The Present of the Future - Strategic considerations on Paraflows 08: Utopia
Utopias as concepts of the present. On the diagnostic meaning of utopist cultural technique
‘The future is unwritten’ – and because it is, it keeps changing in terms of a horizon of a history, which itself is determined by change. As the projection of a desire into this future, the utopian sketch is always part of the present in which it is conceived, for past utopias mainly reveal something about their date of origin: it too being an historical area of imagination forming between economy, ideology and theory construction. There, wishes and desires, hopes, expectations and fears develop. The gender problem, for example, usually played the same role in the idealised drafts of society at the time of the historical Enlightenment as it did in the societal discourse of the time: actually none at all. Feminist utopias (as well as the misogynist dystopias of bourgeois men) only ever exist since the onset of the woman’s liberation movement.
Therefore, utopias are actually not sketches of the future, but can be read as sketches of the present. The history of utopian imagination ability tells a tale about human awareness history: as a sequence of the projections of future of the respective presents. We already know that yesterday’s future looks especially fusty from today’s point of view thanks to the re-runs of old science fiction series. And, we also know that for example ‘Raumpatrouille Orion’, ‘Space: 1999’, or ‘Flash Gordon’ can be dated quite correctly according to fashion, hair styles, interior and technology design. Even the political constellations of their respective times of origin can be made out – more or less encrypted.
The utopia’s strong link to the present is not only emphasised by the fact that – as Rolf Schwendter mentioned – a peak in the number of emerging utopian models of thought can always be linked to a moment of crisis: for example the connection between the mass production of utopian sketches during the 19th century and the crisis of unfolding capitalism. 1)
And yet: utopias momentarily step out of the reality-creating power of circumstances. In order to do this, they establish imaginary or fictional spaces, where scenarios of change can emerge and develop. The fact of a utopia therefore is utopian itself, because no matter what the content, it isn’t a part of the physical world but its effigy under the psychological premises of desire. At the same time, the link to reality remains insofar as it makes out a deficiency of that reality which then triggers the utopian fantasy. This ‘what if…’-opener of the utopian play of thought is a subjunctive deduced from a given status.
Thus, reality is preserved by the mode of (fictional) transformation as its cause and its prerequisite structure. A utopia always emerges within the grid of imagination, which is historically determined and therefore concrete. And this imagination consists, among other things, of time-bound ideological propositions and historical experience.
Utopias display what is thinkable already but cannot be done yet – and both, the thinkable and the doable, are states of matter of ‘reality’ as a specific interface of the psychological and the physical world. Utopia is mind game, dream or dreamworking, an ideal, a fantasy, science fiction, vision – but all these forms of mental and/or aesthetical fiction draw their material from the reality which they emanate from, which is but a social agreement too and thus historical. Just like the utopia itself.
The history of the word utopia is usually said to start with Thomas Morus’ text De optimo rei publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia of 1516, in which Morus tells us – within the framework of a travel report – about the socio-political order in the far away and yet undiscovered island world of ‘Utopia’, the name of which already emphasises that the order has not been accomplished – its ‘not yet’ being. Morus’ ideal type of society is characterised as a ‘non-place’ (which is also the literal translation of ‘utopia’). At the same time, Morus thus creates a neologism which enables us to think of places as non-places.
What we call ‚non-places’ are places which are not part of the order of places – in the sense of the spatial order at a certain historical present. Those are places where the power constellations which generated this spatial order are not valid, maybe because they are abandoned spaces or they were simply forgotten. This turns them into spaces which cannot be exploited, fallow grounds or blind spots in a sense manifesting itself as cities or spaces, blanks in the tissue of discourse. Disintegrated or non-utilised, respectively non-utilisable, non-spaces are instants of freedom. Their emptiness oozes with freedom, perceived as the absence of a spoken or any other authority constellation (rather than a capitalist buzz word of liberal ideology).
Precisely because Morus characterised his Utopia as a non-place, as a phantasmatic space and as the artificial product of the human brain which temporarily frees itself from the reality-heavy burden of what is, diverse traditions were able to unite in its scopes. Unified they form a historically new topos characterised by its non-existence.
