Fourth Topic: Gibraltar on the Danube, 2016-2017

The city of Novi Sad, situated on the Danube, is overlooked by a vast, sprawling fortress on the right bank of the river, in the more ancient, forgotten part of town called Petrovaradin. Charles Eugène de Croÿ, Field Marshall, nobleman of House Croÿ, Austrian and Russian back when people changed nationalities like socks, laid the first cornerstone of the fortress on 18th of October, 1692. He was there, in 1683, in Vienna during its liberation, fought for Peter the Great in 1697, besieged Belgrade in 1690. His mummified body was exhibited as a curiosity apparently because his creditors wouldn’t let it be buried!

The fort of Petrovaradin now called, looks above and beyond Novi Sad…there are restaurants which are hellishly expensive, and ateliers by artists who have won the right by the city to have a place there…of course, the place, brick and grass must also be made fashionable so every year, a local event called EXIT where musicians arrive from all over the world is held in the fort. Drugs, drinks and debauchery flow instead of blood, piss and tears. No barbarians left to overrun the fort these days: instead they come and waste their time, enjoy the moment, giggle and holler. It is an apt symbol of modern understanding of equality and all things fashionable: former enemies and servants, all coming together to pass out in a ditch not from blood-loss but drunkenness.

The fortress lost all purpose! If it didn’t sell itself it would end up like many others, for instance, Zaslon situated in a small town called Shabac of which only four walls remain and an empty square of gravel, or Marushevatz castle in Croatia which, left without anyone to live in it is silently decaying into dust…I see it all looking from the top of Petrovaradin Fort: I sense the gravel and brick beneath my feet crumbling from modern use, from jumping about while beats and surround speakers make the fort quake every year, weakening it. From there, I recall how Zaslon can’t be used anymore since its dissolution is final and that fort, situated on the Sava river, is gently slipping into the river stream…Marushevatz has, the locals told me, a foreign owner with no name who placed barbed wire around the castle where young poets used to roam the fields, chance encounters birthed children years after and soldiers laughed three or four decades ago. I see it all—the great, towering collapse around as I look upon Novi Sad, my hands folded. In the tunnels beneath Novi Sad I find plastic bottles of beer, discarded condoms and junk, hear giggling and gasps, hushed whispers while at the same time wealthy-upper classes dine on fancy cuisine on the surface above…

Way to the west lie Croatia’s many ruins: hundreds, and dozens of castles and forts, overgrown, crumbling, forgotten, paved over with concrete and haste. To the south lie the ruins of Kosovo: monasteries centuries old fire-bombed and surrounded by people who would see them burn down or claim them as their own, as we claimed Petrovaradin. To the east lies the entrance to the great Pontic-Caspian steppe on the farthest eastern borders of Romania…I am standing on the surface of a dried out sea.

The Pannonian basin, where Hungary, most of Dalmatia, Croatia’s northern region, Serbia’s Vojvodina, and Romania’s western regions lie, as if in an emptied bowl for the entire basin was once a sea…the dried out Pannonian Sea. You can find on the tops of the mountains in Vojvodina fossils of sea-shells. Surrounded on all sides is the basin with mountain chains: Flysch belt to the northeast, Moesian plate to the southeast, Iron Gate southward, Carpathians to the north and Dinarides to the south.

And there, in the very center of the depths, rises into the horizon Petrovaradin. You can see it all—with a sense beyond your eyes, a philosophical sense and might even glimpse N down there, crawling through the alleyways of modernity, glimpsing the concrete blocks of the University where the assistant professor battles the rapids of current opinions. You are above it all while beneath you are the darkest depths and nothing above. You have reached the peaks formed by human toil. A philosopher’s stone.

Ah, what mad thoughts have I had looking down, even as I heard giggling and saw fingers pointed to me even there! Moorcraft would stand, for hours, or walk around the enforced steps leaning on the walls, looking down on all sides, figuring which side is conquerable…The thoughts echo into nothingness—not a single thing to be rebounded in the minds of others, beyond spite, above glee and rapids! The Danube gently flows past it and Petrovaradin slumbers…there I found courage of thought. N floundered and swayed, drifted by the currents on his little patriotic raft, thinking of lustrating the crocodiles found in the waters. The assistant professor cursed the seagulls poaching all the fish. As such, I must speak of bricks and toil.

