Valdivia – Leftraro

It is some time ago that I published a poem here – and if I remember correctly it had been then as well a poem written by Rayen Kvyeh. We do not have much contact – Rayen, Mapuche, living in an area that is occupied by Chile, myself living somewhere in Europe. But contact is a strange thing … – as strange as time is a rare thing.

However, dedicating some time to her beautiful poems may give actually provides some time, gives energy for the daily struggles, and reminds us of things that are important.

So I translated another of Rayen’s poems – for her, but also for Leyla Zana who had been recently sentenced by a Turkish Court for her brave engagement for the Kurdish people.

There is a link, a rather close link – and a wide arch spanning over this:

I met both last year in Munich, Orhan, a German-Kurdish friend, introduced me to Rayen and to Leyla (though I actually met Leyla already earlier that year). Pride – pride founded on the knowledge of injustice. And conviction going hand in hand with openess. I hope this poem will be some support in what we can only achieve by going together…

And perhaps all this is also something where one may draw a little link to the upcoming referendum in Ireland ….

Valdivia – Leftraro

Eye to eye

Europe – Indo-America

The empire – the People

Ruling – Freedom

Gold – Roots

Palace – Tree of the World

Death – Life

Don Pedro de Valdivia,

Leader of the army

Of the empire of Carlos the Vth.

Impressing

In a shiny armour

Made from silver and gold.

Leftraro…

Son of the earth.

Valdivia, experienced strategist,

Vanquisher from Flanders and America.

His sword knows

Fame and honour of the empire.

Leftraro …

Energy and knowledge

Of the forest

Valdivia stares at him, full of hatred

But she doesn’t understand anything.

The flunky, the bondsman,

Educated

Instructed

Civilised

In favour of the defence of the Spanish crown,

Challenges him, to fight

Face to Face

Brings extreme danger into his life,

Danger for his rule,

The empire.

Valdivia

She understands within a blink of an eye,

That his ideology of subordination

Did not fall on a fertile ground.

He tries

With all his power

To defend faith and power.

At the end of the day,

Forgotten for ever,

The stars make a deep bow,

Kissing the earth.

Leftraro and Valdivia

They are fighting with lasting strength

For their life.

Valdivia succumbs.

A rainbow

Welding together never ending melodies

Endearingly it overframes the earth

… The birds are chirping

Heralding the message,

The new chorus of freedom.

From: Rayen Kvyeh: Wvne Coyvn Ñi Kvyeh

(Moon of the first blossoms)

Ireland: Good example for sheepish forbearance?

Recently I had been told that here in Hungary Ireland is widely presented as good example foe remaining calm and considered while facing the crisis and dealing with current politics. Surely I am not pleading for trusting polls, statistics or even elections. But this view on the new electoral contest in Greece may be of some interest when it comes to the search of “good examples”:
Having recently met Alexis Tsipras from Syriza surely leaves me with mixed feelings about the range we (and this we refers in rather general terms to those who are fed up with being treated as Marionettes of clearly definable interests) have at our disposal. At least the meeting in Athens made clear (and later this had been explicitly articulated and officially declared in a meeting in Berlin), that it is too simple to blame the EU. In a resolution with 6 points, it is urged for a “reformed Eurozone” – in the document this notion is frequently highlighted and the way is outlined in several concrete points.
Rather than serving as example of good example of sheepish forbearance, the referendum on the E-Un-constitutional instrument should be used for thinking about good practice not of a simple NO but as a focus of a constructive debate on sound economic alternatives rather than the moral discomfort.

Just having it handy, the following sentence from Marx’ Critique of the Gotha Program may also be of interest – against the rant, in favour of clear analysis:

Do not the bourgeois assert that the present-day distribution is “fair”? And is it not, in fact, the only “fair” distribution on the basis of the present-day mode of production? Are economic relations regulated by legal conceptions, or do not, on the contrary, legal relations arise out of economic ones?

??? What is real, is also allowed ???

??? What is real, is also allowed ???

It is surely one of the more or less tricky questions, showing various dimensions. Taking its simple form, there is of course only one answer and that is a clear

NO!

Not every reality, not every behaviour, structure, regulation …. – not everything that is real, should be considered as allowed. Shakespeare’s Hamlet posed only one question: in the famous words

To be or not to be?

A question of at least equal importance is, if reality can also be legitimised simply due to the fact that is real. And if we read the soliloquy further,

To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d.

listen to the dramatic inner contestation we see the deep content.

At first glance, looking at legitimacy seems to be an entirely different question, the one is a nearly scientific one – if we take the narrow understanding of science as being concerned with nature in the widest sense as the English language suggests: it is the issue of physical existence; the other is a matter of power – falling thus in the realm of social science. We find many different approaches to discuss this distinction between science and social science, some being concerned with the methodological dimension, some with historical-institutional aspects around societal differentiation – and some surely just about crude interests.

Sitting in the academic nest, I may nevertheless swirl up a bit of the dust that makes breathing in the ivory tower occasionally difficult. One of these crude comforts is based in the effort to maintain power. And we may even say that this is the more noble-minded, if compared with the alternative: the refusal to engage at least with the work of the other, independent of agreement or disagreement. What is even more worrying is the increasing further tightening of boundaries. Nowadays it is not only the differentiation between science and social science. We find, looking here at social science only, increasingly the quest for strong dividing lines between for instance psychology, social science, economics …, and looking at these developments, we find occasionally new paradigms, borrowing from various disciplines and at the same time claiming to be “super-science” – superior in its meaning and standing.

  • The critique is well known – and a surely important contribution comes from world systems theory.
  • And there is a surely not less important perspective coming from considerations that, without denying the need for specialist work, draws our attention towards the need of a meta-theory as elaborated by the Social Quality Approach.
  • As important as all these considerations are, there is surely a lack of one perspective: only little attention is paid to the theory of science in the perspective of a sound reasoning that includes a thorough historical perspective, taking the conditions for and created by scientific developments thoroughly into account.

———————–

A Saturday in May 2012. I obliged myself to look buy opera tickets, so I leave early lunchtime the office: a sunny, warm day, pleasant for the walk towards the Kálvin tér, along the Múzum utca, Múzeum körút, Károly körút, crossing Déak Ferenc tér, walking the short distance along the Andrássy út – Budapest’s well-known boulevard – to stand in front of the Opera house. But my attention is caught at the Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum, the Hungarian National Museum. It is some years ago that I visited the place – as much as I am interested in history, as limited is my enjoyment of such places, in so many instances reification in two ways: the worst of all history lessons at school merged with nationalism – the latter even aggravated by the way of “dusted presentation”. The thousand years of mould, making headlines in 1967 when German students protested behind the slogan Under the professorial robe a thousand years of mold [Unter den Talaren – Muff von 1000 Jahren [1] – here (like in so manuy similar exhibitions) it is not hidden under the gowns, but openly presented. But that visit is part of my personal past history, the present history is a different one: the wide stairs crowded, Hungarian folk music resoundingly filling the air, jaunty maze of voices, laughter, romping children … . Even if it is some distance to the Szabadság híd – the Liberty Bridge, that links Pest and Buda since 1896 – I hear a loud blow from one of the Danube-vessels, a split of a second later followed by a less intensive sound from a smaller ship.

– In a realist perspective it is surely amiss, if I allow myself a bit of an impressionist attitude though it may be justified: my thoughts are wandering, the picture of the present reality dissolving in the paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Younger. The glaring sun makes it difficult to keep the eyes open, to maintain a clear vista. The next moment the batiment of the Museum building fades away, makes place for a new picture The Battle of Carnival & Lent: Harmony and inequality going hand in hand, naturalness in the movements, reflecting the knowledge and reliability of the rules of the game – and it is exactly this: a ruled game, a game of ruling, a “playful ruling” as it is well known from ancient times: panem et circenses.

It may be that this moment’s sense is actually not just a reflection of the present situation. Instead, one of the books I am reading these days is surely playing a role, influences my perspectives: Franz Borkenau on the transformation for the feudal to the bourgeois worldview. But what I read there is only element of a jigsaw, brought together in a really puzzling way. The paragraph I read just minutes before I left the office said the following:

In the term of sovereignty the decisive power of the modern state, the princely absolutism gains it’s theoretical expression. It is this concept that exceeds the system of the estates of the realm and subsequently also the corporate natural law. It is not oblige itself to the corporative order, it destroys the corporate associations; it breaks up all “undeniable” subjective rights, and transforms step by step all customary law into positive law. In one word, it is the political expression of the emerging capitalism … As far as it abolishes the feudal forms of life.

(Borkenau, Franz, 1934: Der Übergang Vom Feudalen zum Bürgerlichen Weltbild; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchhandlung, 1971: 100)

In this light the joyful nationalism is exactly the ancient pattern maintained from antiquity – the “nation”, the imagined community, working against any notion of anxiety. The gathering of pure individuals that enjoy the illusion of community – reality fades away, takes the form of a dream, something that actually doesn’t exist, is to far to be meaningful in …, in reality. All this seems for a moment unimportant:

  • The “Hungarian misery”: poverty, the further deconstruction of social rights, the increasing danger to political structures of at least some democratic forms seem to be forgotten;
  • The protests in Frankfurt around the European Central Bank and in other major cities around the world, the massive disrespect of human rights as it shows up in this context seems to be too far away to think about;
  • The G8-meeting, the seclusion at Camp David appears just as matter of sorting out some technical details – looking at some of the photos it has even a human touch: politicians hard at work, but also enjoying a good laugh during the break.[2] Panem et circenses too, just another place and form?
  • And there is another piece of the puzzle that should be added– an ad, three links going together as banner, claiming to deal with performance:

+ ElitePartner for dating with style

+ Xing as address for professional contacts

+ And the child of the future is then a foster child in some developing country: make a gift, secure the future of a child.

What actually catches my attention is the dissolution that is getting clear in this ad by exactly this combination, bringing different trinities to the fore: family, work, childhood (sic! outside of the family); two actualities, one future; partnership, networking, fostering …, importantly there seems to be little place of unity: life is torn into pieces.

And looking at the picture, we may add the question: Is this the future, is this the future that the current system “grants” to women, the future for women?

Indeed, everything that is …., is real in its very specific way and only ignorance allows us to see and interpret the one without thinking of the other. This does not mean that everything is also legitimate. But approaching that question in a serious way requires seeing an understanding the complete picture.

———————–

Of course, if we take everything unquestioned, accept the world as it is and don’t even think about the need to change, let alone that we strive for change in our daily social practice, we would not only end up in a standstill. Moreover it would mean to accept countless obvious and less obvious injustices.

But with this, we are actually at the point where the question is getting tricky:

  • What is justice? Can we clearly define it or is it a matter of grades?
  • Is there development and how can we classify it?
  • Is there a right on irrationality?
  • Is there actually more then what Ludovico Vives called vita naturalis? Boldly taken meaningless existence, driven by instincts, by cravings?

In particular the last question[3] opens a fundamental dilemma: On the one hand we can reduce ourselves, i.e. humankind to beings merely lead by instinct. Of course, this would allow us to be “social” in the understanding of gregarious animals … . A higher social existence seems to be however outside of such order. On the other hand we could see this also as an opening towards the pure hedonist, defining him/herself out of him/herself and for him/herself. The other, in that case, does not exist as part of a social setting, as part of relational existence. Instead, the existence of the other is only part of a utilitarian system. And such utilitarianism is a matter of life – the fetish-character of which Karl Marx speaks: inescapable. In Marx’ own words

the fetishism which metamorphoses the social, economic character impressed on things in the process of social production into a natural character stemming from the material nature of those things.

(Marx, The Capital II, chapter xi)

This follows the definition Marx provides in the first volume of the same work:

There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.

(Marx, Karl, 1867, The Capital, I: chapter 1, section 4)

However, in terms of thinking it is a different issue: we find the very same pattern, but we find it only in a perverted form – and the following wants to be as provocative as it is self-critical: being in our practice very much caught in this system of hedonising structures, we like to see ourselves as if we would stand above them, outside of all this: Isn’t everybody of us very genuine rather than being superficial? Looking for inner values rather than status, acting meaningful and responsible rather than just “doing a job”? Taking care of the other rather than striving for personal advantage …? And if we are not seeing ourselves as heroic individual figures, we admit only to very few others the entrance to this circle of the chosen. Societally it looks as if we are in need of a permanent reformation, also: permanently referring to some mystified past.

And actually we are trying to push it through in the different present times, as Albrecht Duerer did, who directly engaged in the fights with this famous painting for the Four Apostles.

