Social Policy and Religion

There are things on this world we don’t know – and still we have an opinion, have our own approaches and …

… and much for the debate is either highly expert oriented and usually one-sided. Or it is informed by prejudices of one kind or another.

The present publication Social Policy and Religion, edited by Sibel Kalaycioglu and myself may serve to overcome the gap, giving some insight from very different stances on religion and also trying to contribute to a debate on the role of religion and religious organisations in the realm of social policy.

Catharsis

Well, being now here in Cairns again is surely also a little bit about dealing with my own history – having been here some time ago, working as fellow at the Cairns Institute …, one of the stations of what one may call unsettled life, unsettling life or living global(ity).

But arriving the one day around lunch time and having one free day before the conference brings me also to something we may call life at the verge of general history. And perhaps having lived on that verge, being merged into it without fully reflecting it in every day, requires this current personal catharsis (well, modern and in particularly social-work language speaks of debriefing though that is always difficult if we are required to be our own debriefer). – And living in history doesn’t allow debriefing as it would suggest an end to history (or at least its personal recognition).

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Step by step.

Some reading during the flight – to be correct: re-reading. It is Wilhelm von Humbold’s The Limits of State Action. In the Editor’s Introduction of the Liberty Fund-Edition, John Wyon Borrow writes on page XXXVI f.

If this is true, if a sense of history is an aspect of possible emancipation from the given standards of one’s immediate situation, the relation between historiography and discrimination is, or has been, a reciprocal one. For the growing sensitivity, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, to the nuances of distinct historical periods and the possible value they embodied, was intimately connected with the criticism of contemporary society. … The sense of the relevance of the past and its record, not merely of the crimes and follies of mankind but of its experiments in various styles of life and social organizations, involved in a reappraisal and a criticism of a particular image of contemporary society and of the notion of what constituted modernity.

Well, it is surely this need of knowing about history in order to be able to shape the presence and future. But let me be a little bit clearer – not only because I see this one of these days in Jill Chism’s piece of art The Inner Circle

Knowledge is not wisdom

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Wisdom would probably not suggest what we see so frequently, so naively as convulsive search for a smart society as complementing a smart economy: we need a new foundation of society rather than the hope for pure moral reason. Humanist liberalism and its inherent individualism, consequently applied and not distorted, already erected this monumental system of injustice, this Leviathan of a single world market that eradicates systematically any notion of justice simply by defining injustice as natural order, leaving us with free exchange as guideline of the suggested ultimate freedom, of course not able to see it: an eye for an eye …, makes everybody blind  (as we can learn from the same piece by Jill).

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As said, I arrive lunchtime and after having a shoer, I stroll along The Esplanade and it doesn’t take me long to stand in front of the war memorial monument

The Cairns War Memorial as erected to the memory of those who fell in the Great War (1914-1918).

Surely something to memorise, the victims of the terrible war, started from German soil, emerging as global war and thus showing that it had been not at all a conflict between nations but a fight for global hegemony, for the distribution of the world between the powerful.

It is a monument that makes us aware of “great history”, men fighting against men under the leadership of “great men”, the chiefs, guiding their tribes in a global fight against the enemy – of course, women didn’t play a role though ….

… I hesitate a little later, after I had been enjoying with my new Chinese friends a really great espresso (before preparing it, Ah Lam asked me “short and strong” – I nod and get what I wanted – even Italian espresso can hardly compete) and paying …, I hold the five Dollar note in my hand, the smallest note, depicting Queen Elisabeth II.[1]

And it may well be a good thing that the ladies are not on the battle ground – we know sufficiently from Brecht’s Mutter Courage about their suffering. And we know from his novel on the Good Person of Sezuan that too close involvement into these male battlegrounds may easily crunch her goodness.

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A little later – after much laughing (not to say giggling), much talk and a few recaptured Chinese words that had been dormant in my little skull, anew giggling and a bow when we say good-bye – my way brings me back: again along The Esplanade, now looking across the harbour with the yachts – a surely posh place – in the distance the mountains emerging as aloof, marks of a different world – the rainforest overshadowed by a dark cloud, and overshadowing affluence. Overshadowing … – a paradox as this is the shadow of the past: not celebrated but genocided: massive and manifest at first an entire people of whom the rights even to exist had been infringed; later being “psychologically genocided”, standing in the shadow of the immigrants, themselves not even being allowed to do the same and instead banished for life and with their lifes. The yachts of the rich – owned by “New Australians” of whom the forefathers came on vessels: galleys that brought those who had been evicted from there own countries, loosing their indigenous rights and now claiming the rights over the indigenous people in the country to which they had been brought. And the yachts of the rich – now also owned by the Tourist-Australians. And still, it is the rainforest, the part of the country to where many of the traditional owners, custodians and ancestors of this land had been dispelled, now overshadowing this part of the country, giving the affluent present non-owners, the self-legalised proprietors a bitter spice: wealth established on the shoulders of displacement, and wealth – in the form of a shipyard and yachts – as border, building a kind of fortress.

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Hope though … – between the strand and the boats a piece of art sticks out. Barely visible, lanceolate, colourful. A piece of art – “without title”, “Ohne Titel”, “sans titre” …. – I am not sure if it is indigenous or not. A piece of art that sticks out, barely visible, lanceolate, colourful, made by an unknown artist. A piece of art, barely visible, lanceolate, colourful and possibly marking the future – a future where title, authorship, property doesn’t matter.

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Is it by chance that I see Bungan one of these days? The artist of whom I have one most beautiful piece of indigenous art – I nearly wrote peace of art which may well be a Freudian slip as it is a painting that expresses harmony in an amazing way. We meet on The Esplanade, actually in the shop where I purchased the painting. Seeing her and recognising her is a matter of the same second, I am immediately banned by a strange, somewhat magical power this woman exudes. I look …, well, yes, it is not herself, it is another paining and I am caught by it. A sober, black and white painting that stands out in the middle of all the colourful pieces. It is the history she expresses in the painting. The history that expresses more than

We had been right, and you took our land!

Instead, it is

We had been right, and we now claim our right. We should do it together as we have only this one world. But if we do not have another choice we will do it against you!

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I would like to pay my respects to the traditional, present and future owners, custodians and ancestors of this land and acknowledge the spiritual relationship of all Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people with their country and their cultural values and beliefs.

This is the statement – though in slightly different forms – used often in this region on the occasion of opening ceremonies. And it is also in some form used on the occasion of the conference Racisms in the New World Order, which actually brought me back to Australia. Jackie Huggins who addressed the participants on the occasion of the opening reception also uses these words. Yes,

the traditional, present and future

And she emphasises future. As we will only have a future if we recognise it as future of this one world, the future of this one race: human beings striving for harmony within themselves and among themselves and with the environment we live in.

