Lectionis et Seminario – De sociali et politica in Europea

European Integration – a failed political and social union?

2017 S. BA-Course at the University of Vienna, Department of Political Science.

A series of fifteen sessions delivered at the University of Vienna, Department of Political Science. The series is looking at the process of European integration – a wide topic looked at under the guiding question if EUrope failed to deliver the ambitious perspective of establishing a political and social union. The answer is by the present author given in somewhat negative terms: we cannot really say that the EU-institutions failed to reach the target of a political and social union … – it is worse: such targets never existed. So, we have to be clear in our critique. This means not least that we are challenged – and may gain sufficient insight – to develop the EU to something meaningful – meaningful not for the people but a reflection by the people – men make their own history, but it is not only the nightmare of the past, it is also a matter of the conditions of the still present hegemons who employ gatekeepers of different kind – even if the princes today wear the clothes of normal people, it is very much about behind the veils of the most expensive princely garments.

The various sessions, of which the recordings [German language] are available, present the historical development, some key issues and relevant theories in a more or less narrative way.

Annunci

War – the political intercourse carried on with other means — 9/11/1973

While writing, just before the 9/11 date, I can only assume that there will be another series of memorials … — and the one nearly complete amnesia: September 11, 1973 is the date which marks much more than just another violent rebuke of an alternative to business as usual as capitalist is called — and it is called even more so today, while the hegemony of this kind of business is barely contested in real terms.
What makes the Coup in Chile special?
To begin with, an important point can be taken from a piece by  Ralph Miliband, published in the Jacobin. He makes us aware of the fact that Chile was a showcase. We read
When Salvador Allende was elected to the presidency of Chile in September 1970, the regime that was then inaugurated was said to constitute a test case for the peaceful or parliamentary transition to socialism.
And leaving the different interpretations Miliband utters aide, it is surely true that
class struggle also means, and often means first of all, the struggle waged by the dominant class, and the state acting on its behalf, against the workers and the subordinate classes. By definition, struggle is not a one way process; but it is just as well to emphasize that it is actively waged by the dominant class or classes, and in many ways much more effectively waged by them than the struggle waged by the subordinate classes.
Gabriel García Márquez out this into the wider context in his piece Why Allende had to die?

Chile had long been a favoured area for research by North American social scientists. The age and strength of its popular movement, the tenacity and intelligence of its leaders and the economic and social conditions themselves afforded a glimpse of the country’s destiny. One didn’t require the findings of a Project Camelot to venture the belief that Chile was a prime candidate to be the second socialist republic in Latin America after Cuba. The aim of the United States, therefore, was not simply to prevent the government of Allende from coming to power in order to protect American investments. The larger aim was to repeat the most fruitful operation that imperialism has ever helped bring off in Latin America: Brazil.

And this is the core of such class struggle: undermine systematically any success story that shows that another world is possible. So we read

During the first year, 47 industrial firms were nationalised, along with most of the banking system. Agrarian reform saw the expropriation and incorporation into communal property of six million acres of land formerly held by the large landowners. The inflationary process was slowed, full employment was attained and wages received a cash rise of 30 per cent.
Hegemony, we know too well from Gramsci, is linked to two ways: the direct control, using violence where needed — and this is the force making sure that oppression is maintained if the soft means of hegemonic control fail to fulfill their duty. The geopolitical constellation was clear — The Time Magazine (October 19, 1970) brought it on the point, titling:
Marxist Threat In The Americas – Chile’s Salvador Allende
Indeed, as Márquez points out,
For the Christian Democrats, it was proof that the process of social justice set in motion by the Popular Unity coalition could not be turned back by legal means but they lacked the vision to measure the consequences of the actions they then undertook. For the United States, the election was a much more serious warning and went beyond the simple interests of expropriated firms. It was an inadmissible precedent for peaceful progress and social change for the peoples of the world, particularly those in France and Italy, where present conditions make an attempt at an experiment along the lines of Chile possible. All forces of internal and external reaction came together to form a compact bloc.
At the time, and I remember it well, everything was clear though undocumented – and there was still the attempt of denial – the denial of the obvious fact that this was a geopolitical strategy with many heads behind it. And mentioning those heads, pointing out that it was a coup that had been prepared for some time, had to face too often skeptical answers — but at some stage the truth cannot be denied anymore.
—–
Actually, what is true for the hot war is also true for the cold war. Chile was, at the time of Pinochet, celebrated as blueprint for what is now known as neoliberalism – to on a pedestal by Milton Friedman; and fostered by the IMF. But even in the IMF, some people wake up, seeing in tendency the wrongs for which they stand today:

An assess- ment of these specific policies (rather than the broad neoliberal agenda) reaches three disquieting conclusions:

• The benefits in terms of increased growth seem fairly dif- ficult to establish when looking at a broad group of countries.

• The costs in terms of increased inequality are promi- nent. Such costs epitomize the trade-off between the growth and equity effects of some aspects of the neoliberal agenda.

• Increased inequality in turn hurts the level and sustain- ability of growth. Even if growth is the sole or main purpose of the neoliberal agenda, advocates of that agenda still need to pay attention to the distributional effects.

—–
Back to today’s main stage then where it had been
against Chile as well — for Cuba it had been already the known strategy for a while.
And the new strategy after the democratically elected government was overthrown, was clear. The Pinochet-regime, after first establishing itself by bloody measures, established the new reign – present in an article published in The Guardian:
After Allende’s enemies finally claimed their victory against him on 11 September, Chileans protected themselves as best they could while Pinochet and his cohorts, well favoured now by Washington, turned to making themselves fortunes from the privatisation of public services and, quietly, from the trade in cocaine from Bolivia which the US never seemed to want to criticise or attack.
Indeed, Clausewitz new it and spelled it out:
War is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means.
And it is in this sense that we have to learn about the “invisible financial and economic blockade” Allende spoke of, addressing the UN in December 1972.
— A topic Paul E. Sigmund discussed in Foreign Affairs (Vol. 52, No. 2 (Jan., 1974), pp. 322-340)
And that the war reports today – those on the ‘cold war’ – are not necessarily widely discussed, though fatalities and winners easily can be seen. And we should also not forget that THIS war can be found in many places around the globe – North and South, and often enough not really just as cold war. And Michael Hudson analysed this issue of Finance as Warfare.
Coming back to Ralph Miliband’s article, we read at its beginning:
Of course, the Wise Men of the Left, and others too, have hastened to proclaim that Chile is not France, or Italy, or Britain. This is quite true. No country is like any other: circumstances are always different, not only between one country and another, but between one period and another in the same country. Such wisdom makes it possible and plausible to argue that the experience of a country or period cannot provide conclusive “lessons.”
But still, despite that there are many lessons we can learn from history, also from the history of 9/11 1973 – in particular when we see all these events, now and then, not as individual occurrences but as part of the ongoing history of striving for global hegemony.

Christianity – caught in the cogwheel …

Sure, we still speak of Modern Times though those times seem to be backward if seen from today. Sure, in one way or another they meant that we all would be caught between the cogwheels of this machine so well captured by Antonio Gramsci in his work and visualised by Charlie Chaplin.