First of all, the imaginary world of Utopia contains the literary-philosophical tradition of the ideal state. It ranges from Platon’s Politeia to Euripides’ Panchaia and leads on to Theopompos’ Meropis (all these drafts emerge from actually implemented political societal models).
Then, he explicitly or implicitly included themes from folksy and religious tales. Among them are the fairy-tale Land of Milk and Honey, the return of Emperor Barbarossa from the popular myths, the utopian afterlife of the Christian meta-narrative where all earthly hardship will finally come to an end, the rhetoric of justice of the rebellious peasants during the Middle Ages, etc.
Morus synthesises these moments. It is not his intention to rethink what exists in a way which allows for immediate realisation. His narration concludes: ‘I freely confess that in Utopian commonwealth there are many features that in our own societies I would like rather than expect to see’. 2)
Therefore, the utopia is genuinely not the construction plan for a better world, but is to be understood as an indictment: the scandal it presents is that this world cannot simply be turned into the one described.
Thus, the utopia rather states a deficit which is supposed to start the desire. And yet it remains within the limits of the privation primacy of the Enlightenment. For the productive force of desire is after all not meant to be a mere means to an end. It is embedded in teleological references, in relationships of dependency and transcendent constructions of meaning. Within these, desire is supposed to be the form in which privation can be made out. Thus, privation reduces desire to a mere symptom – this manifests the point of convergence of modern pedagogy with psychoanalysis and the Christian idea of man. 3)
For utopianism this means: the wish is the distinguishing criteria between the given society and a society which is possible in our imagination. And yet the utopian desire does not equal the dearth which caused it in the first place. This is made possible due to the fact that the utopian model prevents a simple socio-technocratical realisation. And this is why utopia is not simply a plan meant for realisation and it is also not subject to the verification of its effectiveness or non-effectiveness by the pragmatic dispositif of early capitalism. (Wherever this happens anyway it rather displays the fear of those in power to vanish).
A piece of art cannot be verified or falsified and neither can a utopia. As an autonomous artefact and product of the autonomous human mind, it follows aesthetic rules and not those of practical politics. Comparable to a sexual fantasy, it entirely depends on the momentary impossibility of its realisation, on the phantasmatic and fantastic momentum 4) which is usually denied by the applied construct of reality. This factor is responsible for the special intensity which characterises the utopia as well as the sexual fantasy.
Exactly because it does not partake in it, utopia is able to focus on ‘reality’ in an especially unsparing way. Therefore, the fantastic constitutes an exterritorial vantage point for this ‘reality’, for the first time allowing for an overview – and it is no coincidence that this happens at the onset of a modern aesthetics of autonomy.
Because its perspective is that of the top view or the long shot, the utopia is sometimes also perceived as being totalitarian – an accusation which has often been brought on by anti-utopianists. Yet it is exactly this top view which allows for a radical criticism of societal ‘reality’ per se, which is totalitarian in itself. And only a radical criticism like this is able to have any impact beyond selective reformism which, according to the parameters of realism, has already indissolubly gotten involved with ‘reality’ and must therefore remain a mere more-of-the-same.
In Morus’ time, the world map (of which people had only just learnt that it was merely the two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional solid) was still strewn with non-places: far-away, unexplored, undiscovered climes, nurturing the idea of ‘the other’. Their categorical indeterminateness could be filled with desire: Eldorado – Land of Gold, clouded in secrecy; Utopia – the social paradise far away, etc.
Due to the progress made with mapping the earth, desire was detached from the explored spaces and got linked to another freshly revealed category of human existence: the dimension of time. For the expansive manner in which occidental man accessed the globe could be assigned to the axis of time. Therefore, the future was no longer a momentum of contingency or the place of the fulfilment of a predestined fortune but it became the unknown: a territory to be conquered.
It is only in the context of the historical-philosophical discourse of the Enlightenment that the historically significant momentum of human existence coalesces with the promise that there will be a future. The two are amalgamated in the term ‘progress’ – and on the horizon already appears Hegel’s restatement of the Hellenic weltgeist. Progress – to Oscar Wilde ‘the realisation of Utopias’ 5) – from now on means the way which needs to be opened into this hostile territory.