And as much as these questions are raised by us as individuals – or implicitly answered without thinking about the question – the very same questions may be raised nationally: the authoritarian character: analysed by Theodor W. Adorno while looking particularly at the German-Austrian monster of the said character: bigoted by its inability to think beyond the next mountain, especially aggressive by being caught between its own economic strength,[4] and watchful counties at least to the west and to the east; this authoritarian character which grew especially strong under these conditions had been unique: leading during the period between 1933 to 1945 to the most devastating spells of history, it is also visible in the general war of nationalism which had been already initialised by the Treaty of Westphalia, paradoxically stepping up to lay the founding stone for eternal earthly peace. Both the systematic and extreme individualism and the nationalism have a common root which we may see as mark of Cain of the modern age: the concept of sovereignty. It is the dissolution if the feudal order, positively allowing the individual to develop, but negatively condemning the individual as long as it is individual under capitalist rule to the “new natural law”. Especially with Calvin we find that

(sich) [u]nter der Hand (…) … die Lehre von der Verderbtheit  der Menschennatur in ein subjektives Recht der Individuen auf eine Spähre des Egoismus (wendet).

(Borkenau 109)

It is not surprising that subsequently the state looses its social character and emerges as distinct power, at the end being itself a legal personality, later – with Thomas Hobbes – entering the stage as Leviathan, but already at an earlier stage showing up: the tyrant claiming to tame the tyrant:

Docet nos ius Naturale, vitam et libertatem nostram, qua sine vita vix vitalis est, adversus omnem vim et iniuriam conservare et tueri. Insevit id natura canibus adversus lupos, tauris adversus leones, columbis adversus accipitres, pulls adversus milvos; longe vero magis homini adversus hominem ipsum, si ipsi fiat lupus

(Junius Brutus, 1579  [feigned]: Vindiciae contra tyrannos; in: Borkenau, op.cit.: 110)

But paradoxically, this new entity is complex and full of contradiction: social in the sense of some form of community, the reification of the general interest, social as caring state: the provided prince, and not least the authoritarian institute that is later baptised by Thomas Hobbes The Leviathan. – Unfortunately, it had been the Machiavellian prince who survived, not leaving any space for discourse.[5]

———————–

We may reduce the issue on four arrays that have to be taken under scrutiny:

  • One is dealing with the tension between social and individual needs and rights.
  • Another is dealing with the tension between what is necessary and the realm of the ‘un-determined’.
  • Furthermore we are employed by the tension between mass and elite(s).
  • Finally there is a field spanning between self-determination and externally defined determination.

These different realms – and there are more and similar – are defined along one line that may serve as common denominator, the fundamental question that does not really look for an answer – and that surely will never find an ultimate answer: the question of meaning of (human) existence.

And a further issue going along with the previous ones is about artificiality.

We may start by looking at some terms that are usually popping up when it comes to discussing and exploring issues around painting(s).

But perhaps it is useful to go a step further back, briefly presenting the background of this project.

———————–

Having been invited to stay for a longer time in Budapest at Corvinus Egytem, I proposed to add a bit to my teaching – buy one, get two as I really like teaching. In particular as I had then been asked to make a proposal. I made two and the one offered had been somewhat risky for me. To cut a long story short, “New economic philosophies. Its reflection in 6 paintings since the Renaissance” offered the new challenge. Though it had been soon getting clear that 6 paintings had been a very small number and more paintings would be looked at, this did not mean just to scroll over a multitude of paintings. Fortunate to have a small and dedicated group, I accepted the challenge to enter in reasonable depth both the unveiling of the close interpenetration of the development of the worldview and political economy – or it may be better to speak of the political-economic worldview – and the reflection in styles of fine arts, in particular painting. And reflection is meant in the best understanding as it is on another occasion in these texts presented, namely when attention is turned towards the Water Lilies by Claude Monet – here a quick glance may be allowed at one of the relevant paintings: the Nympheas from 1908.

The reader should not expect anything that is even close to perfection. Having just put my nose a little bit closer to the beguiling haze of arts some time back when I stayed in Florence, Amsterdam, Milano and in particular during a lengthy stay in Rome, having been pulled by this into an addictive mood, taking opportunities to spend on the occasion of various journeys any possible spare hours in galleries in Budapest, Taipei, Warsaw, Berlin, Istanbul, Vilnius, Madrid, Moscow, Chisinau, and Copenhagen recently to name but a few, enjoying special visits: casual strolls with friends in Barcelona, Vienna, Dnepropetrovsk …, special guided tours in Munich …, finally guiding my own group [admittedly they didn’t really have a choice – most of them at least ;-)]; and personal acquaintance with some artists and art-critics … Well you may say: name [or place] dropping, or you may say I allow myself being carried away – memories of a man who begins to live more in past than in presence]; there is probably a much simpler answer: it is a way of expressing my gratefulness. But mind. I am sure, many of the readers will see it as a kind of extended holiday-life. As said, I feel indeed hugely privileged. Having said this, there is surely another side to it – two, even three other sides actually: not all these places had been the fancy large galleries – several, and many very existing had been small galleries, exhibitions of young, unknown artists – looking for new ways, applying new techniques ….; and secondly, certain ways of travelling are a more or less lonely exercise. Even where language didn’t really matter, the spoken language is not the language that allows any kind of “universal access”. And painting is such language – as is the case with music. But another dimension of loneliness is given by the route which I entered probably about forty years ago: the route through an academic world. I never regretted having chosen this route. In the beginning a lonely route – for instance living in a private and social surrounding that had been hostile, forcing me to some kind of “underground work”; for instance under the shadow of Berufsverbote in the then Federal Republic of Germany; later for instance lonely by studying in a foreign country – at that times unfortunately not at all common …; later, much later again, and increasingly lonely: walking across a minefield, always in danger of being captured by a bullet, a power point, or running danger of suicide as it is so sadly reported for so many working in academia in the presentation by Carin Holmquist and Elisabeth Sundin (Holmquist, Carin and Sundin, Elisabeth(2010) ‘The suicide of the social sciences: causes and effects’, Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, 23: 1, 13 – 23). The third point: underground also meant working in the dark – but here in a very simple way: as much of theses studies had not been “part of the job” it meant working in the darkness of the nights: what is called long days and short nights; and what is becoming real as little sleep …

Perhaps it is justified to say that the price of such privileged life is the permanent danger of being shot while trying to escape, finally ending as harpist on a cloud which is at the end not really much better than being incarcerated in an ivory tower, through the latter has the material privilege of firm ground under the feet and firm walls to lean against.

Speaking less metaphorical, leaving also the deeply personal dimension out of play, the development of scientific work – and with this of academic life – is increasingly characterised by specialised research and knowledge, teaching in academia is more and more characterised by knowledge transfer. And this should not be easily pushed aside as useless or wrong: real in-depth knowledge needs specialisation. And the amount of available knowledge and the successfully opening of third level education. However, there is without any doubt the huge danger: overspecialisation, mediocre-isation of research and teaching … – the catchwords and some simple answers are easily at hand: the lack of values, egoism and greed taking control and this evil not finding a real antidote. With a very broad brush – and this approaches the issue from the perspective of the world view, leaving the economic perspective outside of the present consideration – we can suggest the following groups or stages.

I.

In ancient societies, i.e. extremely closed entities, the problem does not exist: practice and moral entity are seen as insoluble unity, not least given from outside: god and a unfathomable nature.

Can we say this had been just, a legitimate system – coherent, cohesive but based on the principle exclusion of the many, based on ignorance which necessitated the reliance on rules coming from an external force? Can we say it had been just as it provided even some care for the other – looking after the totally excluded [6] while they had been denying their rights as persons?

II.

All this changed subsequently, requiring that the split between the human, in principle and by nature controlled by the evil, needed to be tamed: this role was given to the state, but also proposed to be a matter of self-control. Importantly, this kind of self-control had not been seen as matter of submission under strict rules – instead we have to think about perfection. Money did not really matter simply because it had been available in cornucopia and subsequently for the upper ruling class – looking at the centrality of politics and administration a rather large group – no problem. Though being on the one side a hierarchical, strictly ordered system of The Court Society (see Elias, Norbert, 1969: The Court Society; Collected Works of Norbert Elias; 2; Dublin: UCD Press, 2005), we find on the other hand self-control as the obsession with perfection: purity and beauty as values, suggested to be rejuvenated reborn. Thus Renaissance had been as progressive as it had been conservative. Dealing with rich societies and societies, we are at the very same time by no means looking at capitalist societies – on the contrary, the economic system of the Renaissance had been based on an entirely irrational worldview: still somewhat arbitrary power as proclaimed by Machiavelli’s Plan B, based on speculation with usury capital, fundamentally based on hierarchy rather than following principles of rationality. – And surely we can say that we are all in some way profiting from it: the occidental cultural treasure had been erected on the floorboards of this system.

Can we say this had been just, a legitimate system – admittedly striving for purity, beauty …, and meaning this in all honesty also as beauty and purity, decency of thoughts, the strive for virtú, but accepting at the very same time arbitrary oppression and exploitation? Can we say it is a just system while it allows admitting sins and extending them by establishing the option of a personal bailout: the sinful process by which the church generated money? Can we say it is a just system, overlooking then that the sinner had been allowed to define the price to be paid, and that the sinner had been allowed to make personal use of the beauty which he presented as tribute to society.

III.

Only at a later stage we may say things are getting closer to the ground: craftsmen claimed that the value of their work would not only be acknowledged but moreover they pushed themselves towards the centre of the economic process: the “new we” emerged – a “capitalist we” which consisted structurally of the “me”, now also defined in positive law: the egoistic contractor for whom actually nothing counted but the validity of the contract. Law, written by human being of equal status, defining what is right – with all this humankind enters a circular system: the law defined what had been right and the other way round it had been rightful what actually had been seen as legal. Immanuel Kant’s definition is relevant here, looking in his Metaphysics, there in the § B of the Introduction into the Doctrine of Right (Einleitung in die Rechtslehre § B) at the

Inbegriff der Bedingungen, unter denen die Willkür des einen mit der Willkür des anderen bei einem allgemeinen Gesetz der Freiheit vereinigt werden kann.

Epitome of the conditions, under which one’s arbitrariness can be united in a general law of freedom with the arbitrariness of somebody else.

The background, as elaborated in the Metaphysics, is outlined right at the beginning:

Der Inbegriff der Gesetze, für welche eine äußere Gesetzgebung möglich ist, heißt die Rechtslehre (Ius). Ist eine solche Gesetzgebung wirklich, so ist sie Lehre des positiven Rechts, und der Rechtskundige derselben oder Rechtsgelehrte (Iurisconsultus) heißt rechtserfahren (Iurisperitus), wenn er die äußern Gesetze auch äußerlich, d. i. in ihrer Anwendung auf in der Erfahrung vorkommende Fälle, kennt, die auch wohl Rechtsklugheit (Iurisprudentia) werden kann, ohne beide zusammen aber bloße Rechtswissenschaft (Iurisscientia) bleibt. Die letztere Benennung kommt der systematischen Kenntniß der natürlichen Rechtslehre (Ius naturae) zu, wiewohl der Rechtskundige in der letzteren zu aller positiven Gesetzgebung die unwandelbaren Principien hergeben muß.

It has it’s foundation within this worldview as matter of defining by way of formal self-reference what actually had been in question. Morality had been fully replaced by formality and it’s self-reference, entering a circle of permanent tautological justification.

Leaving the circularity aside one has to acknowledge that especially Immanuel Kant is well aware of the wider problem, stating in his Metaphysics

Man nennt die bloße Übereinstimmung oder Nichtübereinstimmung einer Handlung mit dem Gesetze ohne Rücksicht auf die Triebfeder derselben die Legalität (Gesetzmäßigkeit), diejenige aber, in welcher die Idee der Pflicht aus dem Gesetze zugleich die Triebfeder der Handlung ist, die Moralität (Sittlichkeit) derselben.

The pure compliance or non-compliance between an act and the law, without considering its incitement, is called legality (Legalitaet [Gesetzmaessigkeit]); but that, where the idea of the obligation of the law is also the incitement of the act, is called its morality (Sittlichkeit).

The problem then can be captured in the following

– Can we say this had been just, a legitimate system – questioning even the requirement of moral thought and justification? Can we say that this had been a just, legitimate system that serves formal justice without allowing for any translation into material substance? Can we say this had been a just society, a legitimate system although it seriously and systematically fails in providing a substantially based and oriented societality. The social is left to small groups: peers acting voluntarily and warm-heartedly – or even with a freezing hand of personal control, but as such it is in the iron grip of the hinges that hold the gates of the cage which had been presented by Max Weber?

