A review of the book La extraña vida de Zlatan Gregorich (The weird life of Zlatan Gregorich), written by Roberto Kozuli, Caligrama 2021
The digital era and the algorithm empire materialize the supreme dream about domination and power: the micro-control of subjectivities through a constant monitoring of behaviors thanks to social media and platform capitalism.
The average consumer is an active member of its own domination, happily relinquishing all the information regarding our preferences and behaviors to the giants of Silicon Valley … and for free. In turn, the transhumanism, an ideology intimately linked with Silicon Valley’s worldview, promises to materialize the project of techno-scientific domination of what is human regarding reengineering and human body design, in what is called Rational (or Directed) Evolution. Fortunately, we will stop being slaves of the blind nature to take control of our evolutionary and biological destiny. We will be strong, intelligent, and immortal. These two dreams are borderline expressions of the power project of the West. In other words, the projects delve around the elimination of contingency and singularity, which will be replaced by a total dominium of what is human, both in its cognitive and biological dimensions.
Robert Kozuli’s debut novel dramatizes this situation through a dialectic between its two main characters. Large part of the narrative unfolds the “weird” life of Zlatan Gregorich, his trips, relationships, tragedies and epic moments, which within the own dimension of human life, appear as less “likely” from the perspective of the computerized prediction. We follow Zlatan through his childhood, trips (Caracas, Rome, Bariloche), his love relationships, his readings, in a pattern apparently aleatory that symbolizes what is singular in a human “life.” Even when Zlatan’s adventures seem taken out of a “novel,” our lives are defined by contingency and fortuitous encounters, as well as with personal consequences of large political and historical turns. Among those events, one of the central axes of the narrative is Zlatan’s copybooks, kept at Niemi for decades, a town in the province of Rome. In these writings, Zlatan pours what he has learned based on his spiritual explorations and his unexpected illumination in Italy, after a series of tragedies and unforeseen events that leave our hero fragile and aimlessly. During the following years, Zlatan will return to reflect on this experience and try to articulate it in a rational way. The copybooks have the key to understand the existence and symbolize a type of knowledge that must be experienced more than learned intellectually. The narrative shines with a peculiar authenticity, revealing the indescribable of the human micro-cosmos. This aspect of existence is found beyond the reach of every power, Kozuli suggests, and is erected as the site of resistance to the attack of the technological hegemony.
The other character is the mysterious Mister I, “The Monarch,” a synthesis of technological entrepreneur who shows an excessive obsession for the “weak” and “prehistoric” Gregorich. The narrative changes perspective suddenly. It is suggested that Mr. I is listening and closely following every detail in the life of Gregorich to enhance his surveillance and prediction technologies. Mr. I is the principle of death, of contingency annulment; his figure represents the convergence of predictive technologies, genetic engineering, and neuronal implants, among others. Particularities of Gregorich’s life present a challenge for total knowledge that promises algorithm technologies: a chaos without order and recognizable pattern, human life in all its epic banality, in its tragic immanence. That is the reason why Mr. I shows a constant blunt disdain for life and for the subject with whom he has obsessed. In certain way, Zlatan/I dialectic illustrates the master-slave dialectic. The master is no one without the slave; he is the master of nothing. Both need each other to constitute themselves as such. Except that Zlatan seems barely aware of Mr. I’s intromission, while the success of Mr. I enterprise depends on Zlatan’s life and other incalculable, unimaginable, and incommensurable lives that form the human collective. In sum, what is at stake is human freedom, something that Mr. I profoundly hates and wants to eradicate.
Through these two characters, Kozuli presents us in a vivid way the true nature of the confrontation between freedom and slavery, in contemporary context. In particular, Kozuli reveals power ambitions and trans-humanistic project of human reengineering in the context of a narrative that exposes, sometimes in a hurtful and intense way, how ungovernable is existence. An enthralling reading, appropriate and recommendable.
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