and the End of the Civic Project
- The making
of the public sphere and political clubs. -
A conversation between
Professor Jürgen Fohrmann ,
Dr Erhard Schüttpelz and Stephan Dillemuth
Political concepts, cultural traditions.
But ultimately, something like a German nation-state did evolve,
and there is of course great joy in view of the new and common identity.
The bourgeoisie begins to literally cite its new cultural legitimacy
and dramatize it in an inordinate way.
The precondition for this was that the club as club became central
for social life. Because there were no longer any real issues that
the club was concerned with, one just checked the calendar to see
what could be celebrated and simply celebrated as an end in itself.
One adjusted to a structure of cozy social gathering and focussed
on the celebrating as something deemed specifically German.
But I also see this problem in the second half of the 20th
century. There is already much too much stemming from the tradition
of modernity that can be celebrated. All the arts sections of newspapers
and magazines after 1945 basically consist of this, and it is incredibly
paralyzing when it all has to do with occasions for celebrating.
What is interesting in the second half of the 19th century
is that there could have been a strong counter-movement initiated
by the workers education clubs. But with their aim of leading
workers to education these clubs were essentially imitational, as
education was already predetermined as a civic project.
So instead of attempting to develop an independent concept of education,
they adhered to the ideal of civic education. But the revolutionary
efforts at the beginning of the 19th century led to the
creation of a number of instruments on a political level for directly
improving ones own situation, such as social structures, trade
unions, defensive alliances and so forth.
Sure, and this is coupled with the party movement which effectively
established itself during the German Empire. What is interesting
is that trade-union and class-struggle aims usually have no concept
There seems to be some
sort of divide. On the one hand we have a rather traditional concept
of culture, and on the other a political concept intent on advancing
things. But is it a good political concept if it doesnt integrate
a cultural concept? There are of course a few well-known exceptions:
Brecht  , Tretjakov
 and others endeavored to perform operative art
tied into a revolutionary practice.
This is a consistent German problem because there is a cultural
concept stemming from the right opposed to the allegedly cultureless
left. As Rembert  poignantly puts it: What
the rightists do they call culture, what the leftists
do they call politics. Especially the political
right and the cultural left.
But its a similar situation in other capitalistic countries.
Since the middle of the 19th century, one can observe
very nicely how culture is defined as and claimed to be a German
characteristic. This so-called German movement, which
was nothing more than a cultural assertion, described German culture
as a culture of inwardness which created the German essence, as
it were, as opposed to the empty, superficial culture of the rest
of Western Europe, France and England. This can already be dated
back before 1900, to Diltheys
 inaugural lecture in Basle, in 1867, in which he outlined
the difference between the emptiness of European enlightenment as
opposed to the inward path of the Germans.
Basically, the century-old anti-feudal cue, the court as something
artificial, the hideous intrigues etc., is now taken up again and
sold as an anti-Western affront.
I would also view it this way. The Germans called it Sprache
des Herzens  . But now the language of the
heart has turned into education. And therefore, it is stated, our
education must be defended against the barbarism of empty enlightenment
coming from foreign countries. That is the main impetus of the culturally-conservative
rightwing which at the same time represents politics, this is quite
In other countries the left also had difficulties translating pragmatic,
political struggles into cultural ones, didnt it?
Differentiation / De-differentiation.
All political movements, and especially leftist revolutionary movements,
try to attract followers with the program of de-differentiation.
Therefore, the differentiation that culture, art, literature etc.,
wants to achieve for itself is not taken seriously. This was a big
problem with Brecht, for example: trying to find a differentiated
aesthetic position for himself while simultaneously incorporating
elements of de-differentiation in a programmatic manner. This is
an interesting contradiction in his work, but still a fundamental
problem with which leftist movements, as far as they organize themselves
in parties and the like, have never come to terms with.
At the same time, one
could also say that rightist movements were never able to cope with
modern art. Those positions can only be integrated afterwards. Beuys
 , for example, can now be lionized by the FAZ  , and what is celebrated can
then easily be integrated of course not during the course
of the artists lifetime. Its not as if they had finally
discovered the magic word enabling them to deal with real art.
No, the rightist concept of culture counts on de-differentiation
...and on mortification, everything has to actually be dead first.
Thats quite clear, while a non-rightist, leftist concept of
culture in a strict sense counts on differentiation, if I may put
it like that. There are only very few attempts that again operate
with a different concept of a public. Negt and Kluge
 come to mind, for example. They are the only ones that
quite intelligently tried to combine a political concept with a
Is it, then, about artistic sophistication with an integrated propaganda
apparatus? About research and public relations?
The rightist concept of culture takes the easy way, because it is
clear from the very start that hierarchies also remain existent
in the cultural sphere. Thats why its more important
to lionize an author than saying something interesting about him.