All these systems are in actual fact “just” and “legitimate” at least in their own terms, not least as they defined themselves the criteria on the basis of which they allow to be assessed. Here is in my view as well the source for both, the fundamental difficulty of social science to detect the mechanisms behind the processes of valuation and the lack of piety when it comes to “living” certain values. In a current work I refer to this, writing

Usual approaches to social policy are characterised by taking some kind of problem as given – so the original idea had been to talk about precarity and poverty. Of course, we can well take at least poverty as a problem and social policy challenge – with precarity it looks a little bit different as it is seemingly a new issue and as such actually not yet defined as policy issue. In any case, there is the danger that we simply replicate structures without considering the underlying societal structures and patterns – this means not least replication without understanding what the actual problem is. In other words, in many cases ‘looking at the seemingly obvious’ means looking for policies of system maintenance.

(Herrmann, Peter, forthcoming: Social Policy – Production rather than Distribution; Bremen/Oxford: EHV)

And one neglected, though hugely important fact is the fundamental continuity and change of the role of the individual – here in particular of interest in the more recent history, namely the two last stages confronted with the question of rightfulness and legitimacy. We can follow Franz Borkenau who highlights the important role played by the individual during the Renaissance and also later in capitalism. It is not that the one era had been more individualist than the other. Important is that

[e]goism of the isolated individual is fundamental for Renaissance AND Reformation. The first sees it in the context of harmonious beauty; not because the life of the time and social stratum had been filled by such beauty – on the contrary –, but because it strives towards a life as landowning money-lenders, following the ideal a balanced aestheticism, standing against the life of ordinary people. Calvinists are nothing else than egoistic individuals, but THEY are, consciously against the ideal or the Renaissance, a life of irrational effort. The financial bourgeoisie profits from this degradation of feudalism; therefore it has to idealise this world.

(Borkenau, op.cit.: 160)

This difference has not least huge consequences for the topic we looking at. Justice and legitimacy are not least a matter of valuation. We may search for a simple answer that defines values as matter of subjective assessment – subjective as subjection under the play between an eternal and natural process of fighting and dividing and merging forms.

But this doesn’t really help us any further. What many see today as greed or egoism is by no means subjective failure, individual – possibly pathological – misbehaviour. This valuation is part of an objective process which is well captured by Walter Benjamin in his work on allegories.

The question posed in the heading

Is what is real also allowed?

stems from a very specific background. Working on this course – and on written reflections of the course – meant as well to investigate at least a little bit the issue of “value” and here I mean the issue of prices. Just a few amounts – when searching an image of Edvard Munch’s The Sceam, I stumbled upon an article dealing with the recent sale of one of the Munch’s work which went recently to auction. The article, published in the Huffington Post, stated “Munch’s Painting Is Not The Most Expensive Work Of Art Ever Auctioned”. This piece of arts had been ousted by others. Here the list:

Vincent Van Gogh’s “Portrait Du Docteur Gachet” sold at Christie’s for $82.5 million in 1990, according to U.S. News and World Report, which translates to $142.3 million today.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Au Moulin de la Galette” sold for $78.1 million at Sotheby’s in 1990, according to the New York Times, which translates to $134.6 million today.

Pablo Picasso’s “Garçon A La Pipe” was sold by Sotheby’s in 2004 for $104 million, according to BBC, which translates to $124.3 million today

Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” sold for $119 million at Sotheby’s on May 2, 2012.

Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture was sold by Sotheby’s in 2010 for $104 million, which translates to $109.5 million today.

Pablo Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves, And Bust” was sold by Christie’s in 2010 for $106.5 million, according to the Associated Press, which translates to $111.7 million today.

Pablo Picasso’s “Dora Maar Au Chat” sold at Sotheby’s for $95.2 million in 2006, according to the New York Times, which translates to $106.4 million today.

———————–

Should we allow this? Are these legitimate “valuations” – legitimate just because they are real, just because there are people who have this money at their disposal and who are able and willing to pay this money? Of course, one can give various answers, on saying that it is ridiculous: not only the fact of paying so much money but already the fact of having such an amount disposable. Another point had been made by William H. Gross, stating

“When millions of people are dying of AIDS and malaria in Africa, it is hard to justify the umpteenth society gala held for the benefit of a performing arts center or an art museum,” he wrote in his investment commentary this month. “A $30 million gift to a concert hall is not philanthropy, it is a Napoleonic coronation.”

(Quoted in Strom, Stephanie, September 6, 2007: Age of Riches. Big Gifts, Tax Breaks and a Debate on Charity; in: New York Times)

Michael Findlay – I found part of Gross’ statement initially in his book The Value of Art – argues by suggesting a third possible answer.

In the United States, however, there is no shortage of philanthropy for medical cures (with all the attendant gala award ceremonies, …; and I believe art is an essential part of our society, one of the things worth saving lives for.

(Findlay, Michael, 2012: The Value of Art; Munich/London/New York; Prestel: 96)

But all this remains at least for the present author dissatisfying. The reference that had been made to Bejamin’s allegories gives us a hint – allows us to determine the direction I which we have to search for a satisfying answer. And so does the analysis referred to earlier: Borkenau’s look at the dimensions of individualism. The problem of putting a price tag on such works of art is linked to the fact that art is, though surely still being linked to reality, and surely aiming on a critical reflection of reality is part of the overall process of dissolving the socio-economic entity. The necessary breakup of the ancient and medieval structures, the establishment of the individual as personality in his/her own rights seems to lead to the fatal conclusion of the loss of the social as inherently relational process of appropriation.

Thus, value – even the most outrageous price tag on a painting – is real and legitimate to the same extent to which these conditions are accepted. A reform is not possible – and a change necessary – and the real question is: what do we allow? To which extent can we integrate today practice as a new force into society, a practice that goes clearly beyond consumerism?

Criticising individual behaviour, condemning the loss of values, condemning of greed may all be to some extent reasonable – though it should make us thinking that much of that criticism comes from people who occupy well saturating positions: having much more than we really need, not having enough to keep up with those who have so much that monetary power easily translates into some kind of worldly omnipotence.

But those arguments fail to address the real problem, namely the challenge to re-occupy the social. This challenge contains another challenge: to move further the way of inclusion rather than maintaining the current or returning to the overcome exclusion. For this, the knowledge of arts and it’s history is surely more important the knowledge of market mechanisms. And this means to understand the value of fine arts in their historical context. Walter Benjamin begins his writing on The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936) by quoting Paul Valéry who says in his Pièces sur l’Art from 1931:

Our fine arts were developed, their types and uses were established, in times very different from the present, by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with ours. But the amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful. In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power. For the last twenty years neither matter nor space nor time has been what it was from time immemorial. We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.

(Valéry, Paul, 1931: Pièces sur L’Art, Le Conquete de l’ubiquite; from: Benjamin, Walter, 1936: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction)

We find an important point, made by the Paul Valéry on another occasion, namely writing on The Method of Leonardo da Vinci. There he states

L’échange perpétuel de choses qui la constitue, l’assure en apparence d’une conservation indéfinie, car elle n’est attachée à aucune; et elle ne contient pas quelque clément limite, quelque objet singulier de perception ou de pensée, tellement plus réel que tous les autres, que quelque autre ne puisse pas venir après lui. Il n’est pas une telle idée qu’elle satisfasse aux conditions inconnues de la conscience au point de la faire évanouir. Il n’existe pas de pensée qui extermine le pouvoir de penser, et le conclue, – une certaine position qui ferme définitivement la serrure. Non, point de pensée qui soit pour la pensée une résolution née de son développement même, et comme un accord final de cette dissonance permanente.

(Valéry, Paul, 1919: Introduction a la Méthode de Léonardo da Vinci. Deuxième Édition; Paris: Éditions de la Nouvelle Revue Française: 28)

Surely, all this is not least also a continuation of the general critique of political economy – and the issues around commodification. And in this light it is not just about finding new rules for a distribution that is more just. Rather, it is about a new mode of production that secures rights.

All the reflections on arts ay well help to understand the subtleness of the topics at stake.


[1] English translation from http://www.spotlightongames.com/interview/eggert.html – 5/24/12

[2] It is an interesting general feature of media reports: the human side. Surely a double edged sword: doesn’t it suggest that they really just want to do the best …, for us ….?

[3] Though it is actually not really the last, many others could be added.

[4] The German squires and later the German industrial magnates

[5] As it is well-known, Niccolò di Bernado dei Machiavelli’s “second main work” had been the Discorsi sopra la prima Deca di Tito Livio, unfortunately little recognised: To cut a long story short, Il Principe can be seen as Machiavelli’s “plan B”, the alternative to his favoured , rather republican “plan A” presented in the Discorsi.

[6] In particular for the ancient Greek it is important to acknowledge that slave owners had been obliged to treat their “property in respectful ways“.

Realism – Realities III

Caravaggio may have also indirectly reflected on another dimension: the two people, kneeling at the feet of saint are obviously poor, really poor. Although the two are not obviously threatened by absolute pauperism, not threatened by final misery, they are not in this situation by free decision. If we take the term poverty in its true meaning we would surely say: nobody will choose to live in poverty. But at the time this had been an issue of a different concern. At the outset it has to be recognised that we find different strands and attitudes going together. In other words, the picture is by no means homogenous, without conflicts.

At least the following basic lines have to be distinguished.

We may start with the one that is possibly most known – although it is quantitatively not necessarily the most relevant.

‘Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff,’ Christ had commanded his apostles. He had sternly warned, ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for someone who is rich to enter into the kingdom of God.’ And he had instructed one of the faithful, who had asked what he needed to do to live the most holy sort of life, ‘if you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give your money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.’

(Bailey, Michael D., 2003: Religious Poverty, Mendicancy, and Reform in the Late Middle Ages; in: Church History; Vol 72.3; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 457-483; here: 457; with reference: Mathew 10:9-10, 19:10, 19:24, and 19:21 respectively; quotes taken from the New Revised Standard Version)

It is surely remarkable that this is actually not about poverty in the strict terms. Instead it is about modesty characterised by two moments: (i) a fundamental material security and the satisfaction of basic needs; and (ii) the obligation to share. Interestingly we find a rejection of poverty:

and give your money to the poor

In actual fact one may well say that the emphasis is on modesty not as matter of material standards but of some genuine integrity – a topic that goes through history as one of the standard themes. And indeed, it is a controversy about paradigms but even more so a controversy about life style – and paradoxically: although it is fundamentally a controversy about the mode of production it is in actual fact usually only recognised as matter of “values”. – This is well reflected in the recent section – the contemplation that questioned realism to the extent as it had not been an approach to real reality, at most only dealing with reproduction and the sphere of circulation.

Today’s occasional attractiveness may well be due to the fact that the secular development is characterised by a more or less huge step: a development of further alienation with the emerging mode of production, presented earlier as Gates-Jobsian shift emerging from the undefined polyphonic post-Fordism.

In the occasional discussion of the emerging new mode of production it had been also mentioned that cooperative aspects may play a new role, with this also changing the “what” of the productive process. In this light, Augustinian claims appear at least as in some way as attractive.

Allowing some liberty in the interpretation one may say that it had been Calvin (1509–1564) who translated this into the Protestant ethics: the orientation on sacrifice in this world as price for the place in the other world. But the this-worldly purgatory had not primarily been the simple life, but man’s sturdy labour

… in the sweat of his brow ..

Of course, the indulgence in luxury had been seen as problematic. The option of legitimising personal indulgence by claiming to return the appropriated surplus in form of the work of arts back to the community – this had been the justification the Medici and their contemporaries claimed – had not been accepted anymore.

The new orientation emphasises the good-doing as central concern of the conduct of life. In this light, the approach of the ruling elite of the Renaissance may be seen as a very egoistic and even hedonist overcoming of the catholic conduct of life and the initiation of what should later become the protestant display of benevolence by which mercy had been substituted.

This leads us to the second feature of vital importance. The distinction between deserving and non-deserving poor. We may say that this move had been not anything else than the answer of the time to the need of the time: the deserving poor had been those who had been confronted with adverse living conditions and, despite all efforts, did not find on their own behalf and means a way out. It is important to recognise that these two conditions had been underlying the deserving poor. The undeserving poor had been the scamps: the situation they faced had been (seen as) self-inflicted and moreover it had been said that they did not show any regret: once rascal – rascal forever. Being seen as standing completely outside of the bonum commune and thus not considered being worth to gain sympathy, respect let alone that they deserved in the eyes of the hegemons of the time any support. This allowed finding an answer to the fact that poverty had been increasingly a mass-phenomenon. With some respect we see a “quartering” of the poor – and with some justification this can be even maintained until today, though with different qualitative meaning and emphasis.

* The first group consists of those who are the “holy” or “blessed” poor – those who live voluntarily a life in extreme modesty, not showing any interest in profane affluence.
Ora, non labora . – They could do so as their monkish existence actually secured a live that was free from any hardship.

* The second group brings together the deserving poor – an image of consecrated life, though not voluntarily entered. Help, support should allow them to return on the right way: a life in humility, but more importantly life as self-abandonment in work. Ora et maxime labora.

