexpected surprises?" To come into contact with any ground brings about a metamorphosis, Deleuze adds. I wonder if the metamorphosis brought about by the contact with the city asphalt is not different from the one with the natural earth, in contact with which we ground ourselves. The English verb to ground means at the same time to ground oneself and to ground something, to justify it: by grounding, we ground ourselves, root ourselves, lay the foundations for further growth — together with earth and not against it. This ground we call in Slovene zemlja, and the verb is prizemljiti se. On the other hand we know the word tla, the abstract ground, which is etymologically linked to the verb tleti, to smolder, to burn slowly with smoke but no fire. Isn't it interesting that the word burn-out is so strongly present in the vocabulary of the modern world? We burn out every day with work that is uncertain and project-based, no longer subjective. Every day there are a little less of us. The true subject knows that he is subject to the absolute object, which is the world, all that surrounds him. As such, it is actually a non-modern subject, since it is not placed opposite the object, but is one with it. This non-modern subject has nothing, but is part of something common. This groundedness tells us that what connects us is all that we have in common. The Spanish political theorist Joan Subirats wrote about it as follows: "We do not ‘have’ a common good, we ‘form part of’ the common good, in that we form part of an ecosystem, of a system of relations in an urban or rural environment; the subject is part of the object. Common goods are inseparably united, and they unite people as well as communities and the ecosystem itself.” This communality can therefore also be found in cities, even if it is often hidden behind impenetrable masses of people or under cold asphalt.

On Tree Marks


Something was plowing through the dark forest floor with its snout tonight. The wrinkled earth, a living-dead mound, heralds the presence of animal midnight labor in the morning sign. This sign of the wild boar is a sign of memory, of the past, of a moment that is no more, a sign that subjects the present to the past. It is a sign of lost time. Gilles Deleuze writes as follows in his book about the French writer Marcel Proust:

There are signs that force us to conceive lost time, that is, the passage of time, the annihilation of what was, the alteration of beings. It is a revelation to see again those who were familiar to us, for their faces, no longer a habit, bear in a pure state the signs and effects of time, which has modified this feature, elongated, blurred, or crushed that one. Time, in order to become visible, “seeks bodies and everywhere encounters them, seizes them to cast its magic lantern upon them”
Gilles Deleuze: Proust and Signs (1964)

On the other hand, the marking on a tree is the identification of the present with the future, since it has no intrinsic value, but is always subject to what it is aimed at — something future, something we are not yet at.

Signification thus organizes both the past and the future. Signs always move between what was and what is not yet. Therefore, they are always actually signs of absence. On the other hand, they are pure presence, even better, they are what makes presence possible in the first place, as the markings on tree trunks help to draw maps, humanize a space that was previously smooth and unmarked, unorganized. They make it understandable. Strictly speaking, before the act of marking, the forest was not a space at all. In order for it to become so, an inscription was needed, a technological entry into the bark of a tree, which is nothing more than a more elaborate proto-technological mental mapping of the forest. We need markings, those red and white circles on tree trunks, orientation signs that show the way to near and far destinations, temporal and spatial explanations — altitude, direction and walking time — that turn the intense space of being lost into a territory, a map of predictable paths: they quantify it.

Signs can also be ambiguous. Somewhere in the forest of Topolove, dwarves are said to have lived in the past, who purposely directed walkers in the wrong direction, causing them to get lost. They offered signs that did not do their meant job: they disoriented people. But there is something beautiful in this being lost. Without the orientation and organization offered by the signs of the forest, which have today culminated in the technological device called GPS, we walkers remain lost, even in the ontological sense. Categories like left and right, forward and back begin to dissolve before our eyes, and suddenly we can "experience the great heightening of our animal senses, the keen synaesthetic attention to the land’s every nuance and subtlety that is triggered by getting lost," writes philosopher David Abram. When we lose ourselves, we are on a better path to becoming-forest.

