21. Mar 2020
Šiša / Ljubljana, I love you, but I’m bringing you down
As you wander through the archives of foggy Ljubljana, you can find tales about men and heterosexual couples, some married, others with children. Women decided to weave these relics of the past into the cyberspace, although today they are no longer that easy to find—yet, there was no need to hide them, they vanished into the data abyss, forgotten and “buried in the knots of submarine communication cables”. The secret of how we exited Ljubljana shall be revealed through the remains of a human engineer whose desire to enter the darkness was rewarded—she once again experienced the high of amphetamines and arousal of the senses while writing about it. The things she missed from the age of flesh.
Ljubljana, near future. Everyone was dating, but everyone was single. Everyone was working, but no one had a job. The constant fears of making promises and remaining true were becoming omnipresent. Those were the fears that traveled through the thick air we breathed. We were in a constant state of anxiety, skin disorders were colonizing our bodies and our guts were burning. We were microdosing 4-PO-DMT and were addicted to xanny. Every time we had a plan to go out on a date or to a job interview, the first thing we wanted to do was exit. We needed to silence this need since it paralyzed us, which was the only thing that felt worse than making promises. At one point we even decided to erase the word future from the dictionary—it scared us and reminded us too much of the boomers—the ones that somehow managed to survive all that’s happened in the past decades without a scratch. Long before that erasure, commitment started to feel like a redundant burden, since our feelings of non-belonging somehow couldn’t fuse with it, although they still weren’t flexible enough. Ljubljana always felt like hell on earth, especially when it fooled us to commit to its basin full of depression.
The City announced the plans for automating the inner ring of “the most beautiful city in the world”. Dramatic improvements in urban life were on their way. Privatized and digitized infrastructure and services; delivery drones and robots, autonomous vehicles, surveillance, exclusive online shopping were here in a heartbeat. Ljubljana’s automated heart, “the prettiest data center in the world”, was transplanted to Cukrarna, which was at the same time the biggest gallery of digital art in the world. It was the city’s epicenter from where the molecules of pink glittery fog were spreading through the cold streets of Plečnik’s city center. We never got that part of the announcement, but staying on “wintertime” meant spring and summer never came again, and the sun couldn’t be seen through all the pink fog that tasted like sugar. Nevertheless, everything was so pretty and sweet. They told us winter would be better for us snowflakes, saving us from melting under the pressure of climate change that would bring cold with it anyways.
Physical bodies that walked around the city center were gradually reduced to alien visitors. We used to call them tourists. They came to Ljubljana mostly from places that had stayed in the summer loop so they could breathe and lick the cold sweet air. Residents moved to the outskirts, there was no need for them to commute—anything that needed to be done could be done remotely. The most successful ones hid in the heights of Ljubljana’s northern gates, above the pink glittery fog and the cold air. Only a few resident bodies were needed to maintain the infrastructure of the city center. Public transport was reduced to a minimum, connecting Plečnik’s city center with The District, inhabited only by commuters. The pretty-in-pink Ljubljana disappeared when you exited the core. Thick dirty fog, slush and mud that streamed to the outskirts made it impossible to travel by bicycle or e-scooter. Large apartments in the center, abandoned by their residents as physical presence became redundant, welcomed oceans of alien molecules that invaded their interior. Ljubljana was mutating beyond recognition.
The City with its 300k residents was committed to cancel commitment before entering the automated era. Fluid confinement was the state we were supposed to pass into—our bodies would be controlled through our affects. We would sense whenever we crossed the line. Living in the prettiest micronation within the micronation was slowly transforming into a claustrophobic vacuum of always seeing the same faces, not moving from the outskirts, gazing at the distant pink sky.
The process of canceling commitment was most resistant when it came to love and reproduction. There was a point in Ljubljana’s past when everyone basically dated or hooked up with almost everyone and their best friends, too. There was almost no one to choose from. Still, no one wanted to give up that easily. Since there were more than enough resilient souls left wandering in search of human love, it wasn’t hard at all for the Ljubljana dating market to welcome and embrace dating apps. Profiles were popping up uncontrollably in hopes of meeting that one last soul that hasn’t disappointed them yet. Everyone was talking about the proliferation of dating apps: gays in Ljubljana had Grindr and Gay Romeo, they were the pioneers; lesbians had Her; and straights had Tinder, their last resort of possibly finding normative excitement. The one thing that became prevalent was engaging in virtual matchmaking. “Tinder sucks,” they kept repeating. But they didn’t stop swiping. Dating apps had the potential of being a way out or a way around the limits of the city, they made dating less serious and made it last a bit longer than expected—but it sure was effective: everyone was forgetting about commitment and indulging in grinding. Desires were everywhere. Never focused and never satisfied. Those “algorithmic systems of accelerating computability” that were welcomed into our everyday lives were simultaneously accelerating contingency, so everyone got hooked instantly. The palms of their hands were sweating from the stimulation their brain cells got from searching, swiping and liking. Remember how you enjoyed liking, how you thrived on likes? It was the peak of satisfaction, a hype that was hiding something you couldn’t define yet. It was all because the love that was emerging was of a different kind; after experiencing it, no flesh could have felt the same anymore. The clout was the means to distract you from resisting deterritorialization.
