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Metaphysical theater

The transformation of the human body, its metamorphosis, is made possible by the costume, the disguise. Costume and mask emphasize the body’s identity or they change it; they express its nature or they are purposely misleading about it; they stress its conformity to organic or mechanical laws or they invalidate this conformity.

The native costume, as produced by the conventions of religion, state, and society, is different from the theatrical stage costume. Yet the two are generally confused. Great as has been the variety of native costumes developed during the course of human history, the number of genuine stage costumes has stayed very small. They are the few standardized costumes of the commedia delle arte: Harlequin, Pierrot, Columbine, etc.; and they have remained basic and authentic to this day.

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The following can be considered fundamentally decisive in the transformation of the human body in terms of this stage costume:

  1. The laws of the surrounding cubical space. Here the cubical forms are transferred to the human shape: head, torso, arms, legs are transformed into spatial-cubical constructions.
    Result: ambulant architecture.
  2. The functional laws of the human body in their relationship to space. These laws bring about a typification of the bodily forms: the egg shape of the head, the vase shape of the torso, the club shape of the arms and legs, the ball shape of the joints.
    Result: the marionette.
  3. The laws of motion of the human body in space. Here we have the various aspects of rotation, direction, and intersection of space: the spinning top, snail, spiral, disk.
    Result: a technical organism.
  4. The metaphysical forms of expression symbolizing various members of the human body: the star shape of the spread hand, the x sign of the folded arms, the cross shape of the backbone and shoulders; the double head, multiple limbs, division and suppression of forms.
    Result: dematerialization.

[Formentanz of Oscar Schlemmer] [Formentanz of Oscar Schlemmer] Rudolph Binnemann, German, about 1927 - 1928 Abbaspour, Mitra, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg. Object-Photo rene (Hecht) Bayer, American (Chicago, Ill., USA 1898 - 1991 Los Angeles, Cal., USA) Title Equilibristic Dance [by Oskar Schlemmer] Continue reading

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Wolfgang Pohrt on the radical left and national liberation

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From:
Wolfgang Pohrt, “Linksradikalismus und nationaler Befreiungskampf” (1982), collected in the book Kreisverkehr, Wendepunkt: Über die Wechseljahre der Nation und die Linke im Widerstreit der Gefühle. The first paragraph has been omitted from this translation, as it contains an ephemeral polemic that would be of little interest to a contemporary English-speaking audience.

Pohrt himself is an interesting character. He took a number of positions over the years that I wouldn’t dream of trying to justify. If I recall correctly, he even pushed for the use of tactical nukes against Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. At any rate, he was also an early influence on, but later a fierce critic of, the so-called “antigerman” movement in Germany.

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The usual accusation made against Israel or Zionism is that this state was founded where other people were already living. But the founding acts of all hitherto existing polities were never acts of justice, but rather always acts of violence. Even the storybook peace of idyllic tribes and peoples cultivating the land of the fathers in concord and harmony with their neighbors is usually a peace resting upon an original act of land seizure and displacement. The right of nations, peoples and tribes to distinguish between themselves and foreigners and to regard these foreigners as intruders and chase them away when they wish to take up residence — a right as inseparable from the concept of the nation as it is logically imperative — this right is merely the original violent act of land seizure and expulsion made legal and continuous.

Palestinian land day 1985, Blut und Boden ideology everywhere

No people ever had its place on earth adjudicated by an extraterrestrial authority according to the stipulations of legal tenure. Rather, at some point in history every people took its place by force; not just for practical reasons — there is no righteous extraterrestrial authority granting such claims — but also because in an emphatic sense there can be no exclusive right of Germans, the French, or Israelis to possess any patch of land and because it is an injustice when people can’t live on some patch of land merely because they are Turks, Vietnamese, Jews, or Palestinians. The right of national autonomy and state sovereignty is merely another name for the injustice of harassing, deporting, and expelling people on the grounds that they possess the wrong passport or birth certificate. And this injustice is not a corruption of the idea of the nation-state but rather its essence — admittedly rendered milder on occasion by the tolerance of reasonable people.

The legal claims of human beings, peoples, or nations to a piece of land is just another name for the right to expel others from the same piece of land. In every festive proclamation of a people’s right to exist lurks the threat of revoking another people’s right to exist. But in truth, human beings no more possess a right to exist than they do a right to inhabit the place they happen to be at the moment, or a right to breathe. This is quite simply the case because neither mere existence, nor the concomitant act of inhabiting a piece of land, nor breathing are things that fall under the purview of the law. No human being has the right to live in a particular place, since the act of inhabiting a particular place is not an act of injustice, and therefore does not require a legal justification. All Turks should be able to remain in Germany not because they’ve earned a right to be present through hard work, but rather because they’re already there. The act of expelling the Palestinians from Israel was an injustice not because they possessed a right to Palestine, but because they were already there.

