[iDC] pro activism

Stefan Römer stefanroe at web.de
Sat Jan 28 12:14:56 EST 2006

Thanx Trebor for the invitation and apologies for my late intervention.

Concerning the discussion on activism that is happening in this 
mailinglist, I had some basically questions from the beginning, which I 
try to bring up in a trip through your igniting and illuminating 
contributions. Starting with Trebors first sentence and question – »What 
does it mean to live a radical vision in this network society?« – it 
seems to be a heroical enterprise to answer this.
In the sense of Peter Weiss’ novel »Aesthetics of Resistance« (1975-81), 
which visualizes and locates the basic struggle of democracy in the 
fight between the antique gods and the human heroes in the frieze on the 
sacrificial altar of Pergamon (now Berlin, originally built from french 
slaves/barbarians for a greek king on the turkish coast), which became 
actually appropriated in a colonialistic act one of the cultural 
foundationstones of the german state in the 19. Century. In Berlin it 
was culturally loaded with hegemonial representation against the earlier 
appropriated antique monuments in Paris and London. But Peter Weiss used 
this archaic figure of fight – turning its representational connotations 
to the opposite – as the screen to visualize in it the positve energies 
of resistance for the protagonists in their daily experience of the 
fascist regime. In the way the heroes are symbolically fighting against 
the gods to establish democracy, today it is a permanent founding 
democratic act to argue for a performative difference, which is not 
easily devided in left and right wings as it is literal in the mailinglist.
I could imagine that this projection of the Pergamon-frieze is an answer 
for Trebors initiative question. And it should be possible to read it in 
relation to Trebors positive formulation: »It was historically the job 
of artists to disapoint social expectations.« Isn’t it worth to ask if 
there is a possibility »to live a radical vision« if not resting on the 
utopian potential of that as a per se a different one to the Bill Gates 
or other Westcoast-doctrines. And I want to ask if any artist ever 
»disappointed social expectations« or perhaps more or less exactly fit 
in the stereotypical bourgeois projection of avantgarde style – in its 
most stupid gesture by using »Heil Hitler« as a provocation. But it is 
possible to use media, sites, concepts, gestures, tactics/strategies, 
words and languages of what ever to follow a goal. This is the question: 
What is the goal of all the contemporary hype of activism? Or: If one 
follows a specific practice (like selforganisation) is it a goal by 
itsself as a countermodell to corporate organization?
Since many friends in academic positions discuss »activism« it seems to 
be a typical academic thing to long for its connotations – the political 
practice and an enforcement, to shorten the long run through the 
institutions. Is this the reason for the hype of the word in the 
leftwing and also the rightwing camp(u)s. By the way what does the word 
»activism« mean? Does it mean to reach a goal without using an 
institutionalized way? But isn’t than included that you have to break 
institutionalized (democratic) habits? Aren’t we coming that way again 
to Max Stirner’s »The Single and his Property« (1845) which started a 
whole avalanche of wrong understood anarchisms?

Who uses the term activism now and why has it such a boom in the last 
two years in the academic field? In the critical politizised artistic 
field ofthe1990s nearly everybody started his speech with the 
self-mapping that you come from the field of activism and you just use 
the artistic field for a kind of interventional practice such as the 
street and the public sphere get used for demonstrations. There is a 
broad field of counter practices developed right now. But what we had to 
realize in the last years that the more so called radical practices 
became an inflationary style in art exhibitions the less is the effect 
of difference and the more the audience is searching for »real« art. 
Perhaps the contemporary boom of sweet deco-painting is a reactionary 
reflex of the strongly attact concept of bourgeois art in the 1990s. But 
also the corporatized world is talking of activism as a kind of strategy 
of produzing public spheres.
Of course there is a strong intellectual academic field and also a 
global network concerning anti-globalization and visual and cultural 
counter practice as THE object of work. That is the answer of my second 
question, the academic is searching for a social and political feedback 
of their theory which since symbolic politics became hegemonial in the 
1980s the urge for a feedback in the old battleship of the real became 
more and more the garant for a good theory, the possibilty of 
application into a practice. But what is important to understand is that 
the economics – specifically in the internet – already approprated the 
rhetorics of the radical, the counter culture and the politics of 
difference – and of course if they speak of »freedom« than only in 
relation to their own economical interests. »Alteration«, as Trebor 
sugested, instead of critique can start with the rhetorics; let’s stop 
using words which made an establishment career. Or to think it other 
ways the radical contemporary in form of the neo-con – as it behaves in 
persons like Ulf Poschardt who is babbling publicly that the former 
Pop-leftists have to vote the liberal party now or the theoretic Norbert 
Bolz who goes for a leftist bourgeois in Germany – has lost or deny the 
difference between left and right in respect of a strong campaign since 
the so called reunion of Germany and the fall of the iron curtain. Since 
Noberto Bobbio’s book »Right and Left. Reasons and meaning of a 
distinction« (1994) the discussion never stopped and with good reasons 
the left isn’t still bound – if not to say put in irons – by the 
argument of property which was made responsable for the hierarchy 
between rich and poor and all following class problems.

In our time of immaterial work, immaterial property and immaterial 
production I tend to think that we have to produce renewed »leftist« 
arguments in all cultural fields.
And sorry for refering to this old thing, but I think some brilliant 
practices can still be developed out of the discourses around the so 
called Conceptual art. It has still a potential. I think that there has 
never been such an ism-thing. But the discussions around this practices 
which have still strong impulses of theoretical reflection can help to 
project ways of producing public spheres, developing strategies of 
publication or rhetorics of representation. This is my aim to project a 
conceptual paradise:

Stefan Roemer

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