As said in the beginning, this visit is a bit of personal catharsis – not just as matter of remembering having lived and worked here for some time, but a reminder of “personal relationality”, the fact of being part history: the nightmare of all dead generations weighing also on my brain – in every day’s life[2] and the responsibility arising from there. Too often a burden … – the burden of walking too close along the verge.


[1]      Actually other, larger denominations of the Australian money also show female faces  – may be worthwhile to look at in its own right

[2]      Alluding to Marx, Karl: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 1852

Customer Care or Criitique of Political Economy for everyday’s life

There had been a problem with my address – stuff the bank sends frequently doesn’t arrive as it should – well, Irish addresses …
So, I sent a mail, mentioning this and I receive the answer:

If you do online banking this problem doesn’t occur.

I am hesitating to answer

If I and all the others do online banking you will loose your job.

And I am also wondering – thinking about this tiny incidence in connection with the recent experience in a travel agency (one of these old-fashioned places where one can book flights ..). – distinctly attentive and friendly staff really obliging. And extremely well organised. Just a blink before I am told

And you will receive a notification on your mobile phone as well

I feel the soft touch of the vibrating phone on my chest – as if it would be a version of modern life’s love story …. – and I pay, of course, without hesitation the 40 Euro more the flight costs me if compared with the web-booking. Well, there is a little more to it – the actual reason for booking with the travel agency had been less about this little love story and more about getting without complications the insurance needed for the visa-application.

In any case, sufficient stuff to work along and give a four hour lecture on economics and the economy … – but this I will leave to September when my students return and when I will look with them at Queens, Quesnay, Smith and …, yes, sure, at some stage also at Marx who famously clarifies fetishism as objective mechanism in capitalist societies:

As against this, the commodity-form, and the value-relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.

The Emperor and Wolfgang Amadeus

The other day I saw on facebook an advertisement – apparently a new game.

KINGDOMS OF CAMELOT

I didn’t have a look at it. But of course, there is always this notion of ‘My home is my castle’ – although it is an illusion and the home of many is actually the home of their bank – in the best case. I write ‘in the best case’ as for probably most of the people it is not ‘my castle’ but a loan granted by their prince, the bank. And for increasing numbers it is victim of the loan-givers meddling collectors – the Deutsche Bank showing ‘German perfection’ even in crime.

The other day I talked to Marco, after we watched on RAI the report on Il Palio – he wanted to draw my attention to the anthropological side:

Isn’t there some medievalism in us: we are engaged in all these personalised and irrational attractions.

And he, the catholic, also wondered about the masses going to mass.

The recent visit of the pope in Milano caught the attention of …

I forgot the number, but it had been large enough to justify his words:

There is obviously something of this irrationality we need!? The feeling of security? Comfort?

Sure, this may also be an eternal resonance of the lost paradise, sadly looked at by Eve – captured by Antonio Allegretti with the masterful scuplture Eva doppo il peccato allegretti. And it is surely this challenge, defined by the gained independence and responsibility and the difficulty even of a genius as Euclid to fully master this independence.

*****

But Euclide’s problem had been the effort of keeping the world moving by handling a set of numbers and geometric forms. More radical attempts, for instance Stefano Porcari’s strive for a Catholic Republic had been cruelly rebuked. Not only that ‘he left life’, i.e. had been hang. But apparently he also failed to represent a demos – at least this is what we can concluded from Marion Crawfords who contends in the work Ave Roma Imortalis

The name Porcari calls up another tale of devotion, of betrayal, and of death, with the last struggle for a Roman Republic at the end of the Middle Age. It was a hopeless attempt, made by a brave man of simple and true heart, a man better and nobler than Rienzi in every way, but who judged the times ill and gave his soul and body for the dream of a liberty which already existed in another shape, but which for its name’s sake he would not acknowledge. Stephen Porcari failed where Rienzi partially succeeded, because the people were not with him ; they were no longer oppressed, and they desired no liberator; they had freedom in fact, and they cared nothing for the name of liberty; they had a ruler with whom they were well pleased, and they did not long for one of whom they knew nothing. But Stephen, brave, pure, and devoted, was a man of dreams, and he died for them, as many others have died for the name of Rome and the phantom of an impossible Republic; for Rome has many times been fatal to those who loved her best.[1]

It is somewhat symbolical that the space that accommodated the house where Porcari had been born and where he lived is now an empty space: in the middle of Rome, in a small street next to the Pantheon – a space where it is prohibited to erect a building. Is it prohibiting people to develop as collective and social demos, claiming a real res publica?

One can turn it around: The modern state, not least going back to Montesquieu’s ‘Spirit of the Laws’, never ever succeeded, and even aimed on, taking the res publica serious, the establishment of a public space. Not least as such public space is always a process as it had been shown in parts of that early French revolution that had been employed by processes rather than building up structures. The public had been systematically reduced on a gathering of individuals. At this point we may leave it open if and in which way this had been different in ancient times. But Euclidian arithmetical reductionism had to lead to the claim of private property being the ultimate ‘natural right’ as spelled out for instance by Locke. And even more, the individual had to be the ultimate point of reference – this had been the true spirit that Montesquieu managed to breath into history of modernity.

And as such, the state emerged as seemingly independent force not as what it is usually presented: the servant of the people. This res publica is a scattered mirror: Eve could only fall in despair, Euclid could only wonder why his genuine attempt crashed and Alfonso Balzico’s Cleopatra could seemingly choose but had been distracted from the affluence in front of her eyes by the permanent presence of the hissing snake.

*****

 And this allows to return to the remark on the

KINGDOMS OF CAMELOT

It is this ongoing and strengthened individualism that actually allows the new, now hidden emperors standing over the princes – and it allows the suggested servant of the people to act like a jester. Though the difference is: the real jester had been mocking about the ruler – and here it is the ruler, mocking about the people. Of course, this may easily be seen as clandestine clue: at the end of the day, the day that may well mark the beginning of real history, it will be the people ruling themselves.