In Quaderno 22 Gramsci gives a concise insight:

Registro di alcuni dei problemi più importanti o interessanti essenzialmente anche se a prima vista paiono non di primo piano:

1) sostituzione all’attuale ceto plutocratico, di un nuovo meccanismo di accumulazione e distribuzione del capitale finanziario fondato immediatamente sulla produzione industriale;

2) quistione sessuale;

3) quistione se l’americanismo possa costituire un’«epoca» storica, se cioè possa determinare uno svolgimento graduale del tipo, altrove esaminato, delle «rivoluzioni passive» proprie del secolo scorso o se invece rappresenti solo l’accumularsi molecolare di elementi destinati a produrre un’«esplosione», cioè un rivolgimento di tipo francese;

4) quistione della «razionalizzazione» della composizione demografica europea;

5) quistione se lo svolgimento debba avere il punto di partenza nell’intimo del mondo industriale e produttivo o possa avvenire dall’esterno, per la costruzione cautelosa e massiccia di una armatura giuridica formale che guidi dall’esterno gli svolgimenti necessari dell’apparato produttivo;

6) quistione dei così detti «alti salari» pagati dall’industria fordizzata e razionalizzata;

7) il fordismo come punto estremo del processo di tentativi successivi da parte dell’industria di superare la legge tendenziale della caduta del saggio del profitto;

8) la psicanalisi (sua enorme diffusione nel dopoguerra) come espressione dell’aumentata coercizione morale esercitata dall’apparato statale e sociale sui singoli individui e delle crisi morbose che tale coercizione determina;

9) il Rotary Club e la Massoneria[1]

Leaving the cogwheels aside and not thinking too much about the body being reduced to an annex of the machine, one may still see the undeniably positive side of the “project industrial modernity”.

* We are talking about the independent individual, the personality as it emerged from the great enlightenment which, if we want to say so, gave the starting signal from the different angles – the trinity of the enlightenment represented by the central powers: the Scottish enlightenment with its emphasis of the liberty of the utilitarian market citizens; the French national unity of equal individuals as for instance highlighted by Montesquieu; and the Germans contributing by the idea of a rational fraternal political system – fraternity for those who ate the carrot and avoided the stick by anticipating its blows.

* We are also talking about ‘wealth for all’ – of course, it needed German fascism to avail of the ‘blessing’ of the Volkswagen, the people’s car. But it did have earlier the ‘Emporio Ford T‘ to become a simple reality. Yes, not for the people; and not for everybody – but for many as part of the programme had been the orientation on the domestic market, with this the orientation on relatively high income of the workers.

* Still, the system remained in need of two emergency breaks: The one is mentioned by Gramsci: the Rotary Club and the Masons. We can also translate this into a broader terminology, namely a capitalist anthropology which Herbert Marcuse characterised nicely in a presentation titled Man in a Socialised World. He highlights the following 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.[2]

We usually do not think much about how frightening this really may be – and perhaps permanently thinking about it would leave us unliveable. Still, we should occasionally pause – not least as we are today again facing this strive of exception, for excellence, for greatness. The presentation of Wilhelm Klemperer’s thoughts on the truth of language  (listen to 23:00 ff) can serve as an eye-opener. Paradoxically it had been German fascism that used an Americanised language: speaking in figures and in superlatives.

* The other had been presented in 2010 with an amazingly naïve or bold frankness by James Wolfensohn, who worried about the ’80/20-rule’. Expressing his fear, he stated

By 2030, two-thirds of people in the world’s middle class will be Chinese, Wolfensohn said. “These are not trivial changes — they are tectonic changes in the way the planet works. In my generation we didn’t have to think about it. We knew we were a rich country.”

But today’s students will have to confront a new world in which Africa is no longer an isolated continent but the fastest-growing market for cell phones.

Yes, even if modern times had been geared to mass-production also for the domestic markets, this world depended still fundamentally on the division which Andre Gunder Frank characterised as Development of Underdevelopment.

And indeed, it should not be forgotten that the enlightenment and its expression in the French trinity of Liberté, égalité, fraternité (mind the sequence) had been standing on another pillar, one that is often forgotten. The complete parole reads

Unité, Indivisibilité de la République; Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité ou la mort

And it would be an easy task to turn the death into a strategy of Development of Underdevelopment.

Of course, Development of Underdevelopment is one side of the medal though, and the other is the shift mentioned by Wolfensohn – and as usual, each of these issues deserves intense debates. And still, we should not forget impressions, prejudices … – the world is complex and exactly this complexity gives permanent raise to debating convergence and divergence, sameness and difference – also looking for heuristic means. Indeed, one thing seems to be clear

… a wing does not make an angel …

Ernst Bloch elaborated on different facets of ‘possibility’, allowing us with this an informed approach to understanding them in their objectivity. He points on (i) the formally possible – what is possible according to its logical structure; (ii) the objectively possible – possible being based on assumptions on the ground of epistemologically based knowledge; (iii) the objectively possible – possible as it follows from the options inherently given by the object; (iv) and the objectively real possible – possible by following the latency and tendency which is inherent in its elementary form.[3]

Recently I went to a concert – something there caught my special attention. A young pianist – as people say: one of the two top pianists here, playing mainly Chopin. People sitting there, making photos (as everywhere), some using flash though not allowed to do so (as everywhere), some chatting (not as everywhere) … – and something else: some people say that a problem of many Chinese artists, when playing ‘Western music’ is the lack of emotional engagement. It links to the wider picture, suggesting that Asian economies and their success is very much based on copying and producing cheaply. I do not want to engage with this argument; I do not want to generalise. Still, Chopin, for me, saw better pianists. Really interesting are two other points though: During the technically really difficult parts Yundi really performed well – but in other parts …: well, I occasionally got from his play the impression that difference of emotions seems to be translated into simple difference of volume, evoked by the strength of the key-stroke (I admit that, listening later on youtube I got a slightly better impression of the musician).

I remembered videos, presenting Daniel Barenboim in the masterclass with LangLang histories, life stories finding an impression in how a person is playing and living, living and playing. So much more in it than ‘technique’. And this brings me to the second remarkable point: the encore. It had been a little Chinese piece. The best part of the evening I think, not because it had been for me something ‘exotic’, ‘new’, but because there was the ‘drive’ one would expect.

A critical statement on globalisation if you want – something we also see in learning and teaching that is pressed into an electronic blackboard frame: the corset fitting to students, the students requiring the corset …, an endless story, without real end and without real beginning. The enlightenment ending in the eclipse of reason, we unlearning to write notes on the thing Zuszsa refers to, asking does it

mean what it did in my childhood?

No, though at this stage we still have it; and I always suppress my slight temptation to curse: dust, the dirty clothes, and the fear to lean against it … – Yes, I see you smiling …, you know about the odi et amo here too.

All this is surely also part of a somewhat strange development of social thinking – the difficulty may be not primarily to smoothen the contradiction, or even to surmount it. Instead, only by fully acknowledging the tension we can truly solve the problem. It is the old tension of ‘objectivity’ and ‘value’ as structural factors determining historical development. I discussed this in the work on the Vatican Spring and Liberation Theology; and recently I was getting aware of it again and perhaps even more, when looking a bit into the reformation. It is too often that we forget the extremely conservative factor of this reformist movement, (cl)aiming to be a movement of renewal. Leaving all the other facets aside, reading the last sermon in Wittenberg on the Second Sunday in Epiphany by its main protagonist Martin Luther is enlightening – and it is so well captured in a collection of quotes and sayings:

Vernunft und Verstand sind des Teufels Huren. Ein altes, tüchtiges Pfaffen-Wort, Allen denen zu Lieb und Ehren, denen Vernunft und Verstand im Wege stehen. Sie sagten auch: ‘Verstand und Vernunft können Gottes Wort nicht verfechten; sie sind nur große Wettermacher und Hagelsieber in der Schrift! Freilich machen sie anderes Wetter in der Schrift, als es die Pfaffen gerne haben, welche lieber im Dunkeln munkeln und immer nur vor dem Teufel warnen, aber nicht anders, wie jener Dieb auf der Flucht, der immer aus Leibes-Kräften rief: ‘Haltet den Dieb!’ – damit man ihn selber nicht dafür erkennen möchte.[4]

Really, are reason and intellect the whores of the devil? One of the problems will be that we do not easily recognise that such valuations are in some ways evaluations of a historical situation, of a phase of transition that deals with the entirety of the value system that defines and redefines human existence. Indeed,

[t]he qualitative leap from the animalistic to human = societal existence is thus given by the new quality of the relations of inner and outer nature. While even the most developed species reach at most the individual adaptation to the given living conditions, humans change the outer nature in an in independent, socio-historical process, thus creating the conditions of their own development. So human existence means much more than striving for individual survival under the given conditions; it is identical with overcoming dependence … . As part of this process of anticipating change of relevant living conditions we see that human abilities, cognition, needs and relations are also developing.[5]

And indeed, this defined also part of enlightenment – the part that had been enlightening in a very literary way, namely when Michael Kohlhaas showed in the 16th century his understanding of freedom that would be only much later accepted as part of the bourgeois revolution. And indeed, all this was not least about putting Anselm’s dictum on its feet. For him it had been clear:

Ergo Domine, qui das fidei intellectum, da mihi, ut, quantum scis expedire, intelligam, quia es sicut credimus, et hoc es quod credimus.

