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Z: Congratulations to your latest publication on Trump in the Journal of European Studies.

M: Thank you.

Z:  Tell us about your paper! What was your motivation to do research on Donald Trump?

M: Well, you can’t escape him, can you? So far, the mass media controls the Trump discourse, and they do it by using moralistic distinctions, by demonizing him, and placing themselves on the other side as the ‘good guys’, using this whole idea of the press as the fourth estate. I think it’s amazing that the Washington Post changed their slogan to ‘Democracy dies in darkness’ – this is clearly a Trump effect. But what they are actually saying is of course: We won’t let that happen, we’re here to shine a light, to ‘enlighten’ the world.

Z: But wait – so you agree to his thesis that they are organizing a ‘witch hunt’ against him?

M: (laughs) No, of course not. It’s not that simple. But he kind of has a point here. It’s a hunt for information and from the perspective of communication theory, information is anything that surprises you. Anything new. And he gives them that – another breaking of norms, another attack on a political opponents or on the press, another funny or mysterious tweet, more embarrassing behaviour – they’re complicit in this – also in making Trump bigger than he actually is. Especially as one of their main selection mechanisms is conflict, and as you know, Trump is a master of conflict ceremony. It is his favourite communication strategy for a number of reasons. But I think the biggest problem is the mass media’s interest in persons, in heroes and in villains. They overestimate the importance of individual actions. So that’s the deficit I tried to compensate – to point out the structures that are at the heart of all those conflicts. And by doing that, live up to our social responsibility as scientists.

Z: Which is?

M: I would say to ‘tell the truth’. Sounds pathetic, doesn’t it?

Z: Indeed!

M: Well, you have to take it with a grain of salt – it is not ‘the’ truth of course. But that’s our social monopoly – we have the license to distinguish between fake and real, between what is true and what isn’t. Which is why I find it amazing that the mass media try to claim this as their main function these days. And why do they do that? Because Trump says they’re spreading fake news. So again, they are just reacting to him, they’re playing his game. He calls them the enemy of the people, and what do they do? They create this strange kind of ‘functional movement’, led by the Boston Globe, appealing to the people: ‘Please listen to us, we are not your enemy!’

Z: I heard you already have a contract for a book on Trump. Is that fake news? And if it’s not, how does that relate to your article, will it be a part of it?

M: No, that’s actually true. The book looks systematically at Trump, relating the phenomenon to the different areas of society, like politics, economy, the law, the mass media, etc. Whereas the article compares Trump to the AfD (Alternative for Germany) –

Z: Which is this new German party.

M: Right. Dr. Tasneem, who is one of the editors of the Journal of European Studies asked me to contribute something to their latest issue of radicalization, so I kind of extended my Trump research and looked at this German equivalent. I consider both as a part of a bigger trend I call the crisis of politics.

Z: In one sentence, how do you define that crisis?

M: In one sentence: Politics has lost its claim to make generally valid decisions for the whole of society. Can I have two more please?

Z: Just two!

M: Well, normally the AfD or Trump or the right-wing movement in general are seen as problems. What I do is, I’m inverting this perspective. They are there for some reason, right? So I see them as solutions. They solve something. And my job is to construct this something, this problem.

Z: And this problem is the crisis of politics?

M: Yes, the mistrust on politics, the mistrust in the ‘political class’ if you like, in the political elite. From that perspective, the people didn’t vote so much for Trump or the AfD – they voted against politics, against that class.

Z: And what can we do about the rise of populism and right wing-ideology?

M: Well, I can only answer that as a researcher: we need to carefully observe these things – and offer our observations to society. I disagree with Marx, in that it’s not enough to simply describe things, that it is our job to change them. And even the Marxists don’t agree with me here, at least someone like Manuel Castells does.

Z: What is Castells saying?

M: Basically that trying to frame political practice with social theory is a dead end. That our task is to free people from uncritical adherence to ideology, that we should not tell them what to do, but offer them different interpretations of what is going on. That’s what I try to do with my Trump research – offer a different interpretation of the phenomenon.

Z: Thank you very much for this interview. And please keep us posted about your Trump research.

M: I will.

Z: One last question – do you think he will be impeached?

M: Absolutely no idea. So far it doesn’t look like it. But I’m not a prophet. The future is uncertain, that is its exact definition.

