Lecture and Workshop

• 29​ 10​ 2016 •
Jelena Vesić The Universal Right To Baffle

Notes On Bafflement: The Universal Right To Baffle

I would like to speak about the gestures that are baffling and about the resulting state of bafflement. Such gestures and states are observed in the context in which disprivileged, powerless and deprived are confronting the violence of power, or in which the sides in conflict are dramatically asymmetric in regard to their power. The gesture of bafflementis not a trick nor a tactic used in the process of negotiation, but the (political) act that comes after the possibility of negotiation proved impossible. To baffle is to act in defense of something that is, pragmatically speaking, indefensible, it is to stand for something what was not a part of the real-political options, nor customs, nor memories, before it was being performed.

To produce political bafflement is often the only possibility for the dispriviledged, powerless and deprived to “stand erect” in the situation of exposure to the violence of power – to present their stand not as a retreat, not as a self-victimizing call to humanitarianism, not as a particular mode of negotiation, but as the truthful and strong defense of their own JUST position. The gesture of political bafflement leaves behind the entire morality, all the practical reasoning and the dominant logic produced by whatever the existing power relations are at the time. The political value of the gesture of baffling is precisely in its claim to what is non-existent, to what is impossible in the sphere of hegemonous rationality.

Bafflement is an act of freedom precisely because it occurs in the situation in which one has nothing/everything to lose. To baffle is the last instance of the right one can call in order to preserve freedom. To DIE FREE rather then to LIVE ENSLAVED is the ultimate message of the practice of baffling. It rests on the premise that freedom is more important then life, that is, that the subjects deprived of freedom cannot accept such condition as a valid form of human life, in however “bare” terms.

The notion of political bafflement emerged as one of the outcomes of the research project and the publication titled On Neutrality I recently did together with Rachel O’Reilly and Vladimir Jerić Vlidi, examining the concepts of political peace and active neutrality in the gestures of the Non-Aligned Movement. The politics of active neutrality was opposing both the Euro-Atlantic juridical management of political neutralism and the Western ideology of peace. At the same time it was introducing something new and unexpected — “uncommon” — that can be summarized in Edvard Kardelj’s thesis of Non-Aligned “third position” in his Historical Roots of Non-Alignment. This thesis, a certain twofold negation of the power-blocs, does not imply reaching the point of ideal "equidistance" from the existing centers of power, but (actively) countering the power politics as such.

Jelena Vesić is an independent curator, writer, editor, and lecturer. She was co-editor of Prelom – Journal of Images and Politics (2001–2009) and co-founder of independent organization Prelom Collective (2005–2010). She is active in the field of publishing, research, and exhibition practice that intertwines political theory and contemporary art. In her writing, Vesić explores the relations between art and ideology in the field of geopolitical art history writing, focusing on experimental art and exhibition practices of the 1960s and 1970s in former Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe. She also writes on artistic labour and practices of self-organization in the age of cognitive capitalism. Her latest curatorial projects are based on experiments with the form of lecture-performance, immaterial quality of the exhibits and story telling, and include: Oktobar XXX: Exposition–Symposim–Performance (2012–2013); On Undercurrents of Negotiating Artistic Jobs – Between Love and Money, Between Money and Love (2013–2014); and Exhibition on Work and Laziness (2012–2015).