On the occasion of the Leaning on the Past, Working for the Future online project at the Kunsthalle Exnergasse in Vienna, the following essay examines political and aesthetic strategies designed to condition cultural memory on the basis of the visions laid out in the Hungarofuturist Manifesto, published in 2017. Often informed by a pan-peripheral experience, nationalism is perceived as an inward movement, which employs negation, the definition of the almighty “Other”, as its primary common denominator. By contrast, Hungarofuturism, as a mythical fiction and aesthetic strategy, proposes to transform the cultural and historical imagination in both a spatial and temporal sense.
In 2010, after the second re-election of Viktor Orbán and the FIDESZ party, in the name of a new authoritarian—or in Orbán’s terms, “illiberal”—state, a massive attack immediately commenced against the free press, academia, non-governmental organizations, civil initiatives, and cultural institutions. Underlying this orchestrated offensive was the intent to rewrite historical, political, and cultural consensuses and to establish a new, entirely FIDESZ-dominated, social and aesthetic narrative. These tendencies were important motivation to launch the Hungarofuturist movement and to proclaim the Hungarofuturist Manifesto in 2017.As opposed to resisting the paranoid specters haunting our deep European existence, the Hungarofuturist Manifesto aims for a creative rechanneling of narratives of origin that restore our hope in future pasts. The reprogramming of the “nation-machine” does not create organic knowledge and narratives, rather anachronisms, phantom-like events in which the incompatibility of the various elements hybridizes history and the cosmos until the very moment of “overidentification”.
Overidentification is the tactic of overtaking and overplaying dominant codes. This peculiar critical strategy has been analyzed by Slavoj Žižek in an essay on the Slovenian band Laibach and the IRWIN art collective, which describes “Why Laibach Is Not Fascist”. In the political aesthetics of Laibach and IRWIN, Stalinism, National Socialism, and the ideology of “Blut und Boden” are roasted in the form of an aggressive and inconsistent hybridization, in which liberal, left-wing critique is also distorted to the point wherein all twentieth century ideologies become their own ironically ritualized copies. Through overidentification, the total system’s secret is unveiled: the superego of power no longer has anywhere left to hide as it becomes ever more entrapped in its rhetoric. This would be the oppression of oppression, when the daytime and nighttime aspects of ideology are revealed as two sides of the same coin, in an infernal pact of parasites.
An earlier version of this essay was presented at the London Conference in Critical Thought 2019, Centre for Invention and Social Process at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Zsolt Miklósvölgyi and Márió Z. Nemes, Hungarofuturist Manifesto, trans. Adám Lovász, 2017, www.technologieunddasunheimliche.com/hungarofuturism.html.
Slavoj Žižek, “Why Are Laibach and Neue Slowenische Kunst Not Fascists?” in The Universal Exception: Selected Writings, vol. II (London: Continuum, 2006), 63–66.
Michel Serres, The Parasite, trans. Lawrence R. Schehr, (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982).
In this parasitic sense, the forms of artistic expression of classic avant-garde art (such as the “movement”, “manifesto”, ”collage”, etc.) have also become objects of overidentification. In the case of Hungarofuturism, the notion of a movement or collective itself also often manifests in reminiscent visions of national statehood, while adapting fictitious strategies, such as hashtags, memes, and Facebook groups at the same time. They challenge populist weaponry, gendered norms, and customary beliefs to annex the past into the future: “overidentifying” with them, enabling a cynical distance.
One of the primary examples of Hungarofuturist “overidentification” is best demonstrated in the example of hijacking and appropriating the most common pseudo-myth of the esoteric subcultures of the Hungarian far right. According to a thoroughly constructed and enthusiastically shared belief in this occult and pagan reactionary faction, Hungarians did not arrive in the Carpathian Basin between the eighth and fifth centuries BC with nomadic tribes from the territory between the Ural Mountains and the Volga River, as mainstream history claims. Instead, Hungarians—as the so-called “chosen ones”—originated from outer space, namely from the Sirius star system. Faced with this surprisingly widespread pseudo-origin, various Hungarofuturist authors and artists started to appropriate its key motifs for their own political and poetic purposes of the movement. Such a gesture of appropriation can be found in the following quote from the first paragraph of the Hungarofuturist Manifesto, which elucidates the cosmology of Hungarofuturism: “We demand a Hungarian Outer Space instead of a Conservative Sky! This is not escapism; instead, it is a new Hungarian land-taking that does not so much suspend the previous one but rather rewrites it, incorporating other narratives. Hungarian Outer Space in this context is not another place; instead, it represents a geophilosophical concept, a desire for another place.”
Miklósvölgyi and Nemes, Hungarofuturist Manifesto.