On Being Disciplined and Relaxed


As summer turns to autumn and later winter, the daily life of a person living in a rural area, his activities and routines change completely. If this person is open in the summer and gives himself away during numerous conversations, aperitifs, dinners — the door of his house is wide open, with which he wants to attract both people and the warmth that should settle in the walls of his house — then this same person is a little more closed in winter. He has to fill the stove with carefully dried pieces of wood, which he had been thinking about the previous summer. He needs to fill his mental repertoire, which was emptied during the summer redistributing of thoughts. And this carefully alternating rhythm of opening and closing, giving and taking, this person must skilfully maintain and at the same time see to it that the transitions between the two rhythms are gradual and healthy. This reminds me of a quote by Matej Bor, one of the most prominent Slovenian partisan poets, who in his article On the Threshold of New Slovenian Literature from 1943, when he wrote about the structural changes that the partisan liberation struggle offered to Slovenian literature for consideration, wrote as follows: "The rhythm of the Slovenian revolutionary poetry must merge into one with the rhythm of our liberation struggle. And what is the rhythm of the awakened Slovenian masses? Relaxed and disciplined at the same time. Why would you look for a form in various currents and trends! The form is dictated by our undulating life itself!" Living in an abandoned village all year round requires thoughtfulness in both discipline and relaxation. In order to preserve the unity of the rhythm that passes between open and closed time, we must at times be discipliningly-relaxed, at other times a little more relaxly-disciplined. While life in the city is directed by the city's current — the street lamps always burning, some scream in the distance whose purpose we cannot decipher, the screeching of car tires at three in the morning —, in Topolove there is a winter lack of external stimuli and the view of others and the resulting habituation to these lacks directed our gaze into the flow of the surrounding nature, our faithful companion who is the teacher of flowing life and who says: There are two times. Time to open and time to close. But in both times, be persistent and disciplined in growth, generous and relaxed in giving. Let your growth be extensive at times, intensive at times. Let your giving once be directed outward, the second time inward — at the right time give to others, at the right time give to yourself. Follow me in both my discipline and relaxation.

On Butter


In the entire Robida Collective, in all its members, the community experience that we had as part of the Summer School of the Academy of Margins — which was organized in Topolove by the Association Robida, with the financial support of region Friuli-Venezia Giulia and co-financed by the Government Office for Slovenians Abroad, between August 24th and 31st of this year — is still resonating. One of the most interesting events was the digging up of the butter. A fascinating event for a festival that is supposed to be about the environmental humanities. How are these environmental humanities and butter digging related? Let me briefly explain the whole story: In October 2021, as part of the Care of Margins symposium, we made butter by the stream, wrapped it in a piece of cloth and later buried it on one of the Topolove terraces, together with the Austrian artist and designer, food activist, Philipp Kolmann, so that through a longer period of fermentation and aging, this butter would acquire the taste of the earth that would surround it. A little over a year later — as part of the aforementioned Summer School — we dug up this butter and tasted the flavor that time had left on it. Of course, the purpose of the experiment itself was not only to find out what the butter would taste like after a year of its collaboratively co-creating with raw earth. We also thought about how such a small thing as a butter can connect the community around it. At the time of the butter shortage — here I am talking mainly about the last century — its smuggling was also a solidary act of unification of individuals and communities from both sides of the border. Selling butter was — regardless of the economic aspect of this act — primarily the handing over of butter and thus also the act of handing over, offering help. Someone on the other side defies the abstract bureaucratic state machine with you — and helps you. This small thing was a metaphor for something as big as solidarity. Environmental humanities thus also take under its critical wing the meaning of the word environment, which is hidden in the direct, experienced and interpersonal environment and not only in that environment which is threatened by global warming. But both are parts of the same story, constantly intertwining. Global warming is directly linked to — to play with words a bit — the cooling of the local, the freezing of the community. Individualism and global warming are linked.