Aesthetic theory and
One can draw clear parallels between the cultural bourgeoisie during
 and the culturalization occurring today. In both cases
the aim is to perform massive restoration work on the national structure
using the old stones from the cultural construction kit. Now, too,
national culture is to provide the fundaments for German priority
and legitimacy in a European house.
However, the artists of
the decadence at the end of the 19th century observed
the symptoms of their ailing, their nervousness; they described
these symptoms and translated them into works of art. At the end
of the 1990s, we may well be equally nervous, overtaxed and decadent,
but constrained like under a thickly-woven blanket of repression
and unconsciousness. As artists and intellectuals, we rotate in
the clockwork of the POP and entertainment machines and point our
blunt fingers of critique at a stereotype enemy as someone vis-à-vis,
instead of including ourselves in an analysis of the conditions
and recognizing the stuffiness as a symptom.
Nevertheless, the situation in the 19th century must
clearly be differentiated from what we experience today in regard
to a renaissance of meaningfulness.
On the one hand, that
period was very much interested in aesthetic refinement which in
term pushes art theory ahead. But where in certain forms of the
history of ideas art theory was not pushed ahead, e.g. in the George
circle  , one can clearly observe situations
that are similar to today those of the new rightist notion
of meaningfulness and importance.
The articles of these
people merely consist in saying: There is a meaningful object.
I know which object is meaningful. I can write about that object
because I myself am meaningful and important. And only the reader
who can appreciate this is also meaningful and important.
Thats all these articles have to say! To this end, an enemy
is constructed, and the enemy is of course garbage, trash, things
that dont belong there. They operate with this simple opposition,
and I view the George circle in a similar way.
Others such as Hofmannsthal
 , who cant be positioned in this fashion, at least
tried to retain a sensitivity for aesthetic productivity and didnt
let things drift off into a lamenting, weepy tone which one finds
in certain variants in Thomas Mann
 . This lamenting is back again today in statements like
Western civilization is endangered, We must preserve
values etc. I find this unbearable and genuinely right-wing.
It is certainly the advantage
of the Fin-de-Siècle movement that it was interested in aesthetic
theory. The people who take up this tone today, however, are not
really interested in aesthetic theory but in reiterating a certain
rhetoric of meaningfulness, they are pure epigones.
Id like to once more return to the question of hysteria and
the nerves. The breaking apart of Victorian society with its rigid
moral code is first perceived only in a pathological way. This is
also where psychoanalysis derives its keywords of hysteria, nervousness
etc. from. These are basically all pseudonyms for certain social
developments that have already taken place. Totally new spaces were
created where people could act themselves: Bohemia, Schwabing
 and so forth. At the turn of the century, a behavioral
pattern was normal that no longer fitted into Victorian society
and which only possible later gained acceptance, in the 1920s. At
the turn of the century, all this is dealt with in terms of pathology.
But this should not be taken too seriously. It was observed from
the viewpoint of a moral code that was no longer valid.
Within the culture of the Gründerzeit there were simply
no forms of self-observation, whereas afterwards you could have
taken out a licence on them.
In the phase of restoration from the 1970s until today I do
not see this self-observation either. Some texts do take pleasure
in showing a certain amount of self-reflection, but that is actually
more a cliché of contextualization and thus remains rhetorical.
At the present time, I know of no attempt to position oneself critically.
Thats a strange thing I dont understand either.
One the one hand, the conservative culture-machine shovels meanings
from one pile to the next on the other hand, the left only
sees its enemy over there. Nothing but smugness and complacency
on the right and on the left. And now I can quickly add: ...and
also a part of me..., but that again remains mere coquette
rhetoric as long as including oneself does not become an aspect
of ones work.
These are exactly the discourses and genres of self-observation
and self-critique in the 1960s and 70s that could not
be maintained and further developed today, not even within the context
of a certain renaissance of the 1960s and 70s. At the
time, this was a huge project which made the concern so dynamic
and simultaneously so difficult. There are no parallels to this
today. What we have are art magazines publishing an entire issue
on the topic of sponsoring, and not a single word is lost on their
own dependency on sponsors. Today, we are faced with a discourse
understanding itself as leftist, a discourse which is not intent
on analyzing its own conditions of production and this particularly
includes the power one possesses: everything revolving around the
question of why texts should be written in a certain style and in
no other; which jokes are still allowed and which ones are not,
and so forth all the hierarchies involved in the production
of opinions and circumstances. Around 1970, there were hundreds
of people who wanted to analyze exactly these conditions in their
own groups and within themselves, and record what happens in the
process by shooting films etc. When a group organizes itself today,
you can bet your last bottom dollar that this is precisely what
they do not want to analyze theyre keen on analyzing
other groups. Okay, there are exceptions.
Why couldnt this type of political culture be prolonged? All
this took place really not too long ago.