* The third group is the group of those who are the non-deserving poor, punished or not. If they had been lucky enough they could lead a hidden life: finding some alms despite the fact that begging had been illegalised, despite their major, finding casual work as they those who had been really lazy, real scamps had been the exception. But most of them did not: the workhouses had been meant for them. Vos operari, nos orare. Although this will come along as cynical, for these people the superintendence by god had been replaced by the supervision coming from the new rulers. This found its most extreme version in the panopticon. The lengthy title of the work is presented by Bentham in 1787:

A Series of Letters reads Panopticon; or The Inspection-House: Containing the Idea of a New Principle of Construction Applicable to Any Sort of Establishment, in which Persons of Any Description are to be Kept Under Inspection; And in Particular to Penitentiary-Houses, Prisons, Houses of Industry, Work-Houses, Poor-Houses, Lazarettos, Manufactories, Hospitals, Mad-Houses, and Schools.

It can surely be seen as a little history on the close connections of different forms of social integration and their deformation.

– Is it pure prevalence that it had been invented at the very same time as the Principle of the Greatest Happiness for All[1] appears on the stage of political-economy? And is it pure incidence in the connection of both the same name comes up: Jeremy Bentham?

And we easily overlook that this had been actually the “friendly”, the “humane” way of treating them. A fourth group consists of those who had been seriously punished in addition to the punishment of being destitute. The condemned poor.

They had been outside of the world of praying and even outside of the world of working.

They had been in some way even outside of life – if not in any other way than at least by way of the total exclusion from society. Outside of society: condemned in a cell as in Munkácsy Mihály’s work.

A guard is apparently not needed anymore – hidden, nearly invisible. Invisible and perhaps even inexistent as the introversion which in actual fact as indifference. Similar to the monkish poor external objects do not count anymore. They do not have even the meaning of personal history, former appraisal: Do we see the bible on the floor, tattered, ignored like the dish? Do we already see the condemned person fading away, being absorbed by the table – the white tablecloth merging with the sleeve of the white shirt? Do we see such a deep resignation that doesn’t even allow thinking about the “from where” and the “to where”? Do we see how the vest merges with the wall – the colours nearly matching each other? At least we may ask that question in which the condemned does not show any interested: Is he possibly a wall on which the top of society, its roof is erected? Is he possible the table that is carrying the burden? If so, now after having fulfilled the role as a living human being there still remains a role to be filled: that of the scapegoat as we saw it earlier in The Scamp of the Village or Night Wanderers.

All this is for the condemned apparently not of any interest anymore. But the viewer may feel urged to ask: to be or not to be, a question that is easily translated for many into the question of “Who am I? How can I define myself – and how do I define myself within the framework that is given to me?” – And the question is surely especially devastating, nihilist for the explicitly condemned existence.

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In this respect an interesting perspective unfolds in front of us when we look a little bit more into Munkácsy Mihály’s work. We just looked at his painting of the Condemned Cell. But – if in the spirit of the artist or not – we can draw a line:

Already earlier we saw the The Scamp of the Village or Night Wanderers.

The condemnation – although the title of the painting speaks of The Condemned.

The Condemned then in his cell – as just looked at in the painting introducing this series: the final exclusion, the rule of two walls. The guard turning his back to the condemned, the condemned himself turning away from the world.

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Looking at poverty, four different kinds of poverty had been outlined: the ‘holy poor’, the ‘deserving poor’, the ‘un-deserving poor’ and the ‘condemned’.

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Finally there may be a “life-philosophical” or “trivial-philosophical” perspective coming into play: the confrontation with the fact that we are all in danger of being in some way condemned: not as consequence of our deeds, not in consequence of social reputation but as fact of nature’s capers. Milton being one of them – his Paradise Lost being also a personal matter: the loss of his eyesight. Gesture, expression, posture are surely not entirely distant from that of the condemned in his cell. Looking into his face in detail we see more – in some ways we see what the blind man is still able to see.

Just the inside, follow the introversion: being thrown back on ourselves. Whatever these conditions are, how different the conditions and ways had been for Milton and for any other who is condemned: in this worlds terms they are finally both facing their Golgatha.

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Space – looking back at William Mulready’s Seven Ages of Man – emerged now as well as historical time, opening up as multidimensional time. This had been generations as distinct units, replacing the firm grip of what we tend to call communities. And it found its replication on the social level as matter of different time frames – also time frames with each having a different meaning. Fernand Braudel, we may recall, speaks of three frames. Quoting my own forthcoming work

Time gains a new meaning insofar as it has to be made part of considerations in its meaning of a (très) longue durée. Instead, time is meaningful, not as a matter of historical consciousness, but as part of immediate practice – histoire événementielle interwoven with and welding with the longue durée and vice versa.

(Herrmann, Peter, forthcoming: Do We Really Need Human Rights?; in: From Big Bang to Global Civilization: A Big History Anthology; ed. by Barry Rodrigue et altera: University of California Press)

We can briefly look back at the painting by William Mulready, take a somewhat schematic view to detect clearer the historical perspective which had been to some extent already explored at the earlier occasion.

  1. the general historical development (“civilisation”)
  2. the specifically economic development (from “medieval knighthood” to “developed agriculture” to “trade” [mind the pillars as repercussion of classicism])
  3. the replication of the secular development in the existence of the individual (including the delicately captured movement between raise and fall)
  4. the eternal hope (freedom between indetermination and the move to open natural [=genuine] space (a) and love (b) respectively
  5. the permanence of institutionalised, reified power

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With this, two other openings had been put before us:

  • The social as distinct era
  • The spaces for defining meaning – and even allowing us to ask if there is meaning at all. If we follow Ludovico Vives we are guided to the vis vegetativa (Vives, Ludovico, 1555: de anima et vita, Lyon, 1555: 11; in Borkenau, op.cit. 76). Franz Borkenau points out that we are dealing with a hugely consequential matter, contending:

Ficino saw these cravings and the circular flow determined by god as centre of attraction. But now this is not seen as valid anymore. These cravings do not have the hidden meaning of leading to god; the centre of the circle is not anymore god. Moreover this circulation of the living does not have any centre of meaning anymore. It is the circulation of rise and decay, without inherent meaning.

(Borkenau: 76)

Doesn’t here Milton’s face, and also the face of the condemned poor show up again: both being confronted with the fact of an inescapable end, a space without any given scaffold that can be seen as eternal meaning.

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This is, for us today, a move that we can hardly understand in its fundamentally revolutionary character. Sure, we may ask ourselves occasionally this question: Why do we do all this? Why don’t we just stay home …? But the answer is probably rather simple. Having once obtained the tools for deconstructing the world, we have to go simultaneously two ways: the way of further deconstruction and the way of permanent construction.


[1] The phrase is frequently attributed to Jeremy Bentham though it had actually in these words by been spelled out by John Stuart Mills. However, the meaning is probably expressed in its clearest way in 1789 by Bentham in Chapter one on The Principle of Utility in the Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

Realism – Realities II

Respect?

Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves…

it may sound old-fashioned. But this day this claim gains another time some special relevance – on the occasion of making a small purchase. I am asked to pay 795 Hungarian Forint. I have only a 1,000 Forint note, hand it over and get 200 Forint back – another case of the oblique EUropean inflation – the first time I noticed it in Amsterdam, a couple of years ago … – it had been a beginning, sneaking … .

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But a different question is that of the value of money – not by way of the theory of money or the theory of value.

Here it is more the sociological stance of money and the view on money as part of a process that links the economic process of material securisation with the process of identity building and belonging. It is about my little adventure with a Hungarian banking card. The work in Budapest is not really about money: although I get some money, I have to cover from this the expenses for travel and additional accommodation. In any case the funding body told me that they would not be in a position of paying the money into my existing account –

Unfortunately this is not possible, the financial policy of the [institute] does not allow for it. On the other hand it would also create extra administrative work on our side, e.g. I would have to ask for a Declaration from your University at the beginning of each month as to whether you are still working there (or already left Hungary) etc.

So. one of the first things I had to do in Budapest had been listed as:

Opening of an account.

Gyöngyi kindly helped me. I went to the branch where I would have to ask for opening the account – I mentioned the result already on another occasion, when quoting the mail to Gyöngyi.

Opening the account had been one problem only. It took from then about 2 weeks to obtain the card which had been sent to the office in the university. Although I would not say I finally held it proudly in my hands, it had been a nice feeling for a simple reason, namely having a nasty administrative issue out of the way. So I checked if the had been actually already money paid into the accounts, went later to an ATM to experience that my double-Dutch is rather good, however my simple Hungarian too limited to cope with the ATM. I cancelled by pressing the international standard: red button; and I went later to another machine, asking somebody standing in the vicinity if he could help. … To cut a long story short: it had been the end of the new and short partnership between me and the banking card. The little rectangular piece of plastic had been captured by the ATM, shortly later Eszter and Judith had been sorting things out with the bank: the card had been blocked, I would be notified within a fortnight …. – and after about three weeks silence I decided to ask in the same branch where I opened the account. The lady, after a quick check, told me – somewhat surprised why I am actually asking – that the card is of course there, however “there” would mean that it is in another branch.

You turn left, and walk for about … .

Which I do …, asking myself why I actually allow all these complications of life – why I don’t stick to one account, one address and probably – under condition of a standard job rather than working as new-age traveller – having a better income, more security. Why do we do it – in the meantime this I merges in y reflections with more and more people: Denisa – when we met the other day she made a bit the impression of being lost; Orham who seems to be torn between the old home country, the current challenges of politically hugely responsible work and the search for “something entirely different”; Alan, seemingly more on the road (which is: above the clouds) and nevertheless tightly involved in the somewhat local struggle for Kurdish interests; Rayen, the friend from the Mapuche, some would say fighting a parochial battle, knowing her she easily visible as globalist-anti-globalisation activist, altermondialist …. Why don’t we all stick to a quiet life, perhaps not simple, not easy – but at least predictable, conceivable? – I cross the street, see in ashore distance the fruit shop. My strain, my questioning is swapped by retrospections: the amazing fresh fruit: large, juicy, sweet and aromatic, the hassle and bustle of the streets I passed every morning  and evening when working in Asia, the view across Warsaw when I had been jogging in the top floor of the hotel, in the same height as the huge watch of one of the Seven Sisters. And all this depending on the new reality: virtual money, magic holes in the walls of de-im-pressive buildings, … – the clash of realities while we appropriate reality and search, even construct, design our own one. – Though the real reality … – well, I finally get after some more hurdles I hold the baking card in may hands, thinking in a very sober way about the cost of it as I read about recently in the article Perche’ la moneta cartacea costa molto meno della moneta virtuale.

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Coming back to the question of how much fits into a day … The last few minutes before I arrive at the university again – I am approached by somebody who asks for money. A young man – he looks like a beggar making his apprenticeship: He doesn’t look as if begging is actually his only and ultimate source of income …, not yet. Bitter poverty did not blemish his body to a degree of plainness that one comes frequently across – a final stage that doesn’t even allow thinking about play as matter of freedom … – no, he still looks even handsome, though a quick look into his eyes clearly reveals his move. Perhaps it is a move that started from not entering certain shops anymore, buying instead products under the new brand names: KiK TEXTILE DISCOUNT … ; obtaining food from the outlets for viands – the new ALDI-delicatessen where delicate refers not least to the real existence: a reference to a delicate, i.e. problematic life situation.

This needs some further reflection – the meaning of discounters, the outrageous profit-rates, going hand in hand with permanent “sales”, special “outlets” etc. and with all this a kind of “normalisation of lowering standards” is something that does not get sufficient attention in its meaning of the wider analysis of the changes of the mode of production. And this surely has to include on the one hand the change towards a consumerist mode of thinking – consumo ergo sum; and on the other hand it has to consider the issue of ‘social responsibility’, the discussion on fair trade, eco-responsibility etc. Not trusting in these approaches does not justify to push it uncritically out of sight.

Anyway, coming back to the young man mentioned before: as much as it is about him, we can now say that he may stand as well for current societies, their socio– and political economies: the development from – at least on the surface affluent entities, indulging in abundance – to entities hat are moving along the abyss of absolute pauperisation, notwithstanding the amassment of unbelievable wealth.

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All this is surely the presentation of at least some pieces of a puzzle, standing behind a new mode of production that is emerging in front of our eyes. Tentatively we can characterise it in particular by a further shift and solidification within the overall composition of production towards exchange. Production itself – understood as manufacturing – is technologically to such an extent perfected, i.e. simplified and mechanised that we can indeed do more with less. The production, refinement, individualisation and change of goods is, we may use the term that describes part of the development, just a mouse click away. This is a development that is not new as such – new is the stage we reached in this respect and we may well speak of a quantum leap. However, this depends especially on the following moments:

(i) cheap labour in the periphery in connection with low cost of transport

(ii) the establishment of a periphery within the centre (reserve army, precarisation, low income.