But for the time being jestering is very similar to Euclid’s play with numbers and forms. It is not really far fetched: We find the very same picture in today’s economic policies: number crunching – even in many cases of the search for radical growth policy (my little project with Marica), the strive for Millennium Development Goals (topic of a new little project with Almas) and even the search for niches. As Brigitte says in a recent mail, referring to a book by Raul Zibechi

but he also thinks that the control over territories is getting increasingly important for the rulers and for social movements – something that also points on the re-emergence of feudal forms. Of course, the question is then how such theses can be applied here in Europe.[2]

This is exactly the problem: that many of the solutions are caught in the dilemma Einstein supposedly put into the words:

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

This search for solutions by following the same thinking that created them is not new – though Charles Anthony Smith, Thomas Bellier and John Altick present it as new. Be this as it is, it is heuristically surely interesting to read

the ego-panoptic construct we identify has two related but discreet dimensions. First, the individual has a greater capacity to keep the powerful in check through individual level surveillance of society. Second, the individual is more capable of constructing the world that exists around them. State and society have an increased susceptibility to control by or influence from the individual while there is also a simultaneous limitation on the ability of state and society to force the individual to conform.[3]

*****

All this may sound rather abstract – but actually it has a very simple expression in today’s economic policies. Though all this is a central part of the crisis, it is nevertheless a frequently forgotten one. Debt and in particular indebtedness by the states is undeniably a major problem. It is again and again highlighted by reference in particular to crisis in Greece. And it is made increasingly a topic in supposedly rich nations, complaining about the ‘cost of solidarity. And it is also frequently – even by several conservatives – brought to the fore that austerity policies are at least not without problems. Such policies are not so much ‘imperial’ than ‘medieval’: the brute force against the subject by the use of violence; requesting increased dues. However, there is another dimension to today’s policies in dealing with public debt. And saying today does not refer only to the current crisis but to historical predecessors from the previous century. For Western Germany it is generally accepted that special conditions after WW-II – in particular the support received by the Marshall Plan and the advantage of a near to completely destroyed material foundation of the industrial process (means of production), allowing a kind of ‘new start’, condition for a major competitive advantage on the global level – fostered a period of exceptional growth. But with this we reach implicitly another point: the problem of ‘growth’ – not least since W.W. Rostow growth is considered to be a magic driver, a self directing pattern that does not require any justification as the attraction is given by the Platonic understanding of numbers as real, gaining their justification from a supposedly natural order: 1 naturally followed by 2 naturally followed by 3 naturally followed by 4 maturely followed by … – ops, naturally maturely as the given and unquestionable order of development. And it is the competitive-individualist growth pattern. The Cartesian

proposition, I think, therefore I am, is the first and the most certain which presents itself to whoever conducts his thoughts in order

– later we will come back to it – is now perverted. We can reword: The

capitalist proposition, I grow, therefore I am, is the first and the most certain which presents itself to any economy conducting its balance sheets in order.

As this is a purely individualist principle, and furthermore: as this subsequently is a purely competitive principle, it is also a matter of permanent externalisation of costs. Investment is not aiming on

the production and reproduction of the immediate essentials of life.[4]

And as much as this is still an important aspect – and at the very end the decisive point, it emerges in its capitalindividualist perversion into a rat-race of accumulation of supposed wealth and the permanently enforced externalisation of costs.

We may leave at the moment an important point aside: the fact that the suggested wealth is an illusion. Instead a seemingly technical aspect of maintaining this illusion is worth mentioning.

Germany’s exceptional post-WW-II-growth had been mentioned. But after 1945/49 other economies had been growing with exceptionally high rates too, including the United States of North-America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. And indeed, this had been based in – on the one hand – increasing income at least of the so-called middle classes and – on the other hand – the availability of an increasing number of long-term mass consumables (refrigerators, automobiles, household appliances, TV/colour-TV etc.). Interesting is to relate the growth rate for instance in the USNA, the increase of public debt and the inflation rate. The problem of public debt is not the fact itself, but the use of such debt as means of permanent and massive re-distribution. Inflation is an effective instrument – and not least an instrument that allows dispossession: the assets of citizens with an average income are not only eaten up by the changing cost-benefit ratio on the market for every-day’s consumables. Inflation is also a means of public debt relief.

As Carmen Reinhart and Belen Sbrancia state

financial repression is most successful in liquidating debts when accompanied by a steady dose of inflation. Inflation need not take market participants entirely by surprise and, in effect, it need not be very high (by historic standards).[5]

This is a mechanism that works directly against the population and also via redistribution where banks and funds are working as intermediaries.

*****

Indeed, here we find a ‘love-story’ between the different profit-making and –taking mechanisms – complementing and competing roles at the very same time – that evokes repercussions of the first lines of the recitative in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Despina contending

Now I can see

You’re a woman of sense.

and Dorabella answering

In vain, Despina, I tried to resist:

that little devil has such tricks,

such eloquence, such a way with him,

that he’d melt the heart of a stone.[6]

And in actual fact the problem of the entire story is brought to the point by Guglielmo, just a short time before expressing his pure egoism, expressing a misunderstood individualism:

such treatment of so many

is pernicious and a bore

… you treat so many thus,

that if your lovers complain

they have a good reason indeed.[7]

It is like the state which can easily be seen in sustaining a function of an indeed self-interested court: the emperor frequently changing clothes, appearing as social and welfare state, activating state, bureaucratic state etc.. There is no doubt, all these different appearances matter – politics do matter. But they do matter not least as part of a historically long battle about hegemony where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s life may be metaphorically telling. A genius of a world that had not been invented yet, and a world that surely did not allow to live this collective notion – a world that finally deflated the genius, causing a puny withering away of a flower that lost its inner buoyancy at the age of 35.

a man defeated by life[8]

It had been and is world in which

[c]oncepts like ‘civility’ or ‘civilisation’ on the one hand and ‘culture’ on the other were used in Germany as symbols of different canons of behaviour and feeling. It was possible to show that the use of these words reflected the chronic tension between court establishment circles and bourgeois outsider groups. This also highlighted certain aspects of the bitter class struggles between the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy.[9]

However, there are two points that should be reconsidered when reading Norbert Elias’ analysis and reflections: The first is to put a big question mark behind his thesis that this struggle

finally came to an end in the twentieth century with the rise of the two classes related to the productive economy and the de-funtionalisation of the nobility as a social stratum.[10]

Fact is that the ‘productive economy’, i.e. capitalism, actually systematically undermined productivity if productivity is seen as matter of use value. If

[i]t is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest[11]

it must be something else – and indeed: it is exchange value that – by an invisible hand – creeps into all pores of life, absorbing meaning and sociability with every breath, with every stroke of the hand. The Cartesian proposition

Ac proinde hæc cognitio, ego cogito, ergo sum, est omnium prima & certissima, quæ cuilibet ordine philosophanti occurrat

had been frequently criticised for the inherent idealism. But its utmost individualist stance had been barely objected – Descartes speaks of those individual

whoever conducts his thoughts in order.

And this is it: the order of the mind and thought of the individual philosopher – sitting on an earthly cloud, playing a virtual harp: professional perfectionism, excellence of universities: the realisation of

their own interest.

Second, it is too often forgotten that this new ruling class is in itself split: citoyen and bourgeois inevitably interconnected and nevertheless unavoidably in conflict, avoiding each other like the plague: The idealist freethinker – and Mozart had been one of them – standing against the materialist utilitarian for whom paradoxically the only ‘use value’ is a creature that lost its feet and legs: ‘use value’ is – for the utilitarian – the ‘uselless’ profit, a ‘social construct’ based on the alienation also of the product from itself. A social construct that does not have any own use despite being a placeholder for any use-valuable; interchangeable even with itself.