In the course of the history which yet needed to unfold, the unknown, still available in Morus’ utopia in the foggy distance of space, could once more be laid down. Thus, distance was effectively temporalised and only in the distant ‘future’ of the beginning 20th century time again became the threshold to a playground of just about limitless possibilities, providing a matrix for the utopian power of imagination: space and its myriads of conceivable civilisations. Ever since, the now well established genre of science fiction has placed numerous utopias of civilisations exactly there: in space – our ‘final frontier’ (to appropriately quote the meaningful intro of the TV-show Star Trek).
By giving us progress, the Enlightenment bestowed us with a new figure of thought: the conquest of our own future becomes a historical challenge for mankind. Our future thus became a secularised netherworld, ripped from the hands of the clergy and its esoteric appendices. What was still impossible in the present might at least be shown in the future.
The possibility of imagining the future as different from the present, even as the exact opposite, was again a by-product of the recent history: after all, the people living at the time of the Early Enlightenment already experienced the revolutionising power of human creativity at such a speed that they basically had to come to the compulsive conclusion that the future would be a compound of significant and far-reaching changes. It was this very idea of the inconceivability of the future which brought Early Enlightenment imagination up to speed. Just a few generations earlier, most people’s existence was static to an extent that a world in which their children would lead lives along entirely different lines was unimaginable.
By inventing the future as the projection surface and vanishing point out of the far from optimised present, the Enlightenment also invented the time dimension of man as being something coherent and meaningful in itself. Only from a point of view in the idea of future, the past became comprehensible – in the light of imperatives which pointed towards this future. In retrospect, the Middle Ages could, for example, be imagined as a place of existential darkening, a lightless era not yet enlightened by the flood light of reason and its categorical imperatives.
So in the mirror of the future we now see – as an ideational feedback mechanism and in the form of discursively produced flashbacks – the past of which people wanted to free themselves but which also facilitates the preservation of evidence of human history for the future. Therefore, the utopia became the most important tool of visualisation of one’s own history.
The present, too, became apparent in the future: as its not-yet, as a time in which the promise of a better, more just, and salvaged world (for the enlightened present was still scraping by an abyss of religion and irrationalism) already existed but could not yet be delivered.
As mentioned before, the utopia’s importance for the present it sketches is not that it is a plan for a concrete future – even if numerous utopias explicitly locate themselves in the field of future planning by outlining complex systems of future societies and even including suggestions for solving presumed problems.
But by making a designed future (designed by applying reason) thinkable, the problems of the present became comprehensible as the effects of their proper design: they were the direct results of the contemporary order and in order to correct them an alteration of the societal matrix was necessary.
This is also the origin of the differing suppositions of the changeability of history which affect political programmes of change as well as the idea of revolution (being the most radical kind of these programmes).
The historically novel idea of revolution, occurring for the first time in the context of the assertion history of the bourgeois society and later forming the basis of all communist and anarchistic concepts of change was fundamentally different from the political ideas of the Peasant’s Wars – which tend to be wrongly perceived as its antecedents. The rebellious peasants were basically concerned with a re-establishment of justice, a regress to a better past, demanding back the privileges of the ‘old rights’ they were entitled to before the gentry took them away. Revolution, on the other hand, promised a new world-order for everyone - as the promise of an unknown new in a future yet to gain, though it does fit well into the bourgeois concept of history, maybe even too well.
But since the utopian – as described above – was a rather nebulous, day-dreamy, even pietistic and deeply passive pipe dream, never resulting in any concrete, historically specific instructions, the socialist theoreticians soon chose to distance themselves from this sheepish, sentimental, utopian socialism [diesem schafsköpfigen, sentimentalen, utopischen Sozialismus’ 6)], as Marx put it. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels 7) answered with the analytic method they thought was the only one to have the objective potential of changing hegemonic political economy. They also emphasise the precedency of economy – and implicitly the utopia’s strong reference to the presence which, in combination with its quality of being free floating and detached from any present, implies that it cannot evolve beyond it.
