The Ideal of Uselessness vs. the Ideal of Necessity

Michael Pugliese debsian at
Sat Apr 29 12:16:43 PDT 2000

Sacrilage! Burning Marx! Come the Revolution, burn the WSJ and the Investor's Business Daily.

Michael Pugliese

451 Degrees is pretty hot,no?

03/01/99 Grand Street By Starcevic, Maja ; Kebo, Ozren,5744,255756,00.html




The Ideal of Uselessness vs. the Ideal of Necessity:

Here is what you don't need: tablecloths (totally nonfunctional and ineffectual); needlepoint (ugly, invented to ruin the sight of those who do it and the taste of those who have to look at it); books (read them and pass them on); paintings (if you like works of art, go to a gallery); pseudo-sculptures (their main use is to decorate space: ridiculous); electric juicers (how weird do you have to be to use a machine for squeezing what you can squeeze with your hands); juicers in general (fruit is best when eaten as is); wallpaper (it's ugly, keeps walls from breathing, its glue gives off fumes: utterly useless and harmful); eight-, twelve-, and twenty-five-person sets of dinnerware (usually found in apartments where no more than four guests can fit comfortably--if there are more, invite them to a cafe instead of your home); photographs (thousands are taken in a lifetime; ten per family member is enough); souvenirs (what is their purpose? Most of the time they are simply kitsch). ... Where did the idea that things make life more beautiful come from anyway? Things only congest space. In this respect, war is a great school, almost a model for behavior. The basis for this model is extreme reductionism.

The Ideal of Necessity -- Victory:

If you are unfortunate enough to love your spouse, you are obliged to buy at least three gifts a year: for birthdays, anniversaries, and Bairam[a]. Thirty years of marriage comes to ninety presents, ninety unique, priceless objects. But what do you do with those ninety unique, priceless objects when Radovan Karadzic[b] attacks? If at all possible, invest only in consumer and nondurable goods, things that won't be a problem when you take refuge.

I set out the barest necessities each night in case I have to flee from fire, attack, or Karadzic. I keep them in a bag by the front door. It turns into a silly habit: whenever I travel, I keep an emergency bag by the door. What is a necessity in Sarajevo seems grotesque in Zagreb or Milan. But that's no reason to give up my habit. Peace should not be a model for behavior. Peace is a temporary condition between wars.

Dzehenem[c] Books:

It's sort of embarrassing at first. We're so full of misconceptions we feel ashamed. So we started burning Marxist texts to break the ice. Marx and Engels opened the season. We overcame our queasiness and burned The Origin of the Family, Theses on Feuerbach, and Das Kapital. When we realized it didn't hurt quite as much as we had expected, we went on to the Serbian academics: Cosic, Isakovic, Ekmecic ... But we didn't burn Kis, Koran, Pekic, Albahari, David. The winter dragged on though, and the Serbian books were followed by a selection of English classics.

Then poetry kept us warm.

When General McKenzie[b] held his first press conference, we burned all the Canadians we could lay our hands on. Then Mitterrand said no to military intervention. The next day, Camus, Sartre, and Valery went up in flames.

Dzehenem in General:

The French National Library includes a separate and well-guarded section called Hell. Naturally, the erotic works that are found there are kept from the eyes of ordinary readers. Hiding under the inviolable cloak of science, the books' life force is drained from them. Likewise, every respectable Sarajevo household has a Dzehenem section on the topmost shelf so children can't reach it, with the books turned upside down so guests can't pry.

My Personal Dzehenem:

Plutarch, How to Boast Without Arousing Envy; Vatsyayana, Kama Sutra; Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists; Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron; Erasmus, In Praise of Folly; the Marquis de Sade, 120 Days of Sodom; Antonio Muco Poro, On the Art of Loving a Woman (1571); Bruce Lee, Tao of Jeet Kune Do and Martial Arts; Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer, Sexus, and The Books in My Life; Veselin Cajkanovic, The Most Flagrant Examples of Serbian and Montenegrin Stupidity; Mirko Kovac, Introduction to the Next Life; Danilo Kis, The Muses' Brothel; Okakura, Book of Tea; Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality; Lou Andreas-Salome, Die Erotik; Philip Roth, Portnoy's Complaint; Igor Mandic, Ecstasies and Hangovers; Pauline Reage, Story of O; Predrag Matvejevic, Mediterranean.