Similar to Afrofuturism, which—along with other ethnofuturist movements—represents a continual resource of inspiration for Hungarofuturism, this is an experiment in poetical imagination, based on a radically ironic exaggeration of minority identity. In this regard, the Hungarofuturist Movement aims to oppose the notions of an ethnic, biopolitical, and racial essentialism of Hungarianness as promoted by the far-right government of Viktor Orbán. By contrast, Hungarofuturism is an alternative concept of what it means to be Hungarian, namely the discovery of post-Hungarianism. As the Hungarofuturist Manifesto declares: “The key to this Hungarofuturist mutational identity is the notion of metamorphosis as a destination. Transformation is not a pathway: it is an end in itself. We arrived here as the People of Sirius, and it is there that we shall return! For now and forever!” Anachronism as a practice is the method of the post-Hungarians. “The ‘post-Hungarian’ is far from new. The ‘post-Hungarian’ is radically un-new. The ‘post-Hungarian’ works through conferring antiquity, going beyond mere reconstruction [...] while never forgetting that this aesthetic construct uses old, even archaic elements. This is the history of self-redefinitions. It is not so much a thing or the characteristic of a thing, but rather an act, or the logic of a particular type of action.” More than mere escapism, Hungarofuturism is not a rejection of the cultural landscape, rather the reconfiguration of Hungarian culture within the framework of the old, building with chunks of a history that was always constructed. This specific constellation differentiates Hungarofuturism from previous incarnations of Futurism. Distinct from the latter, with its militantly modernist emphasis on the radically new, the post-Hungarian viewpoint is distinguished by a post-ironic affirmation of its own “non-new” state. This necessarily entails an ironic relation to the supposed, metaphysically grounded “newness” of the old avant-garde. Instead of eliminating the old and jumping forward to some kind of future utopia, Hungarofuturism tries to create a time-space loop, warping history. Against revolutionary newness and passéism, Hungarofuturism performs a type of spectral retrofuturism, a returning which is not quite a repetition, a strange recombinant recoded aesthetic timewarp, which is also a time-swamp, complicating the deceptive simplicity of the Hungarian Plains.
Kodwo Eshun, “Further Considerations of Afrofuturism,” CR: The New Centennial Review 3, no. 2 (2003): 287–302.
Miklósvölgyi and Nemes.
Kovács Sándor, “Mi az, hogy posztmagyar? (Mi az, hogy! posztmagyar!) (Mi az? Hogy?),” trans. Adám Lovász, Pompeji 2 (1992): 70.
The same can be said about the spatial strategies of the movement; for Hungarofuturism, the concept of “Outer Space” does not represent a place of desire for a total exodus, as this would still suggest the possibility of nostalgia and melancholic escapism. On the contrary, Hungarofuturism prefers the spatial torsion caused by a tactical time-space loop: you leave the ground, take a step back to be able to return, and return as something else, becoming something else, altering yourself toward new possibilities, new organs, a new past, and a new future. This is the futurist or sci-fi metaphorical aspect of the movement, which manifests in becoming a cosmic being—in a xeno-aesthetic transformation. This is a metamorphosis in a Deleuzian sense, which is also an expulsion to the cosmos, while at the same time we are also coming back from there. For, at the end of the day, UFOs are also here, with us. The being of the UFO traveler means that we have come to hijack. The cosmic traveler researches the intersection of Earth and Outer Space. This is the point where the traveler understands things and practices xenopolitics. Hungarofuturists do the same thing, and there is nothing special in this, for in this way Hungarians can transform their strangeness in something friendlier, now able to assume their extraterrestrial origin and future.
Cf. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana B. Polan, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).
Matthew A. Taylor and Priscilla Wald, “Xenopolitics,” American Quarterly 71, no. 3.(2019): 895–902.
For a better understanding that Hungarofuturism is not just an isolated, lonely struggle on the battlefield of a culture war shaped by the authoritarian regime of the current Hungarian political power, and an illustration of how our critical distance takes place against the backdrop of historical Futurism of the classic avant-garde, a poignant quote by Armen Avenassian and Mohan Moalemi is useful here. They write in the foreword of the volume titled Ethnofuturisms:
"A new vision of the future, therefore, seems crucial, one which both exploits technological potentials and takes the political weight of ethnic and racial diversity into account—not as a lip service to an alleged integration policy, but in terms of historical peculiarities that are informed by power dynamics across planetary scales. Now is the time to depart from the concept of historical Futurism, given its racist, sexist, and warmongering appetite for technological progress, only to relativize or estrange it from within the lived conditions of those who have long been estranged and alienated by its accelerating legacies. The question has to do with how to approach a notion of chronocommons, the futuristic resources whose radiations have already infiltrated the here-and-now, beyond any fantasy of ethnographic authenticity."
The notion of chronocommons also implies a particular type of community-unifying sensitivity toward the old-new, which is, in fact, a retrofuturist openness, as certain gestures in opposition to the past have themselves become historical events, whereas many utopian movements have later become mere residues of their primordial promises. This does not mean that a past only exists in purely archival sense, rather that imaginary practices of the future as critiques of the present are only possible by opening up ourselves toward the past. Hence, the creation and sustenance of any chronocommons (meaning a fabrication of communal time based on a shared sensus communis) is always anachronistic as it simultaneously means the production of an alternative past and an alternative future, which mutually intersect each other. This perception can also be referred to as an ethnofuturist sensitivity, which coincides with the title of the project at the Kunsthalle Exnergasse, borrowed from the essay by Anders Kreuger on the Finno-Ugric ethnofuturist movement: Leaning on the Past, Working for the Future.
Armen Avanessian and Mahan Moalemi (eds.), Ethnofuturisms, 2018, https://www.academia.edu/36782398/Avanessian_Moalemi_Ethnofuturisms_intro.pdf.
Anders Kreuger, “Ethno-Futurism: Leaning on the Past, Working for the Future,” Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry 43 (2017): 116–133.
Zsolt Miklósvölgyi & Márió Z. Nemes