Art as a non-place
Art has always played a major role in the utopian discourse about the present which is demonstrated by the fact that the term ‘utopia’ – which became a part of everyday language a long time ago – was taken from a literary-philosophical fantasy – namely Morus’ fictitious travel report, which then even started a new narrative genre.
This is linked mainly to the fact that in bourgeois society art denotes a space which is assigned to the ‘other’. It was designed as a space which basically is in opposition to what society perceives as normal, and from which it is possible to observe this normality in a different way, that is from a supposedly detached point of view.
In fact, the oftentimes cited autonomy of art basically only means that it has largely been separated from the domain of the every day practices determining out lives. It is supposed to be a sort of ‘special economic area’ following its own economical rules. Also, the cultural display formats of political economy – morals, fantasy, the value system, the ability to judge, sensuality – are supposed to work differently within its boundaries. The True-Good-Beautiful as the proper morality of the aesthetic space is meant to deliberately put an end to and contrast with the morality and logic of capitalistic economy.
This does not mean, however, that the same political economy which organises and structures all subsystems of society cannot be found in the area of art. Yet it does mean that art’s entanglement with this economy poses a problem and the attempts to solve it, by means of discoursive defensive magic like art theory, art criticism and art reflection, but also public opinion, are manifold. This was done to keep up the illusion that enlightened people would not end up to fall in line with their socio-economic facilitation requirements, but that they could actually achieve the humanity which is constantly denied by the economically-politically determined acts of every life. And because this is not possible in the real world there is at least the need for an unreal or, rather, symbolic space for this difference between the claim and ‘reality’: the very art.
The purpose of bourgeois art is therefore to think the other and to develop it in an isolated space, the space of art. Its problem here is that it is only allowed to render this other visible at the price of its socio-political irrelevance. Yes, the other should be allowed to be visible in art but it can by no means have an impact on the social order beyond the boundaries of its own little self-revolving system. This is why the boundaries of the art system need to be watched carefully; and this has to be achieved by art discourse.
Because it is isolated from the social surroundings, art is a non-space. Being the fiction of a space, it is ideologically a non-space in which the basic power structures of late capitalism supposedly don’t apply, even if they currently tend to have an important impact in the form of viral discourses – for example in the shape of aesthetic event management – and therefore threaten to reconfigure the realm of art completely. And art is factually a non-space in being widely independent of social reality and efficacy which is in danger of becoming the more ineffective the more it puts itself in the limelight as a critical corrective. Wherever art, being such a non-space, talks about society nonetheless, it is utopian per se because due to the distance to social reality, which is distinctive of art, all content becomes hypothetic and fantastic.
Thus, what is utopian in art is that it comprises and forms a reference to the world which may be fictional (in its being restricted to the artificial structure of the so called space of art) but at the same time comprises the desire for a different life. Art is this futuristic place in the present providing a point of contact for utopian thinking and enabling us to think differently into the future. In art, the faulty present – conceived as the all-pervading dictatorship of social economy – has been overcome already, if only as an ideological trick.
Art is a place of relatively unfiltered wish production which also means that the sketches of the future articulated in art – which very often switch completely and become so called ‘dystopias’ 8) – don’t have to match the capitalist criterion of utilisation capacity. To put it differently: art doesn’t need to please in order to please. After all, the mere fact of art itself is already utilised, art therefore always constitutes a value (in its ideological function), which is why it is able to integrate the materially worthless (garbage, Beuys’ grease works) into its value chain. As an ideational value (that is, as an important part of bourgeois self-conception), art already has a material value (as a commodity), and by virtue of its ideational veracity it does not depend on the value of the raw materials it manages to accumulate. With the implementation of the modern age of aesthetics this value was passed on to artisan craftwork.
This is the point of departure and not even symbolically can art go back behind it. Art cannot pretend that it is not especially due to its specific – even enforceable – freedom decidedly unfree, in the sense of it being an accoutrement to society. Its freedom is the freedom of the inner exile. If it weren’t it would be kitsch (as in ‘artisan craftwork’). But exactly this unfreeness is to be regarded as a moment of freedom because it allows for the occurrence of the decisive secundarity: what is said and done within its realm can anyhow only be a comment on this primary ‘reality’. That it is possible for art to make such a comment is due precisely to its distance, its not participating, that is: in its being a non-space. The ultimate law of bourgeois art therefore reads: reality is elsewhere – which also accounts for the fact that most realistic art proceedings tend to oscillate between blissful torpor and hopeless panic.
