Paradise (Carl von Ossietzky)

This is my translation of the article ‘Das Paradies’ by German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1935 after publishing an expose of clandestine German re-armament in 1929. He was convicted and imprisoned for high treason, and detained in a number of concentration camps after 1933, finally succumbing to tuberculosis in 1938.

This article was published in the Berliner Volks-Zeitung on Christmas Day 1921 (read the original article here).


Carl von Ossietzky

25th December 1921

When we use Christmas Day as an occasion for retrospection and introspection, and as a time to set higher standards than usual, this has nothing to do with the professional sentimentality of the holiday cheerleaders. The struggles of everyday life oblige us to be humble. Only when tradition overpowers even the most warlike people, and imposes a short ceasefire, then should it not be used as a mere pause for breath—during which new forces can be gathered to wallop the opponent even harder once the sacred day is over—but rather as a short period in which to reflect upon one’s own ego, to contemplate its properties and ideologies.

In the Middle Ages—a time that we, the contemporaries of U-boats and poison gas, now call barbaric and murky, because people would assail each other with pikes and morning stars—people were acquainted with the beautiful custom of “Gottesfrieden” (Truce of God). This meant that, on days consecrated by the Saviour’s suffering and death, every battle was made to cease. Time has long since brushed this practice aside: so thoroughly, in fact, that nothing in our thoughts and feelings remains to remind us of the old, meaningless custom.

That is to say, we have become far more “consistent” in all affairs, and we pride ourselves on this fact. The tenderness and mildness of humanity is no longer held in esteem; toughness and ruthlessness prevails. Sure, you could call this “strength of character”, or “lust for life”, or suchlike. Still, all that’s really meant by this is sharp elbows. It’s what we require of individuals. It’s what we require of the aggregate of individuals: of nations. With the political struggle, with the social struggle, it has escalated to a tremendous level. And now, when we pipe up once more with our Christmas carols, all too often they carry a fatal undertone: Lord, destroy our enemies!

And, when all is said and done, this is only logical. If there’s something twinkling above mankind on Christmas 1921, it is not the star of the new covenant. Just as in the war years, it is the juggling of flaming red missiles, back and forth across the black night sky, over the cold, damp trenches where people huddle together with hammering hearts and wistfully send their wretched, scattered thoughts to distant homes. That blood-red signal still dances above us—and it is, in truth, the very symbol of divinity, to which the people pray.

Poor spiritual conditions for the day of promise. The thunder of the canons still rings in our ears and we fail to hear the song of the shepherds. What are they to us, those shepherds of the field who hurried to pay homage to the small God in the manger? Little people, who live together with their animals, peaceably and harmlessly under a thatched straw roof. Little people! And yet these same “little people” undermined the entire Roman Empire with their faith and were placed high on the pedestal of the new doctrine. They carried this new doctrine throughout the whole world, until even the Roman Emperor himself recognised the political shrewdness of adopting this doctrine of powerlessness, in order to safeguard his own power. Thus, from henceforth, the Christian predator took the place of the heathen predator in the governing of the world. And yet the everlasting glory remains with those apostles who were the first to bear witness to their gracious God. And in our times, when power rules without restraint and whole nations are kept in chains, there are similar twitches and shudders in the nether regions of human society. There, one sees signs, one waits on promises, and intersperses, amongst the shrill voices of hate, a quiet and friendly “Peace on Earth!”

The voice is faint, but woe betides the Herod who sends his bailiff out to smother it. For while the patient and peaceable may get trampled, they have always had deeper lungs than their snorting and raging enemies.

Christmas is the true festival of utopia. It holds a unique and isolated position in this world of “given facts”. Quite against their will, people become softer, spinning around themselves a silky state of peacefulness, and a vision of eternal justice is asserted next to cold rationality. In the strangely coloured miracle stories of the great Anatole France*, each unforgettable chapter comes forth from the old gardener**, who blows the flute of the great shepherd god Pan. With this seductive sound, the wild animals lay aside all enmity, to gather peacefully and listen.

It has become a commonplace that true art should strive to make possible a convivial coexistence. Yet deep in the thicket of the soul, there still resonates the desire for the unattainable, like the most delicate violin tone. This desire gropes backwards through our gloomy prehistory in search of the Garden of Eden: the perfect harmony of all that lives and breathes. This blissful state, which we set so readily at the beginning of days, is what we also desire for the end. A magnificent thought: the history of mankind, glutted with blood and terror, bookended by two gardens in full bloom. Glad tidings indeed, even where the faith is lacking. We lay down our weapons and listen, as eager and spellbound as the animals to the great Pan’s flute.

* The French poet and novelist Anatole France had recently published his ‘The Miracle of the Great Saint Nicholas’. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1921.

** France (1844–1944) was also renowned for his journalism and social criticism, including the essay collection The Garden of Epicurus (1894).

Specters of Freud: Anti-Oedipus & Hauntology

In a sense, capitalism has haunted all forms of society, but it haunts them as their terrifying nightmare, it is the dread they feel of a flow that would elude their codes.

Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 1983:140

It would not be hard to argue that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari remain faithful, in Jacques Derrida’s words, ‘to a certain spirit of Marxism’ in their 1972 book Anti-Oedipus (AO). Derrida himself might have found a clue as to which spirit (there is more than one of them) in the sheer number of hauntings in the text – eleven distinct appearances of the verb hanter (in both active and passive forms), throughout the book – since much of the inspiration behind Derrida’s own text, Specters of Marx (SM), comes from Marx’s own ‘obsession’ with ghosts, spirits and spectres (SM 132). The spirit of Marx-as-spectrologist unites the two halves of Derrida’s text, which switches to an assessment of ‘the spectral’ in Marx’s work, from an initial mediation on Marx-as-ghost, following the supposed ‘death’ of Marxism: the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the ‘failure’ of the ‘Socialist experiment’, and the ‘End of History’, as announced by Francis Fukuyama.