In other words, he accepts ‘understanding’, ratio, as understanding the reasons for subordination under god. The question gains a slightly different turn if we turn it towards on open understanding of ends and means. Of course, we may agree in some way with Antonio Sabetta when he says

Anzitutto, in quanto due ali, fede e ragione si presentano come necessarie in vista dello scopo; propriamente esse hanno lo statuto del mezzo rispetto al fine, il quale, oltre ad essere più importante del mezzo, ne qualifica l’identità e il valore, poiché il mezzo è per sua natura ordinato ad un fine, senza il quale perderebbe significato. Il fine in questione è la verità che lo spirito umano desidera conoscere o, più esattamente, contemplare; infatti, la conoscenza di cui si parla nel testo non ha un carattere astratto ma concerne la vita dell’uomo.

But latest when he ultimately insists on the dogma, linking truth to abstract ideals, saying

La tensione alla verità, ovvero, in definitiva, a Dio, nella cui conoscenza l’uomo incontra la verità su se stesso e comprende chi egli sia, costituisce il segno distintivo della sua creaturalità.

It is not by chance that the protestant reformation had been reluctant to reforms, and aggressively combatting those who, like Kohlhaas, did not see the end in god but in the change needed in reality, in the change of the mode of production – the words Luther used are testimony of misanthropy, oppression, violence, support of the rulers and plea for drabness:

Drumb sol hie zuschmeyssen, wurgen und stechen heymlich odder offentlich, wer da kan, und gedencken, das nicht gifftigers, schedlichers, teuffelischers seyn kan, denn eyn auffrurischer mensch, gleich als wenn man eynen tollen hund todschlahen mus, schlegstu nicht, so schlegt er dich und eyn gantz land mit dyr.

history establishes, indeed, a weird pattern when forgetting that the real struggles are not those between values but those between ‘ways of life’ as matter of productive relationships in wich humans create themselves as social individuals, though too often still caught in the idea that social is nothing more than superior individuals looking after others. Indeed – and as said earlier – the attentive reader of Marx Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy will surely know it:

For one thing, the object is not simply an object in general, but a particular object which must be consumed in a particular way, a way determined by production. Hunger is hunger; but the hunger that is satisfied by cooked meat eaten with knife and fork differs from hunger that devours raw meat with the help of bands, nails and teeth. Production thus produces not only the object of consumption but also the mode of consumption, not only objectively but also subjectively. Production therefore creates the consumer.

Without doubt, it has a bit of the Gordian Knot … – respecting individuals who are individuals only because they are …., just a cogwheel in a systemic setting.

********

Eclipse of the moon, the recent noonday, mid autumn festival … I did not see much of it. There were different reasons, the ‘difficulty’ to access this world which is to some extent the personal laziness and lack of the spirit of adventure. It is also about the development being so fast that those things that are specially worthwhile to see and to experience are more pushed to small corners, nearly invisible, or visible in passing, in small corners – showing up by accident, randomly roaming, roaming randomly …. – … and showing up in the small remarks, as for instance when the driver pointed at the moon, being excited … – such a meaningful, telling gesture for somebody coming from a world of cogwheels where moon and sun lost somewhat their meaning ….

… well, caught in cogwheels – at least it seems that we are still enough we, ‘independent’, personalities that can be caught …. Only death and decay of the thousand superlatives lost all its faces whereas, to use the words of Daniel Barenboim

[e]very great work of art has two faces, one towards its own time and one towards future, towards eternity.

__________________________________

[1]            See in this context as well The Gramsci-Reader. Selected Writings 1916 – 1935; edited by David Forgacs; New York: New York University Press; 2000; http://ouleft.org/wp-content/uploads/gramsci-reader.pdf; see here for a short presentation of Fordismus

[2] 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; see in this context also for further discussion: Herrmann, Peter, 2014: Social Policy – Production rather than Distribution. A Rights-Based Approach: 92 ff.

[3] see Bloch, Ernst, 1959: Prinzip Hoffnung; Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp [written in 1938-1947; reviewed 1953 and 1959]: 258-288

[4] Die Sprichwörter und sprichwörtlichen Redensarten der Deutchen: nebst den Redensarten der deutschen Zechbrüder und aller praktik Grossmutter, d.i. der Sprichwörter ewigem Wetter-Kalender; Wilhelm Körte; F.A. Brockhaus, 1847; 567 pagine; hier: Seite: 450; see in this context not least Martin Luther’s Last Sermon in Wittenberg … Second Sunday in Epiphany, 17 January 1546.Dr. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe; Weimar: Herman Boehlaus Nachfolger, 1914), Band 51

[5]            Osterkamp, Ute, 2000: Hat der Marxismus die Natur des Menschen verkannt oder: Sind die Menschen für den Sozialismus nicht geschaffen? aus: Schriftenreihe der Marx-Engels-Stiftung 20; Kommunistische Streitpunkte – Zirkularblätter – Nr. 6 – 15.10.2000 – Onlineversion; 1

 

New Princedoms II

— or: Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Present Itself as a Science

Of course, now I could state: what I wrote earlier on the New Princedoms had been just a prolegomena, and I could even be much bolder, claiming what follows is not less than a new “Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Present Itself as a Science”, the one that had been presented by Kant in 1783, surely in need of some update.

But in actual fact both, modesty, honesty and realism require that I admit that I only heard about it yesterday evening, having been asked

Hai sentito dell’ archeologo del sito di Palmira? … Era in pensione, ma era rimasto al suo posto dando la vita per la Bellezza e per il suo lavoro, a cui aveva dedicato tutto sé stesso.

Checking then a day later the WWW, I soon found a bit more about what happened, namely

The killing of Khaled Asaad

Siria: perché l’Isis ha ucciso l’archeologo di Palmira

I am not in a position to engage in depth — perhaps as I am a non-religious and non-fundamentalist person, not seeing myself in a position to comment on the details, not being able to clearly distinguish between the broad lines and the distracting details. Still, there is a bit that I can say.

The article mentions five reasons — and I am wondering if it is not just one reason that is relevant: the change of the foundation of the old world order: a world order in which difference had been defined and accepted, inequalities being taking for granted and clearly defined — some will remember the cartoon of the 1960 and early 70s, wasn’t it a Chinese one: showing the pulling of hair down the line, the cat being the last in the row that started from the accepted authority. Wondering means: not knowing, asking, or even more: going on in searching the question, namely the non-technical one. Just like Stephen Hawking who asked

In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?

and continuing:

I don’t know the answer. That is why I asked the question.

Coming back to the article on the murder of Khaled Asaad, it brings us at the end to part of the question that has to be asked, looking for all those who stated earlier

Je suis Charlie

and who are silent now.

One problem is obviously a matter of information, or to be precise: the two matters of information. The one is that the information overflow goes hand in hand with non-recognition; the other is the way of selection: you can’t have it all. It is our own limitation and it is …, well, that is the second part: the process of directing attention by algorithms, defined by the powerful.