Thus – coming back to Mozart – he had been not just in a quandary. The individual solution obstructed by the lack of inalienable social integration, thus undermining socio-individual integrity. And the social integration undermined by the individual not accepting to be a mere part of an disruptive system of …, yes: self- obstructing individuals.

Sure, the privileged Tamino can live this role. But really: Papageno cannot.

*****

It surely matters in which way we look at things, the perspective we take. Recently, visiting the Kunsthalle in Mannheim, I had been fascinated by overlooking the town through the window.[12]

Actually it may be said that it had been more overlooking history. An inexpressible notion. Depending on the position, the ‘images’ change. What seems to be a from a more distant position as Napoleonic visage, withers into a small house covered by a dark roof – youy see it in the middle of the diagonal that spans from the Eifeltower to the house with the red roof. The imperial greatness, the appropriation of historical power by one person transforming into people’s life, translating into an authoritarian character of bourgeois society.

For the time being we play in our little realms as for instance a

KINGDOM OF CAMELOT

– not seeing the invisible hand of the emperor, in fomer eras claiming to be representing the devine, then the emperor by grace of god, in extremes the claims of being God’s chosen people and today enthroned by the new god of mammon – money as the ultimate good. – To make sure: this is not the failure of individuals. Nobody can ‘see reality and act in a free will’. Rather, it is a forceful reality – gods are always misleading: the ancient and the modern gods, deceiving for a while by golden fleece und the cover of which the collective knowledge of the abys is darkened.

Delaunay’s La Fenêtre sur La Ville allowing to overlook Paris – the metropole that may claim to at least one of the legs of modernity’s cradle; and allowing to see that

make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.[13]

Delaunay’s La Fenêtre sur La Ville: a painting with an inexpressible notion – evokeing helplessness. But even more suggesting the power of the de-indivdualised being – the kindness, solidarity, empathy and real self-realisation … – Herr Messerscharf und die Ameisenmenschen (Mr. Trenchant and the Human Ants) from Phanresia’s Stories of Friendship[14] once learned this lesson.


[1]            Crawford, F. Marion (Francis Marion), 1902: Ave Roma Imortalis

http://archive.org/stream/averomaimmortal04crawgoog/averomaimmortal04crawgoog_djvu.txt

[2]            may translation

[3]            Smith, Charles Anthony/Bellier, Thomas/Altick, John: (2011): Ego-Panopticism: The Evolution of Individual Power; in: New Political Science, 33: 1, 45-58; here: 46

[4]            Engels, Frederick, 1884: Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Preface to the First Edition – http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1884/origin-family/preface.htm – 5/5/11 11:47 AM Online Version: Marx/Engels Internet Archive (marxists.org) 1993, 1999, 2000 – Volume 26. Frederick Engels. 1882-89

[5]            The liquidation of government debt; nber working paper series; National Bureau of Economic Research 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138 March 2011; Working Paper 16893 http://www.nber.org/papers/w16893

[6]            Così fan tutte. Drama Giocoso; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte. Première: Vienna, January 26th, 1790. Wiener Staatsopernchor/Wiener Philharmoniker/Karl Böhm; Live Recording from the Salzburg Festival on the occasion of Karl Böhm’s 80th birthday, 28 August 1974; Hamburg: Polydor International/Deutsche Gramophon; Libretto (Engl.: Lionel Salter) 32-205; here: 166

[7]            ibid.: 164

[8]            Elias, Norbert, [1991]: Mozart: The Sociology of a Genius; in: Nobert Elias: Mozart and Other Essays on Courtly Art. The Collected Works of Norbert Elias. Vol. 12: Edited by Eric Baker and Stephen Mennell; Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2010; 55-167; here: 57 – it had been an uncompleted work by Elias, first published in 1991, edited by Michael Schröter who had been authorised by Norbert

[9]            ibid.: 64

[10]            ibid.

[11]            Smith, Adam, 1776: The Wealth of Nations. Books 1-111; Edited with an introduction and notes by Andrew Skinner; London: Penguin Books, 1999: 119

[12]            Robert Delaunay, 1885-1941 – La Fenêtre sur La Ville, 1910-1914

[13]            Marx, Karl: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 1852; here quoted from the internet-version http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm – 15/12/2008 11:21 am .

[14]            Peter Herrmann: Phanresias Geschichten von der Freundschaft. Ein Kinderbuch; With Illustrations by/Mit Illustrationen von Franziska Herrmann; Bremen: Europaeischer  Literaturverlag, 2010

Mocking and Roots

Returned from Rome – not only known as Sancta Sede, but also known as one of the main “sites of antiquity”, seen as cradle of civilisation. Sure, it may be contested if such a claim is actually legitimate – there had been many antiquities and consequently there are many places that can be equally seen as such main sites. Having been there – this time actually not as long as on other occasions – I had been drawn immediately and tensely into this question. Perhaps it is our new office, if you want you may say the ultimate tension between times: an old building (though not reaching as far back as antiquity, a most elegant interior: with columns, arches and nearly monumental vases and statues, and at the same time accommodating one of the most modern social and economic research institutes. But all this …, does it go hand in hand? Is it compatible at all? On my facebook-site I surely made several disrespectful remarks – and I am not tempted to deny them. And I also made several remarks that simply reflect some general criticism: immeasurable wealth in the face of increasing world-poverty … With all this one should surely not simplify things – even personally I know a reasonable number of people: honestly faithful, honestly working for human rights, for combating poverty, trying to build up a just society. Actually the other day a leading figure of the Italian catholic church plead for a stronger influence of his organisation in politics – let us even assume that  he is a god-willing, honest person. But there we are in the middle of a first fundamentally critical point: This organisation claims not only influencing the state – we surely have to admit that there are several organisations, with different political couleurs, claiming the same. But this organisation, the Holy See as calls itself, calims TO BE the state, at least a state. What we easily overlook begins – symbolically – with the Vatican’s own Euro coins, and being surely expressed by the huge number of embassies. Actually walking through Rome, in most varied places, you find the embassies, the Diplomatic Mission to the Holy See. Btw., I think our Finish embassy has the most stunning location, overlooking Rome … Sure, btw. – but there is another point to it: next to it, there is a wall – narrow, just a small protection for the tourists that are roaming across this space: in memory of Garibaldi. On the wall you can read the Roman constitution – and there is surely a reason to mention and celebrate Garibaldi and the modern constitution in one breath. Literally, standing there, looking across the city, the Holy See is at your back – and you may want to say, it is in a position that is left behind. But you have to say: the church is a kind of backbone of this current system. There is no simple answer – on the cover of a book I bought in the Gallery of Modern Arts (Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna), I read:

