Dissident Arnož and His Followers
Based on the motifs of the play Dissident Arnoz and his Followers by Drago Jančar
1 October 2016
29 October 2016
Drama SNG Maribor
Drago Jančar’s play Dissident Arnož and His Followers (1982) was inspired by the life story of Andrej Smolnikar, a Slovene utopian socialist. Set in the first half of the 19th century, it addresses socio-critical as well as existentialist motifs personified by dissident Arnož, the main character, strongly driven by ethical and revolutionary zeal. But who is the Arnož of our time? A utopian figure, a democratic socialist perhaps, a failed revolutionary, or a narcissistic paranoiac thinking only within the framework of his self? Who is a dissident figure of contemporary world, fighting for his right, and what is the idea that would appear written on his flyers? What does the ruling political power fight against, and what happened to socio-political subversion of those individuals who could be potential successors of Arnož’s mission?
Admittedly, Arnož’s personal vision disintegrates and marks his destiny by a tragic irony; those who turn against him are precisely those who followed him and emigrated with him: his allies, who used to support his idea, one way or another. Their community, however, does not evolve into a society of autonomous and free individuals, and sinks into the banality of order and discipline, defined by production labour and diligence. Arnož and his followers fail in achieving a higher form of rebellious Slovene identity, and become slaves again. This signifies a return to the very beginning, to the labour that enslaves, and to a life, which is distantly removed from the idea of a free society of equal individuals.
Jančar’s Arnož and His Followers is definitely not a play from history, but a highly topical play dealing with a universal state of mind. It is a play about being utterly helpless in a contemporary world governed by absurd mechanisms of control and management, finance and politics; it is a play about a world of anxiety, boundedness, foolishness and hopelessness; a play about a painful bonding of man with his own misfortune, in which one can never be protected against one’s fatal, spiritual fall from grace. It is play about an individual barely scraping and resembling a living corpse in his jail-like insulating chamber cell, bullet-proof and resistant to various attempts of resistance and escape (physical as well as mental), drowning in manipulations and intrigues of political system and power.
Nonetheless, Jančar manages to instill hope by means of his protagonist Arnož and his idea ̶ albeit utterly self-centered and utopian. Yes, it is it worth a try. It is precisely man, despite his fall into a social and spiritual crisis, who bears the only brunt of responsibility, and is ultimately entrusted with the mission to dispel the bleak and the inexorable. Man only can make use of his rebellious and critical forces, human passion, fear and courage, love and hatred. Ultimately, man remains the only hope for achieving the new, the different and the better.
Diego de Brea