While SM discusses the spectral in general, the spectres that haunt AO are intrinsically linked to the spectre of Marx-as-spectrologist. It is within the fundamentally anachronistic category of the spectral that I propose to use Derrida’s text, written for a conference in 1993 on the title ‘Whither Marxism?’, as a point of departure to address Deleuze’s and Guattari’s 1972 book. In other words, we needn’t wait for Marx’s death to be announced so triumphantly in 1989, in order to start hunting his ghosts. ‘Haunting is historical’ for Derrida, but anachronistic, exhibiting its own ‘hauntology’, which ‘[harbors] within itself … eschatology and teleology themselves’ (SM 3, 28). As ‘revenant’, the spectre ‘begins by coming back’; the ‘event’ of haunting is described thus:

Each time it is the event itself, a first time is a last time. … Staging for the end of history. (SM 10)

Continue reading

Mapping the Sonic City in African Cinema

More than colors and forms, it is sounds and their arrangements that fashion societies. With noise is born disorder and its opposite: the world. With music is born power and its opposite: subversion.
Among birds a tool for marking territorial boundaries, noise is inscribed from the start with the panoply of power. Equivalent to the articulation of a space, it indicates the limits of a territory and the way to make oneself heard within it.

Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music[1]

Jacques Attali’s treatise on the ‘political economy’ of music discusses sound as something which can not only be ordered, but also has the power to order. As with all manifestations of power and order, both these qualities are essentially political. In approaching an ‘exploration’ as open-ended as this, I’ve tried to limit the critical tools at my disposal; in the case of this essay, it will be through a kind of ‘sensory deprivation’. Attali’s ideas on the relation between sound, order and politics should go some way to introducing my decision to focus this exploration of the politics of the African city in cinema within an ‘aural field’.

Sound and Order in the Cinematic City

I want to start by outlining some of the ways in which sound is implicated politically in notions of order, both as a tool of the filmmaker and within the diegesis of the film (and its representation of the (African) city). The ordering of images by a filmmaker can be understood as a political act: as the director Wim Wenders says, ‘the most political decision you make is where you direct people’s eyes’.[2] Sound is implicated in this process too. This is primarily through what theorist Michel Chion, in his extensive work on film sound, calls added value – ‘a sensory, informational, semantic, narrative, structural, or expressive value that a sound heard in a scene leads us to project onto the image, so as to create the impression that we see in the image what in reality we are audio-viewing’.[3] Maintain Chion’s vocabulary, the use of added value can be integral in temporal phrasing (or the ordering of narrative time) and audiovisual scenography (or the ordering of imaginary filmic space).[4] Continue reading

Cognitive Mapping as Aesthetic Approach in the Work of Patrick Keiller and Christoph Büchel

Aesthetic approaches have begun an important process of broadening our understanding of world politics beyond a relatively narrow academic discipline that has come to entrench many of the political problems it seemingly seeks to address and solve.

Roland Bleiker, Aesthetics and World Politics, p.19

With reference to Roland Bleiker’s quotation, this essay will focus on one specific ‘aesthetic approach’ – Fredric Jameson’s concept of ‘cognitive mapping’. I will discuss its capacity for ‘broadening our understanding of world politics’ as a strategy of ‘Marxist aesthetics’, responding to the cultural condition of late capitalism (or ‘postmodernism’). For Marxists such as Jameson and myself, capitalism continues to constitute a ‘world system’. However, since the ‘postmodern’ transformation of capitalist production into its late or ‘multinational’ stage – accompanied, according to Jameson, by a new form of spatiality ‘in which the depth and materiality of the real world seems to implode into an endlessly differentiating play of affective surfaces’ – it has become increasingly difficult for us to ‘map the great global, multinational and de- centered communicational network in which we find ourselves caught as individual subjects’.[1] [2] This prevents us from orientating ourselves as political subjects within this world system, and achieving ‘class consciousness’. I thereby mean to apply a Marxist interpretation to Bleiker’s problematic of the ‘narrow academic discipline’ of world politics, considering Jameson’s statement that ‘the method of [liberal-pluralist academic practice]…consists of separating reality into airtight compartments…so that the full implication of any problem can never come into view’.[3] The ‘narrow’ political science which Bleiker describes can be interpreted then as a symptom of postmodern ‘fragmentation’ – the exacerbated inability to conceive of global capitalism as a ‘totality’ – making the achievement of class consciousness (still vital for any progressive socialist change) all the more challenging. In this way, the main political problem which it ‘entrenches’ is its very ‘narrowness’.

In order to combat these tendencies, Jameson suggests that we need to ‘grow new conceptual organs’, and he proposes the ‘aesthetic-pedagogical practice’ of cognitive mapping as the primary solution.[4] I will introduce this aesthetic concept in relation to some of the recent ‘network art’, which Brian Holmes has identified as engaging with Jameson’s aesthetic in its most immediate sense. Then – by focusing on Tyson Lewis’s understanding of cognitive mapping as a response to ‘a crisis of Marxist pedagogy’ – I will look at two very recent examples which, I believe, go further towards satisfying both Jameson’s and Bleiker’s designation for such an approach: Patrick Keiller’s ‘The Robinson Institute’ at the Tate Britain in 2012, and Christoph Büchel’s ‘Piccadilly Community Centre’ at Hauser and Wirth in 2011. Continue reading