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In the past, the radical left would relinquish the act of playing chess with the territorial claims of population groups to those in power, since it was not the existence of these populations that was subject to debate, but rather the relations of production, the relations of power, the government. For that reason, a war between two population groups, both of which have the goal of expelling each other from a piece of land, would have merely confirmed this and rendered the radical left helpless from a practical viewpoint. A war such as that going on for years between Israel in the role of the displaced displacer and the Palestinians as the displaced would have confirmed the understanding of the radical left that there is no national solution to social problems, or at least none other than endless bloodshed. This war would have rendered the radical left helpless because it offers no possibility of taking sides, since:

  1. Both parties want the same thing: the exclusive claim of ownership to the same piece of land; their own flag, their own army, their own state.
  2. The development of Israel shows once again that every nation-state, even when created by humanitarians with the sincerest of motives and the best intentions, tends to become a ravenous monstrosity.
  3. The terrible past and present of Israel must be understood as a prognosis and a warning against any future Palestinian state, since such a state would only distinguish itself from Israel by the fact that its residents would be called Palestinians instead of Israelis. In Lebanon, Israeli troops were celebrated as liberators and the Palestinians were despised; not because Palestinians conducted themselves in Lebanon like friendly, discreet, and modest guests when they had a majority and the PLO had power; not because Palestinians are unsympathetic people, but because humans, when they assume the role of a people, never treat minorities gingerly and with tenderness.
  4. The national liberation struggle of the PLO is not a struggle for the abolition of all relations of exploitation and oppression. Rather, it is a struggle to obtain the preconditions under which all conditions of exploitation and oppression can be replicated.
  5. Because radical leftists do not recognize any advantage or fine distinction that supposedly exists when people are not massacred by foreign troops, such as in Lebanon, but rather by troops of their own country, such as in Hamas, or at least the troops of related peoples, such as in the war between Iran and Iraq. It is not only the case that the radical left cannot ally itself with those who oppress national minorities; it is also prohibited from forming alliances with oppressors of the great majority of the population, as is the case with all present-day Arab governments.

Zionist propaganda poster from the 1930s, move to sunny Palestine away from the alienating metropolis 1632_pppa

If, nonetheless, militant leftists today do not see a reason for helplessness or even resignation in the idiotic conflict between two ethnic nationalisms, but rather a welcome opportunity for getting involved, blindly and fanatically taking sides and jumping into the “national liberation struggle” with all force of the imagination, then that has nothing to do with radical leftism, but rather with the evil, secretive desires that slumber in the hearts of German people. The Palestinians will not benefit and Israel will not be harmed. Rather, the victims will be foreigners within Germany, when the Germans cease to wage the struggle of national liberation vicariously for others and start to do so on their own behalf, and when the alliance between militants and the mob obtains a realistic political base.

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Trotsky and the Frankfurt School

Helmut Dahmer
Platypus Review
October 1, 2015
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Disrespect for a reality that demands adoration as if it were a god is the religion of those, who in today’s Europe under the ‘Iron Heel’ risk their life in order to prepare a future better one.

— Max Horkheimer, September 19391

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Looking through the register of names in the writings and letters of the circle of friends around Max Horkheimer we find only rare references to Leon Trotsky. Theodor Adorno, for instance, who claims in his Aesthetic Theory (1969) that the ambitious art has been bourgeois art, remarks approvingly that Trotsky also had said in his book Literature and Revolution (1923/24) that (after the revolution) there would be no possibility for the development of any “proletarian” art, and that there would be produced a post-bourgeois art only in the future, after an international socialist society will have been established. Erich Fromm, who belonged to Horkheimer’s Institute of Social Research until 1939, wrote a sympathetic, but unpublished review in 1958, when Trotsky’s Diary in Exile (1935) was translated and published. Horkheimer also mentioned Trotsky (together with Lenin) in conversations with Adorno and other members of his circle concerning the Bolshevik Revolution, remarking that it had changed its character by answering white terror with red terror during the civil war. Horkheimer quoted Rosa Luxemburg’s early criticism of the Bolshevik rule, praising Luxemburg as “one of the most important political figures of the 20th century.” Walter Benjamin is the only member of Horkheimer’s circle of social philosophers of whom we know that he not only read (in 1926) Trotskyʼs essay Where is Britain Going? but later, in 1932-33, Trotsky’s most important books, My Life and The History of the Russian Revolution, with great enthusiasm, “I think it is the most interesting book I have read in many years,” he wrote to Adorno’s wife, Gretel Karplus.2 We can find traces of this reading in Benjamin’s notes on Blanqui (in The Arcades Project) and in his famous “Theses on the Philosophy of History” from 1940.