When browsing the Panorama further on “L’Isis e la guerra al terrorismo islamico” — and I will not go into details; furthermore, picking the Panorama is due to laziness, due to accepting the guide of some http://www.engine.algorithm, which will bring you probably to something similar in the place that big brother determines as “your country” — something had been …, well I could say, surprising:

  • many/most of the news are about violence, are presenting sad and “unbelievable” stories
  • many/most of the news are presenting some form of “weighing” — cynically one may say: the life of a person does not count much, the life of a woman or child, and of course: even more the lives of women and children counts much more, if there are enough men it counts too, or if there are such exceptional people as Khaled Asaad — and from what I know by now, he really was exceptional
  • many/most of the stories are marked in some strange way, looking at the reporting, by a contradiction: the “colorful” way of writing about the horrors is accompanied by the black-and-white-presentation of the good and the bad. And indeed it remains difficult to say “Je suis Charlie” in a world of which the actual struggle seems to be very much the old one, fought not during the Risorgimento. Those times seemed to be clear — to quote Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard:

“Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga com’è bisogna che tutto cambi.”

i.e.

“Things must change, in order that they can stay the same.”

A nice saying, though really important is the context. The words are spoken by Tancredi, following his statement

Unless we ourselves take a hand now, they’ll foist a republic on us.

And the entire story is about the disintegration.

But WHAT disintegrated? We may look at the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies — Il Regno delle Due Sicilie; and we may also look at the different types of government, royalty standing against republic ecc. .

It is easy to overlook that all this had been — here and (at least) in all the European countries at the time — an expression of fundamental changes of the economic system …. — but now I am hesitating, or I am afraid, coming too close to figures. As said previously

If we want to look at figures, we should look at figures that are relevant: unemployment rates, orientation of economic policies on national performance instead of global responsibility, the privatisation of hospitals and the subsequent maltreatment of patients and staff, the Making of the Migration Crisis, going hand in hand with fears of extinction of nations, prices that make accommodation unaffordable, thus opening space for speculation and leaving places prone to alienation by different forms of ghettoisation …

But the meaning of this can only be understood when we read it against what Engels stated:

According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor in history is, in the last resort, the production and reproduction of the immediate life. But this itself is again of a twofold character. On the one side, the production of the means of subsistence, of food and clothing and shelter and the implements required for this; on the other, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. The social institutions under which men of a definite historical epoch and of a particular country live are determined by both kinds of production: by the stage of development of labour, on the one hand, and of the family, on the other.

(Engels, Frederick, 1884: Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Preface [to the First Edition]; in: Karl Marx Frederick Engels. Collected Works. Volume 26. Frederick Engels. 1882-89; London: Lawrence&Wishart, 1990: 131-133: 131 f.)

The figures — of course important, and of course important as indicating main problems — are at the same time (potentially) misleading as they fall short of grasping the really relevant aspect of

the production and reproduction of the immediate life

As especially the reference to the Making of the Migration Crisis shows, they are very much about the production and reproduction of the immediate life under very specific capitalist conditions. And these capitalist conditions. And with this, there is very little hope for a Vatican Spring, a remark that is not directed against setting up a broad movement of very different forces; but it is directed against the reliance on value systems, appeals and hopes that are not clearly addressing capitalism and reduced the critique on “this capitalism”.

Approaching “this capitalism” has to look fundamentally at the following, something I elaborated on a different occasion — it is very much a translation from a text originally written in German

1. The discussion of the current crisis remains trapped in the old tracks — and it is often just looking at the glass, asking if it is half-empty or half-full, at the end being oriented on re-establishing a status-quo ante. This is in many cases also true in cases where critique is brought forward with the claim of fundamentally rejecting of the existing system. However, when talking about a structural crisis, the question must be whether the glass is actually completely broken. …

2. The current challenge is then to look at the crisis of the hegemonic system. If this is seen as power of ideas, it should also be emphasised that the so-called neoliberalism reflects a one-sided interpretation of the objective conditions and not simply a voluntary statement of values of a self-proclaimed ruling-class. …). We need … a courageous utopia that is based in the objectively given conditions of the productive forces and the real potential, and partly implicitly realised in the existing forms of socialisation.

3. The “limits to growth” are not simply a matter of discussing the negative constellations; it is necessary to consider the wider context, allowing to understand the limits of growth in the context of the ongoing limits to limitations that are to a large extent directly and causally related. We are talking about increasing inequalities, which are much more extensive than shown by Piketty: It is still the question of the (lack of) access to basic resources such as water, nutrition, housing, etc., all this increasingly a problem in all societies.

4. Finally, politics are always made for an uncertain future – risks should not result in paralysis nor lead to excessive adjustments.

Looking from this angle, the war against evil is a kind of Hobbesian Bellum omnium contra Omnes. However, we have to observe fake and original — as we are now dealing with a new dimension, going far beyond the individualist stance proposed by Hobbes. Today’s war is taking place in the gabbia di matti, the place where confusion reigns: individuals against individuals are still fighting, as much as we are also facing wars of states against states. However, in addition we find the “war of citizens against citizens” — even if the citizens are split personalities, fighting against each other — well-known from role-theory: and it is the war of the consumption citizens, active citizens, citizens of nation states, citizens of associations against the consumption citizens, active citizens, citizens of nation states, citizens of associations — it least the war of everybody against him and herself … . And to make it easier to bear it, it may be and will be a war of the consumption citizens, active citizens, citizens of nation states, citizens of associations against the consumption citizens, active citizens, citizens of other nation states, citizens of associations of other countries.

Not so much that changed, one may say — and it is true although the change is fundamental insofar the borders actually do not work anymore. Of course, it is not entirely clear if and in which way they actually worked in previous ages and eras. But at least there had been some stability over time. In terms of regulation theory, we look at accumulation regimes as

[a] particular combination of production and consumption which can be reproduced over time despite conflictual tendencies (Jessop)

and modes of regulation as

[a]n institutional ensemble and complex of norms which can secure capitalist reproduction pro tempore despite the antagonistic character of capitalist social relations (Jessop)

When we look closely the possibility of “reproduction over time despite conflictual tendencies” is broken — not globalisation as such requires a new definition of borders and rule(r)s. Instead, the fact that globalisation becomes increasingly real, defends such requirement. The end of history — this has been stated for many times — is the beginning of a new era, rightly characterised by Antonio Gramsci, contending that

[t]he crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

Walls are erected, to maintain the old borders: States against states — interestingly nations defining themselves as ultimate external border as in the Hungarian case; different fundamentalists each claiming to be the better of the people of god, the one wanting to capture Istanbul, the Turks claiming that their fence is about keeping “them” out, joined by the big brother across the great ocean, but actually aiming against the Kurds and the “old fight”, now being combined with a seemingly new one.

And all the other walls (see also here for one that is often misunderstood) and fences as the many in Latin America and against Latin America … the main wall still waiting to be lifted: the embargo against Cuba. And. with all this we easily forget the one of utmost important, the wall that is much more than the namegiver to a street,  that a major, the real divide of the world, for so many the wall against which they stand while being executed, listening to the song that speaks about Killing me softly.

As Max Weber stated 1919 in “Politics as a Vocation”

Every state is founded on force,’ said Trotsky at Brest-Litovsk. That is indeed right. If no social institutions existed which knew the use of violence, then the concept of ‘state’ would be eliminated, and a condition would emerge that could be designated as ‘anarchy,’ in the specific sense of this word. Of course, force is certainly not the normal or the only means of the state — nobody says that — but force is a means specific to the state. Today the relation between the state and violence is an especially intimate one. In the past, the most varied institutions — beginning with the sib — have known the use of physical force as quite normal. Today, however, we have to say that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. Note that ‘territory’ is one of the characteristics of the state. Specifically, at the present time, the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the ‘right’ to use violence. Hence, ‘politics’ for us means striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power, either among states or among groups within a state.