In respect of both factors [(i) and (ii)] it is useful to return to what had been said earlier, towards to the end of the brief review of the airline magazine – on that occasion the Social Protection Floor had been mentioned. And it seems to be the ultimate solution. There is surely no reason at all to deny its utmost importance. The Report on the Social Protection Floor. For a Fair and Inclusive Globalization which had been already quoted before (Report of the Advisory Group Chaired by Michelle Bachelet: Social Protection Floor. For a Fair and Inclusive Globalization; convened by the ILO with the Collaboration of the WHO; Geneva: ILO, 2011) states:

The effectiveness of social protection floor-type measures in reducing poverty, containing inequality and sustaining equitable economic growth is already well acknowledged in developed countries (IILS, 2008).

(36, with reference to: IILS (International Institute for Labour Studies). 2008. World of Work Report 2008: Income inequalities in the age of financial globalization (ILO, Geneva)

Adding some flesh on the bones the authors continue:

In OECD countries, it is estimated that levels of poverty and inequality are approximately half of those that might be expected in the absence of such social provision. That said, poverty reduction in such countries reflects the combination of both social protection floor measures and more comprehensive forms of social security, as part of social protection systems. This gives impetus to the need for any country, having put in place measures representing a solid floor, to take the next step of developing the vertical dimension of extension.

(ibid.: 36 f.)

But the all this makes us easily overlook that this is the ultimate form and step not only of globalisation but also and even more of this very specific form of socialisation of the costs of this process.

(iii) the orientation on ‘reproduction’ in the sense of replication – the explicit imitation of designer ware being only an extreme tip of the iceberg;

(iv) the shift of the regulative system towards self-regulation of the corporate sector going hand in hand with the major process of financial redistribution. On the latter point I elaborated already on another occasion – with reference to Joerg Huffschmid:

Especially as reaction on the recent crisis much ink had been employed to highlight the boundless scope of this process – and also on providing an analysis of the various mechanisms behind these processes. And important discussions also concern ethical issues, personal responsibility and the reach of law to control these processes. In a lecture on the crisis of the finance market capitalism, Joerg Huffschmid elaborated on some basic economic problems, pointing on especially five points. These are outlined in the following:

* the divergence between finance capital and social product since 1980 – whereas the first multiplied by 16, the latter only by 5.5;

* the international character of the financial assets, i.e. their origin in another country than that of its current location which is a trend that can be found in developed and developing countries alike;

* the permanent redistribution of income from the bottom to the top from which a lack of purchasing power is the unavoidable consequence;

* the tendency to privatise the pension funds with the consequence of huge amounts of capital being held in private finance schemes rather than money being paid to the pensioners in PAYG-schemes;

* the liberalisation of capital movement which means that investment can be undertaken in any place which had been limited under the Bretton Woods system.

(see Herrmann, Peter, forthcoming: God, Rights, Law and a Good Society. Overcoming Religion and Moral as Social Policy Approach in a Godless and Amoral Society; Bremen/Oxford: EHV with reference to Huffschmid, Jörg, 2009: Presentation on occasion of the Seminar Theories of Capitalism [German language], April 2009, Vienna)

The fundamentally important point at present is that this redistribution is taking place between sectors but it is also strongly linked with the statutory regulative system. Having said this, we may nevertheless ask if and to which extent we should continue to speak of the state. If we are ready to accept that the state changed in very fundamental terms – and the modern state is not only gradually different in comparison to the previous statutory formation – we have to reconsider to apply a new analytical framework also in this respect.[1] Not withstanding the important outlook already given by earlier works (e.g. Lenin, Hilferding, Gramsci, Boccara, Aglietta, Poulantzas), and notwithstanding the importance of recent work on cultural political economy, which provides insights that are also in the current context of major importance, there is in all of them an inherent tendency to remain within the realm of two traps. The first consists in the view of positioning the state as political entity outside of the economic realm, drawing the link by elaborating the steering function which is seen as power tool of the capitalist class. However, to the extent to which the notion of the ideal general capitalist, as outlined by Frederick Engels in his Anti-Duehring,[2] is taken serious we see that the state is actually seen as an inherent part of capitalist accumulation, a specific moment and form of socialisation.

The second trap has to be seen in the view on the state as independent, purely political actor, if not coming near to the absolute idea as we find it in Hegel’s outlook, it is at least an instrument of pure reasoning, surely informed by power struggles and in this way again linked to the economic relations, but fundamentally political and a matter of discourses – the new Hegelian idea in the formula proposed by Habermas. – The difference is surely going beyond being gradual although the fundamental problem is the externalisation. Some of these flaws are surely simply a matter of the historical stage which provides the background of the research.

The most appropriate approaches and candidates that may serve as stepping stone for moving further are that by Paul Boccara and his early work on capitalisme monopoliste d’État and the perspective on the state offered by the école de la régulation, taking its point of departure from Michel Aglietta. Further important impulses can be taken from the Fernand Braudel and the École des Annales.

To develop the discussion in a more fundamental way further it is proposed to start from the issue of socialisation rather than a presumed institutional system of political regulation. This allows developing an overall systemic perspective which takes two intermingled forms of socialisation which is itself understood as process of relational appropriation. This allows not least to develop a clearer understanding of value as political- and socio-economic category. The general stance is fourfold, namely

  • the reproduction of society
  • for which a certain power-constellation is condition
  • but which is then also – as aim in itself – ‘maintained’ by those who hold the power
  • and opposed by those who are aiming on extended reproduction.

The latter, i.e. the extended is not just a quantitative question but more importantly a matter of a qualitative overthrow of the means and mode of production. This includes the re-determination of value. As such it is concerned with the following questions:

(i) what is considered as value, i.e. what is economically valuable;

(ii) in which way is the decision on ‘valuation’ actually taken;

(iii) in which way is this value defined as and divided into social value on the one hand and individual value on the other hand;

(iv) what can be said about the production of this value.

Important is to remember once again that production is a complex process consisting of the actual ‘manufacturing’ and distribution – of course consumption and exchange play also a role but do not have to be considered here. For the time being this may be sufficient as scaffold which will be on another occasion (see Herrmann, Peter, forthcoming: Social Policy – Production rather than Distribution; Oxford/Bremen: EHV) further developed – and which will surely need a longer and collective debate to be considered as steadfast concept.

Leaving the needed further work aside, the following aspects may be already presented with a broad brush.

First, with this development we find also new dimensions of socialisation and the revival of forms that played in history already distinct roles. The re-emergence of the co-operative sector and also the revival of the idea of the commons[3] have to be mentioned. As naïve as much of the debate presents itself, it should not be reason to disregard the meaning of the overall processes.

Second, the role of political steering as part of the overall process is hugely contradictory – and has to be seen in immediate connection with the outlined process of the re-determination of value. Important are

  • moments of authoritarian rule
  • moments of ‘governance’ as real or suggested opening of structures of governing
  • moments of ‘alternative’ and ‘self-governance’.

Third, the meaning of rights is fundamentally questioned – this is of course in some way simply a matter of established rights being questioned by the ruling class; not less important is however the shift in the understanding of rights themselves. If we accept that we are confronted with a process of socialisation, the individualist approach to rights and law is under pressure.

Another dimension to the rights-question has to be mentioned – and we can return to the questions which had been briefly tabled in connection with the social protection floor. In actual fact, much of the discussion carries some notion of mercy. At least the question of rights can only be tabled on a secondary stance. One point in this context is that a simple quest for legislative regulation may be important – but even if it is possible to find the readiness and ‘power’ for such regulation there remains a fundamental difficulty: the right to determine the own life, including the what and way of production. And with this, the availability of the needed “space”. Without elaborating this further, we should not forget that in several countries of the “developing world” fatal situations actually developed not least as consequence of the exploitation of their national and local resources (raw materials, human resources, “organisational” modes …). – It is at least another time useful to point out that it is not more than a frequently repeated illusion to work on a simple solution.

Fourth and finally all this has direct impact on the institutional mechanisms and is also directly expressed by changes of the system itself. As much as we are speaking of the statutory system we always have to think about the non-institutional system being direct or indirect part if it.

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Parts of the development are still hidden, behind and within the old nets of the society that are slowly but surely dissolving, fading away and with which actually the entire society in the current form dissolves and reconstitutes. The social nets of communities, social insurances and social security systems do not exist anymore in their old form, employment – full time and permanent is already since some time for many an illusion – and nevertheless it is even today still as skeleton present, providing in it’s unplanned and tacit interaction at least for many still a framework within which they can perform without attracting attention. For many ….

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For others, however, deep darkness marks their way. At the end of their way there is no light – as it is the case for the Scamp of the Village.

It looks as if they are coming out of the dark, a moving in the dark and their sturdy move towards as does not give us the feeling of being the lucky ones. Rather, they appear somewhat foreboding, threatening. Is it by accident that they point in this way towards some light: forcing themselves out of the dark – with exactly these sturdy steps. We can recognise a relatively small bright spell at the top, being lost in the narrowing dark channel and now opening again. We see on the right – on their right – a women that is approaching the men in an unexpected friendly way – more friendly then the people on the other side seem to allow. There we find hostility, scepticism, scornfulness and an expression of satisfaction. Poverty of this kind obviously lost its attraction, and facing it in this form it is not least a means of splitting society, making sure that the wheat is separated from the chaff. It is one part of the hegemonic schemes that are known since long; panem et circenses complemented by the divide et impera. Of course it may come to the mind of the reader that realism is here suggesting another form of renaissance: Though societies surely changed over time there are apparently some patterns that are rather common, crossing the boundaries of different formations. And if we go a step further – looking at the Munkácsy Mihály paintings we explored earlier and looking at the present – one we can make out another issue: this realism is very much about real life, the depiction of reality as it really is and as real people face it. And this is to some extent also true for the other painting mentioned before, Paál László’s Berzovai Utca. All these realist presentations are not really concerned with the reality of the productive sphere. Rather, the topic is more a matter of relationality: the positioning of the human existence in the general and overall circle of pure reproduction. In philosophy, existentialism began in the mid-19th century as a reaction against then increasing industrialist alienation, searching for the individual and his/her role not within this process (as had been more the concern for philosophers from the Hegelian and Kantian school), but outside of it: pure existence as reply to pure reason and the absolute idea.

Realism in fine arts – taking Munkácsy’s work as one not unimportant example – lagged behind but followed very much the same pathway. It found this kind of challenge emerging from reality only later stage, after philosophy dealt with it in different ways. And all this, as much as it had been a matter of realism and the engagement with reality as focus of attention, had been at the very same time distant from reality, only being interested in the very general question – paradoxically the loss of reality, the loss of control over reality in a generic way. But with this it still barely touched on the real reality of the productive process. And as more as real reality actually moved to an iron cage of industrialised capitalism and the bureaucratic domination, as more philosophy and arts felt compelled to look for meaning – very much like in today’s debates there is search for meaning, for values, for “fighting greed”. But right now, while writing, something else pops up which gives reality another dimension – the one faded out. Heike Buchter, in an article in the German Die Zeit, writes:

Seit dem Ende der Krise sind die Großbanken nur noch größer geworden. Besser als jede zusätzliche Regulierung wäre daher eine Zerschlagung der Kolosse. Dann könnte die Katastrophe auch beim nächsten Bankenfehler vermieden werden. Dass einer kommt, ist schon sicher.

(Since the end of the crisis the large banks only increased in seize. Better than any additional regulation would be to break up these colossus. Then the catastrophe following the next flaw of banking practice could be avoided.)

In short, the meaning cannot be found in the reality and how we interpret it. The meaning can only be found in the reality and how we change it.

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Realism is like life – it doesn’t pretend pure beauty though we are occasionally lucky enough to encounter pure beauty: beauty as the purity of a face au naturel, as naturalness of a movement, as the chasteness of a smell.

Realism is like life, knowing a lot about what is going on. And if it is real realism it also knows that vulgarity is involved. However – if we thoroughly feel and live the Goetheian 3,000 years which had been mentioned on another occasion – we frequently have to ask ourselves what vulgarity actually could mean.

Is it the view on Caravaggio’s painting Madonna di Loreto?

If we follow Graham-Dixon, at least at the time when the painting had been made if had been seen as vulgar.

Perhaps the reason for this can be seen in the fact that we see in this picture the poor being put into the place of being meaningful? The acceptance of poverty as fate of meaningful people?

As such, Caravaggio’s work would mirror very well the Zeitgeist – and as frequently highlighted this is taken in very broad terms – in some way merging the late middle ages, renaissance and its reach into the enlightenment era.