Ogni epoca, per trovare identità e forza, ha inventato un’idea diversa di “classico”. Cosí il “classico” riguarda sempre non solo il passato ma il presente e una visiona del futuro. Per dar forma al mondo di domini è necessario ripensare le nostre molteplici radici. (Salvatore Settis: Futuro del “Classico”; Giulio Einaudi editore; 2004 [nuova edizione])

I think it is in some way remarkable that I bought the book in an arts gallery: arts seems to be much better able to reflect its origins without sticking to it like the fly in the trap, sweetened by honey, pleasing like Adonis, in Greek mythology the god of beauty and desire and dazing like opium. If life, real life, would support us in every day to live history in this “dialectical way”: keeping the valuable, but push the overcome part on the rubbish heap of history, mutual respect would surely be easier to reach. But as long as organisations claim to be states … All this has surely another dimension too: if and to the extent to which the church did have a legitimate role society it had been at times that are in social science frequently looked at in terms of cooperative, associational, communal … . There is much transfiguration going hand in hand with this – the golden ages of harmonious communities have never been really prevalent, at least not during those times that we may consider as sufficiently known. Nevertheless, there surely had been times preceding the modern state. and this brings us to a critical point, looking at many of today’s political movements, not least some of those claiming very critical positions against the current mainstream. Again. I do not want to question the credibility of these claims. Nor do I want to claim knowing the answers. To be honest, I am still looking for the exact question. At least I feel uncomfortable, looking at solutions based in values, in good will, in general feelings and partial analysis, not considering the fundamental changes of the productive systems. New quest for salvation: in old religions, revived Evangelism or new claims of excellence are unlikely to help. As said, I had been in the Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna. Entering the exhibition-hall, there is first a fascinating …, installation: The floor of the entire hall is a mirror, a broken mirror. Old statues standing on it … Can we say: Antonio Allegretti’s “Eva dopo il peccato” (1881) in desperation of what she lost? Giacomo Ginotti’s “Euclide” (1883) not understanding that the blueprints he made, didn’t work out? Alfonso Balzico’s “Guiletta” (1884-1886) hesitatingly-amused by looking at what emerged and could have been known by everybody? And the same Balzico’s “La Civetta” (1856-1860) even openly positioning herself beyond these worldly trivialities? Still, for all of them it is still very much a game – a bright light still shining – not victims like those who did the actual work, the ones, for which the hope of the regeneration of the soul, which is supposed to happen every seven years, doesn’t exist. It may be pure incidence that I communicate these days with Rainer about an article he sent in connection with some debate on some writing on religion: Hearing the Voice of God. Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann studies how American evangelicals experience the friend they have in Jesus (article by by Jill Wolfson; July/August 2012). He asked me for my opinion on it:

…. In the meantime I have had a look at the text you sent. It looks as if there is quite a lot in the book in question that is in one or another way complementing the book “Gewinn in alle Ewigkeit” (Fleischmann). The first impression is striking: “Society outside [outside of the life of the sect] doesn’t exist.” And subsequently there is immediately a second point for debate: In which way did “our generations” – at least some of us – supported a development which is actually at least in analytical terms well reflected in Thatcher’s statement that “there is no such thing as society.” It is this question, so difficult to answer and even so difficult to ask: the search for personality as social being, linked to the point that the social is not just subordination and adaption. Looking at it in terms of class analysis: How can we understand Marx’ notion of a “class for itself” as development towards respecting personality, avoiding that everybody has to look individually for meaning in some dialogue: bound to an authority, without necessarily being a religious issue but easily being religious. ….

Is that really so different from how he interprets the text? His thoughts are mainly concerned with the freedom of thought, the freedom from dogmatic incrustation and the nearness to or distance from the state. Yes, indeed, the critic of the history of religion needs surely a new approach. And surely it is about how we produce and reproduce out daily life: the goods we need, the means we use and the way we produce and live together – in a way, distribution is only second stage here. That is part of what real critique of political economy is about.

The Begging State – Privatisation of a special kind

Trastevere train station – probably I will never feel comfortable with these vending machines, but bad luck: the only way to obtain a train ticket [if I would have known that aerlingus is not late but very late this day I could have walked …]. No place where to go to, asking a real human being something like: Buon giorno. Per favore, vorrai …

Did I say no human being? But no. It is called street level economic activity: A young(ish) man stood at the vending machine, helping everybody: Italians, Romans (sure, they are some kind of Italians too), frequent train-users, the occasional traveller … – he had been really grateful for being occasionally allowed to keep the change.
And I had been really grateful for the little bit of additional research opportunity on the question of reducing the cost of labour power and shifting it amongst different bearers: the (Italian) Prodi/Monti state[1] saves money needed for maintaining public services; the (Italian) state saves money for social benefits; the invoice is paid by impoverishing the public and private individuals alike …

…. But no worry, I won’t claim L’Etat c’est moi! That is still done by those who in actual fact undermine most systematically the state as what it claims to be: a democratic institution. The Louis XIVth of today are the Golden Lehmanns, Gates, Sarkozys, Orbans and Merkels …


[1]            both major promoters of selling out the Italian state to private capitals, by this destroying the entire industrial basis.

Lost Ground

It is a narrow staircase only, and a short one. Three steps to go, two, one – the way to climb up to her is as short as it is leading through a dark space. Even the very moment before I turn around the corner I am not even aware of the fact that she is there, just the second I move the head up I look in her face and sense the impossible. – A placid, warm breath, touching my face, adulating gently my neck and resting on my shuoulders and I am looking into the eyes of this woman.

It is nothing like short meeting in the coffee shop near the train station – the encounter of two travellers, eternal tourists and the modern travellers’ life as jigsaw as I mentioned it when I wrote about the visit in Copenhagen. And nevertheless there is something that reminds me of that sweet encounter.

– Yes, a placid, warm breath, touching my face, adulating gently my neck and resting on my shuoulders and I am looking into her eyes, she is looking into my eyes: Pallas Athene.

It is not only the nearness I feel, the imagination of being physically tapped, the experience of naturalness. It is also something of the eternal tourist – though now not moving in space but in time – the goddess as an authentic Time-Traveller’s real wife. It is an all-embracing feeling with its own dynamic: the paradox of losing control emerging from the feeling that this single existence is real part of the universe of space and time. One of the innumerable single existences without which the world would not be the very same reality that it is and at the very same time one of the innumerable single existences that actually cannot make a real difference, a moment that cannot shape reality. Captured by the genius of Gustav Klimt.