The special autonomy of art therefore consists in exactly this inability to be fully autonomous itself. Its autonomy is relative, dependent, an intermediary position. This intermediary position implies that the processed material always has to be provided by society. Which results in art conceived as the constant interpretation of society, exactly because it perceives its material as part of the social interrelations (which are implied in it) in which it operates.
On the position of digital culture amidst present and future
From what has been said so far, the question arises how the topic ‚Utopia’ can be dealt with within the scope of a festival on ‘Digital Art and Culture’. Well, it clearly can’t be by simply having digital art itself – by misinterpretation of its autonomy – drafting utopian sketches and better futures or simply illustrating or vividly visualising them as social plastics in terms of Beuys.
Wherever it gives itself up to such future pathos or the futuristic naivety of techno-social engineering, digital and media art would have to put up with the reproach of simply copying seamlessly the techno-capitalist discourses on an aesthetic level.
Digital art may indeed currently be the form where art feels not just metaphorically united with the process of societal development. For digitality as a future expectation presently arches over basically all social areas. And the assumption that the digital cultural techniques of the various social realms are the pivotal cultural techniques of the immediate future may currently be of an imperturbable verisimilitude.
This visionary approach may attract digital art to futurism, perceived as the one aesthetic programme capable of immersing historical contradictions in large-sized fantasies of the future. The futuristic movements of the early 20th century on the other hand articulated another one of these historical contradictions: the break with the humanist art tradition. From today’s point of view the techno-euphoric stance of early futurism would correlate at the most with the taciturn cronyism of art and economy, falling back behind even the most limited and isolated possibilities of the former ‘art’ – and becoming mere promotion.
The expectation to learn something from digital art about future structures and actions is rooted in its visionary approach. So it is probably very tempting to play off the insinuated prognostic potential, the future field research in the sense of its institutional establishment.
A part of the crisis of digital culture is that it articulates itself – following the ‘media theological’1 tendencies of bourgeois society – as an ensemble of media specific problems, interventions and innovations and therefore, just like the bulk of so-called ‘media criticism’ and the consisting media theory, 10) is not able to tackle the problem of the media.
In the meantime, the media – and digital art can claim to be its currently most advanced aesthetical level – generate utopian as well as dystopian future scenarios (either proceeding on the assumption that the media will remain the reality machines they are today or not). And they provide the very means of representation of the utopian. This constellation makes for a precarious entanglement of mediality and utopicity. It even results in the perception that the media is the single one utopia, or utopian momentum, able to confront political economy and to impinge on it with the mandate of latent hopes and wishes. At the same time, the media come from exactly this political economy and correspond with it down to every single detail. So if they were to overcome these, they would first have to overcome themselves.
Yet, when the media admit to their own mediality (and don’t rely on the function of depiction of the classic work of art – which needs to forget about its own mediality), they adopt a position which at least refers to the other, in the sense of the described utopian content of a work of art.
Assumingly, the bourgeois media will keep operating according to their formula of success which is to make their own mediality disappear within the medially produced reality – that is, to generate social ‘verity’. In the face of this, media art is able to refer – in its respective historic format (as the aesthetic configuration of the dominant form of media in society) – to the fact that mediality is a succession of specific correlations of functions.
The reference to technology as a new horizon of possibilities characterises the majority of historic utopias, for example Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis. Bacon’s text is an early sketch of society (which remained a fragment) on the basis of the already vaguely discernible technologically driven potential of change. Bacon here vividly concretises the leading bourgeois utopia; the kind of utopia which is a rumour rather than a concrete plan or draft. It tells of a free society on the basis of a copious technical rationality. Having tackled all the social problems which are the result of the deployment of this rationality, it is supposed to materialise of its own volition as the end of history and a kind of communism by exclusion of the class question – sometime, somewhere.