We may remember Shakespeare’s words with which he positions people on the stage – and importantly, his notion of people: personalities that emerged at the time.

And we may take it as challenge: the poverty in history, at least in the way we see it depicted has frequently enough to offer to allow us an idealising, romanticising and idyllic outlook. At the time it had been – as in the case of the Madonna – seen as vulgar or – as in the case of Munkácsy a reasoning for meaning, a reasoning looking for an acceptable way to deal with reality: protestant ethic as Max Weber described it had been sufficient to some extent; but at the same time it did not do suffice to answer the seemingly secular question of pure existence, pure beauty and what is called today bounded reason, peeping around the corner where pure reason ridiculed itself under the famous Kantian umbrella which had been brought every day at the same time for a walk.


[1] A major reason for the weakness of the postmodernism discussion can be explained by the fact that it starts from the superstructure, if it takes economic factors into account it does so only by seeing them in a secondary instance.

[2] He writes:

And the modern state, again, is only the organisation that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the general external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital.

[3] This should include new forms of living together, exchange networks, care arrangements etc.

Realism – Realities I

This day my students in Cork faced their own reality: the exam for the course I had been teaching. For me it had been the day of a flight to Copenhagen. Time differences, differences of realities. I arrived after a somewhat exciting flight, which gave me a little bit the feeling of sadness. Surely partly due to the fact that I had been a bit exhausted: I tried over the last couple of days to provide some guidance for the exams – to those who asked for it. Mails flying through the world, moods on the side of the students oscillating between strain, jokes, anger, dolorousness and perplexity – at least this is my impression from trying to read between the lines of the mails I receive. My effort of replying the issues of substance, but also aiming on “balancing”: bringing back seriousness where things were taking to easy, relaxing situations where strenuous situations lurked to burst … Not only for the students an important time, also for me somewhat hazardous: on the one hand hoping to make it not easy, to challenge them, on the other hand I do not like to put them under pressure. And notwithstanding this, other works could not be entirely neglected.

An exciting flight as it leads me into some kind of new reality, a world that seems not to be there, that we all know from clippings, but which still does not easily present itself as a complete change of the mode of production. You may contradict, but I think that, as long as we still use the old buzzwords and slogans, we easily fall short of the drastic character of what is actually going on. In this sense I am glad to receive Sarah’s mail with which she thanks me for last year’s course:

… Thank you for all your help and guidance throughout the year – I have grown through the process and can certainly say you have opened my eyes to the system. I have enjoyed the learning process immensely (although at times felt the hammer beating me over the head). Perhaps our paths may cross again in the future …

I answer, being grateful for having served as eye-opener, also always using the teaching as challenge to keep and force my own eyes open; I answer sitting at an altitude of 10,000 feet:

In this sense you are the first to whom I send an e-mail sitting somewhere – but where ? – rather high over you and that world, not yet playing the harp but somewhat on a cloud: airline allows wifi-access.

Yes, perhaps our ways cross again …  – when? where?

Sur-realism? Cubism …

Pablo Picasso’s Las señoritas de Avignon[1]

Mon expérience d’aujourd’hui dans l’avion – My experience today in the aircraft.

It may be that this experience of mailing from an aircraft, the possibility to “register” on the “global social virtual community” (or should we say “global virtual social community”?) facebook “I am 10,000 above you” gives me a different understanding of what I read in the in-flight magazine[2] – a brief overview should be sufficient to allow the reader of the present lines to delve into the …, the weirdness? newness? oddity? … of what is actually everything else than extraordinary. Features of a new reality which looks somewhat unreal to us as we are not entirely used to it yet. And that seem to be so real by creeping into our life as little pieces, not allowing us to realise that actually the entire scene changes. On to the clips then:

  • the review of attractiveness: advertisement of island get-aways, moving away from ‘every-day’s realities’ by moving towards ‘real realities’;
  • the celebration of the past and with this the promise of finding oneself;
  • the advertisement of naturalness – literally wrapped into the advertisement of soap, delving into a bubble of genuineness.

But then it is getting even more interesting:

  • given naturalness is transformed into …. – a suggestion of something that is even more natural by being designed: talking about “designed food”, not by way of genetic modification but as matter of its presentation;
  • reality, at least the reality of something material, tangible as the virtual reality further evaporating, disappearing in cloud-computing, the last bit of some kind of reality: a potentially tangible, rachable hard-drive further removed to some “cloud”, and with this completely out of our control when it comes to deleting data;
  •  superstition, magic, witchery and enthralment, celebrated in an article on coffee and baristas but not even mentioned in other areas; thus they are bringing us to the point of a conclusion in regard of the perspective on media and their way of (co-)constructing reality: power and veiling power, appropriation and undermining it.

After this, two features deserve special attention, and have to be marked as important moments in the context of outlining the scaffold of the further development of the mode of production.

The one is about the orientation on and establishment of communities of belonging. Of course, these are business strategies, and of course these are not real – but this does not mean that we can simply push aside as not existing.

Home is just a cheap call away

And of course it is attractive to reduce phone bills while roaming. Home then – even if you are abroad. But it is not only this family and home orientation, suggested to have an eternal and brazen grip; it is, as further reading shows, the firm grip of a new entity claiming to be US, the new WE: The offer of cheap phone calls is part of the airline’s reward scheme … – another opportunity of extending plastic life, getting a new membership card of another imagined community.

After having learned in the editorial that the sky is the limit and after getting the impression that even this ceiling is crumbling away, it seems that we have to build finally the floor. – Lets us briefly turn to the question of architecture.

Of course,

[a] spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement.

(Marx, Karl: Capital Volume I, Part 3, Chapter 7, Section 1)

But this does not mean that these architects are allowed to build castles in the air. But on the other hand we may ask Who said that human societies, and in particular capitalist societies follow the rules of architects/builders? In the well established idealist tradition they rules of gravity are obviously turned, standing on their head.

  • The roof is build first.
    Affluence, ease of life – a world for some, only limited by the sky …, and it seems that even this can be by and large ignored.
  • The walls, not mentioned, are already attacked by moss and decay:
    Precarity, mass unemployment, drug abuse, ….
  • And finally, at the end, one thinks about the floor: the Social Protection Floor.

In the present context this is about the airline’s ad-article

UNICEF brings child labourers back to school in India

an ad-article as we read underneath that

[a]s Signature Partner to UNICEF, Norwegian supports the organisation’s work of giving children the best possible start in life, and a safe and happy childhood.

I am surely not arguing against this program – on the contrary I would like to see more being done for children, and I surely would like to see more being done for their safe upbringing, and this includes education as conditio sine qua non. Now, we have to leave aside the question if it is correct that

[c]hild labour is illegal in India, but the law is only enforced in factories. Walk down any alleyway in the city’s poor neighbourhoods, and children can be seen working in small workshops.

It is well known that in actual fact many of these small workshops are producing for the factories.

And for the moment we can leave aside discussing in depth presented very individual case: a child running a tea-stall for her father who is the

owner with a drinking habit

and who can be convinced to allow the young girl going back to school:

Please promise us that you will your children study. It’s like an insurance policy, pay now and you’ll reap great rewards in ten or fifteen years.

There remains with all these cases a mouldy aftertaste: Are we really talking about the right to education as matter of free development of personality or are we talking about the preparation of children for well-functioning parts of a global economy. Not denying the meaning and importance of the UN-Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948, we should not hesitate to be critical about the meaning of Article 23, in particular the first two sentences, stating:

  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

In historical reality, employment is just one form of meaningful social activity – and we should see it as such, subsequently also make clear that income from employment is just one form of making a living – and we should see it as such. This means not least to emphasise the importance of peoples’ and people’s right to control the way in which they (re-)produce themselves. In 2011, on the occasion of the Deutsche Welle Gobal Media Forum 2011: Human Rights in a Globalized World. Challenges for the Media I elaborated during the Forum Narrowing the gap between the world’s richest and poorest on the global dimension of this topic.

The statement of a green bird in one of the advertisements is surely as true as it is simple:

Looking different means to stand out.

Acting different means to be outstanding.

And it is also as true as it simple that being outstanding is only useful if in reality it is meant as matter of outwalking: being ready to move into an entirely different way, fundamentally questioning the existing perspectives in analytical and practical terms rather than fundamentally working towards standstill.

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I mentioned that I feel some sadness while reading and thinking this. It is about … – the feeling of some further loss of reality, the impression that we reached another level of alienation and the recognition of the fact that this new level of disenchantment is at least in one respect different to previous eras: whereas up to hitherto things and people had been veiled in a world of commodification and exchange, it seems that now people and things themselves disappear. It looks like the evaporation of the object, volatility of meaning …., leaving it to the subject to search meaning in him- and herself. Or should we speak about the subject looking for meaning in itself? And shouldn’t we actually be happy about the development, allowing us a fundamentally new grip of reality?

But it is also the sadness about not even looking for rights – which may then be contested in their exact definition and also in the way of their implementation. Instead we find reasoning about new values and mercifulness, Big Societies in their different forms.[3] Actually it is very much a standstill by reform-ulation. Neglecting the fact that there is a huge step from revolving towards revolutionising.

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I rush from the airport to the city-centre, heading to the rendezvous. It will be a short meeting in a coffee shop near the train station – on the occasion of the transit: organised incidence allowing us to meet. A short meeting – the encounter of two travellers, eternal tourists. The modern travellers’ life as jigsaw: hours, days nights – the here and there losing meaning as space is becoming only a formal shell, meaningless in its own terms, and most important to allow experiencing a déjà vu. – It had been a short meeting in a coffee shop near the train station – only when we move to the door, when it is time to say good-bye, I feel the startling naturalness – stunning because it is so full of tension, of contradictions in the perception of two people. Stunning because it is pure, tangible reality.

I look into the eyes, see the face, the freckles, feel the warmth of the skin, close to me – it is as if we would know since the time of no-remembrance, since eternity. But it is at the very same time as if we never met before, even more: as if it is the first time that I see a creature like her: real, attractive … and unreal, aloof, even a little bit eerie. In one word: unique as the single moment, each single moment, being already past at the very same moment we encounter it. And as elusive as it is, it is not less deeply engraved. It is a short moment, my hand on her shoulder, I pull her body gently towards me, though I have the feeling that it is not me pulling, instead she is pushing towards me. A nearly ephemeral embracement and we move apart, the hands float over the arms, a short contact of the hands – again so familiar, and still so new: new as if it would be the first time, the first touch ever. We separate, each of us making the first step, each moving into a different direction. Hej, hej – it cannot sound wistful even with its melancholic undertone, it carries a natural intimacy and makes it easy to leave each other behind. A brief encounter and still giving the feeling of having been deeply encroached into each other – a long time until we will see again, perhaps. But it may a short time only until the next encounter. Carpe diem. And now and then a lasting impression of naturalness, real like the Den lille havfrue of Copenhagen and unfeigned as the smile of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

At this moement we may only have a brief look at the famous smile – on another occasion, talking a little bit about gender – we will come back to it.

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At this stage, after the brief rendezvous, it is only a short time ago that we stood in the Magyar Nemzeti Galéria: now I am talking about a group of students from Corvinus university and myself. I am talking about the visit at the gallery which made it so vivid to me that teaching and learning is in this course, more than it is with any other class anyway, not really separable. For me teaching is so much a process or learning, of mutually developing issues and bringing differs to perspectives together. So different to what is in some ways unavoidable result of the so-called reforms of the last years.

We are gathering in front of the rooms with the paintings by Munkácsy Mihály and the 20th Century Realism. For me it is always difficult to accept such classifications. Of course there are occasionally good reasons for such classifications, allowing us to distinguish styles, drawing borders in order to understand the emphasis given to certain features – the characteristics of a painter and the personal style, the characteristics of the style as dominating arts during a certain period and with all this, more precise: underlying and determining all this, a specific Zeitgeist as it is part and parcel of the mode of production. But then we may take a different perspective, asking ourselves: to which extent does a classifying term like realism limit our thinking, suggesting one and only one reality, prohibiting to understand that reality, as objective as it is, is also constructed reality? And aren’t there – not withstanding their objectivity – also different realities? A variety of realities, depending on our perception, our position, our experience? Depending also on our knowledge about what goes on behind the scenes? And all this being part of a complex field of different inter-actions? And Is not arts in al its different forms a matter of specific takes on the one reality, the way it impresses us and the way which is space for our expression; the way in which we enter deep into it by positioning ourselves outside, surmounting, arriving at a surreal position?

Before we enter the pleasantly air conditioned room, I look a little bit back to what we did so far.