Sure, it is easy to point on the walls of shame — many others could be added, including the “virtual walls” by European migration polices along the Mediterraneans. It is not so easy to acknowledge that there is another wall that actually establishes the foundation of shame: This is the wall of fame. Well, here the plural applies too

Universities, striving for excellence, expressed in ranking lists, causing a suicide of social science (irony that this article is only accessible for the academic insiders, those in the safe heaven of the ivory towers of academia); the mentioned celebration of little starlets that feel their marriage threatened by working time of 20 days per year; broken-up politicians establishing a Forced Choice Between ‘Suicide or Execution’. And other politicians cynically mocking

“You shouldn’t commit suicide because you’re afraid of dying,” the commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker said. “You should say ‘yes’ regardless of what the question is.”

 

Well, how can we then try to understand what cannot be understood? Now, a renaissance has usually two sides, it consists of the character of dialectics as matter of maintaining and overturning.

Returning to the five reasons mentioned above, trying to put them into one nutshell (while remaining alert — such attempt is always as tempting as it is dangerous) we may take home what Hegel states in the Philosophy of Right, namely in § 258:

Rationality, taken generally and in the abstract, consists in the thorough-going unity of the universal and the single.

Such “universal and single” cannot consist in the dishonest erection of walls of fame that evoke equally dishonest walls of shame.

One does not have to live in Rome (though it may help) to appreciate una vita per la bellezza — the appreciation of beauty, not only as e(x)ternal phenomenon but even more as matter of a state of life.

 

Another quick turn to Hegel, who wrote in § 257

The state is the actuality of the ethical Idea. It is ethical mind qua the substantial will manifest and revealed to itself, knowing and thinking itself, accomplishing what it knows and in so far as it knows it. The state exists immediately in custom, mediately in individual self-consciousness, knowledge, and activity, while self-consciousness in virtue of its sentiment towards the state, finds in the state, as its essence and the end-product of its activity, its substantive freedom.

But if the actual state has nothing else to do than permanently driving wedges between people and peoples, if sovereignty is undermined by confronting the sovereign with the decision between suicide and execution, it will be difficult to find a solution. If a Coalition (of the Radical Left – Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς, ΣΥΡΙΖΑ (Syriza)) is forced to loose (even if they may win another election), the unity as Λαϊκή Ενότητα (Laiki Enotita), the Popular Unity may be forced to go its own way.

It surely is an important point that had been mentioned in a recent TeleSur-article

the one thing that we can continue to look for in Greece is that anti-austerity movement is coming from the streets and communities.

The challenge is to bring the various communities from across the globe going the same direction, not as they usually did: along the Rabbit-Proof Fence, erected against humans degraded to animals, themselves degrading

So, if we turn down the real fences, the fences that imprison the minds will fall — we only have to make sure that the minds have to set free, allowing to turn down the fences. And if we look around, if we look at people helping migrants, caring for others, and fighting for and with others we may manage to really turn them down and use the huge potentials that we do have.

Gramsci on human being(s)/human existence

È questa la domanda prima e principale della filosofia. Come si può rispondere. La definizione si può trovare nell’uomo stesso; e cioè in ogni singolo uomo. Ma è giusta? In ogni singolo uomo si può trovare che cosa è ogni «singolo uomo». Ma a noi non interessa che cosa è ogni singolo uomo, che poi significa che cosa è ogni singolo uomo in ogni singolo momento. Se ci pensiamo, vediamo che ponendoci la domanda che cosa è l’uomo vogliamo dire: che cosa l’uomo può diventare, se cioè l’uomo può dominare il proprio destino, può «farsi», può crearsi una vita. Diciamo dunque che l’uomo è un processo e precisamente è il processo dei suoi atti. Se ci pensiamo, la stessa domanda: cosa è l’uomo? non è una domanda astratta, o «obbiettiva». Essa è nata da ciò che abbiamo riflettuto su noi stessi e sugli altri e vogliamo sapere, in rapporto a ciò che abbiamo riflettuto e visto, cosa siamo e cosa possiamo diventare, se realmente ed entro quali limiti, siamo «fabbri di noi stessi», della nostra vita, del nostro destino. E ciò vogliamo saperlo «oggi», nelle condizioni date oggi, della vita «odierna» e non di una qualsiasi vita e di un qualsiasi uomo.

Gramsci, 10: 54

Domine Quo Vadis?

It seems to be a simple question that recently had been put forward here

But what are people coming to Rome want to buy? What is the special pleasure, the experience they are looking for when doing to the so-called eternal city?

And it seems so simple that at the beginning, near those times of the very beginning at which we find the word,[1] a man supposedly had been asked

Domine Quo Vadis?

found an immediate answer. At least this is what had been handed down to us: he promptly replied to the Apostle who thus asked:

Romam vado iterum crucifigi.

But seen in the light of the answer the question takes a different form – and is surely not simple at all, especially not if we accept that an answer is it had been given is by no means self evident, will surely not given by most of us.

Sure, the danger of being crucified is today marginal – though one wonders about some things happening in this world, at this stage, in this place called Europe: enlightened and shining bright, claiming to be idol for the rest of the world. Sure, the danger of being crucified is marginal as cases where people are fixed to a bench with needles in their arm for death penalty are called execution of justice in the name of the USNA-law.

Anyway, though we wanted to go originally to Gandolpho, I changed plans after looking at the map – looked too complicated, too much hassle.

“OK to change plan?” – “OK. We can go to the Via Appia Antica – perhaps there you find an answer on yesterday’s question!?”

After briefly checking the map, I started the engine and …

“Ready?” – “Ready!”

The first, though tiny Quo Vadis? experience occurred somewhere near to the city walls at the other side of the city, the Appian mountains already in sight. There are about four lanes – the traffic light had been read and I stopped – to my right a van, I only saw relatively late that it had been police. No bother, the usual “Roman kick start”, moving on when the traffic light just starts t6o think about changing to green would not be wrong … – no sign of traffic on the left side – until a car just flew along, bypassing me, the police car and ignoring the traffic light, still “deep red”. I had been a bit puzzled to see the police car still standing there … – not for long: the traffic light changed, the car on my right started and stopped the other car on the next junction – two cars now blocking the traffic, giving just enough space to pass with the scooter.

The question remained unchanged – perhaps not for the driver of the car. But Via Appia Antiqua. I had been thinking about a friend who visited me a couple of weeks ago:

There is something here in Rome ….., hm, this feeling of walking where over two thousand years ago “these people” walked, talked, prosecuted and celebrated victories …

What could I reply?

Yes, but in some way one gets used to it: there you walk in the footsteps of Nero, there you sit down where Cesar had been sitting, and at the corner, it is the building much later erected under …. – and they are all present, not only the locals: xyz Raphael, Genteleschi (father and daughter [sic]!) and hundreds of others: Goethe, Stendhal, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Boromini, Bernini. All coming, leaving, asking, criticizing, agreeing ….. finding something new while permanently asking where they go – Well, you get used to it and at the same time you probably never get really used to it.

The engine switched off, the machine locked the real via is not passable with the scooter, at least it is not recommended (leaving aside that it is also prohibited). Quo vadis! – Perhaps it is just this question that brings so many people here: as the priest said during the sermon, it is about the father and redemption:

Io, io sono

– it is me that is

– and it had been added

By redemption it is that you can be – speranza: hope

After enlightenment this probably translates into esperienza: experience.

If we really can gain that experience we are expecting, or if it is another experience; if we are actually able to make any kind of such experience is another question, and looking for it is like walking on a tightrope. While we are walking further, I ask

Do you remember Jean-Paul Sartre, writing about hope?

Of course I new the answer:

– Sûrement, mais …

The reply comes with some hesitation from somebody who knows Sartre not as idol, not as writer, but as co-actor of those years in the late 60s, where he pleaded that intellectuals and workers belong together, where he ended one of his public speeches with the words like:

We (workers and intellectuals) will meet again: not because the intellectuals should tell the workers the truth; but to develop to something new

Seeing him in this way, his permanent questioning had been difficult to cope with: not because of the questions that he asked but because of the answers it evoked. And this had also been the permanent challenge: the freedom we are all striving for though we are apparently unable to deal with.