Link: https://habib.edu.pk/HU-news/donald-trump-and-alternative-fur-deutshland-afd-the-crisis-of-politics-dr-markus-heidingsfelders-paper-published-by-the-journal-of-european-studies/

Images: SPIEGEL-Cover by Edel Rodriguez

Screenshot 2016-12-04 22.29.45

Gilles Deleuze hatte mit seiner Metapher des Rhizoms nicht zuletzt eine Alternative zu den alten, in Schulen organisierten gesellschaftlichen Strukturen aufgezeigt, in deren Mittelpunkt das Subjekt des Autors stand, von dem – als einer Art ‚Zentralsonne’ – alles seinen Ausgang nahm, und zu dem alle Wege hinführten – „jede hat ihren Papst, ihre Manifeste, ihre Repräsentanten … ihre Tribunale und Exkommunikationen“. Seine Vorstellung eines ‚Dramas sich überkreuzender Linien‘, der kollektiven Äußerungsverkettung, die an deren Stelle treten sollte, hatten sich die enthusiastischen Netzdenker für ihre Zwecke zu eigen gemacht, die im Internet jene Infrastruktur erblickten, die diese schöpferischen Funktionen gleichsam würde freisetzen können – denn was anderes als eine gigantische, weltumspannende Struktur von ‚Treff-Punkten‘ stellt es dar? In diesem Sinne sollte es zu einem Instrument der Befreiung werden.

Für Deleuze war nicht so sehr die ‚Sterilisierung‘ der Adepten und Schüler das Problem, sondern die Engstirnigkeit, die das, was anderswo geschah – außerhalb der Schulen – zu ‚ersticken‘ suchte. Doch was die Adepten von Deleuze übersahen, ihn gleichsam selbst sterilisierend, war sein Hinweis auf das Marketing, das seiner Ansicht nach als „düstere Organisation“ an die Stelle der Schulen trat und zuletzt eine Rekonstituierung der Autorfunktion ermöglichte. Seine Forderung: die „von jener immer wieder neu sich formierenden Autorfunktion befreiten produktiven, schöpferischen Funktionen wieder zu erfinden und zu entwickeln“.

Aus dieser Perspektive erscheint die Forderung Geert Lovinks, der das Internet reparieren möchte, weil es ‚kaputt’ sei – sprich: den ihm zugemuteten Idealen der Befreiung und Gleichberechtigung nicht nachkommt – als ein solcher Versuch der Planierung. Lovink gehört – genau wie Nicholas Carr – zu einer Schule der Kritik, deren Repräsentant er ist. Würde er versuchen, seinen eigenen Forderungen gerecht zu werden, müßte er auf seine Tätigkeit als Buchautor verzichten und Teil einer jener Produktionsgruppen werden, die Verbindungen zwischen schöpferischen Funktionen durchsetzt und lebendige Interaktion herstellt, „gebrochene Linien zieht“, anstatt einen Ausgangspunkt zu konstituieren (das  Postulat des ‚guten‘ Netzes als Instrument zur Konstruktion einer positiv konnotierten Weltgesellschaft), von dem alle seine Aussagen abhängen. Gegen dieses Netzideal schneidet die Netzwirklichkeit natürlich nicht besonders gut ab. Und genau darum geht es, denn erst das Ideal, nicht die Wirklichkeit, ermöglicht seine Kritik. Es bildet den blinden Fleck eines Denkens, das Kommunikation mit Technologie identifiziert (‘verwechselt’), und die von ihm beobachteten Defekte des Internet – und damit der Gesellschaft – für behebbar hält. Der Gedanke, dass die Kritik ‚kaputt’ sein könnte, kommt ihm nicht.

Lovink sieht, was wir angeblich nicht sehen: dass die IT-Unternehmen uns mit dem Begriff der ‚Plattform’ ein X für ein U vormachen, mit diesem neutralen Begriff ihre Profitinteressen tarnen, und zudem die „Kollision von Privatsphäre und Überwachungsaktivitäten, Gemeinschafts- und Werbeinvestitionen“ ermöglichen. Er ist, wie es die Rolle des Kritikers vorsieht, ein kompetenter Beobachter. Genau wie Carr und Lanier versucht er sich als Ratgeber, schließlich weiß er es besser, formuliert also Handlungsansätze für den einzelnen User und fordert von der Wissenschaft – ganz so, als ließe diese sich addressieren – das Beobachten aufzugeben und zur Tat zu schreiten, die da lautet: helfen, den Computer als „Instrument der menschlichen Befreiung“ wiederzuentdecken. Mit einem Wort, sein Buch kreiert eine contradictio in adiecto: gutmeinende Forschung.

