That Underground Next To Us

In history, the diurnal has always been a distorted image of the nocturnal. In daylight, events are the way we want to see, feel, and understand them. The nocturnal rejects such a compromise for the tranquility of crowds. It has existed next to us since the dawn of history, but people have bypassed it, banishing it into superstition, assimilating it with taboos and interdictions, and constructing a mundus inversus image of it. However, this apparently reversed world is precisely the thing which surreptitiously feeds the values that are manifest within the diurnal. The nocturnal breathes with each and every one of us. The borderline between diurnal and nocturnal is fragile and flexible: often we vacillate on one side of the barrier or another, not having the courage to make a choice. In history, this indecisiveness has not offered anything of what society had been getting ready to comprehend and build for its fellow men: minimal comfort begins at the very moment when one sheds light into this tenebrous darkness. The underground has its own hierarchy of values, clumsily censored by the diurnal light, under which, for show, we pretend to love cleanness, truth, culture, and civilization. Within those genuine cruelties of the world that is rejected and sidelined through indifference, ignorance, or powerlessness, we find the starting point of social seismic movements, cultural collapses, the pathological pandemics of non-adjustment, distrust, and lack of knowledge, side by side with the danger of de-spiritualization. The social underground eludes institutional control, because it has been manifest in history in different forms. In order to quieten down, we do not need control, we need knowledge. In the diurnal world, we have become accustomed to define only nine words as appropriate – they are icebergs whose tips are seen as fragments, like accessories that are not suitable to this ordered world: begging, vagrancy, crime, prostitution, alienation, suicide, witchcraft, and so on. Are not all these things social facts, forms through which the nocturnal is manifest to warn the diurnal world that a dialogue is necessary? Is this not knowledge that is overlooked and only included in the cold statistics of forensics, crime science, or social workers? The most serious warnings in history have come from the underground. Anytime, in a weird reversal of roles, out of the fecund underground, a marginal man, one who is not understood, may make his transitional way through the diurnal – and he will become the absolute master. Someone who is rejected in the normal space, a space that presses him to leave and go back to the place he came from, will end up governing and will avenge his millennia-old punishment and the sufferings of his fellow men in the social morass. The Romanians were governed by a railway worker and then by a virtually illiterate shoemaker for almost 50 years. Two hundred years ago, a soft-drink vendor ruled Bucharest for dozens of days, setting fire to parts of the city to copy Nero, as he took advantage of the fact that there was no authority willing to comprehend or discern all this. In the early 1940s, there were tens of thousands of poor people in Bucharest, most of whom would disappear during the night into spaces that have never been put on the map. Some of them lived on the edges of slums, surviving on what God gave them. Marginalized by their fellow men and forced to live in a world they would have liked to see change, most of these social sufferers later sought revenge at the time of the people's power regime. These socially poor people are also defined by daily powerlessness, apart from cultural pettiness. The new people's regime relied on their support when it promoted the concept of "healthy social origin," and those who had been rejected for centuries and were easily manipulated systematically devastated the old Romanian society, which had been built with great difficulty for 200 years by osmosis with the West. The specificity of Romanian communism resided precisely in this social specificity: the inefficiency of the institutional programs designed to cleanse the society, to make it hygienic, and to bring culture to the entire mechanism of the socially nocturnal world. In history, the collapse of a particular society and of an entire nation has been caused, on the one hand, by the fact that socially marginal individuals – from the poor to the crippled – have been aggressively ignored on purpose, and, on the other hand, by indifference to the demographic growth of social pauperization, whose consequence is overpopulation of the social underground, until it spills over. The result will be a new social cataclysm, whose unhindered force may wipe out political regimes, social systems that are apparently harmoniously articulated, and cultural values that have been constructed with huge efforts. The progressive poverty that is spreading to several contemporary social layers is also manifest in hopelessness for one's own future, skepticism that problems can be solved without bribery or connections, and so on. The multitude of social issues is growing exponentially on the scale of official indifference. The social peripheries must be humanized and spiritualized, by moving them from mere survival and social parasitism to a lifestyle involving valuable use of every human potential by free access to food, education, and hygiene. To ignore the spaces of social suffering means to condemn the future generations to a "daily death," as this social polarization may get deformed into an exclusivist spot of the powerful and an immense humanity left to chance. In history, such experiments have wiped out entire empires and civilizations. Excerpt from the Preface to the book Bucurestiul subteran: vagabondaj, cersetorie, delincventa (Underground Bucharest: Vagrancy, Begging, Crime), Paralela 45 Publishing House, 2006 Translated by Monica Voiculescu

by Adrian Majuru (b. 1968)