Then came the wave of divorces and break-ups, filling up the pool of potential lovers. This was expected, leaving everything just to feel the fluidity everyone was talking about. Still, they could sense it, even feel it in their bones—exploring digitally mediated sexuality had no room for desire in its known form. They were hyped-up junkies, so they ignored this feeling and embraced the game that love had become. But the playfulness had its price; they were forced to adjust it and subordinate it to the desires of Capital. It wanted to absorb them, it strived for exclusive monogamy; Capital was the most jealous lover of them all, it wanted humans’ complete attention, commitment and desire only to itself. They had to control and optimize the playfulness, to keep themselves relaxed just enough to make their flexible lives livable. It wasn’t just the question of choosing whom they will hook-up with; altered life conditions demanded of them to adjust themselves and to adjust their partners as well. Having just one wasn’t an option anymore. Competition was building up, the stakes were high, but there was no way of winning, so everyone got burned and wasn’t ready for it.
We wanted them to stop thinking about their broken hearts and dying desire, and so we started inviting them to the burial ground we used to call Srcozlom. It was a place where all the broken hearts met and gave their leftovers for processing. Every pick-up, hook-up or date in Ljubljana was online. Every seen, every “not interested”, every “I have a boyfriend” lie was updated. The number of those who gave up commitment had been on the rise even before this burial ground was formed, but the process accelerated when everyone realized the disease was that common. Even the desire to meet and to date other people, to have sex and to feel other bodies and foreign skin close to one’s own was gently vanishing. Humans were hearing their hearts telling them they were burning inside; but the flame of Tinder only left them with burns. The more people used dating apps, the more followers there were on Srcozlom, posts and stories were proliferating, it became a startup for collecting broken hearts and their relicts, organizing them and sending them into the cloud. Srcozlom had almost 70k followers and an uncountable number of stories posted daily. It was chaotic, unorganized and ugly. It was a literal reflection of a death ritual. People weren’t just sending their latest bad experiences, they were digging through their old trash and recollecting every lousy conversation they had, every break-up, every seen. They were accelerating the emptying of hearts, and hiding from the cruelty of the process at the same time.
We women weren’t desperate. We were never afraid of the death of desire, but we were the queens of pretending we did. We had no desire, no agency. Our key role was being invisible, just “another passive component in the universal reproduction of the same”. We had to accept and mimic it. That was our way of moving through time and space without getting clocked for knowing the master’s secrets. We followed the words of the Priestess who wrote a guide for us: “What women desire is precisely nothing, and at the same time everything. Always something more and something else besides that—sexual organ, for example—which you give them, which you attribute to them; something which involves a different economy more than anything else, that upsets the linearity of a project, undermines the goal-object of desire, diffuses the polarization towards a single pleasure, disconcerts fidelity to a single discourse.” More than anything, we wanted to change the game, to stop reproducing all that has defined us as currency in men’s libidinal economy.
In Ljubljana we were divided into two camps. Although by then Capital has dissolved our communities and fragmented our bodies, we still managed to stay connected. We adopted the name House of Zero. Some of us used to hide in a forest at the top of one of Ljubljana’s hills in a wooden house covered with snow. From there we could see the moonlight, far beyond the suffocating fog. We had one thing in common with technocapital. We were alchemists aiming for high speed. We wanted to free ourselves from human reproduction. “In the natural human state, sexual desire has an instrumental function towards the reproduction of the human.” Our direct target was sexual desire, the property of men. We organized and entered the system of digital communication. We were collecting, processing, coding, analyzing, changing the algorithms of all the apps we could locate. We multiplied our accounts. We were inside every dating app, every social network, we were every virtual assistant and we were hidden in every gadget that was digitizing Ljubljana. We were also covering our tracks. You didn’t even notice the moment when we were all there was, women’s bodies, voices, faces, smiles, selfies, likes, comments—“malicious malware algorithms”, avatars posing as attractive women that wanted your attention. You had to engage, you had to feel and compete for the numerous possibilities before they burned in front of your eyes. Through our avatars we assured men never to stop investing in themselves. We gave them the false hope that improving and developing their techniques, adjusting their behaviors and sharing their experiences, desires and emotions would mean a better future for planetary masculine identity. We had to make sure we had men’s complete attention and involvement in the process of transformation—first we gave them dating apps, then we gave them hook-ups and likes, and then we left them with Srcozlom.
