The deployment of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border and the climate of imminent war that Vladimir Putin has staged in Eastern Europe have awakened old fears and have the rest of the world on the pulse. Nobody knows what could happen, logic forces us to think that any conflict is nonsense that is not going to take place. It is the same logic that other times in history warned about that crazy, and even unreal, nature of a war threat and that, however, ended up later turned into a stunner when it materialized with the horrifying balance of an inexhaustible string of corpses. Moscow’s initiative has produced a resounding pushback in the West, but China has been sympathetic to the provocation, suggesting to the United States that it should take Russia’s “legitimate security concerns” in the area seriously. The matter is loaded with dynamite and invites to rescue an old article by Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio —When the arrow is in the bow, it has to go— in which, based on a Chinese proverb, he reflected on the real room for maneuver that can be had once an instrument that by its very nature calls for action has been activated.
“With the bow drawn, the force that will give the arrow momentum is no longer in the archer’s arms and is already in the bow itself,” writes Ferlosio. “The force has been separated from the body of the subject and has been objectified in its instrument.” There is no longer, so to speak, total control of the situation, it is as if some dynamics that have a life of their own have been released—or are about to be released. In his text, Ferlosio also picks up a Spanish proverb that walks in the same direction: “When you fight, the knife rules.”
Putin’s troops in Ukraine today could well be the arrow that has been put to the bow – or that knife that is carried hidden and sharpened to the tavern and that lets its shine shine at the slightest hint of confrontation. The question that has to be elucidated is to what extent the bow has already been drawn and, above all, how much margin still exists until the very nature of the instrument begins to dictate. It is possible that Putin’s provocation intends to become a permanent provocation that will not materialize in the short or medium term. A kind of runrún to exasperate more and more Europe until the time to get a better slice at the negotiating table.
Whatever is finally going to happen, there are other reflections in Ferlosio’s text that deserve to be taken into consideration. One, that when the bow is drawn is that there is a war in the distance, and that “war is the domain of the self, which is no longer the subject in terms of freedom, but the subject in terms of identity.” If I precipitate a conflict, it is to win it and strengthen my position (my values, my hallmarks).
And the other, that when it is not about an archer who draws a bow but about a State that governs some tanks, what is at stake is not the identity of a subject but the pride of a nation. Bad business: we must not forget that Putin is obsessed with restoring Russia to its former splendor. And that’s what he thinks when he nocks an arrow to his bow.
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