This is the similarity and difference if you want: The one had been asked Quo vadis and knew the way, which required much courage; the other asked himself and others permanently new questions and he did not know exactly the way – he only knew that we have to go it: Freedom had been for him action.

In any case, for both one question did not exist, had not even been possible to think:

Who sent you here?

Indeed, we can come back then to the question:

So what are people, coming to Rome, want to buy? What is the special pleasure, the experience they are looking for when doing to the so-called eternal city?

Perhaps they are just looking for the answer, although they know that the given answer remains unacceptable for them when they return. As Antonio Gramsci once wrote

To create a new culture does not only mean to make individually “original” discoveries, it also and especially means, to critically distribute discoveries that had been already made, in other words to “socialise” them and thus to establish them as foundation of vital actions, element of coordination and the intellectual and moral order.[2]

The crux is that people, facing the question Sartre posed, are easily referring to such new culture but do so only as long as somebody else makes the actual step, still saying for them

Romam vado iterum crucifigi.

Father, redemption and hope for eternity – not least as everything we do today has nolens volens, and if we know it or not eternal meaning.

And of course, as we all know that this kind of search, the huge numbers of tourists travelling from one country to another, moving between places is not without costs – not least for the environment – there is a new means at hand, allowing us following our sinful search, namely the modern way of selling indulgences: compensation in form of paying for charities that are active in the environmental area, a flight across the Atlantic is “charged” with about 60 Euro.

Of course, all this cannot be seen as rebuke – the challenge for us, who had been brought up in the tradition of the father, the redemption and the hope for eternity is nearly insurmountable, and possibly within this habitual way of thinking even logically impossible. We may remember Rosa Luxemburg’s words:

Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of the Party — though they are quite numerous — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters. The essence of political freedom depends not on the fanatics of ‘justice’, but rather on all the invigorating, beneficial, and detergent effects of dissenters. If ‘freedom’ becomes ‘privilege’, the workings of political freedom are broken.[3]

This sounds simple but even Rosa, according to one biography, refused once to dance on a New Years Ball with [if I remember correctly] Kautsky, saying something like:

I cannot dance with you, while knowing that you will most likely attack me in the next parliamentary plenary.

This little episode sheds some light on the difficulties of welding general principles with individual behaviour – asking for redemption, unable to truly reconcile.

=============

 

[1] Alluding to the Gospel according to St. John. Which begins with the words:

“{1:1} In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. {1:2} The same was in the beginning with God. {1:3} All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. {1:4} In him was life; and the life was the light of men. {1:5} And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (The King James Version of the Holy Bible; http://www.davince.com/bible: 611)

[2] Gramsci, Antonio, 1932-33: Gefängnishefte. Elftes Heft (XVIII) [Einführung ins Studium der Philosophie]; Antonio Gramsci. Gefängnishefte. Bd. 6: Philosophie der Praxis; herausgegeben von Wolfgang Fritz Haug; Hamburg/Berlin: Argument Verlag, 1994: 1365-1493; hier: 1377)

[3] Rosa Luxemburg – Gesammelte Werke Vol. 4; Dietz Verlag Berlin, 1983: : 359, Footnote 3

Is there a life after? – or: To Cycle or to Scooter, that is the real question

For Marijke

and with special thanks to the library staff at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

It had been some time back – I still stayed in Budapest. To be precise it had been the last day of this years academic stay. There are two ways of appreciating something like that, the one: panicking, thinking about all things that had been not done and still have to be done at some stage. In Ireland it is the pre-Christmas disease, in Italy the pre-holiday disease, both posing the same basic question which reads

Is there a life after?

The other way is more realist, assuming that there definitely is a life after which leaves sufficiently time to look after those things, and suggesting that if there is actually really no life after it doesn’t matter anyway to start working on all the pending things. Carpe diem even if the auto-correct suggested right now carpet diet, which may be giving a hint: stay on the carpet, walk on sound ground where actual life takes place every day.

After having been in Budapest for a substantial time without going to the real place, I chose that as appropriate for the last day, limiting the work dimension for the time being on deciding to which bath I will go. Result: the Széchenyi Gyógyfürdő és Uszoda. It is a reasonably long, but this day pleasant walk: along the Andrássy út, somewhat enjoying the “historical alienation”, imagining the historical contradiction: the aspiring bourgeoisie at the turn of the century, probably crowned by the opening of Budapest’s first line of what would be later the cities metro network; accommodating governments later, those of other countries: embassies and ambassadors, and now hosting remainders of the blaze of glory: the reappearance in the new clothes of the new richesse.

  • The one thing coming to mind are the obvious hegemonies and their change over time – sure, one may add two things. The one is that hegemony is exactly not about the obvious “ruling” and it’s incarnations in somewhat obvious structures. Of course, the standard for understanding hegemony is set by the definition given by Antonio Gramsci, later elaborated by Nicos Poulantzas.
    The other question that may be posed is, if one wants to call it this, a matter of political history – and as such it is a matter of assessing change: What is about the years between 1947 and 1989? Had that been socialism and is socialism – at least for some interim time – the re-construction of overcome patterns with(in) a different context. The phrase of the withering away of the state is rather complex as already the new state would actually not be the same as the old institutional system had been although it appears to maintain the same or at least a very similar institutional framework. We may have to speak of an emerging system that establishes itself only with the intention of giving birth to something else by (not before or after, sic!) self-destruction.
  • The other point is about the hegemonies in daily life – and though it is also a complex issue, one facet is that we are not least asked to look at free spaces.

*****

All the same, talking about governing, governance, hegemony …, we are always confronted with the actual question of self-determination. Leaving brute violence aside, “following something/somebody”, “part-subordinating” is not least about some form of freedom of decision. Now, such freedom can – and in someway is – a matter of …, the matter with which the decision is concerned: the well-known exit-voice-loyalty option suggested by Albert Otto Hirschman. It deserves some special attention that Hirschman’s contribution had been made in particular in the context of firms – such situations can be usually seen as under-complex in their very nature, as they consider the problem Hamlet put forward with his famous question as answered or irrelevant: in any case the being, the existence is taken for granted – and it is simple existence that is seen as relevant.

The question Shakespeare did not look at may actually be only recently – and temporarily – be of particular and peculiar relevance. The question is

to cycle or to scooter.

In this formulation it is of course posed against a special personal background: having lived for short time in Rome – where using the scooter seems to be part of the genetic code – and having spent again some time in Amsterdam – I’m sure that one day a tiny DNS-string will be found determining that people in that place use the bike.

Ops, but that is exactly the point …, and I will come back to it.

Sure, cycling or using the scooter are not the only options, another option is that of swimming, to be more precise: going to a bath. Why do we commonly forget how people live, how they shape, “design” their socio-personal life.

One reason is surely that we are – in daily small talk and scientific political analysis – more interested in differences instead of similarities. And paradoxically this means to look at the uniqueness of political-institutional systems. To the extent to which this is not about the concrete-individual case but the general-abstract, this can be captured by looking at the frameworks, leaving the actual life and living outside of considerations – go to any gallery and you will find so many paintings that are apparently hidden beneath a heavy frame.

And such a heavy frame seems to be at first glance dominant: a most beautiful bath, clear in its overall outline, complex in its internal structure with the various small pools with the different temperatures, shapes etc.; this frame is actually underlined by “something” that appears to be content: guests, bathers. There is obviously a difference between “framing guests” and those that truly belong to the content – and it is exactly this twofold meaning of content: being a matter of substance but at the very same time a matter of being content. You may say: appropriately filling the frame. And anything that really fills a frame must fit into it, must be appropriate by appropriating the available space, i.e. making it its property.

In this light, the bath culture in Hungary is something specific, mediating between different worlds: the world of nature which provided a vast wealth of hot springs; the world of a country that had been shaped by being historically a border country between Orient and Occident; the specific “encapsulation”, typical for a nation without or with limited state due to colonialisation and subordination under foreign – in this case Hapsburgian – rule … . – One could surely go on, looking at the details of a social space in the midst of the old Ottoman Empire which had been dominated by men and masculinity, though it left most decisive niches for women where they could actually hide in some way – also in the bath: talking and negotiating about their own business which included arranging marriages, thus being in a way the core ante-chamber of society building.