Around that dug out butter, two different groups of people were gathered at different times, and after the digging, they were connected in some, of course, non-physical way. But they were connected by the same little thing. Even when we sat down on the cold floor of that terrace and spread the butter together, each on a piece of bread, we knew how long it took for the butter to become what it is. And we knew how long it takes for a community to become a real community that eats, shares and lives this land together.

Philipp read the poem All Bread by Margaret Atwood at the place of this reverse-funeral.

Give it a listen:

On Shadow


It's hard for me to fall sleep these days. Even at more or less six hundred meters above sea level, where the evenings are mostly cold, the heat climbed through the windows of our house and clung to the bedding. She sat on me like an incubus, a black apparition from Fuseli's Nightmare. It's a bit easier on the balcony. In the darkness lit by the yellow-orange street lamps, I read that for a long time the idea of death as a long and peaceful sleep dominated the European understanding of death. I struggle to read because the railing that encloses the balcony casts its shadow on the page of the book I am holding on my knees. Umbra mortis, I tell myself. I should already repaint the fence, which is rusting, slowly falling apart, and maybe that's why it casts this shadow of death. I look towards the Gubana house in front of me, which is often the night scene of important events that usually happen without a human witness. A large moth flutters on the crumbling facade, leaving a shadow behind. Umbra vitae, I blurt out. The house becomes a movie screen of butterfly play. Why are shadows so unimportant to us? Plato already demonized shadows when he described them in his cave as representatives of lies, a false world. It seems to me that shadows are the only part of our body that really touches the world, clings to it. In the heat of the day, the shade of the vine over our balcony almost becomes a part of my body, without which my days would be unbearable. Who does this shadow belong to? To whom does the rustling sound made by the wind and the leaves of the fig tree in the garden belong? That sound must be the sound of the wind! Could it be the sound of those leaves? Is it the sound of both, on windy days united as one being? Tim Ingold, a British anthropologist, wrote that "we cannot say that the foot belongs to man and the footprint to the earth. On the contrary, the shoe and the footprint are complementary aspects of the earth-man.” So I can't own my shadow alone, it always belongs to what it falls on, and it connects us, visibly so. In one way or another, non-substantial things affect us. In his work A Defense of Poetry (1821), Percy Shelley compared a human being to an Aeolian harp, a wind harp that makes beautiful sounds when its strings are touched by the wind. Every feeling, every thought is actually a contact of several things. "Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind," wrote Immanuel Kant in a more classical way. But my thesis is more materialistic. "My" shadow is proof that I always belong to the earth, the world, "with" which I walk and not "on" which I walk. And the breath that just passed through my hair on this warm night, making a soft noise that only I could hear, belongs to me too, and I belong to it. If I conclude with the previously mentioned Ingold: Natural landscapes and the landscapes of our bodies are therefore "landscapes not of being but of becoming: a composition not of objects and surfaces but of movements and stillness.”

On Smuggling


Throughout last week, as part of the project by the Cultural Association Ivan Trinko, titled Radio Smugglers, we broadcasted episodes on Radio Robida dedicated to the phenomenon of smuggling, which played an important economic, social and cultural role along the Italian-Slovenian border after the Second World War, during the Cold War. We talked to people who live on both sides of the border: Nova Gorica, Brieg, Kobarid, Livek, Livške Ravne, Kambreško, Bardo, Mašera, Topolove. One of the most beautiful stories that we encountered was that of Slavko Matelič and Slavko Hrast, who talked about the friendship between the villagers on both sides of the Iron Curtain and about the importance of the Pohod čez namišljeno črto or in English, Walk across the Imaginary Line, which the Cultural Association Rečan - Aldo Klodič has been organizing every year since 1994. The people of Livek and the people of Benečija meet every summer, share stories with each other and maintain a bond of friendship that goes back a long way, but was forcibly broken during the time of the iron border. This year we celebrated this broken and rediscovered friendship on Sunday, June 19th, when we met at the top of the hill, up on Brieza, from where we set off together, foot by foot, as every year, towards Svet Martin.