In Horkheimer and Adorno’s writings on fascism we find, in spite of many similarities of description and analysis, no indication that they had knowledge of Trotsky’s commentaries concerning the agony of the Weimar Republic, the failure of the German communist party and the rise of the fascist movement. Trotsky’s theory of fascism is not even mentioned in Horkheimer’s essay “Lehren aus dem Faschismus” [“What fascism did teach us” 1950].3 The main contributions to a theory of fascism, that were written and published by the scholars around Max Horkheimer were those of Franz Neumann4 and Adorno.5  The pioneer work of Neumann on the political economy of German fascism owes a lot to Trotsky’s analyses but doesn’t mention him. Both authors were analyzing the victory of Hitler’s fascist party in 1933 as the result of the struggle between the three German classes: the bourgeoisie, intermediate strata (petit-bourgeois), and the proletariat. The majority of the electorate and the troops supporting the fascist mass movement were recruited from the expropriated and disorientated old and new middle classes and from the reservoir of six million unemployed. The fascist program combined the conservative, anti-modern ideology with anti-capitalist and nationalist slogans in order to recruit as many followers out of the middle and working class as possible. In the November 1932 election, the fascist NSDAP got 11.7 million votes, the proletarian parties KPD and SPD together 13.2 million votes. The main promoters and beneficiaries of the fascist movement and of the fascist regime were finance capital and large landed property ownership. But millions of fellow travelers also made their profit, when the German and European Jews were expropriated and the countries under German rule were plundered (between 1938 and 1945). Trotsky had demanded the formation of an armed united front of all working-class organizations in order to attract the majority of the middle-classes, to destroy the fascist movement and to complete the social revolution of November 1918. The study of Adorno and the Frankfurt School attempted the first analysis to explain why certain people choose to give up their personal autonomy and to become blind followers of this or that charismatic false messiah.6 The Frankfurt School’s Marxism (or “critical theory”) was an exploration of the social totality from two sides: from the side of the institutionalized politico-economical relationships and from the side of the individuals that are stretched into the frame of these class relations. In a latent rebellion against this Procrustean bed, they often do not know how to realize their own interests. The analysis of the fascist economy and the analysis of the fascist mentality (Behemoth and Authoritarian Personality) were combined in order to gain a realistic picture of the terrible totality, whose reproduction our generation must prevent.7

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Trotsky had denounced Stalin as the “gravedigger of the revolution” as early as 1926. We cannot be sure if Horkheimer knew his fragmentary biography of Stalin published in 1941, the year after Trotsky was killed by the GPU-agent Ramón Mercader; but Horkheimer’s reaction when he learned in early March 1953 that the tyrant of the Kremlin had died sounds like an echo of Trotsky’s damnation of (“Cain”) Stalin. Here is the report of Monika Plessner:

Horkheimer was in high spirits, jubilated, rubbed his hands in glee: “The monster is dead. Call the students together. We have to do something immediately.” (Half an hour later the students were sent into the city of Frankfurt in order to ask passengers what their opinion was concerning the main news of the day).8

Much more important than these direct (or indirect) references to Trotsky and his writings is the political and cultural constellation: On the one side we find the tiny informal group of Marxist philosophers around Horkheimer driven into exile by the German fascists; on the other, the group of international revolutionaries around Trotsky — the so-called “Left Opposition,” later known as the “Fourth International,” organized in the form of a new party, one that the Stalinists hunted down from the Soviet Union to Turkey, then to France, from France to Norway, from Norway to Mexico. Between 1929 and 1942 both the Trotskyists and the Frankfurt School published their own journals, the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung [Journal for Social Research] and the Бюллетен оппозиции [Bulletin of the Opposition]. We could say that in different ways both journals met Hegel’s demand to grasp the specific historical situation and to give it a theoretical reconstruction.9 We don’t know if Horkheimer and his friends took note of Trotsky’s Bulletin, whose main articles were published simultaneously in German, French and English, but in July 1939 a review of Horkheimer’s journal and its program was published in Unser Wort, the journal of the German Trotskyist group (IKD) written by Trotskyʼs brilliant secretary Walter Held (Heinz Epe) whom the Stalinists killed three years later. Its title was “Kritische Theorie ohne politische Praxis?” (“Critical Theory without Political Practice?”).