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Perhaps it is in particular when facing Klimt – and some of his contemporaries – that it is easy to forget about academic classifications. Perhaps one can go even a step further: it is difficult to think in terms of classifications although and because one is permanently confronted with academia. The famous dispute which developed around the faculty paintings went far beyond the topical issues on the spectacular debates of the time – for instance the one on medicine. And the other equally provocative on philosophy.

Trusting many sources about his life, Klimt had surely been an enfant terrible of his time. And as two major reasons the following may be brought forward: first, entering the world of arts had not necessarily been what he heard at his cradle. Second, one may say especially as Klimt has been – enfant terrible – a most pronounced representative of true, unbribed academy. In this respect being enfant terrible had been so different from expressing his anger and concern in a helpless scream – the provocation depicted in Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream. Gustav Klimt had been looking for radically questioning the conditions of the time. It is not least the difference between lament and accusation that marks the difference between the two.

Munch once said:

One should not paint interiors peopled by reading men and knitting women. One ought to deal instead with living human beings capable of breathing and feeling, suffering and loving.

And probably his most famous piece – The Scream is a paradox expression of this. On the one hand we feel the instant message: the devotion to this sujet. We can see the immediacy of the artist being directed towards and guided by these ‘living human beings’. Nevertheless, the fact that Munch could bring this immediacy to the fore is based in grasping the paradox, namely depicting a being that is pushed to the margins: somebody who is facing the situation of loosing ground, of suffocating because of not being honestly allowed and able to

breath and feel, suffer and love.

Feeling and suffering is limited to and compressed into a scream – diffuse, unknown by way of it’s origin and direction. And as much as it is such real person, it is hindered by the fact of one-sidedness, or even more so: in-sidedness.

In which way ever, it is obvious that the viewer is a most important part of entire account: accused, beseeched – but always only in this perspective of a self that lost ground, that misses anchoring: de-rooted as the soil is poisoned.

All this is not least part of a socio-economic situation that can be characterised by a very similar pattern as we find it today: middle classes, reasonably secured in – or at least: feeling reasonably accommodated by – a now stabilised capitalist system (the early stage of industrial capitalism had been now at a stage that can be considered as consolidated) had been increasingly becoming aware of the fact that this capitalism had not been a threat to the living of industrial workers but also to their own position and also to the life of society: alienation can be seen as the foundational principle of the life perspective especially for many of the privileged middle class strata and in particular of the Bildungsbuergertum[1]. An important point in this context is the emergence of some form of – for the time – new inwardness, using Egon Schiele’s words: the quest to

Work from the heart. – And you have the chance to ‘imbue your work with spirit’

and the opening towards new options, suggesting – in the words of Baudelaire – that

Modernity (der neue Stil) is the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent …

In particular Baudelaire’s statement is telling as it allows to understand the permanency of transition, the presence of change which we can only understand when we understand ourselves as fundamentally social beings in the deepest meaning: part and parcel of history in the strict sense – recalling another time Goethe’s words

He who cannot draw on 3000 years is living hand to mouth.

For me, this feeling of being genuinely part of history is so poignant when looking into Athene’s eyes, that I write later in a mail to Joe, a friend of mine

Had been in the Historische Kunstmuseum today …, just unbelievable !! Yes, even after all these privileges of seeing and experiencing so many things that are sealed for so many people, I still can be impressed by many things; but I didn’t believe that I would stand another time in front of a fresco, very close to crying (the other time that this happened is nearly obvious: Picasso’s Guernica – while writing it comes to my mind: in both cases standing alone there: the small Peter from a tiny Irish village, being confronted with history, so to say: squeezed by this monumental existence, the nightmare Karl had been talking about.[2]

All this has, however, another dimension too – the 3,000 years Goethe refers to, still being important as score of historical consciousness, are at this point in time increasingly a matter of the immediate presence: for people like Klimt and Munch compressed in a blink of an eye, and moreover: rather than being a matter of intellectual reflection but as matter of actual life, emerging from the inside. With this, it is of course something that is extremely difficult to handle: the felt isolation and indolence stands against the objective socialisation and fluidity.

Even small details of a technical kind are emerging as important – condition of the new style even if only by allowing change to happen and reinforcing it. In 1841 the tube had been invented, making it easily possible for the painter to move away from the studio, capturing landscapes, capturing – we may remember Edvard Munch’s words –

living human beings capable of breathing and feeling, suffering and loving.

It had been a move that allowed the artist to work not only by imagining people who are capable, but who are actually doing it. Moving out of the studio, thus, had been a step towards moving inside of people’s life. And furthermore it allowed moving inside the own impression – the artist now being encouraged to express the immediate impression. We may remember what had been said on another occasion, looking at a

fast stroke with a brush in paintings like that of a tree, just Over In An Instant

When quoting Sean Seal’s words earlier it had been to highlight the factor of time: compressing time in such fast strokes as means of capturing historical reality in a condensed way. And the same can be said now for space.

In this way we may extend the look on Gustav Klimt and Edvard Munch by claiming that this is by and large true for an entire new generation of artists: the Impressionists as masters of spaces, timespaces and spacetime in entirely new ways – and opposing what the great Vasari claimed, saying ablout paintings that they are

laid on flat with most simple strokes of the brush and having but one light, shows but one aspect

(Vasari, Giorgio, 1550: Lives of the Most Eminent Painters Sculptors and Architects ; here quoted from the Internet-version)

There had been another technical development, opening arts for new ways: the invention of photography, seriously beginning in 1820s. ‘Exact depiction’ now being easily possible meant loosing ground for ‘realist’ paintings. Basically two answers had been possible. The one had been the emergence of a new realism, in the extreme case much later put on firm feet by Bert Brecht in his theory of theatre and developed under the term of Verfremdung, i.e. disassociation. Cum grano salis this can be said for much of early realism even of artists as Munkácsy Mihály that had been looked at earlier. On the other hand we find the Impressionists, breaking with reality in the strict sense and moving forward – in economic terms: moving beyond assemblage. Of course this had been a complex development, full of contradictions. But in any case the Impressionists can also be seen as very early avant-garde of a new mode of production.

Avant-garde – a complex and surely tricky issue. Looking at the economic developments this new mode of production had been characterised by an escalating separation of exchange value from use value. In some way, the reality as such lost meaning: it had been only a construct, assembled as matter of actual production; but in addition assembled by the ongoing social construction. Issues as fetishism, consumerism, alienation, isolation and the like come immediately to mind. And at the very same time, this emerging hedonist person comes now increasingly only into being by relating to the social and inorganic environment.

One indicator for this is the emergence of ‘social actors’ or as it is nowadays frequently itemised in social science: agency. Émile Durkheim still concentrated on the fait sociale. If we see such social facts, undeniably existing as presented in Durkheim’s study Le Suicide (1897), it had been very much a passive reflex, something like the supposed move of the lemmings: an activity initialised by some unknown impulse, a mass, acting unconsciously, a direction that seems to be determined by an external and eternal law. Of course, this needs to be qualified as Durkheim had been interested in detecting this ‘unknown impulse’. Actually his analysis had been driven by the conviction that cause of action and its direction can surely be detected – and changed.