The idea of walking together in order to maintain friendship has always been close to my heart. It is almost a performative act, a ritual repetition of what people in the past did on a daily basis. The annual repetition of walking, this repetition of the same thing over and over again, is the key to creating a habit that has been violently broken. How did Blaise Pascal say it? “Kneel and you will believe.” If you have tried it and still don't believe, kneel down again, several times if necessary.

We walk slowly. And as the French philosopher Frédéric Gros wrote: "This stretching of time deepens space. This is one of the secrets of walking: a slow step makes the landscape familiar. Like regular meetings that deepen a friendship.” At that time, not only friendship ties were broken, but also knowledge of the landscape of the other side. When we walk in the footsteps of the people who once walked here, we also step into their once shared space and time, into their history and their stories. The joint deepening of the space makes this space one and the same, for people from both sides of the borders.

But can this friendship ever be truly restored? We should ask ourselves this question if we really want to deal with the problem. The problems lie also in the division, the privatization of the world, which happened after the Second World War, in the nature of work, which turned people away from the common pastures. The problem of broken friendships is not just a problem of villages in Benečija. It is a global problem. The question of whether that friendship can ever be restored is similar to the one that Aldo Klodič asked himself in one of his reflections, when he observed the atmosphere of the beautiful nature of Livek, which disappeared in a couple of minutes: "I waited for quite some time to see if that atmosphere would return, but I didn't succeed, because that combination was no longer possible.” Can we see that friendly atmosphere again? Is that combination still possible?

On Nothing


As part of Robida's artist residencies, we invite artists to Topolove who could contribute to the local community with their artistic practices and take care of our home village with us for a short time. Recently, an Austrian food designer Philipp Kolmann, who devotes his attention and care mainly to food and smells, cleaned one of the terraces below the village, which was hiding columns of vines deep in the blackberry. For that short time, these terraces became his only concern. When he left the village, he left behind a cleared area. The rest of the residents - both permanent and temporary - in this time, visit these terraces almost daily, always bearing in mind Philipp's words that this place should serve as a kind of a playground where we can test our ideas and be creative. Each in his own way: one with a pencil in his hand, the other with soil under his nails. Our friend Jack and I then decided that we needed running water there and so we decided to clean the beautiful stone water tank placed there. When we got it drained and the metal pipe started leaking water again - probably for the first time in years - we made sure it had an open passage to go back underground from where it came. What I found interesting was my concern that the water would go to waste if it didn't drain into that quietly flowing channel there under the water collector. It seems that we are all well educated about the fact that nothing in nature appears ex nihilo, from nothing, that every stream of water has its source. The other side of this same equation still baffles minds today, the fact that nothing also goes out into nothing. This fundamentally theological belief of annihilation into nothingness still seems to haunt the minds of modern beings. It worries me when I see water flowing over the edge of the well - "it will go to nothing," I say to myself, without immediately thinking about how water circulates, only appears and hides, transforms into different forms - but never really disappears. Although debates about origin and creation have always been at the fore in theology and philosophy, today we must shift the focus to precisely this last part of the chain of life. We must ask ourselves what happens to the things that come into being, especially after they reach their end. If they don't disappear into nothing, they pretend and accumulate - in such a case, the world becomes a dump for creations that stifle new creativity more and more over time. But if they disappear into nothingness, they return there, just as they come from nothingness. But that doesn't mean they weren't there. They leave traces behind. Microplastic. And in this perhaps today's contemporary, modern, post-religious man is in fact the most radical believer. He believes that the world can survive without him changing himself. A modern leap of faith.