The dissolution of the strict chain by which the individual had been welded into the communitarian circle. Initially it had been a process that had been independent from capitalism in its strict sense, a condition for its development: The citoyen, claiming the right to be person: personality independent from the mercy of the nobility – independent in thinking and acting, aiming not least on the right to be economically active: being his own lord.
Subsequently we find the dissociation of

  • use value and exchange value
  • product and producer

all based on and culminating the falling apart of aim and meaning.
This opened the field for questioning the role of god, the immediate meaning even if god’s fundamental existence had still not been doubted. In particular Calvin and Bodin play an outstanding role at the outset of a new, the modern state.
This is not least providing a framework that serves as condition for the fact that space and perspective regain meaning. Accepting some simplification we may say

  •  initially we find people living in one space – sharing one room together with (the) god(s)
  • subsequently, however, space is given away, externalised: the increasing knowledge of the fact that there are “others” outside of the immediately controlled and controllable space – the barbarians; and the increasing awareness of the lack of knowledge creating a new space for the god(s), not easily reachable by climbing up the mountain to some sort of Acropolis but impossible to reach and even impossible to know about;
  • further development leads to regaining space: the increasing knowledge and the increasing direct engagement with the other – the barbarian – merge at some stage into the rather rational order, later spelled out by the Westphalian peace agreement: in practice the birth of the modern state, the change of space from a war theatre to a theatre of personalities and trade.

We may refer to the German language, allowing us to clearly present the issue in question that is we see in the emergence of spaces of action, the Handlungsräume. Handeln translates into acting and also into trading. This is very much the economy of the time – it can be further specified by characterising it as questioning and defining space also in terms of nation states. On the one hand there had been of course the demarcation, taking the form of mercantilism. On the other hand we are dealing the need to expand: productive forces reaching new levels and breaking the fetters of parochialism open.

We may add another dimension – by using a play with words finally we want to gain also for us the freedom which had been mentioned. The term trade evokes surely the impression of nearness to the French traduire/traduction which stands for translation. This is surely also some characteristic of the economy of the time if we take this as matter of transformation. It is the transformation that takes place by way of production; furthermore it is the transformation that takes place by way of use value entering as exchange value the process of circulation; it is also the transformation of individual, i.e. abstract labour into socially valued effort; and not least we find here the transformation of national and international processes of different social forms of production into individual wealth. The Hanseatic League as alliance of cities and traders should not be underestimated as also important in the context of the movement of arts as part of scientific and ideological exchange and mutual stimulation (s. also Prolegomena. Encore Citizenship – Revisiting or Redefining?; in: Herrmann, Peter (ed.): World’s New Princedoms. Critical Remarks on Claimed Alternatives by New Life; Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers, 2010). One can see this also as an important point of juncture in a very specific respect: the guild system played in the development of the arts a major role. And The Hanseatic League can be seen as major force of protecting the guild system while it secured at the very same time the expansion of the guilds and guild-products.

In a way we may speak of a paradox: the parochial system strangely merging with the orientation on liberal and unrestricted world trade.

The Dutch term for the currency of the time guilderexpresses it in a nutshell. In some way it is even justified to see here a specific foundation of the gold standard as currency based on gold: the Dutch guilderlinked to the guilds as the protected pure craftsmanship in the countries of the northern parts of Europe as ‘trademark’ of the crafts-trade (or early capitalist) societies (s. also Prolegomena. Encore Citizenship – Revisiting or Redefining?; in: Herrmann, Peter (ed.): World’s New Princedoms. Critical Remarks on Claimed Alternatives by New Life; Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers, 2010).  And the Fiorino, i.e. the Italian Florin. In its denomination it had been linked to the pure (i.e. fine) content of gold and surely an indicator for the more finance-based setting of generating economic value based in the finance sector.

– The prominence of the term denomination in both areas, tat of money and that of religion may be pure accidence, of course.

A fundamental condition is the dissociation between humankind and nature, with this the dissociation of man of himself. Reason is now in a new way externalised. With the development of science – this is now understood as natural science which first has to develop itself by loosening the bonds to science in a more general understanding – ratio is externalised, seen as inherent in nature. And from here it re-enters society: as lex naturae. This implies that it is now possible to claim societal laws. But rather than establishing them as matter of societal practice – as process of relational appropriation – we see them now presented as replica: even the bonum commune is subordinated under this form. In his critical review of Thomas of Aquino, Franz Borkenau concludes in his work Der Übergang vom feudalen zum bürgerlichen Weltbild, that for Aquino

[t]he law is inherent in humans, because it is evidently reasonable; but its reason can be found in its reference to the aim of general happiness. Actually this is the order by which the drives of the imperfect individuals are directed on a perfect entity – and with this they are becoming congruent with themselves.

(Borkenau, Franz: 1932: Der Übergang vom feudalen zum bürgerlichen Weltbild. Studien zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Manufakturperiode; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1971: 26)

As much as Descartes and Hobbes erect on this basis their theories of ratio and respectively the state by reducing quality on space and figures, we find in economic thinking the emergence of the manufactures, based in a simple system of mechanical division of labour.

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And now we are standing in front of the painting Avenue of Trees Colpach by Munkácsy Mihály. If we accept for a while periodisation and classification of styles we can see here the search for reality which had been lost during the preceding period. Crossing distances as part of international trade, an early globalisation as matter of standardisation, and with this the alienation evoked new answers of how to shape life – of course, for the working classes most pressing though for these classes there had not been any time or space to ask. Alienation, however, had been a general problem – one for all members of society and even for society at large. But what is actually even more profound: New questions had to be defined as the alienation had not been a matter of technical “distancing” or separation of human action and technical means and social output (though this would have bee already quite a lot). Rather, we are looking at a period and genre where the immediate reality did not play a role. Instead, we are here dealing with the question of a change of the entire system of relationality:[4] not only the roles but also the stage itself.

Now, let us look at the Avenue. It is a well known landscape – one may even say: too well known here in Hungary. As Dóra mentions, everybody actually has seen such a landscape. It is so familiar, it could be nearly anywhere and in this way, Colpach is not more than a placeholder for so many other places. And we may go even further, anybody who ever walked through deciduous woodland will have this déjà vu-experience – and it is exactly this familiarity which draws our attention to the painting. Moreover, it draws us somewhat physically into the painting, we want to enter it, we feel like entering this space unfolding in front of us. Is it correct to express it this way? Aren’t we actually already in the middle of it? “Looking through the telescope” helps to intensify this experience: forming the hands to a tube and holding them in front of the eyes so that the surrounding, the disruptive elements are faded out. Not much imaginative power is needed to feel part of the space, and with this: to feel involved in a specific environment. But familiarity is only one moment. The reality of which we know that it is an accessible reality, that one can actually enter it and move within it. The asperities right in the front, paradoxically underlining this aspect, allowing us to re-experience (or expressed more succinct: to remember) that even hurdles of this kind are not by any means insuperable. On the contrary, they emphasise the reality of our existence, our walk through life: by and large even, smooth with, not despite the asperities.

Familiarity and the knowledge of the possibility to access this presented reality are only to moments drawing us into the picture. Two other can be made out – not less important than the before mentioned.

The one is the way in which naturalness is captured: entering from and into the dark, walking towards light. And this light is precisely depicted: as it is: reality in a looking glass. What Munkácsy masterfully presented is the attraction by the mystification of the disenchanted, or is it the attraction of disenchanting the myth? We can turn it in whichever direction we like. There is in any case a fascination going out from the light – but it is not the clear light, easily allowing us to see “the veracity”. Instead it is the light of the joy and – we may add another allusion to Friedrich Schiller’s letters and his high estimation of play:

… as the sensuous impulsion controls us physically, and the formal impulsion morally, the former makes our formal constitution contingent, and the latter makes our material constitution contingent, that is to say, there is contingence in the agreement of our happiness with our perfection, and reciprocally. The instinct of play, in which both act in concert, will render both our formal and our material constitution contingent; accordingly, our perfection and our happiness in like manner. And on the other hand, exactly because it makes both of them contingent, and because the contingent disappears with necessity, it will suppress this contingence in both, and will thus give form to matter and reality to form. In proportion that it will lessen the dynamic influence of feeling and passion, it will place them in harmony with rational ideas, and by taking from the laws of reason their moral constraint, it will reconcile them with the interest of the senses.

(Schiller, J. C. Friedrich von, 1794: Letters upon the Æsthetic Education of Man. Letter XIV)

Another attraction is coming from a social element, in the present reproduction not easily seen is the women with the blue dress. The presentation, distant enough, allows, even challenges us to play with our thoughts. A certain splendour can be seen, but with this also a certain playfulness, play-ability – standing in a dark section of the painting, she nevertheless suggesting the ease of being at any time able to leave. Looking closely into the details, we see not much more than a shadow, leaving it to us, to the spectator to fill it with life: the life of romantic togetherness or the life a joyous-playful further walk, joining some imagined group further away.

Faites vos jeux!

Is there a message in it, actually contradicting the realism of the style? The real life is, though not in the other world but at least in nature, away from the daily hardships? We may assume it while “walking through the picture”. Being at first glance trapped by a somewhat impressionist[5] view, we enter through the darkness, but also through the roughness of the ground and arrive at a bizarre mixture of the presentation: on the one hand we see now an amazingly detailed view for instance of the leaves; on the other hand we do not see further asperities – they are fading away in the wealth of light and the promise of the social contact.

Of course, it is a far-fetched interpretation, but is it really obscure to think in this context about a certain kind of empty promise by an anthropological Zeitgeist, pertaining in modern capitalist economies which we will present a little later?

At least there is some detail in the painting that we may take as suggestion in this direction. The women we see – still in the bottom part, thus real but at its margin, in tendency moving towards the realm of the “bright-light top” – wears a blue dress. Thus it is – against the dominant green of forest – the complementary colour. So, rather than mixing the two colours – thus arriving at grey[6] – we may say we leave the grey, moving from there towards the two complementary forms of existence: natural and social being as genuine forms of reality, standing against the crude existence of the modern capitalist Zeitgeist.

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I turn around the corner, walk into the direction of the town hall – a brief look only across the street: Tivoli, a different reality. From this distance I see the carrousels, rollercoaster …, hear the screaming of the people breaking through the noise of the traffic. Screaming – but expressing in its very specific way joy, having fun. In the world that suggests the evaporation of the object, volatility of meaning meaningless movement may offer the only meaning. Circulation carried to the extreme. The individual now itself being drawn into the movement, being movement. The Cartesian Cogito Ergo Sum being translated into Movo Ergo Sum: I am moving, therefore I am – the ongoing change of place as confirmation of existence. Sure, a paradox, the aim being further separated from the meaning. Evaporation, being permanently on the run, escape as confirmation of existence. Reality as matter of denying its presence. The reality also as veil …, tending to deny the genuine truth as point of reference.

The anthropological pattern, presented by Herbert Marcuse in his presentation titled Man in a Socialised World (see  Marcuse, Herbert, 1966: Der Mensch in einer sozialisierten Welt. Aufnahme: 03.10.1966, BR Technik: Schmitt Laufzeit: 47:13; CD 2: track 1: 2.45 min; from: Der Mensch in einer sozialisierten Welt. Originalvorträge von Herbert Marcuse. Autor: Herbert Marcuse. Sprecher: Herbert Marcuse. Aus der Reihe: O–Ton–Wissenschaft. Thema: Soziologie, Wissenschaft. 4 CDs – ca. 200 Minuten), is moved a step further, reaches a new level. He highlights the following issues as characterising the current anthropological Zeitgeist, pertaining in modern capitalist economies:

  • life is presented and perceived as plight and alienation
  • however, there is a ‘better life’: the satisfaction of needs and wants as remuneration of labour – though suffering is the irretrievable foundation of happiness
  • life is a matter of striving for being – and the substance of life is productivity with and in favour of society
  • refined values are separated from ever day’s life, from the daily performance. Finding to yourself is left for the time outside of work.

The difference is not as fundamental as it may appear: it is in actual fact only the full realisation of what we already learned of Shakespeare and Rembrandt:

The world is a stage

And we are moving on this stage, and as we saw on an earlier occasion, namely when looking at Rembrandt, this is not least about positioning ourselves. But it is also about defining occasionally the stage in new ways.

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 Still, the very reality, the physical needs are undeniable, though they take in their refined and cultural embedding surely a specific form. Anyway, I feel hungry, open the door to the Vesuvio, appropriate to the mood that got hold of me. It is still early. Only a short time ago different times, different realities tore us apart. – I am used to be on my own, and now I am prepared for a relaxing evening. I sit down, a little later the waiter comes to the table, bids me a good evening:

God aften, sir.

I hesitate for less then the blink of an eye, say

Hej

imitating the intonation I heard so frequently since I am here: the emphasis in the middle of this one syllabus, a sharp, though friendly way, the voice moving slightly upwards to the end. But leave it there, switch language:

Sorry, you speak English?