One can’t even begin to think without the fundamentals, without first finding a safe ground upon which he will build his domain. For the University was carried by the currents and smashed apart: I am simply another survivor of frequent floods. Currently, Milosh Kovich is losing his credentials while liberals are getting lustrated: what junk remains after them? Can a wanderer, walking near the river-shore, glimpse an interesting shell or a shiny pebble, or will the Danube gurgle out plastic bags and filth? The wanderer is beset on all sides by one demand: to submit. But to whom? A man who built Petrovaradin, or men who lay waste to University? The mural on the streets, with its pathetic exultation of blood and slaughtered pigs or the newspaper, with its fevers of fashion, terror of keeping up with the currents? Danube spits out animal carcasses: drowned eagles and shot sparrows, canine skulls and rotting weeds…

Is Gibraltar on the Danube a tomb then? Or, a memorial to Novi Sad, and to University itself? It towers above it in longevity, endurance, and the capability to awaken in the soul a sense of wonder…philosophers and artists roam the fort in circles or hidden in their studios, create art. It is a greater honor to have a studio there instead of a degree. One commits, silently and wholeheartedly, to a silent, monumental pressure of managing and wielding the currents, one in ten thousand, hundred thousand men! It has its own crypts and pavilions, museum and galleries. The clock tower placed at a conspicuous place so the fishermen in ages past could see it from afar has its minute and hour hands reversed: the big hand shows the hour, the small one minute! The “reversed clock” indeed, as the locals call it! Pointing the way towards momentum—the hour is more important than the second! While many other fortresses were destroyed Petrovaradin stood solely to its beauty…however its beauty is eternal: there were many other cases of forts and castles blown up and obliterated since they lost their “military purpose”. Military purpose? Must everything be purposeful?

The forts of Osijek, Karlovac, fortresses of Bosnia, of old Travunia and Zahumlje “lost their military purpose”? No—they lost the battle as a private institution. The old fortress system of Serbia, with its well-developed protocol and fashions, evaporated in the same manner the University has lost a part of its importance. What was demolished was “dead space”, obliterated history of practical affairs…even buildings started to echo with the accusations of modern intellectuals: “is this thing useful?”

And what, pray tell, is so damned useful in a fort other than to use it for a modern festival? And what is so useful in a degree only to use it as proof, one is not an idiot? There is in fact no other purpose to our institutions anymore: in some far off time, a new generation will blow them up symbolically or physically, and even if they remain open: young men will go to the forts. And what will they do there? Nothing! Absolutely nothing!

They will go and visit artists and get a different kind of peer-review. Argue and bicker differently—you can catch a solid internet connection there these days…losses and victories carry a different meaning, words read aloud or interrogated are confronted with your inner void. A thinker ought to journey to a place which used to be a battlefield…observes the corpse of a place, the spirit of a fallen reality and make wild assumptions. We approach the present through monumental past—every brick under us has been placed with a certain purpose and effort that we too must comprehend and acquire. It is barely even possible to build anything these days without destruction. The very words we write are chased around by opinions of their modernity or application. How can I explain, for instance, the difficulty I have in managing this language…? I believe at least a year of solid studying of grammar is necessary yet I studied five years and the burden of this great language which I seek to master is undermined by its natives in the same manner as the mural-painters. How does it clash! The plains with the seas!

How will I, for instance, excuse myself to a foreign accusation? I always wondered this, are they on a fortress even higher than Petrovaradin? Do I wear spitfire, do I even now, when I believe I am the most rational I can be—spitting fire?

I can barely glimpse a few clean thoughts…English is a profoundly difficult language to master. It paralyzes me. And philosophy is mastery of rhetoric, dialectic, grammar (logical application of structured thoughts) and form. It is as if, by walking on the surface of the fort, trying to map its size and shape without a map and necessary tools…you need to walk, and keep walking until exhaustion hits where a certain complete, total image starts to emerge. Kalos kai agathos. Virtuous man, an Athenian, emerges for a second only to evaporate. Greeks defined him as an ideal gentleman, an ideal citizen of a city-state. His great opposite is the Cyclops—the rustic man, solitary and unwashed, of untamed strength and solely useful application of language, living on isles and solitary, an anti-philosopher…the barbarian.


I don’t know what I know?


For all installments of “On the Collapse of Our Institutions of Higher Learning,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4