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Interpretation of “I turn my back on the future” by Dionisis Tsaknis

Dionisis Tsaknis (Διονύσης Τσακνής) is a singer and song-writer who has produced many inspiring pieces of art. For this entry, I have picked I turn my back on the future (Γυρίζω τις πλάτες μου στο μέλλον), as performed by Dionisis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8OkOSLLaUk.

What follows are the original lyrics, my translation of them, and subsequent philosophical commentary.

Γυρίζω τις πλάτες μου στο μέλλον


Γυρίζω τις πλάτες μου στο μέλλον
στο μέλλον που φτιάχνετε όπως θέλετε
Αφού η ιστορία σας ανήκει
σαρώστε το λοιπόν αν επιμένετε

Στ' αυτιά μου δε χωράνε υποσχέσεις
Το έργο το' χω δει, μη με τρελαίνετε
Το πλοίο των ονείρων μου με πάει
σε κόσμους που εσείς δεν τους αντέχετε

Μένω μονάχος στο παρόν μου
να σώσω οτιδήποτε αν σώζεται
κι ας έχω τις συνέπειες του νόμου
συνένοχο στο φόνο δε θα μ' έχετε

Γυρίζω τις πλάτες μου στο μέλλον
το κόλπο είναι στημένο και στα μέτρα σας
Ξεγράψτε με απ' τα κατάστιχά σας
στον κόπο σας δεν μπαίνω και στα έργα σας

Γυρίζω τις πλάτες μου στο μέλλον
στο μέλλον που φτιάχνετε όπως θέλετε
Αφού η ιστορία σας ανήκει
σαρώστε το λοιπόν αν επιμένετε

Μένω μονάχος στο παρόν μου
να σώσω οτιδήποτε αν σώζεται
κι ας έχω τις συνέπειες του νόμου
συνένοχο στο φόνο δε θα μ' έχετε
I turn my back on the future

["you" is always plural]


I turn my back on the future
the future you make up as you want
As history belongs to you
sweep it [the future] if you insist

Promises cannot fit into my ears
I've seen the play, don't drive me crazy.
The ship of my dreams takes me
to worlds you don't tolerate

I stay alone in my present
to salvage whatever can be saved
and even if I bear the consequences of the law
I won't be complicit to the murder

I turn my back to the future
the game is rigged and to your standards
Remove me from your records
I won't do your bidding and your works

I turn my back on the future
the future you make up as you want
As history belongs to you
sweep it if you insist

I stay alone in my present
to salvage whatever can be saved
and even if I bear the consequences of the law
I won't be complicit to the murder

The inattentive reader of my writings will think that I advocate for an individualistic world-view where the person can just believe in their strength and the universe will conspire in their favour to grant them whatever they want. While there is scope for individual action and the assumption of agency, it always occurs within a structure that lies outside the control of the agent. In simple terms, the environment must be conducive to the change and contribute to its realisation.

[ Read/watch: Expectations, rules, and role-playing ]

The song’s message is clearly political. Politics at-large is outside the control of any one agent, especially those who are not members of the power elite. Let’s say you are a young, able-bodied male. The government has decided to wage a war of aggression which, of course, it calls by some other name such as a “peacekeeping operation”, “counter-insurgency”, “anti-terrorism”, and so on. The government needs an army and so it conscripts you to fight on the battlefield. You were not asked what your opinion is about the propriety of this campaign—not you, not your peers, no-one. You simply qualify as fodder for the cannons, so you must serve “the national interests” and die a hero. Why? For national pride! For the homeland! For whatever intangible and irrelevant pretext is used to obfuscate the real reason of the war.

This is the future they have prepared for you. Die or suffer irreparable injury while some kleptocrats at home will continue living at the expense of you, your peers, and the rest of the planet. You can believe whatever you want and hope that “the universe” will just make your life better. History suggests otherwise. Without resistance and concerted action for thoroughgoing reform, no impersonal force will ever enact change.

The Romans had “bread and circuses”: they would appease the empire’s subjects with promises of food and with spectacles. To this, I would add that statecraft has developed another shrewd notion: “bread and circuses, and, if those are not available, patriotism”. Boost their collective ego, tell them how great they are, remind them of some old fabricated glory, do whatever it takes to distract them from the actuality of rampant injustice. Such is your future and you have no say in the matter.

You can still turn your back to it, albeit at the cost of suffering the consequences of the law. One person’s actions alone will have no impact. But a critical mass does make a difference. If, for example, all soldiers sabotage the war effort, there will be no warfare. We can then focus on the here-and-now and salvage everything we can for a more equitable world.

The song is also a metaphor for major decisions in our life, which I discussed in the previous entry: Interpretation of “New dizziness” by Trypes. You are always set on a path that was not of your own making. From the day you are born there are expectations about your personhood. Cultural concepts and significations are fastened upon the “you” construct your milieu is developing out of your person.

[ Tangential: Re: what gender pronoun do you use? ]

You are a good kid, you become a good student, you land a good job, you find a good spouse, you lead a good life. It’s all great! Everything is there for you, a path that is meticulously prepared for you to walk on. The caveat is that you have no say in the matter. Your future is theirs, until you claim it through great hardship.

Let me then recall a personal story of how I turned my back on the future during the days when I was still a “good” lad (in the aforementioned sense). I was at a new job on a path to a promising career. During the first days, one of the main figures approached me. This is the gist of the discussion and although these are not the exact words, they are true to form:

  • Welcome! Every Thursday we have a large party at PLACE, so we will see you there tonight.

  • I’ll think about it.

  • You must come! You’ll get a free beer.

  • Any interesting people there?

  • There are lots of pretty girls. You will have a good time!

  • I’ll think about it.

Many Thursdays went by, but I never attended the parties. Why? Because “pretty” on its own does not inspire me. I could not see the point of fitting in. I was starting to understand that the “good” life was not for me: it was denying me my subjectivity, as I had to make sacrifices to just be a part of the group. For what? The validation? I couldn’t care less.

Sure, appreciable looks generally don’t hurt though they too can be dehumanising if people only know you for them: Interpretation of “Mirror” by Alkinoos Ioannidis. So please don’t be just “pretty”.

In this case, there was no law penalising me for my actions, no state apparatus forcing me into submission. There was a social setting that became increasingly adamant and passive aggressive: “Why didn’t you come? Don’t be shy. Here, let me introduce you…” Later it turned into “it’s okay that you don’t like us and it’s fine if you choose to ignore us.”

Turning my back on this future was necessary. I had no intention to satisfy those demands: they were inane and conformity with them would only leave me dead inside. Interesting people, then… Where do we find those?

As for the future, don’t let them have it though never forget that you are not fully in control.