The Toka Jonë monument stands overlooking the central square of Lushnja, in central Albania. It looks west, gazing over a relatively small brick plaza. To its right: the municipality and prefecture. To its left, a short distance away, Lushnja’s central park, and the town’s main boulevard which spills out into the plaza. Before it, beyond the plaza: a line of souvenir and jewelry shops, banks, currency exchange windows, and cell phone stores. Behind Toka Jonë: a conglomeration of apartment buildings, some completed and some still mere concrete shells. Further back: the hills of Lushnja, covered in olive trees, farmland, the reservoir. To the north and south of Toka Jonë, Lushnja—a long narrow city—stretches out parallel to the national highway. Beyond the highway: the fields of the region once known as Myzeqeja. Further still to the west and north: the lagoon at Divjaka, forests, the sea.
Toka Jonë—“Our Earth”—is composed of three bronze figures, mounted atop a round stone base. The central figure is a woman, raising a bundle of wheat to the sky, her body rigid and her gaze fixed. She is flanked by two men, bearing the tools of harvest, who stand slightly lower than her. One man stands relaxed, the other tense and at the ready. Below, far below, ringing the lowest level of the stone base, are the symbols of industrial and agricultural progress: a bulldozer, factories, wheat, tools of measurement, the star of communism. All of this speaks to us about the earth, the land—but what does it say?
In the following enquiry, we will attempt to confront two questions:
1) How does the Toka Jonë monument participate in the laying bare of the earth and what has its place within the earth?
2) How does the monument participate in the preservation and sheltering of what has its place within the earth?
This is to say: we will try to find our way to the question of Toka Jonë’s fundamental tension. This tension is to be found in Toka Jonë’s unity: its unity with the city in which it stands and its unity with the earth upon which it stands.
Toka Jonë speaks to us with an ambiguous message. On the one hand it celebrates bounty of the earth; it honors the earth’s sacrifice and glorifies the people who live close to the earth and work it for their livelihood. At the northern extreme of Lushnja, at the Martyrs’ Monument, a female partisan soldier holds up her child. So the woman of Toka Jonë offers up the harvest’s yield. As Lushnja’s fields and hills offer their bounty, so Toka Jonë offers itself to us even as it is swallowed up by looming apartment complexes, by forgetfulness, by “development”.
However, the monument also speaks, in its very name, of the possession of the earth. The notion of “Our Earth” or “Our Land” speaks of the working of the earth as both what is cherished and what is exploited and economized. Just as the brick factory beyond the northern edge of Lushnja transforms the earth into the building blocks of progress and development, so Toka Jonë at once inherits the gift of the earth while already stretching man’s gaze over the earth beyond its reach. Anyone who knows the history of the swamps that once covered much of Myzeqeja—covered what is now farmland—and how they were drained by prisoners to enable agricultural production cannot stand in Toka Jonë’s presence without feeling the ecstatic triumph over the earth’s hiddenness, the exposure of the earth for production.
True—Toka Jonë “possesses” the earth, the land, as something kept safe, cherished as a secret beneath the surface. Toka Jonë retreats behind Lushnja’s development, behind Italian grocery stores and offices, behind cell phone stores and German cars driving by. It retreats behind gleaming multicolored lights at New Year’s, behind bumper cars, behind fireworks. It even retreats on warm summer evenings when citizens take their xhiro up and down the main boulevard, drifting aimlessly and talking. When we say “retreats”, we do not mean merely that Toka Jonë is hidden or outshone by taller, flashier buildings, or that its grandeur is ignored on the occasion of certain cultural festivals. Rather, we mean that in all these situations Toka Jonë hides itself in its utmost being simply part of the city and part of the earth upon which the city stands. Toka Jonë shows itself more and more as simply a landmark in the city, as a remnant of the city left from an earlier time, as the past. In doing so, it simultaneously prepares us for the nature of its revealing.
Toka Jonë retreats in its manifestness as simply another piece of the city, and ultimately as something which is there to be discovered. In its retreating, Toka Jonë makes way for our discovery of it, it leads us to it and in doing so leads us to what is most manifest about the earth—its usefulness to us and our optimization of it.
In this sense Toka Jonë is “about” technology as Heidegger uses the term: it is “about” the complete laying bare of the earth and its subsequent transformation into something which exists primarily in its usefulness for us through its productiveness. This is the tension of the monument: it retreats as the earth retreats—into “sheltering concealment”—yet at the same time it reveals itself and in doing so reveals the total “unconcealment” (to stay with Heideggerian language)of the earth through production and development.
Perhaps most ironic—and thus most striking—is the way that Toka Jonë speaks about the bounty of the earth and its use for man out of the context of the destitution of communist Albania. In a time of great hardship, the yield of the land is a great apprehension for the people—this can be seen in the concern with proper nourishment of the youth that is documented in children’s magazines from the communist period, it can be heard in the stories of Albanians who remember days of eating only bread and salt. Yet this yield—which is in such hard times a blessing—is wrenched from the earth in Toka Jonë. It is leveled, processed, maximized to sustain us and also to sustain its own continued production. Its continued yielding. The bulldozer, the tool of measurement, and with them the bold gaze into the distance—these are the forces that make the earth pliable, and with it make us into the pliable tools which work the earth. The connection to the land, the glorification of those who work the land, is here revealed as the glorification of the yield of the earth in the fullest meaning of “yield”. That is to say, the land does not offer up its bounty but yields it to us, as we in turn yield to the force of production which works the land.
What we are looking for here is not simply the irony of Toka Jonë’s depiction of pride and plenty even in the comparative poverty of the reality of communist Albania. Nor are looking for Marxist connotations of the plight of the worker in the system of production, nor even for the stark contrast between the socialist impetus of Toka Jonë’s origin and the capitalist context in which it now stands, outshadowed. We are seeking the questions we posed at the outset: how does Toka Jonë lay bear the earth and how does it shelter it and preserve it? We have given the simple answers to these questions. That is to say, we have discussed the ways or means by which Toka Jonë accomplishes its ambiguous revealing and concealing. However, if we have listened closely to what Toka Jonë has to say to us, we have also seen the value of asking how it is possible that Toka Jonë speaks to us thus ambiguously.
It does so out of the fundamental tension of that which conceals and that which reveals, of that which preserves and that which gives itself up wholly. It is only in this tension that Toka Jonë can “confront us itself”, as Gadamer says. Toka Jonë “confronts us itself”, and has its revelatory capacity, in its hidden revealing. This is not simply playing with words, but expresses the way in which Toka Jonë first retreats from us, and then, in coming forth before our attention, shows us not something which was merely hidden but rather the systematic and continual laying bare of hiddenness itself. That is, Toka Jonë shows us the earth not as revealed but as hidden from us in the way that we are engaged in totally revealing it. The monument brings near our own “nearing” of the earth, our project of making it completely available to us. This is what hides in “progress” and “development” as they appear in Toka Jonë and around it in the city of Lushnja, and it is this concealed nearness of availability that Toka Jonë shows to us. Thus, it is only through what can still stay hidden and preserved that the truth of “laying bare” can come forth and issue its warning to us. Its warning speaks of the exploitation of the earth, of the exploitation that walks together with the bounty of the earth and takes that bounty without remembering what calls to be sheltered and concealed.