In any case, this interpretation of the social fact changed completely – and this happened in historical perspective around the same time, literally before Durkheim published his major works (Le Suicide [1897]; De la Division du travail social [1893]). Karl Marx and Frederick Engels – in thinking and social practice – emphasised the emergence of the social actor. Karl Marx’ made this point clear in his famous work on Poverty of Philosophy with respect of the development of the class struggle.

Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The combination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have noted only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests. But the struggle of class against class is a political struggle.

(Marx, Karl, 1847: The Poverty of Philosophy Answer to the Philosophy of Poverty by M. Proudhon; chapter two).

Brought to the point: the individual proletarian is not more than a commodity; the proletarian who is consciously and actively relating to others, being in this way part of the class, is not only gaining power as part of a larger entity but also gaining power over him/herself, developing as real personality.

Coming back to Munch on the one hand and Klimt on the other we find the difference between them on this abyss: the first confronts us with a scream, expressing helplessness and equally leaving us helpless, shocked and uncomfortable – but uncomfortable also the poisoned ground on which we stand seemingly does not allow to move. Klimt, however, offers a look back and Athene’s demand to stand up and change – we may even hear her using Marx’ words from the 11th thesis on Feuerbach:

Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.

(Karl Marx 1845: Theses On Feuerbach)

And with Klimt we can probably say: the new interpretation is a matter of change. Isn’t this the message of the most contested paintings Klimt’s – the infamous ‘university paintings’? Isn’t it indeed his active contestation against a society which Sigmund Freud would see as mostly oppressive super ego, at least as controlling instance.

We find again a parallel with today, the matter of precarity as it had been briefly mentioned earlier. The bewilderment of a class that is not as privileged as the working class at its outset. There we could see a class

free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power.

(Marx, Capital I: Chapter 6)

And freedom in this double sense also meant that this freedom would inevitably be linked to the potential of bursting the fetters which are strangulating the further development of the means and mode of production and with this the further development of humankind.

The class we are looking at today may at some stage develop that potential – but for this it will be necessary to properly understand the new terms of freedom: it is now a class of which the freedom is limited, a class that owns in some way part of the means of production, namely the productive force of knowledge and science.[3]

*****

The other day, on the train to Vienna, I had been reading a book about the intellectual foundations of our time: Christoph Fleischmann writing on Gewinn in alle Ewigkeit which I received for review. What makes the book especially interesting is not what it says but what it systematically fades out, although stating the opposite: These intellectual foundations are actually only the offspring of the societal development itself.

One crucially important point going hand in hand with this development is a further step in the development of the individual – further, after it’s ‘invention’ in the course of enlightenment, now emerging in the form of hedonistic obscurity.

Imagine you go to the theatre – but nobody is there: no spectator, well two only. Already at the entrance I had been surprised. Asking for the seat, the usher showed around the corner:

It is right on the stage.

And the stage had been where people had been sitting, following the performance of two people who acted in the room where usually the spectators would sit.

Crusoe, who objected his father’s wish and order, had been centre-‘stage’: the adventurer and explorer of early capitalism. Opposing the boredom of the world in which his father lived and which the young Crusoe rejected as Leitmotif for his future. Capitalism of that time had been still very much trade capitalism, going hand in hand with craftsmanship and based on a principle that we may classify as ‘linear circularity’: simple perpetuation, or simple reproduction, as Karl Marx defines in chapter 25 of the first volume of The Capital:

As simple reproduction constantly reproduces the capital relation itself, i.e., the relation of capitalists on the one hand, and wage workers on the other

And although Marx speaks of wage workers, it is wage work also in a very simple way, at least initially still part of the patriarchal mode of regulation. It had been a phase of temporary stability and self-content reaching its own limits. At least for some time society could do without growth: the previous era had been a phase of consolidation, especially marked by the given productive forces being ‘sufficient’ for the permanent reproduction on the given level. However, new forces emerged, potentials not least coming up against the background of increasingly open borders: as much the given system depended on nothing else than the continuation of a circular movement of trading activities, it has been also a system that inherently pushed beyond it’s own borders: looking for the extension of trade. Capitalism as industrial capitalism only lurked around the corner, hesitantly showing up. The hesitation of the historical forces coming to the fore expressed in a short outcry of the maturing Crusoe, asking himself[4]

Am I not doing the very same what my father asked me to do – and what I rejected as way of life? Is my life not very much nothing else than the perpetuation of the same? Progress being hidden behind a seeming move?

And indeed it seems that the progress is forged: growth as matter of linearity that is caught in repetition – extended reproduction, growth needed only in order to maintain itself. And the period is at the very same time characterised by a drive towards overcoming the circularity, unfolding the circle and transferring it towards a new accumulation regime. The temptation had been initially to write a push towards a new mode of production – and although there would be some justification for it, it is probably more precise to speak of a new mode of production. The development is at its very core about the change towards a substantial development of the productive forces and the fundamental shift of valuation – in some way we may interpret it as the final redemption of the finally hegemonic chrematisticsthe from the original oikonomia. It is the definite shift towards an imperialist strategy – exchange, i.e. trade not primarily annexed to the core of the production of use values. Instead production is now annexed to the realisation of monetary values on a globalising market. In this light, bridging the different developments is easy: Defoe’s piece had been first published in 1719 – and with this date one may say it stands at a rather meaningful border of the economic culture and the ways of thinking – both reflecting each other. For the development of literature we find the 17th century marked by the writing of travellers who had been interested in scientific explorations; later the 18th century saw the writing of travellers that had been guided by their very private and romanticist ideas.

Paradoxically production for its own sake is now gaining a much more pronounced position – it is about the emergence of productive, or later industrial capitalism. And as such it is surely the definite abolition of trade capitalism. However, the paradox is that this is also a shift towards a system that generates value only by realising the product on the market. Already here it emerges as trivial truth that

today’s entrepreneurs … produce increasingly products and services that are not essential for humankind.

(Clemens, Reinhard, 2011: Ehrbarer Kaufmann und Silicon Valley …; in: Spangenberger, Michael: Rheinischer Kapitalismus und seine Quellen in der Katholischen Soziallehre; Muenster: Aschendorf, 69-75; here: 75)

Of course, this looks different for the actors on that initial economic stage. On the one hand they are genuine explorers, oscillating between the imperialist mission – seeing trade of pearls against little glass globes even as bliss for a people that had been seen as inferior; on the other hand it had been seen as matter of exploration – again in the spirit of a mission though now coined by an honest search for a better life. The imperialist arrogance and equally the social-romantic apotheosis are not least an expression of the debasement of a new class: the increasing accessibility of nature went hand in hand with the decreasing direct control. And in particular the privileged strata suffered specifically from alienation. However, in their case not so much in the understanding it had been presented by Karl Marx, writing in the first volume of The Capital in the second chapter on alienation

In order that this alienation may be reciprocal, it is only necessary for men, by a tacit understanding, to treat each other as private owners of those alienable objects, and by implication as independent individuals.