Art is able to visualise its redemption, which is staved off by its undetermined image of the future (or the capitalist impossibility of this redemption), by making this specifically hazy perspective of a technological salvation of the bourgeois society from itself (or its failure in the form of dystopian techno-futures) apparent again.
Therefore, for digital art it is not about banning utopia like Max and Engels did in the field of political fantasies and project-making. It is in fact about integrating the knowledge of the impossibility of its realisation into the utopia. By this alone the non-space can be saved from the very concreteness turning it in to the bourgeois context of delusion of the media and technology.
Solely in the undetermined, exaggerated, satirised, unrealistic, gratuitous, or the mercilessly fantastic is this differential between socio-economic future pathos and its aesthetical adaptation (as material) still possible. For this is the only way in which art can still designate future pathos as the momentum of a concrete ‘reality’, that is, by relating it to the very utopian connexions it allegedly deals with.
Occasionally, science fiction succeeds in doing this and therefore it poses the question what visions about the future tell us about the present if we remove this present from the embeddedness in itself and put it in the context of a – let’s call it: Polaroid of the future.
Such are the strategies enabling media art, even if it dreams of the future, to position itself in opposition to the bourgeois reform-utopianism, which gets lost in alternative future ideals, yet is unable to either understand itself or the images it creates as an effect of the social distribution of power.
This exactly is the blind spot of most realist utopias: the failure to consider the very class-specific way of existence of their creators.
As opposed to this, an aesthetic utopia would have to perceive itself as a means of adaptation, maybe even a manipulative measure (in the sense of communication guerrilla) against this fantasy economy, which in the end constitutes a productive force of society in the sense of the capitalist paradigm of productivity. By means of its specific position as a participating observer, art is able to make readable the circulating social desires and projections, the whole area of images of the future even, as effects of class, race, and gender positions. For art to do this, a certain level of dissociation is necessary, so that it will NOT be pocketed by the euphoria produced by the respective utopian sketches.
Individual future islands: of the bonsaification of utopia in late capitalism
The present state of society is often being seen as a crisis which in turn results in accelerated utopianism – the call for ‘unconventional solutions’ in the face of the structural crisis of the conventional (with regard to economy, politics, even cultural industry) gives it away.
But yet, at the same time, late capitalism is experienced as a time of loss of utopia. Even if the surface of late capitalist reality is interspersed with a multiplicity of utopian promises and offerings of meaning which appear in various popcultural forms (from advertisements to pop songs and political discourse), these utopias are no longer sketches of society or include the hope that what is could also be different – in a pan-societal context - which is postponed into the future. Those are rather personalised nibbles of hope, utopian miniatures, bonsaifications of the eternal dreams of mankind – and a crude parody of Ernst Bloch’s ‘The Principle of Hope’. 11)
Here, we no longer deal with scenarios of a different way of distributing goods, but everyone’s taking personal advantage in the chaos of colliding pursuits of happiness. Utopia, as fictional social change, was therefore pulverised to specific future offerings, constituted within the frame of supply and demand.
Here we find the term ‘utopia’ (beyond the jargon of economy) at most as an individual momentum of regression, as enunciated in book titles like ‘Home as Utopia’ [Heimat als Utopie 12)].
On a metaphorical level, the utopia is thus brought back from the future (where it usually denotes all civilization) to the very islands on which Platon’s and Morus’ utopias were to be found. The individualised utopias of security and private pension plans, of vocational success and domestic bliss, of national economic power and impermeable borders of wealth only denote the private future islands in the heavy sea that capitalist economy desires to be. Those are secure private havens in the uncertainty which took the place of utopian hypothesis in politics and culture.
As observed by Rolf Schwendter, the historical utopias were tied to privileges, too: ‘In den vergangenen Blütezeiten der Utopienproduktion, etwa im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert, war es nur Intellektuellen und einigen wenigen Autodidakten, wie dem Schneidergesellen Wilhelm Weitling, möglich, ihre Wunschbilder schriftlich auszuarbeiten und dadurch weiterzuvermitteln’ 13) [During the bygone heydays of the production of utopias, like the 18th and 19th century?, it was only possible for intellectuals and a few autodidacts, like the tailor journeyman Wilhelm Weitling, to write up their ideals and therefore propagate them]. Their feature was, however, that they should – at least this was the intention of their authors – surmount the boundaries of the privileged surroundings of their nascency. They were thought up projects of humanity – and as such they became part of their presence: as the awareness of a desire for change surmounting the aspirations of the individual.