Illustration: Florian Meisenberg 2017, Screenshot from OF DEFECTIVE GODS & LUCID DREAMS (THE MUSEUM IS CLOSED FOR RENOVATION), Courtesy Henie Onstad Kunstsenter Oslo, ICA, Philadelphia and Florian Meisenberg

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This weekend in Berlin, at HAU theater, Christian von Borries and Dieter Lesage are pulling together an evening about politics of the image of rescue. They found a wonderful mix of contributers whom they asked questions, and who are answering in a very diverse manner, reflecting on the format of reflexion itself: Herman Asselberghs, Arno Brandlhuber, Alice Creischer, Georges Didi-Huberman, Tobias Hülswitt, Dieter Lesage, Marie-José Mondzain, Georg Seeßlen, Andreas Siekmann, Oraib Toukan, Ina Wudtke, Tirdad Zolghadr and many more.

The two evenings, Saturday at 7 pm and Sunday at 5 at HAU1, will be similar.

Secondly, a new edition of A BETTER VERSION OF YOU will open in Beijing on March 24 for 9 days, with more stops to come soon to a place near you.

Hope to see you here there!

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Communication is a fascinating thing – because it isn’t really a thing. Nobody has ever seen ‘a’ communication. Of course, there are books, songs, emails and posts like this, but if noone ever reads this text, it isn’t communicating anything. A poem in a drawer that nobody but the poet has ever seen isn’t communication. It has to be shared, people have to read and ‘understand’ it (“I don’t get it, but this seems to be a poem”) and then to respond to it – for instance by writing another one. Or by today’s way of approval: “I like.”

This is why I prefer the plural: communications. It takes two to communicate, the same way it takes two to tango – taali do haath se bajtihai.

Some communications make a hell of a career for themselves. They go viral. Literally, they are infectious. Older examples are the Bible. The Quran. Homer’s Odyssey. Or think of songs by Taylor Swift, films by Spielberg, poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, paintings by Sadequain. Or even of everyday phrases like ‘You know’, and words like ‘like’. Other forms aren’t successful at all. We can call them flops.

As a theorist, I am interested in the mechanisms of this selection. Why do some terms become popular while others don’t? Take, for instance, the word ‘Globalization’, that was used long before, but only after Theodore Levitt  mentioned it in an 1983 article, the term itself became ‘global’. Or ‘climate change’. I would have never imagined that a term as complicated as ‘deconstruction’ could become so popular, but nowadays nearly everyone claims to be a deconstructivist.

The word that Paul J. Crutzen coined in 2000 has also made a remarkable career: ‘anthropocene’. What are the reasons for this success story?

To me, the main reason is that ‘anthropecene’ is not – as it claims to be – simply and solely a geological term. It has a deeply moral dimension to it. It includes a dramatic gesture that ascribes responsibility and at the same time asks for possible charges. Not humanity, so the idea, but the West, the European civilization is in the dock.This is why some prefer to speak of the ‘Eurocene’ instead. (Personally, I’d prefer to talk about those agencies that have acquired industrial techniques developed in Europe – and those agencies can include Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese as well as Germans or ‘Britishers’.)

This, however, is not the only reason for its success. It also matches perfectly with another semantic virus – the apocalypse. As Peter Sloterdijk has shown, the term anthropocene is conclusive only in the apocalyptic logic in which the world is evaluated from its end, as a sorting method in which the wicked are separated from the good. Which explains why it has become such an important part of the end rhetoric of the intellectual elite, especially in former European colonies like Pakistan.

I’ll be the first to admit that watching the world end in a movie can be fun, just like a rollercoaster ride. While buildings and people go down in flames and disaster strikes, we comfortably sit in our chairs, munching on some popcorn. But the prophets of the apocalypse are dead serious. They don’t just tell a horror story. They mean it: “Breaking news – the end is near!” What could be the function of this warning?

The answer is simple: visions of the end bring those who proclaim it an interested audience. And in the best case: converts. If the end is near and inevitable, then there is only one salvation – to profess the faith. It must of course be the right faith. Many of those who proclaim the end do have – coincidentally, of course – exactly this product to sell.

Communication is a fascinating thing, but it won’t save our planet – nor is it interested in doing so. All it wants to do is to continue. If this planet dies, it can’t. Maybe that’s why we should try to save it – so we can go on telling each other stories about the end.

GSB-MH

Die Zündfunk-Sendung über George Spencer-Brown ist jetzt wieder online:

http://www.br.de/radio/bayern2/sendungen/zuendfunk/kolumnen-sendungen/generator/zuendfunk-generator-29092013-gesetze-fuer-alles-gesetze-fuer-nichts-100.html

Script: “Gesetze für alles – Gesetze für nichts. Ein Anruf bei George Spencer-Brown, dem Erfinder der Laws of Form” (BR, Zündfunk Generator 29.09.2013)