And indeed these baths are the places where wars are made and lost and won. Only on few occasions of my visits in one of the baths I did not see people playing chess, very often the board game, but frequently just in a metaphorical way: building governments, based on strategic alliances, elaborating policies and making declarations: never completely moving beyond the walls, but entering the public via a detour as part of the war of manoeuvre. – People who are swimming …, yes, but few and many of them are the tourists, the “framing guests”.

*****

Being that day in the Széchenyi Gyógyfürdő és Uszoda, looking at things to come during the next few days: the short visit in Vienna, interrupting my journey for a business meeting in the Kunsthistorische Museum, then moving home to Rome, the eternal city as they say: permanency of the timelessness. And it is a short thought only: Did Lenin also think about access of all these privileged places for the proverbial cook when he said that every cook should be able to rule the state? Behind all this is finally a question that is easily lost out of sight, that is not even consciously articulated. Aren’t we dealing with the intermeshing and oscillation of different realities? Borders between utility goods and luxury goods are blurring, means of ordinary communication are changing their position in the overall systemic structure, emerging as symbols of governing, oppression, compromise and accommodation; and from there they are returning into daily life: alienated forms of a supposed overcome reality: the

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

as Marx put it into words in his 18th Brumaire.

Perhaps we may usefully speak of an alienated trickle-down effect: things taken out of their context and simultaneously with this de-contextualisation gaining a new, pacified meaning – and with this, again simultaneously, pacifying meaning.

… It is about the Knot of Governing[1]it is also a matter of artefacts, multiplied and in some form imitated and mass-produced …

Si nous nous concentrons sur la stratégie commerciale, nous comprenons pourquoi les historiens ont normalement associé la question de la production de masse ou sérielle au problème du marché : la plupart de ces production, par leur coût relativement modéré, leur standardisation et leur modularité, s’adresse à des acheteurs anonymes plutôt qu’à des commanditaires. Il est vrai que les études des dernières années invitent à raison à ne pas opposer trop fortement le commanditaire à l’acheteur.[2]

And as such they are gaining access into peoples’ living rooms

Het was een voor Europese begrippen bijzonder fenomeen dat schilderijen in de loop van de zeventiende eeuw een onmisbaar element waren geworden in het interieur van de gegoede burgerij. Men had het voor het kiezen, want het aanbond was zeer divers, zowel als het gaat om kwaliteit als om typen schilderijen. Niet al die kopers waren kenners of fijnproevers met verstand van kunst; schilderijen weden door veel mensen beschouwd als een aardigheidje aan de wand waar weinig woorden aan behoefden te worden vuilgemaakt. Het was vooral de omvang van de vrije markt voor anonieme kopers die toen in Europa uitzonderlijk was.[3]

*****

Looking at the role of women is well worth a side remark.

One prominent and fruitful tendency, which has very much affected the selection of textual sources in this book, has been the growth of interest in types of object traditionally considered as ‘decorative art/. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (quattrocento and cinquecento) in Italy saw changes not only in the styles, format sand subjects of what we think of as ‘fine art’, but in the reorganisation of urban environments and of the ecclesiastical and secular buildings. Many such buildings were on a very large scale, ad by the later sixteenth century they came to be filled with a huge number of furnishings and other artefacts, …[4]

And in this context the role of women gained a new place. As pointed out elsewhere:

In historical perspective this meant indeed mass production. Everly S.Welch in her book Art in Renaissance Italy 1350-1500 (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1997: 75) points out that this had also been an entrance for women into the sphere of this craft: though mainly undertaken by monks, the copying and skilful ‘illustration’ had been also undertaken by women.

Well, actually it is worthwhile to spend more as a side remark on this topic though it is again something that cannot be carried out on this occasion.

*****

Some weeks later, I am going to work – admittedly it is not in any kind usual work: not for most of the people and also not for me. I walk through the revolving entrance door at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. And I walk through the checkpoint

– Hoi, goedemorgen. Hoe gaat het vandaag?.

– Je bent heel vroeg vandaag.

Indeed, I am early. Actually too early for the library where I work these days. So I take a detour, walking up the main staircase, being on my own, turning around the corner, walking thorugh the large hall.

Monumental, indeed: van Rijns Night-Watch. It is just me, standing in front of the painting, I’m the only person in the room,[5] looking in the eye of history, facing this monumental incarnation of the at the time when van Rihjn painted tjis work, aspiring burgers of the aspiring new trade-nation. Leaving the earlier, Italian, roots of the new capitalist mode aside you may say: I am standing alone in front of this impressive showcase of the early stage of the emerging imperialism: old capitalism, expanding trade, moving towards the new capitalism which later became “pure imperialism” as highest stage of capitalism. And all this in a specific way stablished on the foundation of a capitalist and caitalising agriculture if we can trust J.L. Price.

*****

I remember a much earlier, similar experience: I had been privileged enough to see without anybody else in the room Picasso’s Guernica. An equally impressive peace of art.[6] And it did what probably a good piece of art always should do – and what proves a piece of art being a good one: in some way it draws the viewer into its ban, fascinates him or her simply by its power of expression – be it beauty, aversion, the specific distance it creates from every day’s life by dissociation. But at the same time there is the other side, namely the mobilisation emerging from the energy it entails, thoughts, wishes, dislikes and critiques the painter did not just express but for which s/he used the artefact as mediator.

And as such it is also – being a good work – mediating between times, not obliterating contradictions and dynamics, but making it by subtle, at times barely consciously detectable hints possible for the viewer to retrace the tensions within the Zeitgeist.

On the canvas worked on by van Rijn the glamour of the ancient regime, as lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch still standing next to the centre, but, though dressed in a golden drapery, already pushed to the side, apparently degraded, a gofer behind the emerging power of the global trade, in personam Fans Bannng Cocq, who took over the lead: on the canvas we see the signs of time: determination, pride, failure, grief – the dynamic of a war-scenery metaphorically showing the real battles going on: with other means, though still about a power game of expansion – if nothing else, the East and West India Trade Companies witnessing the pattern.

And this makes it so important that we are looking at a genuinely dynamic painting. As such it is completely different to the commonly known portraits of the time, depicting people lined up in a seemingly static hierarchy.[7]

Picasso’s manifestation against the war, the accusation of the invader of the small town in the Basque country. But also the expression of those who actually suffered: the victims who are now at the centre. And here we find also the many hints: the lost past, destroyed by the supposed superiority but equally by the lack of their power.

Lost pride – as the ground that had been lost …, Werner Hoffmann says

society, possessed by collective madness, celebrates its suicide.[8]

And he traces it back to Goya:

Physical suffering is one of the great themes of modern painting of modern painting, and I call ‘modern’ the period which starts with Goya. His ‘Tres de Mayo’ is a painted manifesto. Until the 18th century history painting was content to tell the story of dramatic events ….The defeated seem to deserve their fate as in a sporting contest when the stronger will win without the moral complications or frustrations. The suffering of the victim is not a theme in itself.[9]

Still, one can easily agree with Rachel Wischnitzer’s assessment. Though as much I personally read it as antifascist statement, an assertion against fascist violence, there is another dimension to it: the generalised notion of rejecting that ‘suicidal notion’ of modernity and the positive movements. In Wischnitzer’s words:

Picasso does not refer to the Fascists, the Nazis, or to Franco at all. Guernica is concerned only with the situation in the Loyalist camp. France and England keep neutrality, Russia lends support, the survivors express hope and confidence.