Non-spaces between utopia and dystopia: the Viennese anti-aircraft towers
The turret Gefechtsturm Arenbergpark was built December 1942 through October 1943 in order to ‘ensure the efficient defence of the city’ [‘eine effektive Stadtverteidigung zu
ermöglichen’14) ] in combination with the other anti-aircraft towers in Vienna. At the time, the Allies had long gained air supremacy over the armed forces of the NS, and the cities of Nazi Germany and Nazi-Austria had become the targets of air raids, sending Nazi barbarism back to its adressors.
National Socialism was – and this is too easily forgotten, given the brutality of its extinction machinery – a patch-work ideology, an almost post modern syncretism, drawing from a rich pool of ideologies. From Vulgar Marxism it took crude anti-capitalism (making it even coarser), from German ideology it absorbed xenophobia, from Christian and conservative traditions and German social climate it incorporated the eliminatory anti-Semitism, from the Enlightenment it borrowed a certain form of rationality, its aesthetical references partly stem from a modernity which was then later strategically divulged to public anger, and so on.
Its utopian self-conception distinguishes it as a special form from other contemporaneous fascisms, which usually were mere autocracies without a mandate for the salvation of mankind. Nazi eschatology was the displacement of a para-religious bourgeois history of ideas. But this time it was pushing for its realisation with all its might by breaching the dividing line between reality and possibility which is constitutive for the utopia. Maybe this is why National Socialism sometimes appears to be a literary fantasy, having become a historical reality only by mistake.
The compulsory construction of urban non-places – like the anti-aircraft towers scattered across Vienna – by prisoners of war and forced labourers at the same time indicates the turning point of the Nazi utopia of expansive military force and ethic cleansing into its dystopian flipside: the home front and the aerial war swashing back into the country’s sovereign territory. It was different in Berlin, where Hitler’s favourite architect, the Nazi utopian Albert Speer took the planning of the turrets into his own hands and made an effort to aesthetically integrate them into the monumental kitsch of Nazi architecture. In Vienna, the turrets are a mere measure of defence without any consideration of their structural integration ability and without a link to any specific fantasy of architecture, placed unceremoniously wherever there was place for them.
Today, they are non-places in whose massiveness the otherwise marginalised avowal to Austria’s active participation in Nazi-utopianism as well as in its dystopian swing manifests itself. Whilst at the moment being inoperable, their mere presence interrupts the execution of the repression efforts which constitute the basis of post-Nazi Austria.
Therefore, the turrets also reflect the topic of the third paraflows Festival, which, by choosing this venue, deliberately positions itself on the historical verge of tilting from utopia to dystopia. The reference to the year 1938 implicated by the venue – 1938 being the year of Austria’s annexation into Nazi Germany, or rather the year of its catching up with Nazi Germany – also refers to the series of significant years ending with an eight, providing utopian moments of Austria’s history. Starting with the bourgeois anti-monarchist revolution of 1848, they also comprise the collapse of the former big empire in 1918, the aforementioned ‘Wiederanschluss’ (as Nazis would call it), the re-integration of Austria into an imaginary Holy Roman Empire of German Nation in 1938, and also the so-called ‘Uniferkelei’ [mess at the university] in the year 1968 which is said to be the founding act of Viennese Actionism which is utopian in a psychoanalytical sense and which effectively changed Austrian art and its cultural scene. On their respective anniversaries in the year 2008, all of these dates still have some influence or the other on the utopian discourse in this country.
1) „Als allgemeiner Grundsatz kann dabei festgehalten werden, daß, je mehr die Produktion von Utopien sich häuft, desto stärker wird die ökonomische Strukturkrise fühlbar.“ (Rolf Schwendter: Utopie. Überlegungen zu einem zeitlosen Begriff. Hamburg 1994.