On Border


The priority task of philosophy today should be to activate its own capacity for an unorthodox view of reality, a capacity that has been an integral part of philosophical discourse since its very beginning. Who but a philosopher could think that all that is, is made of water? In a world characterized by so called capitalist realism - that is, any alternative to the capitalist-consumerist regime seems improbable or even impossible today - such an unorthodox view is necessary. In a world where the alternative is not possible, we need precisely the thinking and pursuit of this impossible. In addition, with such following of the impossible, philosophy often raises unpopular questions, at times unpleasant or even apparently politically incorrect. We point out the good qualities of open borders many times: the free passage of people and goods are the great achievements of the end of the twentieth century, the unfolding of the heavy iron curtain. What about bad features? Do these even exist? I think so. Let me start with a personal anecdote. I had a professor in high school, a man for whom there were no borders. It seemed that part of his thoughts lived in Slovenia, Yugoslavia, and the other part in neighboring Italy. He spoke about the world that young people living in Nova Gorica have to discover with such great difficulty - but for them it was almost given, it was so simple, it was something so everydayish as a cup of coffee at the start of the day. How is it possible that this other world across the open border is actually harder to discover today? The German philosopher Immanuel Kant was a proponent of the conceptual boundary. "There is also something positive in every border, on the contrary, barriers contain only negations," he wrote in 1783 in his book Prolegomena. But perhaps with the fall of the fence and with it the negation, that other positive border also fell. The fall of the barrier makes it possible to get to know what is on the other side, but if the border also falls at the same time, we lose any affinity with the other side. Older people tell me about the solidarity the border has brought about. And immense interest for the other side. Today, the non-border seems to entail a degree of invisibility of the neighbor. The border may have once – quite paradoxically – united, created a certain affinity towards the other. Etymologically speaking, the word affinity comes from the Latin words ad + finis: to the end or to the limit. Interest in what comes after the end has evaporated in my generation. The slogan "everything is connected with everything" is - also according to the philosopher Michael Marder - deadly for the imagination.

I would ask you, dear reader, not to misunderstand me - borders must remain passable and any barrier belongs to the dustbin of history. However, I am simply trying to ask the question of how can we maintain this affinity for the other, despite the transitional border, and how to make the neighbor visible again. I am asking the uncomfortable and perhaps politically incorrect question that border-philosophy must ask.

On Marginalia


Since I've been writing this column, I've been wondering what it means to write from the margins. We know writers, male and female poets, who regularly write from geographical borders - even Benečija has such authors. We know authors who write and have written from socially marginalized positions. Some were marginalized for strictly political reasons, others may not have caught up with time yet - they wrote from the fringes of time. Some of them forced themselves to the very edge, this was what their literary-aesthetic duty required of them. The last time I was preparing my radio show about marginal writing practices, while browsing my library, I came across the book Species of Space by the French author Georges Perec. In this book, this experimental writer investigates the concept of space, meaning not only those public spaces such as towns, villages, railway stations and shops. He also turns to his bed and desk and tries to figure out how such spaces – perhaps even the most important spaces for writers – affect his life and literary practice. However, as a writer, he has to deal with another, even more important space – a sheet of paper. Thus, somewhere at the beginning of the book, he tries to investigate this space as well. On the very edge of one of the pages – the edge that usually remains empty, white, a mere frame that separates the space where writing is from the space where writing is not – he writes: I write in the margin.

Writing from the margins expands the space of writing, which now looks over the edge, through the book, into real life. As I hold this book in my hands, this statement by Perec reminds me that writing must reach beyond the frame that surrounds the text.

This real life can ever be read by opening almost any book from the public library. There are marginalia on the edge. The margins of these books are inscribed with all sorts of statements, clever and sometimes less clever. Genuine and slightly less genuine. Someone writes something just to remember it or to remind him or herself that there is something written there, worth re-reading. Perhaps some reader-writer of such marginalia wants to communicate something to the next reader that should not be overlooked in the book. Sometimes, however, we can get marginal notes in these books, which themselves function as a literary work. The American poet Billy Collins wrote in his poem Marginalia (1996) that he found an oil stain in a book and next to it was written: “Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.” With such a marginal note, Collins' loneliness instantly increased, he felt the genuineness of that love, which must have been shown by some very beautiful young being. Marginal notes are sometimes truly literary works in their own right—authentic, individual, and marginal. As all individual lives are always placed on the periphery. The marginalia in the books remind us that, alongside the official, central history, another path also runs parallel to it. A marginalised alternative just story - no longer history - of an individual and authentic being. This is a being from the margins.