The lack of self-analysis
is the reason why there is no public that criticizes all the junk
we have to watch and read everyday. No criticism of this culture
of bashing, this desire to win on a very primal level: I will finish
you off and have fun doing it.
Laughing at the victims
is no longer penalized it is, moreover, rehearsed as a political
gesture. And theres no counter-politics saying: What
you are doing here is the shittiest thing one can do.
>  Berthold Brecht, 1898-1956, ranks as one of
the greatest 20th century lyric poets. Versatile in
style and temper, his vast output bears the stamp of his own humanity
and political commitment. The specific point of view
permeating his work as a whole is no less idealistic than the
classical brand of idealism. In objecting to the classical concept
of Das Ewig Menschliche he wanted to demonstrate that
change was both necessary and possible.
>  Sergej Michailowitsch Tretjakov , 1892-1939,
Russian writer, member of the group Lef representing
Ego-Futurism and later Novyj Lef which went for abolition
of traditional artistic writing and for faction literature
which aimed towards changing society.
>  Rembert Hüser, born in 1961, academic German
writer. After early works in the style of capitalist realism and
polemical reviews and experiments, he developed a highly metaphorical
style which plays with contradictions and lots of quotations and
seems to lead to lampoon or humorous bewilderment. Serving champagne
to his real friends and real pain to his sham friends or unsuspecting
enemies, he used to quote Brecht: Our defeat explains nothing.
Present whereabouts unknown, suspected to live in Schalke.
>  Wilhelm Dilthey, 1833-1911, philosopher whose
main interests were historical and literary.
>  Language of the heart
>  Joseph Beuys, 1921-1984, draftsman and object
artist, studied at the Düsseldorf Academy of Fine Arts (1947-51),
where he later became a teacher. In 1962, he made his first public
appearance with happenings. In his life and work he attempts to
unite nature and spirit and to include a mythical, archetypal
thinking and magic-religious associations aimed against deterministic
rationalism. Beuys attempt to translate artistic creativity
into all fields of life led to diverse political actions like
the foundation of an office for direct democracy and a free university
for creativity and interdisciplinary research.
>  Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (until 2018,
Germanys conservative state organ)
>  Alexander Kluge, his films were in part harshly
criticized for being puzzle cinema and enlightenment
work for the enlightened who want to be entertained in their special
way. His commitment to the art of film was, however, publicly
acclaimed. With the foundation of the production company DCTP
(Development Company for Television Programs) Kluges culture
TV occupied all conceivable niches and thus displaced smaller
initiatives. However, for those attempts on the side of private
television stations to restrict the rights of the independent
window programs Kluge was viewed as ratings
killer and electronic highwayman.
Together with the sociologist Oskar Negt, Kluge wrote about Öffentlichkeit
und Erfahrung (Public Sphere and Experience)
(1973), Geschichte und Eigensinn (History and
Obstinacy) (1981) and Maßverhältnisse des Politischen
(1992). Here, the highly acclaimed writing team raised the question
of what is political about political action in 15 variations.
Even before the poststructuralists and feminists, Oskar Negt and
Alexander Kluge began the critique of Habermas by articulating
the notion of an oppositional public sphere, specifically that
of the proletariat. What is important about their argument, is
that Negt and Kluge shifted the terrain of the notion of the public
sphere from an historico-transcendental idealization of the Enlightenment
to a plurality and heterotopia of discourses. This crucial change
in the notion of the public sphere assumes its full significance
when it is seen in relation to liberal democracy. The great ideological
fiction of liberalism is to reduce the public sphere to existing
democratic institutions. Habermas' critique of liberalism counterposes
a radical alternative to it but one that still universalizes and
monopolizes the political. Negt and Kluge, in contrast, decentralize
and multiply the public sphere, opening a path of critique and
possibly a new politics.
>  Gründerzeit, (period of promoterism):
The years after 1870, in which, partly as a result of industrial
development and partly through the considerable sums obtained
as reparations from the French, numbers of companies were floated
in Germany, many of which failed, inflicting widespread and severe
>  Stephan George and his followers, see footnote
>  Hugo von Hofmannsthal, 1874-1929, was brought
up in Vienna in well-to-do circumstances. His early work is characterized
by luxuriant aestheticism and fin-de-siècle melancholy. His narrative
work reflects what he variously expressed as a Sprachkrise,
Lebenskrise, and seelische Krise (crisis
of language, life and soul), but he also explored a new path,
expressing subconscious motivation in disciplined verse.
>  Thomas Mann, 1875-1955, possessed immense creative
and intellectual power and a faculty for assimilating knowledge
and injecting life into it. His vision, especially after 1918,
embraced the temper and the problems of Europe of his day. His
style is internationally mannered, yet lucid, and as an analyst
he shows penetrating acuteness.
>  Bohemian part of Munich, around the 1900s home
of experimental lifestyle for all kinds of artists and intellectuals
from all over the world.