Poster promoting a conversational forum by Gonzalo Arango in the early 1950s. The poster says “Colombian poetry is dead: The Nadaism”
Waking up to another day of a pandemic means more time disappearing to everyday actions and new endeavours, all to avoid losing one’s mind in the midst of the chaos that the world seems to have fallen into.
In some countries, the pandemic has started to show its damage. In others, the pandemic has become an outbreak of hate and disdain. We are burning, and, in some cities, this expression becomes literal.
People are fighting for their rights, while governments burn for their actions (or the lack thereof); the historically oppressed communities are tired of brutality and indifference.
They have put their rights and their hope for a better future before their fear of getting infected by a virus, which has taken almost one million lives worldwide; the virus, violence, hate, and indifference has, not only killed people, but it has killed the respect for life itself. People fight, and people want change, yet I do nothing.
“History doesn’t remember the bland,” my grandfather would say, hating on those who do nothing and whose political opinions appear to be non-existent because (and I agree) “everything is a political action.” Therefore, how can one be remembered in a political world when they lack a political position?
This way of thinking is a problem, one that is rooted in the statement itself because, if everything is political, doing nothing then becomes a political action; ironically, this fact was proven in the city that saw my grandfather grow: Medellin.
Medellin witnessed the birth of one of the most prominent counter-culture movements in Latin-America, one that acted as a direct response to the conservative Colombian culture, as well as the brutality that originated from a classic clash of ideological powers.
This movement, in its own way, resembled the Nihilists of late 19th-century Russia in that both movements, led by intellectuals, proposed a revolutionary position against oppressive systems.
Medellin witnessed the birth of Nadaism (a mix of the Spanish word for nothing, “nada,” and the suffix -ism, denoting a school of thought); with it, came the generation of nada, a young counterculture which, different from its Russian cousin that was based on the idea that “the Tsar must die,” saw nothingness as their way to oppose the violence deeply-rooted in the country.
A generation of poets, writers, and artists started condensing this feeling of helplessness, which the political disarray had instilled in them. The main topics of these works were the lack of a future, the dismissal of political opinions, and the idea of rejecting both conservative and liberal ideologies.
It seems counterintuitive to consider doing nothing as a revolutionary act. We didn’t get most of our civil liberties through people staying home and not fighting oppressive governments.
Many of the events that changed our history were born out of ideas that inspired true radical change, as shown in the French and the Russian Revolutions, as well as in the Black Panthers of the ’60s and the current Black Lives Matter movement.
These are examples of proactive revolutions, made up of people with a strong will and need for change. In the eyes of history, these are the people that earn a place among the ones who make a difference.
However, doing nothing proved itself to be a different way of pushing for a change. As Gonzalo Arango (one of the founders of the movement) says in his Nadaist Manifesto: “Destroying an order is at least as difficult as creating it. Faced with an undertaking of such great proportions, we give up destroying the established order. The fundamental aspiration of Nadaism is to discredit that order.”
This shows that, since it is impossible to destroy the established order, by not taking any politically-motivated action, the Nadaist runs away from the system and diminishes the importance of the aforementioned order in one’s life.
Thus, “doing nothing,” perceived as a lack of action, gets redefined as doing something that lacks a political reason; writing, painting, singing, become actions that discourage the system, and represent the loss of hope for a better future, while we are stuck in a fight of powers that will never change.
Doing nothing is not revolutionary because it was never intended to be, but freeing oneself from classic ideologies and the idealistic conception of change is still a way to go against the established rule.
“Doing nothing is not revolutionary because it never intended to be, but freeing oneself from classic ideologies and the idealistic conception of change is still a way to go against the established rule.”
So, returning to my original reflection, my grandfather is right in the sense that those who passionately fight for a better future will eventually reach it; they are the ones who have changed the world in a significant manner.
Those with a strong sense of justice and with respect for their ideals are the ones who make their way onto the pages of history books.
While the world is undergoing significant change at this point in time, I do nothing; I write, I sing, and I think, knowing that I will not be seen as a major revolutionary. I don’t fight for a change because I deem myself unable to change the way the world is organized. I sit, I write, and I wish my friends who fight for a change good luck in their ordeal because, in the end, I am one of “those who do nothing.”
By Miguel Cano Gallo