#3-27: The Great Method


#03- 27: The Great Method

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This issue of the newspaper “Chto delat?” is published in a framework of the Chto Delat film project “Partisan Songspiel” and with the support of 11th International Istanbul Biennial

editor and lay-out: Dmitry Vilensky /// graphic works: Natalya Pershina (Gluklya)
translations: (Russian – English): Thomas Campbell and David Riff

Sergei Zemlyanoi /// Bertold Brecht’s Project for Humanity

In 2003, I translated Brecht’s Me-ti. The Book of Changes into Russian. Me-ti is a slightly distorted name that belongs to the ancient Chinese philosopher and politician Mo-Dzi (Mo Di; 479-400 BCE), while The Book of Changes (I-Ching) is the name of a classical tractate written in the 8th to 7th century BCE, which was subsequently reused by many ancient Chinese thinkers.

 

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Dmitry Vilensky /// Chto Delat and Method: Practicing Dialectic

Mixing Different Things
The editorial and exhibition policy of Chto Delat is often accused of inconsistency, of lacking a clear “party line.” What is important for us today is to arrive at a method that would enable us to mix quite different things—reactionary form and radical content, anarchic spontaneity and organizational discipline, hedonism and asceticism, etc.

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Partisan Songspiel: A Belgrade Story

Screenplay for a video film. Written by Vladan Jeremić, Rena Rädle, Tsaplya and Dmitry Vilensky. Introduction by Vladan Jeremić & Rena Rädle

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Peio Aguirre /// From Method to Change: Dialectics in contemporary Art

1. The day Godard and Gorin set out to America to finish Tout va bien (1972), it seems the latter forgot his passport at home, while the former went to a bookstore to buy Bertolt Brecht’s Me-ti when Gorin warned him that they would have an accident. In the Rue de Rennes a bus hit Godard’s motorcycle leaving him and his companion (film editor Christine Aye) seriously injured. Godard spent several years in and out of hospitals. It could be called a “dialectical” accident, or the “logical end of 68”, or the last days of the Dziga Vertov Group. This affected the shooting of Tout va bien and months later, when they encountered Jane Fonda again, she had changed her state of mind to the point of “not working with men” and the film ended with no less difficulties.

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Gene Ray /// Some Notes on Brecht and Dialectics

In the theater and forms of writing he practiced, Brecht tried in many ways to depict “the immense pressure of misery forcing the exploited to think.” In discovering the causes of their misery, they discover themselves, as changed, changing and changeable humanity. Seeing the world opened up to time and history in this way, Brecht was sure, inspires the exploited to think for themselves and fight back. Any art that shows this process becomes a weapon of class struggle. Brecht theorized this kind of committed art under different names at different times. “Realism” and “dialectics” are probably the most useful, and the most important to grasp. In the precise but flexible way he developed these terms, they may be helpful to those seeking to develop an effectively politicized artistic practice today.

 

 

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Antonio Negri /// Some thoughts on the use of dialectics

 

1. Dialectics of antagonism
Anyone who took part in the discussions on the dialectics developed by so-called Western Marxism during the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s would easily recognise how the roles played in those debates by Lukàcs’ History and Class Consciousness and the work of the Frankfurt School were complementary. In a strange and ineffective hybridisation, a series of phenomenological descriptions and normative hypotheses produced in those periods regarded life, society and nature as equally invested by the productive power of capital and their potential as radically diminished by it. The question of alienation traversed the entire theoretical framework: the phenomenology of agency and historicity of existence were all seen as being completely absorbed by a capitalist design of exploitation and domination over life. The dialectic of Aufklaerung was accomplished by the demonization of technology and the subsumption of society under capital was definitive. The revolutionaries had nothing to do but wait for the event that reopened history; while the non-revolutionaries simply needed to adapt to their fate, Gelassenheit [1].

 

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David Riff / Dmitry Gutov /// Simply Describing

David Riff: Do you remember when we visited Fred Jameson at Duke University a couple of years ago? On the first night in America, Fred’s assistant Colin took us to a burger bar, where we sat around drinking beers and making small talk. Colin was telling us about  his research: Adornian music theory, post-operaist virtuosity, and American radical politics. Suddenly, there was this extraordinary moment. Our friend Vlad Sofronov, a very thin Trotskyist bald spectacled activist philosopher who had been silent all evening, leaned over and looked Colin straight in the eye. Head on, he asked him in a thick Russian accent: “Colin, what is your method? Simply describing?” I want to start our dialogue with a similar bluntness: what is your method, Comrade Gutov?
Dmitry Gutov: I remember the situation very well; it is etched into my mind. What did Vlad want to say with his question? That “simply describing” is not our method, that it is non-partisan positivism that suspends its judgement on the phenomena of reality and is therefore poorly suited to the revolutionary transformation of reality.

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video film /// Partisan Songspiel. A Belgrade Story

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A video film by Chto Delat
music by Mikhail Krutik

Director of Partisan Sonspiel is Olga Egorova (Tsaplya), assistant directors are: Vladan Jeremić, Rena Raedle, Dmitry Vilensky; Scriptwriters and stage designers are: Vladan Jeremić, Olga Egorova Tsaplya, Rena Raedle, Dmitry Vilensky, costume design did Natalya Pershina Gluklya, choreography did Nina Gasteva and Tsaplya, editing and post-production were done by Olga Egorova Tsaplya and Dmitry Vilensky. Production was done in Belgrade by Biro Beograd – Biro for Culture and Communication Belgrade in July 2009.