Erste Auflage. S. 11.)
2) Thomas Morus: Utopia. Übersetzt von Gerhard Ritter. Mit einer Einleitung von Herman Oncken. Darmstadt 1979. S. 114.
3) Zur theoretischen Befreiung des Begehrens vom Mangel vgl. das Kapitel „28. November 1947 – Wie schafft man sich einen organlosen Körper?“ in: Gilles Deleuze/Félix Guattari: Tausend Plateaus: Kapitalismus und Schizophrenie. Aus dem Französischen übersetzt von Gabriele Ricke und Ronald Vouillé. Berlin 1992. S. 205-227.
4) Bei Charles Fourier findet sich z.B. neben den Ausführungen zur post-arbeitsteiligen, solidarischen Gesellschaft auch der Vorschlag, die Meere in Zitronenlimonade und essbare Gallerte zu verwandeln, vgl. Schwendter: Utopie S. 10.
5) Oscar Wilde: The Soul Of Men. In: Ian Small (Hg.): The Complete Works Of Oscar Wilde. Volume 4: Criticism. Ed. By Josephine M. Guy. Oxford 2007. S. 229-268. S. 247.
6) Brief an P. W. Annenkow vom 28. Dezember 1846. Zitiert nach: Ulrich Dierse: Utopie. In: Joachim Ritter/Karlfried Gründer/Gottfried Gabriel (Hg): Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie. Völlig neubearbeitete Ausgabe des ›Wörterbuchs der philosophischen Begriffe‹ von Rudolf Eisler. Band 11: U-V. Darmstadt 2001. AS. 510-526. S. 518.
7) Vgl. hierzu: Friedrich Engels: Die Entwicklung des Sozialismus von der Utopie zur Wissenschaft. In: Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels: Werke. Band 19. Berlin 1973. 4. Auflage, unveränderter Nachdruck der 1. Auflage. S. 189-201.
8) Die Dystopie ist eine negative Utopie, die nicht immer eindeutig von der Utopie abzugrenzen ist. Sie liest vom gegenwärtigen Entwicklungsstand eine negative, katastrophale Zukunft ab, wie dies exemplarisch George Orwell in 1984 getan hat, indem er bestimmte Elemente der totalitären Ideologien des 20. Jahrhunderts: Faschismus, Nazismus, Sozialismus und Kapitalismus in einem dystopischen Szenario neu zusammengesetzt hat.
9) Zum Begriff der „Medientheologie“, vgl. umfassend: Frank Apunkt Schneider: The medium is the Messiah. Über die implizite Ideologie des Medienaktivismus, seine aktuellen Chancen und generelle Verstricktheit. In: Heinrich Geiselberger (Hg.): Und jetzt? Politik, Protest und Propaganda. Frankfurt/Main 2007. S. 295-311.
10) Medientheorie ist der in der Regel an zu großen, zu kleinen oder ideologiekritisch nicht durchgesehenen Fragestellungen misslingende Versuch, Gesellschaftsdiagnose aus der und auf der Ebene ihrer Vermitteltheit zu betreiben; im Wissen, dass das, was ist, erst entsteht, indem man/frau danach fragt. Dabei verwandeln sich Probleme der politischen Ökonomie in Darstellungsprobleme, die im chaotischen Vollzug ihrer aussichtslosen Bewältigung die Probleme selbst zum Verschwinden bringen. (Vgl. dazu ebd.)
11) Bloch hatte in Das Prinzip Hoffnung zwar das utopische Denken in der individuellen Alltagserfahrung verankert, in den Tagträumen z.B. als vorübergehende Realitätsabtrünnigkeit. Dieses experimentelle Potential des menschlichen Geistes wurde von ihm aber in den Rahmen eines Menschheitsprojekts gestellt, und zwar dergestalt, dass sich der private Tag- oder Wunschtraum durchaus zu vergesellschaften vermag.
12) Vgl. Bernhard Schlink: Heimat als Utopie. Frankfurt/Main 2000.
13) Schwendter: Utopie. S. 63.