The Marxists of Horkheimer’s circle were (like Freud) critics of the Hegelian idealism in succession of Ludwig Feuerbach. But they knew — like Marx himself — that the concepts of their sociological theory originally had been developed by Hegel. So we can say that they were Hegelian (or“Western”) Marxists like Antonio Labriola, the Italian philosopher whose “non-orthodox” interpretation was decisive for Trotsky’s understanding of Marxʼs critical theory.10

They were convinced that, in order to understand and to criticize the actual form and functioning of society, it was not only necessary to analyze the economic development but to understand and to criticize the philosophical and artistic productions that were typical for the actual stage of societal evolution and that determined the consciousness of their contemporaries. In order to change society it was necessary to understand it in its totality. This orientation enabled the social philosophers around Horkheimer as well as Trotsky (and in contrast to the majority of the Marxists, who didn’t understand that Marx had developed a criticism of society, not a Weltanschauung) to welcome Freud’s new (therapeutic) psychology of the unconscious. They realized that the Viennese physician had developed a new criticism of psychological and cultural institutions, one that complemented their own sociological criticism. Horkheimer and Benjamin were Marxist historians (of philosophy or literature). Adorno updated and radicalized the criticism of idealistic philosophy (not only that of Hegel but also that of Edmund Husserl) and became classic and modern music and literature’s most important Marxist interpreter. Trotsky the revolutionary was also a man of letters, and his very original interpretations of the literature of the 19th and the early 20th century written between 1900 and 1940 will be published soon in German in two large volumes.

Thüringen, 1923. Hintere Reihe- Zweiter von links- Friedrich Pollock, Mitte- Georg Lukács, Zweiter von rechts- Felix Weil. Vordere Reihe- Erster von links- Karl August Wittfogel, Mitte- Karl Korsch, rechts vor ihm Käthe Weiltrotskyeternalre00volk_0377 copy

The conception of “political practice” as we find it in the letters and essays of Horkheimer, Marcuse, and Adorno during the thirties was (more implicitly than explicitly) the same as that of the revolutionary Marxists Lenin, Trotsky, and Luxemburg. Yet, they were anxious to omit any public mention of Trotsky. After the Second World War, Adorno and Horkheimer saw no possibility of any revolutionary practice, for they saw no revolutionary subject (class). With the notable exception of Marcuse, they didn’t think that the German (and international) protest movement of the students had any chance to change capitalist society. Continue reading

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Steampunk obshchina: The weird peasant retro-future of Jakub Rozalski

Been a while since my last update. I’ve been busy finishing some overdue projects and pieces I had promised. Today’s post is a real treat, however: the weird sci-fi retro-future of the Polish artist Jakub Rozalski (alias Mr. Werewolf).

Rozalski is a bit of an odd duck, from what I can tell. A couple popular websites have featured his work recently, but none of them capture their true essence. Dangerous Minds ought to be commended, along with Hi-Fructose, for recognizing the obvious talent of Mr. Werewolf and publicizing it far and wide. But Martin Schneider’s write-up was disappointingly sub-par, in my opinion, well below DM’s usually high standards. So I thought I’d try my hand at it.

The digitally-constructed, high-resolution paintings that appear below are taken from Rozalski’s 1920+ series and his samizdat art book, World of Scythe. Others have noted the playful anachronisms that abound in these works, set somewhere in interwar Osteuropa across the forest-steppe. Sentinels scour the idyllic countryside — often in outline, as hazy silhouettes — menacing local muzhiks as they pass. Yet their presence seems strangely accepted by the inhabitants of this world, partisan and peasant alike. It’s almost as if they’ve become so inured to the horrors of war that the sight of these towering robots leaves them completely unfazed.

Wells’ War of the Worlds is clearly an influence here, with “mechs” adapted to the style of WWI landships and heavily-armored cars. Another article suggested Star Wars’ Battle of Hoth sequence, which came a little later. They’re not entirely off-mark. Rozalski also draws upon the iconic imagery of Terminator (1985) in his latest series commemorating Polish independence, the Warsaw uprising, and the Nazi invasion of 1939. Cyclopean cyborgs with burning red eyes don German helmets, tattered Wehrmacht uniforms hanging off their steely limbs.

Apart from all this, elements of fantasy enter into Rozalski’s steampunk obshchina as well. Grizzly bears are used as pack animals, and peasants smoke long, thin pipes that could be lifted straight from Tolkien, out of the world of Middle Earth. There is something about these paintings that strikes a chord with me, and apparently others. No one would mistake these paintings by Rozalski for great art, as if such a thing were possible in this day and age. But they do bring together Babel’s Red Cavalry and Final Fantasy VI, a winning formula if ever there was.

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