Alexander Kiossev

The Unaccomplished City Dweller

The Unaccomplished City Dweller
title: The Unaccomplished City Dweller
year: 2006
publisher: East-West
ISBN/ISSN: 978-954-321-584-3
language: english
author(s): Alexander Kiossev
source: Interface Sofia, 2006, Sofia: East-West, ISBN: 978-954-321-584-3
supported by: relations, the German Federal Cultural Foundation

Notes on the text Sofia: Large City Sofia: Little Apple by Dimiar Kambourov

Normally it would be inappropriate for the editor of a book, who has already taken the responsibility and has selected the texts, to go any further with all sorts of explanatory and excusatory comments. The reason why I take the liberty here to brake away from this moral rule of publishing is that I feel the need to provide an explanation for the reader. How could it happen that a text, which is accusing the city of Sofia of all possible sins and even, seriously or not, is urging the destruction1 of the city, is included in this volume dedicated to the care for this same city?

The reason is I thought that the Dimitar Kambourov essay combines a number of correct and painful for each inhabitant of Sofia intuitions with... excess; with some kind of almost hysterical “Sofia-nite” self-accusation and self-hatred. I thought the text is interesting and provocative because of this combination – the insights next to the symptom. I thought to offer this text to the reader along with these notes.

* * *
It is probably true when Kambourov says that Sofia “has no face”, that there is in this city something formless, a-social, sloppy, mindless, lacking in self-respect, something which other texts in this book are hinting at, though in rather more restrained ways.

On the other hand, there is probably nothing true in the hyperbola and rhetorical extremes that Kambourov is indulging in further on in the text. I have in mind his rhythmic curse and abuse of Sofia that are interlacing his insights and that can only be described as freaking out2. What was it that made one analytically minded observer abandon the discipline of thought and the loyalty to truth in order to bloat up his writing style in such an artificially scandalous way?

Some parts of this text display the loose and almost mutual hatred between a non- Sofia native and the city of Sofia; it is as if these are two beings that never actually accepted each other. Indeed it is this hatred-repulsion, which is fueling the otherwise unexplainable self-intoxicating and self-exalting language, the baroque-like urban cursing with a clear addressee.

I think that the rhetoric excess in Kambourov's assault on Sofia is not so much an analysis of the city's problems as much as it is part of those. It is a symptom of something more general. It is quite possible that many inhabitants of this city, although lacking the rhetoric talents of Kambourov, would experience a kind of perverse pleasure from such an abuse of the capital city. It looks like a ritualistic purification – after the fact the abusers appear in their own eyes to have been
released of the deficiencies and the sins they had been cursing. The recklessness, the a-social-ness, the mindlessness and the decay of the city would appear to be so physiologically repulsive only to somebody who feels intimately threatened by them. That's why such a person desperately wants to get rid of them – wants to crush them, to kill them with words and to eradicate them without a trace. If they can not do that, he/she turns hysterical. In other words, I insist that this rhetorical emotion (lacking more appropriate descriptive words I would define it as “verbally-excessive-hatred-rage-revulsion-hysteria-symbolic aggression”) is a sign of the thin and problematic borderline between the not-quite-accomplished city and the not-quiteaccomplished citizen.

Usually this problem is discussed from its traditional sociological aspect – the commentary is that there are far too many people from the provinces who have settled in  Sofia. As a result of the inner migration not only the city's infrastructure is choking and its suburbs have grown way too much. More importantly that breeds a specific “urban-rural” and a-social mentality, which is getting in the way of the true civil participation and urban civilization. (The aggressive Sofia vernacular found a rather ruthless definition of this phenomenon: “I tell you, too much “(redneck) peasantry” has moved into Sofia...”).

In fact the problem has a flip side: not only too many “(redneck) peasants” but also too many “super-Europeans” have moved into Sofia. For many non-Sofia natives the humble Bulgarian capital city had long been a distant and ideal horizon – the Sign of the West, the incarnation of culture, civilization, glitter and splendor. Then it happened that they moved to Sofia and by necessity started hating the real city. It is maybe not so bad but being faceless and neglected, semioriental and a-social indeed, the city has had the misfortune to betray their utopian expectations. Sooner or later, after a few years of dramatic coexistence, Sofia would destroy their dream and thus would threaten their very identity-life in the capital would no longer be a guarantee by default for their personal
belonging to the ideal West and civilization as such. Thus the deficiencies of the city are turning into threats to the individual and to his/her very identity in its utopian fundamentals. Inevitably, this breeds convulsive revulsion – you want to rid yourself of this city; you want to throw up this city and to forget about it; you want to drown this city in a deluge of obscenities; you want to destroy it.

A polis hated by its citizens in a non-political but rather irrational, corporeal and spiritual way, has no chance. The hatred and repulsion of its “citizens” (redneck peasants or super-European alike) is so all encompassing that it seems to override rules and regulations; it decomposes any societal emotion on a molecular level – it makes it impossible to cultivate a social sense, a sense of belonging of the citizen to the city, of the political subject to the polis. Everybody living in such a city feels like living there “temporarily” but being offended “for good”. They want to push the city away, to fence themselves off the city, to cough it out together with all the city people, things, streets and houses.

If the above should take place in a single text there is not much harm done. But if it takes place in real life and if it lasts long enough, at a certain moment the aggressive repulsion acquires not only physiological but also visual and even architectural expression. It flows over into the city itself. Thus the vicious circle is closed.

In 1878 the city of Sofia was selected to be the capital of Bulgaria and it had only twelve-thirteen thousand inhabitants. Today it has nearly two million. How many of the current inhabitants of Sofia deep in their souls are actually living in a village, and how many – in an imaginary Europe? Two million inhabitants indiscriminately split as either rural nostalgic(s) or a-Sofia disappointed dreamers. We can only guess at how much intolerance and convulsion have piled up on the streets of this city, how they have become part of what we are talking about here – part of the lack of a city face, of the a-sociality, of the refusal of memory and of the anti-civic neglect.


1. Kambourov writes: The most efficient would seem to be the radical destruction to the ground and the re-construction of the city as a modern one without obsessions, claims and illusions but without shame, phobia, or nightmares either...
2. That's the only way I can qualify lines such as these: A city of mindless inebriation, of oblivion and blindness, of the quotidian trapped in the jail of the festive. A city of mould and greenish facades, covered in boils and blisters, of roofs falling in, of wheezing basements and sturdy lichen; a city of bursting clammy carbuncles and bloated stucco, of balconies wobbling in their iron braces like teeth wobbling in receding gums, a city of tumescent decay without decadence, of decline without occidental declination.

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Last modified on Feb 10, 2021

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