– Life is a stage, a theatre, and to some extent it is up to us to play the roles we like to play. Thus, a mix of kindness and bravado evoke the next question:

O parli italiano?

With this I apparently killed the hope for a relaxed evening:

Certo, sono italiano! ….

So I have to take up the challenge – speaking a foreign language. It is only on such occasions that I mention how much some languages are not foreign languages, even if I am not native speaker. It takes a while, but at the end it is nice to get a little bit back into it, forgetting how easy, how fast it is to forget.

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 Can we actually position ourselves just somewhere? Or do we equally “design” our environment? Do we position things in the environment?

After stepping away from the Avenue of Trees we may move to The Park at Colpach by the same artist, namely Munkácsy Mihály.

In some respect it is very similar to the previous depiction – but nevertheless the topic lost some of its innocence.

Two views into a forest, light guiding the way – and in both cases the brightness at the end. However, here we face also the difference. We make take a cross as alignment when comparing the to objects.

Although we are approaching the Avenue from the dark, walking towards brightness, there is a distinction that we may put into words by saying that we actually walking in toto through light towards an ultimate brightness which also is – to some extent felt, to some extent seen – as surrounding, as environment of the “closed” space of the avenue. In this sense the closure of the space of the avenue is in actual fact not really given: it is obviously a temporary one. The destination of the walk is located at the upper part of the bottom half, but at the same time it is “stretched”, reaching with the opening to the sky beyond. With this it suggests also the openness of the walk itself – the destination not being fixed. This is supported by the “light from within” which acts as accompanying unfolding: an extension. In the park, on the other hand, the focus is moved from the visual to the special centre, the light at the suggested destination being externalised, remaining without strong meaning. It is only a small opening, else the trees providing a kind of border, a fortification wall that encapsulates the bright space which is limited: more like a field rather than suggesting a path. Looking at the “dominant tree” makes the same suggestion: not in a hostile way, perhaps even on the contrary “protecting” it provides paradoxically a shade, naturally the upper parts of the branches showing the bright colours, suggesting underneath a place for rest rather than a space for exploration. This suggests also that the genuine naturalness is replaced by some artificial, “given” order: But now it is not given in its own terms, but “designed”, “set”, not left open to be explored. With this the playfulness and even the thought of playfulness disappeared, the complement missing – also in the colour.

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Perhaps it is good that we are able to forget – languages, and how strange they can be at times, allowing us to speak in one language, give words – and deeds – one meaning.

Perhaps it is good that we are able to forget – I remember the visit to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam – together with Yitzhak and David. In a way a weird trio, me being together with an English and a Jewish chap. At the end, before leaving the building which had been a place of “soft horror” various quotes for different people are gathered. I remember especially the one, saying something like the following:

Why are we so concerned, emotionally touched but this one fate, surely a dramatic one but in some way nothing if we acknowledge that many, thousands of people had been tortured at the time. Why are deeply moved by just this one case? The answer is simple: it is hard to cope with the one, to reflect and re-enact the suffering of Anne Frank. We would ourselves shatter if we would try to reproduce what happened to all those who we t through an era of hell.

Forgetting, not recognising, turning attention away – or cutting single moments out of an entire complex portrait is probably the only way that allows us to function at least in a reasonable way.

It is about the coping with daily life, seeing even in the darkest moments some bright light! Acknowledging the hardship without allowing it to take us completely into its grip.

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In the meantime we turned away from Munkácsy’s paintings, stand in front of Paál László’s painting Berzovai Utca.[7]

The comparison between the Munkácsy’s Avenue and Park brought up the topic of the “ordering” of nature by civilisation, the obvious fact that the park disclosed at least indirectly humans’ intervention.

Now we really arrive in Civilisation …

– Zoltán aptly characterises Paál’s work with about these words. The colours of the actual painting are not as bright as they are on the present reproduction. They offer a more depressed picture, a somewhat dark and dirty place. The impression the picture provides is different to what the title suggests. Are we really seeing a street (Hungarian: utca)? Isn’t it more a farmyard, closed, not providing the option of an exit? All is untidy, messy. And in a nearly frightening way the two depicted people loose meaning. We do not see personalities: unfaltering, taking a clear position, guiding towards a clearly defined destination nor defining such destination themselves. It is more as if they would have been thrown into something, being left there – abandoned to their fate. They are faceless and the bodies do not show the basic stress of healthy people. This is even marked by the clarity with which the animals are presented – a closer look showing that they actually do have faces. Yes, we arrive in civilisation: the downside of it. And making sense out of it is left top us. Is it just the shadow of the light? Or the social division: leaving playfulness to the one, sober hardship to the others? The Berzovai Utca showing us what is going on behind the scene of the Avenue and Park?

– There are so many realities in a day as there are days in the life of each of us?

Faites vos jeux!

Though we will see later that even this needs to be qualified as for some the days that are left are just condensed in one single option: reality as condemnation.

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The meal had been nice, the taste of the food mingles the smell of hair which is still in my memory from the meeting a short while ago. All this seems to translate the fuss of the Tivoli and traffic into some form of music. Alfred Doeblin’s Berlin Alexander Square comes to my mind, the reality he captured so well in his novel by using condensation as means of a multilevel, collage like presentation, allowing to hear the various sounds of the place, drawing the reader into it.

The squeal of breaks gets me precipitously out of my dreams, recalls impressions from one of the previous days, back home, letting me ask:

How much fits into a day?

More or less first thing in the morning I see again the old man who is obviously homeless – for him sleeping rough translates into a rough, permanently interrupted sleep. He sits in a wheel chair, lost both legs and is not able to lean his head against anything. So he doses off, his head, the entire body moving forward – he is nearly rolling over, awakes again, nodding off to enter this seemingly endless circle of his nights. And in a way he is still one of the lucky people who is not taken into custody as so many of them have to face now in Hungary.

Later in the office I fly over the news on the Internet. Too much to be listed, one somewhat outstanding story: the riots in the United States of Northern America. People expressing their desperation: violence that will not lead anywhere, that will not bring about any change if an escalation of state violence is left out of the equation; but this state violence is already there: cops, at the end surely may doing there job because they simply follow the logic of the system which says if you are not beating you will be beaten. A sufficient excuse? What is sufficient if choice is extremely limited? – One outstanding photo in the Mail-Online-article Re-Occupied! Thousands of activists clash with police as May Day protesters swarm dozens of U.S. cities by Daniel Bates, Lydia Warren and Louise Boyle, the subtitle of the photo reading:

Gloating: Businessmen in a window laugh after placing a sign on their window above where Occupy Wall Street protesters were marching. It reads: ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get’

Later again, I have to go into the city, first across the Vaci Utca, the tourist mall. Helpless … Zsuzsa said the other day, when I mentioned an article in a French paper about the prosecution of the poor: “Yes, we are getting famous.” Helpless now, seeing this fame, being immediately confronted with it. A poor woman, I kind-of know her, saw her throughout the years. She walks and stands rectangular: crooked, leaning on her simple cane. She has to turn her head in order to be able to look up to the two policemen who control her documents. “Oh, boys, you little scallywags, what are you looking. You are still just little foolish greenhorns.” This is the one expression; another is resignation – her hands tremble but there is no fear: she is too weak for that. … I feel trembling myself but there is no fear: it is just this feeling of helplessness, anger … and sadness.

Few days before I wrote a mail to my students in Cork – I mentioned it, saying I feel a little bit guilty, asking myself if I am too demanding. After this impression I know again why I wrote

Sorry for being somewhat fussy. The problem is that there are certain simple facts – and in some perspective there are in studying sp also these things as in all subjects we study. 1 + 4,987 is matter of adding two figures with a positive value and we cannot change the value nor can we take a subtraction out of it. Photosynthesis doesn’t work with every light as source for the composition; and an oil painting is not a painting in watercolour.

Indeed, I think that social policy teaching and research is in many cases too “soft”, actually not considering itself as serious academic discipline but as refined pub–chat, not suggesting hard measures of intervening into the productive process, not substantially fighting exploitation …, instead still hoping for the good: philanthropy, good will, insight ….

Now, here in the Vaci Utca I can only move on. A little later I enter the building of the embassy, walk though the glass door – it is a heavy door, the glass only being the small part, decoration between the timber and metal. Control of documents …: A glass door like a glass ceiling: suggesting openness, but being in some respect impassable, making entering impossible for those who are not authorised.

It is not just the story about the passport as a travel document – far more: it is about an international standard. And this is one of the next things when I am asking myself the question: how much fits into day. How can we define and maintain within all this our identity.

At that time still looking forward to the visit in Copenhagen which I mentioned earlier and knowing that I will have a little bit spare time during the upcoming visit, I check the Internet – google, of course: Copenhagen. The first result brings me to Wikipedia. Now one could say: yes, an objective information rather than a possibly glossy self–presentation by the city, it’s tourist office, chamber of trade …. . But that Wikipedia is a neutral source, is as true that angels are sitting on a cloud, playing the harp. It is probably too much of an honour to give it the same status as the great work of the encyclopaedists of the 18th century – the great names of d’Alambert, Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire shining up. But it is not an honour for Wikipedia that it claims neutrality and universality. With that this falls much below the older encyclopaedists, who new that they a moving on a stage – not one of presentation but one of disputation – real and public, much less than a mouse-click away.

Well, as I do not have much time for the internet-search I accept the offer, glance over it, being especially interested in one section, culture and recreation, namely museums/galleries. According to the mentioned source, the city I will be visiting

has a wide array of museums of international standard.

I hesitate but give in, follow the link

International Standard

I hardly trust my eyes and senses:

International standards are standards developed by international standards organizations. International standards are available for consideration and use, worldwide. A prominent organisation is the International Organization for Standardization.

There is surely a good reason for acknowledging the outstanding work of some artists – and to be honest the work on these new perspectives is a great experience not least as I learn to deeply appreciate my personal privilege: I can say that I saw so many of the paintings that are of highest standard with my own eyes – those in the famous galleries as Le Louvre and those hidden in small galleries, some of these exhibition places hardly known even to most of the locals as those at the border of Rome’s Trastevere.

Though I am not principally opposed to the qualification of arts and to taking a comparative perspective, drawing a link to International Organization for Standardization is at best an expression of bad taste, ignorance and disrespect.


[1] For some the first painting of Cubism

[2] Reference is made to the Norwegian Airlines in-flight magazine #02. April-May 2012. However, many of these features can be found in various journals, magazines, newspapers … .

[3] In another context, namely being asked to comment on

the difference between the Third way politics and Strong Democracy, Big Society and the Social left?

I wrote in an e-mail (10 May 2012 09:00:52 GMT+01:00):

Point of departure is for me the definition of society.

In the conservative understanding it is based on the notion of a strict methodological individualism (for me the easiest, clearest presentation on few pages in the beginning of James Coleman’s two-volume oeuvre – don’t know the title; some stuff by Hartmut (?) Esser, but I think only in German; may even be that wikipedia is good enough): It is individuals acting as such and only being ex post “merged”. Big society is a little bit the Hobbesian Leviathan then, but as conscious and voluntary cooperation of individuals not as the state but “resisting” the competition on a small scale. In terms of the “old philosophies of the state” it is very much about Bodin and Vives – and the idea of the bonum commune as imagined something.

And this is the difference to the 3rd way. It refers to some form of the bonum commune as real, as something that exists and needs to be made conscious to all. As such it does not trust the reason and insight into things but aims on enforcing them, the “gentle” enforcement by workfare (did I say “gentle” enforcement? – but to be fair, I know people of this calibre and they think it is exactly this. And I also know colleagues … that at least at some stage thought this way – don’t know if they returned to using their brain). As such – and this is a marked difference – the reference is not the individual but an imagined collective actor (you see: radically different to the imagined something of the B[ig] S[ociety].

Then you have the Social Left – as said I do not know what you actually refer to. If it is what I think it is it is again rather different: actually starting from the (imagination of a) real collective actor being identical with the real collective interest – here we do not have the bonum commune anymore. The B[ig] S[ociety] is somewhat “outside”, external – like Hegel’s “absolute idea”. The real collective interest is inherent: “what people really want”. In this way there is actually no difference anymore between individual and social and private and public – … and they still live happily together …. But before do[i]ng so they have to get rid of some power which emerged as Leviathan, from the genuine evil … – as such they fall in their idealism back and arrive at Aristotelian ideas on virtue and vices …. – and as soon as they return to [the] paradise of the mode of production of antiquity th[ey] are ready …, living happily together.

[4] relationality had been presented already on another occasion

[5] This is not about suggesting that the work is part of the impressionist style.

[6] As known, mixing complementary colours results in grey.

[7] The colours in the present reproduction are badly matching the original.