On Thumbelinas


In 2012, Michel Serres, a French epistemologist and historian of science, published a short book entitled Thumbelina, in which he — as an old man, a nonno, who will soon complete his long life's journey — in an extremely endearing way defines a new subject, a young being that has appeared at the end of the twentieth century and persists even today. It is called a Thumbelina. This is not Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina, which was born from a barley flower. This is a being who may never have seen barley grow; he did not see a calf, a cow, or a bird nest. This is a being who deftly strolls around on her smartphone with her thumbs. This Thumbelina no longer lives in the same time as her parents, her history is a different history. She also does not live in the same space: with the help of her thumbs, she can use Google Maps to move from her hometown to somewhere far away, first to Mongolia, another time perhaps to the favelas in Brazil. Even her head is no longer the same as her parents'. She is beheaded. She carries her head in her hands in front of her or perhaps in her pocket, no longer on her shoulders. Instead of collecting information and diligently storing it in her head, she carries it stored on her mobile phone and computer. "So what remains on the shoulders after the beheading?" asks Serres and immediately gives the answer, without allowing the reader even a second of the usual pessimism: "Inventive and living intuition." Along with the loss of the need to accumulate knowledge, the Thumbelina also leaves behind all sorts of obsolete ideologies and many other things. Instead of collecting, she is left with bare creation: she is left with little things, delving into the smallest specifics of this world, playing with everything that modern sciences offer her.

On Thursday, February 24, when Putin declared war on Ukraine, a huge crowd of these Thumbs and Thumbelinas gathered in his hometown of St. Petersburg. Mostly young people in all photos. For Thumbelina has never seen war before, and for her every war merely continues the ancient aspirations of ancient people; people she doesn't understand herself. We, the young do not recognize these aspirations as our own, because they oppose not only our anti-war mentality, but everything that we were fighting against just minutes before the war. On February 28, four days after the unholy declaration, in an interview for SLO 1 television channel, Janez Janša, the Slovene prime minister at the time, said: "Europe is different today, also in terms of the outlook on energy, real conditions, and the various utopian ideas that have flooded us in recent decades. We woke up in the real world." Thumbelina’s ideas are precisely these utopian ideas. War does not wake us up to the real world, but generally prolongs the phase of slumber, sleep; it wants to hide the observation that the real world is precisely the world that is not the world of war and not even the world of peace, but the world that the little people are talking about today. I am a Thumbelina myself, and I express concern about the historical breaks and condensation of time that Lenin spoke of when he said that there are decades when nothing happens, and weeks when decades happen. We, Thumbs and Thumbelinas, fear that decades of green struggle may be forgotten in just a few days.

On Bones


As we went down the forest path the other day, we were stunned at the deadness of nature surrounding the man-made path. Torn down trees - when was the last storm, actually? – led us straight to the river. And the river was there. That last sentence was written in a story by Ernest Hemingway. The river is always there and as such reminds us of the endless liveliness of the material world that surrounds us and that cannot rest even during the winter. “Matter? Alive?” you may ask yourselves. Above the glistening water I see an animal skull. A reminder of death in life and life in death, the source of many poems. The image has a great impact on me, a long impact. The French philosopher Bruno Latour wrote somewhere that one of the greatest questions of Western history is not how is it possible that there are still people who believe in animism, but the naive belief that there exist an inanimate world, a world of bare things. Things have such a great influence on us and we still believe in their inertness.