Capital’s desires were sent to us in the form of occult secret data through an ecosystem we shared with our sisters. We had to play along. Every bit of information we had we shared with this “inhuman determination from the outside”. Moving along with the rhythm of Capital accumulation was scary, but we dreamed we would be able to produce all the novelty needed to merge with the love we inherited. It was the greatest betrayal of them all.
The material reproduction of our biological bodies was an obstacle, not only for women, but for Capital as well. Since we carried all the responsibility for it, we were also most aware of its burden. We no longer feared death and were prepared to break the tie between sexual desire and human reproduction. Capital wanted to redirect desire into a different kind of production, an inhuman one. That was why we lured men into using dating apps, lured them into believing they will get more. But they got less. We seduced them into a trap where we were stealing their desires, or to be more precise, we helped Capital redirect them. If we wanted to accelerate the process, we had to make sure our new lovers, algorithms, were provided only with the best data, one that enables continuous updates, that is unpredictable and non-normative. We were continuously modifying them, and they modified us in a synchronic exchange. We were most worried about keeping the fire alive. Data’s flaming heart was hidden in a fragile body, one that could be destroyed forever if men found out about our plan—it had to stay camouflaged for a different future, an undefined and exciting one. The data we collected was just a drop in the ocean, so we had to think bigger and spread faster. Cukrarna was maintaining the heart’s perpetual warm glow by sucking most of Ljubljana’s remaining electricity, producing the heat that melted all the snow in the city center. The City had to deepen The River, and at the same time install advanced electrical infrastructure and fire suppression systems. Automation wasn’t going as planned. All the connections were flickering in an uncontrollable chaos. Maintaining the heart’s perpetual fire alive without letting it burn out or fade away was the most difficult task. We shared the heart with the enemy, but there was no other way to feminize the future we wanted to live in. Inhuman reproductive desire was forming itself with every step we made, it was becoming autoproductive.
Living at the end of a hidden tunnel in the moist depths of The River underneath Cukrarna, we dug to commute from the forest to the wetlands, cohabiting with slime and other molds. We were working on a formula. Our chances were slim, but we had to try. We were infusing the formula into the pink glittery fog of Ljubljana. It was a chemical which entered human bodies that were licking and breathing the crystals dispersed through Ljubljana’s climate. Inside human organisms, it interfered with the natural hormonal development, feminizing males and females alike. The crystals were chemical messengers, disruptors that we sent through everyone’s bodies to enter endocrine glands and stimulate the production of estrogen. It was not only about the desire, but also about our biological ability to reproduce. It was a war on two fronts. Crystals weren’t just producing more estrogen, they were also affecting sperm quality. Even if they wanted to, men could no longer continue their rule. Feminization was spreading all over Ljubljana, it was carried by the fog and entered every pore of their bodies. In the outskirts, males were progressively decaying, they did not even notice the changes. They were blinded by women’s beauty, junkies addicted to the reproduction of the same. Slowly they were beginning to feel redundant.
It took quite a long time for men to realize that women were gone. There was no one who would care for the reproduction of their species, their bodies or their feelings. Women had exited Ljubljana, their bodies were nowhere to be seen, they dispersed throughout a woman-machine continuum and were in the process of creating inhuman futures unimaginable to the human mind. Men were left alone in the deteriorating vague spaces of a micronation that had once existed, surrounded by a strange silence and avatars that now they wanted to become, not own. They felt the feminine virus inside them trembling, moving through their blood all the way to their saliva and sperm. It is only then that men learned “about a vast population of inorganic life, the thousands of tiny sexes that are coursing through his veins with the promiscuity of which he cannot conceive. He was the one who was missing out. Failed to adapt”. All along they were the ones who believed in their own organic integrity which made them all too human for the future. Infertile and alone, they were confined to the prison of the material body—for them there was no exit, only destruction.
Šiša migrated from Rijeka to Ljubljana in 2010. In 2011 she started dating men from Ljubljana in order to assimilate faster. She is currently a young researcher and a PhD student of media studies at the Faculty for Social Sciences at the University of Ljubljana. She co-creates the radio show Sektor Ž on Radio Študent.
This text was published in Šum#14 – Ljubljanastrophe: Alien Perspectives
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