In actual fact, this alienation can be seen as condition for the class developing as class for itself – insofar as the reciprocity is broken open.

But here and now we are concerned with a process that leads on the contrary to the alienation of individual’s from their own class – a needed process of self-distancing. The adventurer, the romanticist, the bohemian – all in their own way helplessly screaming, in desperation looking for securing their privileges.

Romanticism meant not least that the commitment to truth had been somewhat limited, taken over by the ideas of yearning and daydreams, imaginations of some form of a better life, a vision of life rather than its sober analysis. The novel clearly emerged to novelty in the understanding of an act of creation that emerged from voluntarism, the German term for novel: the Roman shows clearly the Zeitgeist: upheaval, braking out of the given frame of time and space had been the underlying the search for a new world.

At least everybody who had been following literature on Orientalism, in particular inspired by the works of Michel Foucault and Edward Said, will be well aware of the fact that this search for a new world had not by any means been a peaceful undertaken. This may be the case for naïve proposals à la Rousseau. But the real romanticists had been characterised either by another naivety: namely the wrongly ‘projective perception’ of the other as natural, genuine, pristine …; or it had been the adventurism of a Robinson Crusoe.

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I finally look back – the last weeks and month: the teaching on painting and economic thinking.

Wolf rejected, on the INKRIT-Gramsci conference during one of the adjunct workshops that there had been any arts before commodification. But doesn’t art first and foremost concern the art of life, l’art de vivre et vie avec l’art? Isn’t arts first and foremost the increasing freedom in every day’s activity even if it is fundamentally the production of life – Engels had been already quoted with the words

The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in men’s better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch.

It is surely not freedom for everybody – and in this way we may even say that commodification actually even sublimely suppressed arts, only allowed its development in a fenced area, outside of society, distant from real life.

Being back to Vienna, I am getting in its own way aware of it – visiting Bizet’s Carmen. This time I’m not going to the Wiener Staatsoper but my feet bring me to the Volksoper – to be more precise not my feet; I am comfortably brought there, Marcella safely driving the limousine through the city. I doubt that it is purely my mood, or the fact that it is the first time that I experience this place; I doubt that it is just the light-heartedness of this early summer evening, and the frivolous attunement I take with me from the earlier chat; and I doubt that it is this appealing sweetness of the clichéd Spanish-gipsy sex idol of the time anticipated when going there. Be it as it is, for some reason I feel a special flair around this place, the people being more vivid, showing more openness towards a new experience. And in several ways it is a new experience for me too. Leaving other things aside, the newness initially shows when the conductor arrives: a woman, obviously from somewhere in Asia – and as I am looking on the orchestra pit, I see from her gestures and behaviour that she is surely also socialised in that tradition. Those who are familiar with such events know why it is remarkable: it surely stands against the traditional patterns of a male and western dominated arts-world. I know that it is a ‘new trend’ that shows up on this occasion, surely only a small germ, but … – and by the way, the but is later confirmed when I visit Het Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, enjoying Simone Kermes, together with the Concerto Köln under the direction of Mayumi Hirasak.

– Back to that evening in Vienna, there is something else that catches my attention – reminding me of the time when I lived for a short while in Florence. And also reminding me of the visits to opera houses in Riga, Vilnius and other places of ‘that part of the world’, those countries that strived for building up socialism. It is peoples’ opera – not by way of panem et  circenses, but as joy- and playful, and also critical concern of the people. Even as performed art, it has an additional dimension to it: the active part of the recipient who is in some way ‘depicted’ but who is with this very same act of depiction the actually and real performer. – Only later – already back home in Budapest, reading in the programme booklet I bought that evening in the Volksoper – I find a confirmation, though the crossing of boarders is now projected into Bizet’s piece itself. Leo Karl Gerhartz, looking at the theatrical reality, contends

As in the score of Carmen most different moments are set side by side, the production at the Volksoper of Bizet’s opera understands itself as (theatre) clutter, a space for many different things to meet, to clash and to confront each other: emotion (truth) and theatre (presentation, pathos and ordinariness), solemnity and entertainment, surprise (impact) and atmosphere (charm), opera and revue, cabaret and opera.[5]

(Gerhartz, Leo Karl, 1993: Theatralische Wirklichkeit; in: Luc Joosten/Christoph Wagner-Trenkwitz: Georg Bizet. Carmen. Programmheft; Wien: Volksoper; 28-31; here: 31)

This occurs to be so very close to the idea of adventurous travelling. Another example of the movement of and between space and time and body?

As it is well known, the famous formula Albert Enstein’s reads E=m2. A little less known may be the meaning, namely that it presents not more and not less than the equivalence between mass and energy. And though we don’t have to enter the detailed discussion of it (good excuse, isn’t it? I have to admit huge difficulties if you would ask me to do so) the following can be safely said. It all hints towards the historical struggles between time and space, being caught between circularity and linearity. It is a variation of another theme: generating meaning in a reflexive process, finding it in oneself and ‘projecting’ it on the world stands on the one side; on the other side we find generating meaning by referring to the world as it is. Of course, this is in some respect not a contradiction. We can see it more as matter of different weighing of the components within the process of relational appropriation as it had been frequently presented on earlier occasions.

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We may leave this to later though – later in time, in a compressed time of overlapping developments. Developments from Impressionism, ‘Klimtism’, ‘Munchism’ to Cubism, in the perspective of Russian avant-gardism with their cubo-futurism, developments that occasionally seem to be so far away from the popular gusto, and nevertheless claiming itself to be closely linked to the working class, and specifically to Bolshevism. Indeed – and you may feel some repercussison to what Munch said:

Clear the old trash from your hearts!
The streets will be our paintbrushes, the public squares our palettes …

(Vladimir Mayakovsky: An Order to the Art)

The way to move forward as

… life has invaded art, it is time for life to invade art.

(Ilja Zdanevich/Mikhail Larionov, 1913: Why we paint ourselves)


[1]            Surely not simply translatable as highly educated middle-class as it is frequently suggested.

[2]            Obviously referring to Karl Marx’ The 18th Brumaire

[3]            There had been already in the 1970s an exploration of the development of science/ knowledge as immediate productive force – reference

[4]            The following is not literally quoted.

[5]            reading from the context it is in the last instance most likely meant operetta.