That is how Picasso wants to see and present the situation.[10]

If this is correctly reflecting Picasso’s overall line of thought may be left open – it would be speculation. However that it is part of the artists reflection, or a reflection the viewer may feel encouraged to undertake, may duly claim evidence. To point on one issue, we may refer to Gijs van Hensbergen who writes

In Guernica, the raised arm of a woman holding a candle tight in her grip pushes from the right-hand side of the canvas and helps to illuminate the scene. Symbolic of liberty and truth, she enlightens the world while forcing us to survey tragic drama played out in front of our eyes.[11]

May be that this had been the reason that, standing in front of the accusingly monumental painting I felt something keeping my upright, maintaining my strength – a guiding arm, holding a light. Wischnitzer – with reference to Reinhold Hohl, points out that the arm is a kind of ‘reincarnation’ of the arm of Agnolo Bronziono’s Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Timeand looking at that painting from the middle of the 16th century this may well be true.

Most convincing, however, is Hohl’s discovery of the model for the huge arm carrying the lamp in Guernica, in Bronzino’s allegory: Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, c. 1546 … In Bronzino’s painting Time lifts the curtain with the majestic movement of his powerful, muscular arm. Truth, the figure on the upper left, helps holding up some folds of the drape. The central figures are Venus with Cupid on the left and Deceit (rather than Folly) on the right. Two masks are on the ground on the right.[12]

But times changed – and accepting a coarse simplification it means the allegory ‘Time’ changed and is in Picasso’s piece female. It is time for something that may be called ‘reinvented matriarchy’.

*****

And as much as it is a privilege to be allowed to stand alone in front of any of these paintings, it is an additional privilege having experienced both of them. For me personally there had been years between the two occasions, perhaps decades, and surely a long time of experiences, ventures, own successes and failures, hopes and disappointments. However, it had not been such a long period as it had been for the raise and fall of nations, empires and systems as the two paintings express: in this way two facets of an experience that makes history immediately palpable, appreciable.

And it may be suggested that there had been the from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel known cunning of reason secretly at play, forecasting the dark side:

At least since the cleaning of the picture in 1946-7, it has been evident that the scene takes place in daylight, with the sun streaming down from the top left. A further cleaning completed in 1980 showed that the tones are predominantly cool. The traditional title The Nightwatch which dates from the late 18th century, is therefore incorrect but it would be absurdly pedantic to suggest changing it now.[13]

– Reviving in my memory the two viewing experiences and combining them, empathising the large lines of historical development: glory and decay, I remember the recent phone conversation, talking to Paul who told me about his new publication – the first volume now in print: It is about the crisis, the systemic crisis, that is not only structural, but goes far beyond, concerning also the civilisation and of politico-environmental perspectives.

– It had been easy to agree on our common interest and work, and though it surely sounds a bit bizarre it is about scooters, bikes and baths.

*****

Later I leave the library, the usual ‘Hoi’ and I go this time through the exhibition halls.

The paintings I see now are very much my own paintings, part of my daily life. And I feel – at least here and now – a little bit like the cook who actually does not need a museum or a bath if governing really means to possess all these artefacts as life’s real facts. …

After having entered earlier that day the library through the backdoor, the servants entrance, and now leaving through the exhibition halls, it is strange to see the people around: standing in front of the paintings staring at the exhibits as they had been earlier standing on the balcony of the reading room, looking at the old books and …, looking at me, so many times I had been the only person sitting there and doing what the name of the room suggests: reading. Sure, at this stage – in my life and the life of our societies it is a privilege being able and taking the liberty to follow the vision, Marx suggested in the German ideology:[14]

… finally, the division of labour offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.

Indeed, as long as such ownership is not given we see waste produced – it is the case when we see the cook who wants and actually needs all this, even if it may well take the form of knickknack, the form of art in its own right. And it surely is a provocation, saying that the educated classes, ownership being reduced on intellectual simulation and understanding, is not really doing much better.[15]

*****

It is time now to keep the promise. Above I stated

I’m sure that one day a tiny DNS-string will be found determining that people in that place use the bike.

Ops, but that is exactly the point ….

– and I promised to come back to it. This supposed DNS-string is, of course, not really such encoding. It is not a given but it is the knot of governing which may be tightened by pulling at the wrong end, or which can be loosened by developing a considered strategy, applying both, a radical slicing of the knot as we know it from Alexander’s victory, and at the vey same time a circumspect and dialectical adjournment, dealing with all the different tiny fibres that are making up the strings. – Surely something that I have to consider more seriously in the book on which I had been working these days.

– It will take a long time to make Amsterdam a city of scooters although their current number suggests different. And if it shoud happen one day we will have to sit down to make the calculation of pros and cons.

For the time being it will remain an open question – as much as it is an open question if my visit and work in the Rijksmuseum’s library will result in my presence n many photoalbums worldwide, put side by side with photos from paintings, books and other exhibits, perhaps with a little note

Peter, reader, early 21st century – please, do not feed

or if it will contribute in one or another way to a real reading culture, seeing books not as something to be consumed by individuals but being part of a real culture of communication and honest dispute. It si similar to the other question on byke, scooter and bath, just a matter of appropriate, i.e. ‘appropriated’ culture.


[1]            Frigga Haug introduced recently some ideas under the catchword ‘Herrschaftsknoten’, furthering her thoughts on the Four-in-One-Perspective – http://www.rosalux.de/documentation/48090/am%E2%80%90herrschaftsknoten%E2%80%90ansetzen.html – and https://williamthompsonucc.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/four-in-one/

[2]            Tomasi, Michele, 2011 : L’art multiplié : matériaux t problèmes pour une réflexion ; in : L’art multiplié. Production de masse, en série, pour le marché dans les arts entre Moyen Âge et Renaissance. Sous la direction de Michele Tomasi ave la collaboration de Sabine Utz ; Roma :Viella:7-24 ; here : 14

[3]            Boers, Marion, 2012: De Noord-Nederlandse kunsthandel in de eerste helft van de zeventiende eeuw; Hilversum: Uitgeverij Verloren: 9

[4]            Women and the visual arts in Italy c. 1400-1650. Luxury and leisure, duty and devotion. A sourcebook/Selected, translated and introduced by Paola Tingali and Mary Rogers Manchester/New York Manchester University Press 2012: 1

[5]            Of course, security is there too – After a brief moment of a kind of ‘inner devotion’ on my side we begin to chat. I am another time in some way surprised by seeing that such jobs are at least for many not so much about security but about living in the middle of art work and history – though they are not allowed to ‘govern the state as Lenin’s cook’, they are allowed to look in some ways on what had been going on I history on the back stage …

[6]            It had been commissioned by the Spanish Republican Government for the World’s Fair in Paris in Paris, 1937 – on that occasion it had been by and large unrecognised and ignored.

[7]            Cf. Schama, Simon: Rembrandt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJYlzyNQjpc – 14/08/2013: 8:10 ff.

[8]            Hofmann, Werner, 1983: Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ in its Historical Context; in: artibus e historiae. Rivista internazionale di arti visive e cinema; IRSA-LiCOSA. Nr 7(IV); Venezia-Wien: 141-169; here 149

[9]            ibid.: 141 f.

[10]            Wischnitzer, Rachel, 1985: Picasso’s Guernica. A Matter of Metaphor: in: artibus e historiae. Rivista internazionale di arti visive e cinema; IRSA-LiCOSA. Nr 12 (VI); Venezia-Wien:153-172; here: 165

[11]            van Hensbergen, Gijs, 2005: Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon; London: Bloomsbury: 105

[12]            Wischnitzer, op.cit.: 163 f.; with reference to Reinhold Hohl, 1978: Die Wahrheit ueber Guernica; Pantheon, 36, Jan. 1978: 41-58

[13]            Galleria Dep Art Milano Italia A.Biasi Dadamaino Simeti Wilding: The Night Watch (1642)ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ART EDUCATION © visual-arts-cork.com http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-paintings/night-watch.htm – 14/08/2013

[14]            Supposedly this text had been added by Engels, with a mocking undertone.

[15]            Just briefly contextualising this by pointing on marketisation, commodification and the loss of meaning of education in its humanist understanding.