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#11: Why Brecht?

Alice Creischer /// Yearning for Brecht or for Undisguised Alienation

I have been yearning for Brecht – or for undisguised alienation –for quite some time. It started during the mid-1990s, when the art-world made a separating turn toward new subjectivism as well new authentic (mostly male) artist personalities, something that is by now all too familiar from the ghost trains of the amusement park biennales. At first, I asked myself whether these new forms of being-authentic didn’t also have something to do with the new feeling of “nation” that we in Germany were affected by at the time. I read an essay about Britpop by Malcom McLarren that formulated this connection very clearly: “Today our culture can be summed up by these two words – Authentic and Karaoke … Karaoke is mouthing the words of other people`s songs, singing someone else`s lyrics … Life by proxy, liberated by hindsight … Karaoke is the good clean fun for the millennial nuclear family … Here in “Cool Britannia” where I live, everyone is a celebrity because the nation (whatever it is) is such a star  that everyone who lives in it by implication is a star as well. … Tony Blair, our Prime-Minister,  knows this fact very well – he is in essence the first Karaoke Prime Minister. . However there is a counterpoint to all this produce placement and branding of culture. It is the undeniable thirst and search for the authentic in our culture…”  (Karaoke World, NU, Nr. 2, Kopenhagen 1999)/

I have been yearning for Brecht – or for undisguised alienation –for quite some time. It started during the mid-1990s, when the art-world made a separating turn toward new subjectivism as well new authentic (mostly male) artist personalities, something that is by now all too familiar from the ghost trains of the amusement park biennales. At first, I asked myself whether these new forms of being-authentic didn’t also have something to do with the new feeling of “nation” that we in Germany were affected by at the time. I read an essay about Britpop by Malcom McLarren that formulated this connection very clearly: “Today our culture can be summed up by these two words – Authentic and Karaoke … Karaoke is mouthing the words of other people`s songs, singing someone else`s lyrics … Life by proxy, liberated by hindsight … Karaoke is the good clean fun for the millennial nuclear family … Here in “Cool Britannia” where I live, everyone is a celebrity because the nation (whatever it is) is such a star  that everyone who lives in it by implication is a star as well. … Tony Blair, our Prime-Minister,  knows this fact very well – he is in essence the first Karaoke Prime Minister. . However there is a counterpoint to all this produce placement and branding of culture. It is the undeniable thirst and search for the authentic in our culture…”  (Karaoke World, NU, Nr. 2, Kopenhagen 1999)/

The thirst for authenticity and the over-produced corporate image of city, enterprise, or country are not actually opposites; they simply to pretend to be. In fact, they belong together, just as a symptom belongs to its surroundings or to the power that calls it into being.

In this sense, authentic subjects like Jonathan Meese, Gregor Schneider, or John Bock were actually symptoms, and there was a wave of interviews with them that were a lot like a setting between a therapist and patients. These interviews put everything ever claimed of psychoanalysis on display, namely that the therapist only hears what confirms his theory, while the patient only says what the therapist wants to hear. The artists became resonators for the feuilleton that celebrates them as the augurs of their own preconditions. But why are the same psychoses and breaks of taboo performed again and again (Oedipus, homosexuality, misogyny, Wagner, Hitler, nation), endlessly depleting the same set of signs? Which canon of ascriptions is made manifest in these authentic subjects?

In psychoanalysis, the therapist’s fee cannot be ignored, since it is this fee that functions as a social contract between the patient and therapist: it conditions the patient’s language-flow as well as the therapist’s art of interpretation. This idea can projected directly onto these subjects on parade and their apparatuses of reception and production, the journals, the exhibition venues, the galleries. They have to fill all of these spaces with a “self” that still out-trumps the expectations toward authenticity – non-alienation. But in the course of its sale, this self still needs to obey the laws of commodity reproduction – the dictate of style – and is subordinate to ever-ready availability: always be authentic.

How does non-alienation work? When a self is performed unfettered and free, doesn’t it become a character mask in this so-called freedom? What is the connection between the authentic artists to the Karaoke of economic and national production sites?

After all, there are connections between technology, subjectivity, and money; in the self-representation of power-relations, the global economy/technology project is marketed as a standard of a universally valid reference to reality. In this way, the social product: subject can set itself into scene with the appeal of global access. For example, it can sit in front of its PC in a Microsoft advertising spot, overcoming all divisions of gender, locality, or social class. But this is exactly what stands in such stark contrast with the real conditions of labor that a person – for instance, someone in a call center or on a microchip assembly line – is subjected to.

When I yearn for Brecht, I do not only want to escape sentimentalities and kitsch, but also want to rediscover people like this, not as victims or clients of an artistic measure taken, but as people who need their own time to tell stories, people that need to be listened to.

I also yearn for Brecht because it is important not to drown the negotiability of political and cultural praxis in expression.

At this point, I should probably write something about “modernism” and about the space that this modernism of negotiability has supplied us with. I should also probably write about how  modernism went bankrupt, how it was, for example, turned to stone as a style and became a decoration for conference rooms. But that is another story.

Still, I would like to mention the following: I think that forms of unmediated subjectivity can also be found in the way political activism is presented in artistic spaces, and that the people that this activism is talking to, the people that this activism engages, often disappear because one fails to find a modern space to listen to them.

 

Alice Creischer (born 1960) is an artist and writer based in Berlin. Together with Andreas Sieckmann, she initiated the project ExArgentina (www.exargentina.org)

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