The dominant idea of inert, dead matter in the history of philosophical thought has always been accompanied by the latent idea of its aliveness. We can mention Baruch Spinoza, who says in his Ethics (1677) that every thing, insofar as it is in itself, strives to persist in its essence. Jane Bennett, a philosopher who defends liveliness of matter, in order to understand this liveliness, among other things, suggests replacing biographical time with a longer, evolutionary time, which quickly shows us the creativity of matter. Take the story of the formation of bones as told by the philosopher Manuel De Landa in his book A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (1997):

In the organic world, soft tissue (gels and aerosols, muscle and nerve) reigned supreme until 500 million years ago. At that point, some of the conglomerations of fleshy matter-energy that made up life underwent a sudden mineralization, and a new material for constructing living creatures emerged: bone. It is almost as if the mineral world that had served as a substratum for the emergence of biological creatures was reasserting itself.
Manuel De Landa: A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (1997)

Mineralization is the name of that creative activity by which bone, the ancestor of that skull I saw, was created. And the bones, later, by connecting them into various assemblages, created new forms of movement control, which enabled the appearance of man and further processes similar to this mineralization.

Bernard Stiegler continues the story when he says that it was precisely because of the use of material tools that a creature that we call man developed an interior or better the psychological landscape of the interior. Stiegler claims that conscious reflection in (proto)humans first appeared with the use of stone tools, because the materiality of the tool acted as an external carrier of past needs, as an "archive" of its function. The stone tool (its texture, color, weight) by reminding us of its intended use, created the first, tiny seeds of reflection.

So man is not what he likes to imagine himself - life in contrast to dead things. Man is a walking, thinking mineral.

On Footprint


It’s always good to start at the beginning which always turns out to be – at least for me – the sweetest thing. Just as in the poem of the great Ivan Volarič Feo, Najlepša jutra so zjutraj. The most beautiful mornings are in the morning. Our own thoughts are often just right and crystal clear at the time when we wake up, after the first steps we make. So, when the white blanket covered the dry and empty paths of the village this morning, a trace awaited me in front of the door to the balcony, a tiny cat's footstep which in just a second evoked the thought of the German philosopher Walter Benjamin, who defined trace as an appearance of nearness, however far removed the thing that left it behind may be. So, to be close to someone or something, but at the same time so very far. In the trace, I take possession of this absent-present thing, as this trace is separated from its cause and as such is there only for me, it’s mine, behaving as if it doesn’t care if its cause is still there at all or not. The trace, after it is created, begins to live its own independent life. Because of this, Roland Barthes - after the death of his mother, with whom he had lived all his life, when he saw a photograph from her childhood – was able to claim that a photograph - which, like a trace in snow, is imprinted in celluloid tape - always imprints death. Because in a way it shakes off its origin and thus gives itself its own life, but also because each of the photographs contains signs of death, as it always records only what was, never what is. Regardless of whether the photographed subject is dead or not - every photograph indicates this catastrophe, the catastrophe being: the one who was photographed has already disappeared in some way. We reopen the book of portraits by the photographer Tin Piernu, where even in a child's wide and toothless smile we can see this darkness of the portrait, this photographic death mask. Thus, all traces are signs of this inevitable fact - but at the same time they are much more: they are signs of preservation, of recording, imprinting, that are able to spread life, which is now no longer only directly present, directly here, but also all that remains behind that presence. Step by step, it not only hints at leaving, but also at defying and staying. And our, human staying is just a bit wider than that of a cat who, on her way back to the house – it’s breakfast time after all –, is now stepping into the same footsteps she did a little earlier when she left the house.

Over time, the village was filled with footsteps, even in places where I wouldn’t have expected them at all. Thus, footprints in the snow teach an important lesson: We always leave traces behind, not only in the snow, but also in places where we cannot really notice them. The snow has melted in the meantime, but there are plenty of these traces everywhere, which more or less subtly show our staying, defying, even though we sometimes find it difficult to see it.

These texts were first published in Slovene in the weekly Novi Matajur, as part of the On Small Things column. Translated in English by Aljaž Škrlep.