Dzehenem, Final Thoughts:

Show me the books hidden in your Dzehenem and I'll tell you everything--and I mean everything--about yourself.

The Ideal Library:

Let me make myself clear. The ideal library is a library that fits into two grocery bags. The ideal grocery bag is a bag you can carry easily while running down the stairs of a building in flames.

The ideal flame is a flame that swallows all the books that didn't make it into Dzehenem.

Some Things, Etc.:

Maybe it was just a hunch, but for years I had been waging a war with the members of my family, fighting a campaign on the principle that "the fewer possessions, the better." But they would buy, carry home, and hoard things--mementos, household appliances, clothes, shoes, souvenirs. I collected only books. Naturally, that was a mistake as well.

When war became our only reality and the rest of my family members were scattered all over the world, far away from all things, I was left alone in the apartment and put in charge of solving the dilemma before them: what to grab when your building is set on fire? Jewelry? It takes up the least space and is worth the most money. Or maybe those pebbles we used to bring home from the seaside: each with its own history, each with its own tale. Or maybe I should make a creative selection of the clothes I like best. And what about the children's things? Should I ban all toy weapons? And where can I pack everything when photo albums alone take up all available luggage space?

I am at my wit's end with all these unanswered questions, so eventually I decide to be somewhat selfish. This war has, after all, proved my ability to foretell events. Didn't I tell them not to buy anything, not even a car, because hard times were at hand? Since I was right, and since I am the only one left, it's only fair that I should take my own things. Therefore, only books qualify. Once I defend my decision to choose books over clothing because they are worth more, and not because they are part of my arsenal, my dilemma no longer exists.

But it's here the dilemma really begins. What to take? I start with a selection of a hundred books. When I realize I'd need two more people to carry them, I make do with only seventy, then fifty. But when it becomes clear that I can't fit more than thirty of my best friends into two bags, I give up. Then a new solution comes to mind: read the hundred favorites and write down everything worth remembering in a notebook. This takes over six months. Buildings burn around me. By the eighty-somethingth book, I realize it's all in vain, it makes no sense. Reading is a creative process and once you reduce it to one dimension, the creativity is gone. Desperate, I pace the apartment, staring at the things. They would all fit easily into two trucks. Me and my bags. How silly. So I take two pocket-size photo albums, fill them with the wrong pictures, and stick them in my jacket pockets. Then I put a toothbrush in the inside pocket. Finally cool, cooler than Humphrey Bogart, I strike a humanitarian-aid match and light a cigarette. I toss the match at a bookcase. I was sure it would go out: it wouldn't dare burn it. But the flame catches Miller's The Books in My Life. I panic and put the fire out before it spreads to the rest of the library. My weakness disappoints me later. Better they burn by my hand than His. My defeat is a warning, a bitter lesson for those willing to learn from the mistakes of others: never buy things. You don't need anything.

--Sarajevo, 1995

a A major Islamic holiday, also known as the Great Festival, usually involving the sacrifice of sheep.

b Radovan Karadzic is the Bosnian Serb leader charged with genocide for the killing of up to six thousand Muslims in Srebrenica in July 1995. He was also charged separately for the siege of Sarajevo and using UN peacekeeping soldiers as hostages.

c Dzehenem is the Turkish word for hell.

d The Canadian commander of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995.

~~~~~~~~,5744,255756,00.html Translated from the Bosnian by Maja Starcevic and Ozren Kebo

--- Kevin | Buffalo, NY ICQ# 8616001 AIM screen name: KDean75206 I Vote Socialist! Socialist Party of Western New York EMail: wnysp at --- Money is the universal self-established value of all things. It has, therefore, robbed the whole world -- both the world of men and nature -- of its specific value. Money is the estranged essence of man's work and man's existence, and this alien essence dominates him, and he worships it.

.. Karl Marx ---

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