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Partisan Songspiel: A Belgrade Story

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If we reflect about the general condition in Serbia and direct connection of the reality and the stories we had collected together, building the screenplay within the project Partisan Songspiel, we conclude that right now it is not possible to structure all aspects and information of one society in one short text or even in one newspaper. There are many thinkers, activists, journalist and theorists that must be involved for this work and that should reflect profoundly on every particular situation.

It is important to mention what was the relevant source of the texts that we had collected and had wrote for the Partisan Songspiel movie screenplay. Working many years together with our colleagues from various fields of contemporary art, social and political activism, we had built a complex practical and theoretical background which gave us final decision on issues that should be discussed. Four oppressed characters: Roma Women, Lesbian, Worker and Invalid are choosen by all of us as the main trigger and as the representatives of the conflictual situation in post-war Serbian society.

The struggle of the collectives and organizations in Serbia and the Balkans in general, such are one that fights for workers rights as Freedom Fight, ASI or Party of Work does, was a deep inspiration for our work last years. Not to forget groups that are fighting for the LGBTQ rights as Queer Belgrade, Labris, GSA, Queeria, and others very active in Belgrade and Novi Sad. Women in Black are very important organization that fights against militarism, war, sexism and nationalism, choosing anti-militarism and non-violence as aim to act.

Roma organization have very special task and very special position in Serbian society as Roma people are the most discriminated group. The triggering point for the screenplay was a banishment of Roma and refugees in Belgrade and reactions from the citizen, politicians, and other to this situation. We have reflected the whole situation in our text titled: “Antiziganism and Class Racism in Europe” that we wrote after the protests and attacks on Roma settlements in Belgrade. As we already state in its title, Antiziganism and Class Racism is a problem of the whole Europe and not only a local Balkan story.

Belville is the name of a new residential complex in New Belgrade, built by Blok 67 Associates Ltd. This company was founded by Delta Real Estate and Hypo-Alpe Adria Bank. Their aim is to build business offices and apartments for athletes taking part in the Summer Universiade in June 2009 in Belgrade. After the Universiade, the apartments will be handed to new and predefined owners. On April 3rd, 2009, in a sudden action with mechanical-diggers, forty houses were demolished in a Roma settlement that had begun taking shape during the last five years in a location near Belville. The decision to demolish the Roma houses was made by Belgrade’s Secretariat for Inspections. City Mayor, Dragan Djilas, said on this issue that: “Whoever is illegally occupying a part of city land in places planned for infrastructure facilities cannot stay there. It has nothing to do with the fact that the people in question are Roma or some other ethnicity. A few hundred people cannot stop the development of Belgrade, and two million people living in Belgrade certainly won’t be hostages to anyone. This practice shall continue to be implemented by the City Authority in the future. Simply – there are no other solutions”. The police assisted in the demolition of the settlement by securing the diggers, without giving residents the time to rescue their belongings. Several inhabitants had to be practically drawn out of the ruins at the very moment when one digger was clearing the area. As we were close by, we joined our neighbors from the very beginning of this action in Block 67. As an act of protest to the home demolitions, Jurija Gagarina Street was blocked around noon that day. The settlement’s inhabitants then organized another protest in front of Belgrade City Hall. Although Serbia is currently presiding over the “Roma Decade” in 2009, city authorities didn’t have a plan for alternative housing at the moment the houses were demolished. It took three protests and pressure from international organizations to stop the media lynch against Roma and to try to find a solution for alternative housing. After the protest the Major Djilas was concerned, the Roma issue was ‘solved’ by placing a three Roma mothers with children into containers in Mirijevo, near the old Roma settlement. The majority of the people still have no alternative solution.

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Peio Aguirre /// From Method to Change: Dialectics in contemporary Art

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1.

The day Godard and Gorin set out to America to finish Tout va bien (1972), it seems the latter forgot his passport at home, while the former went to a bookstore to buy Bertolt Brecht’s Me-ti when Gorin warned him that they would have an accident. In the Rue de Rennes a bus hit Godard’s motorcycle leaving him and his companion (film editor Christine Aye) seriously injured. Godard spent several years in and out of hospitals. It could be called a “dialectical” accident, or the “logical end of 68”, or the last days of the Dziga Vertov Group. This affected the shooting of Tout va bien and months later, when they encountered Jane Fonda again, she had changed her state of mind to the point of “not working with men” and the film ended with no less difficulties.

Some other witnesses from the period place the same book, Me-ti, at the root of Godard’s political films since 1968 to 1972: “In particular, they both had spent four years reading and discussing Me-ti. This was Brecht’s uncompleted book of aphorisms and personal and political anecdotes written while in exile in Denmark and Finland. When I met Godard briefly in April 1973, while on tour in the United States, both he and Gorin reaffirmed this book’s importance for them. When I pressed to know why, Godard replied that it showed the need for a cultural revolution.” [1]

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Sergei Zemlyanoi /// Bertold Brecht’s Project for Humanity

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In 2003, I translated Brecht’s Me-ti. The Book of Changes into Russian. Me-ti is a slightly distorted name that belongs to the ancient Chinese philosopher and politician Mo-Dzi (Mo Di; 479-400 BCE), while The Book of Changes (I-Ching) is the name of a classical tractate written in the 8th to 7th century BCE, which was subsequently reused by many ancient Chinese thinkers.

Brecht’s text is an anthology of fables and aphorisms. He uses Chinese names, realia and plots, but actually, he addresses the most burning issues of the 1930th. Me-Ti is divided into five sections. The first of these is dedicated to philosophy, the second to problems of morality, the third to a critique of capitalist society, the fourth to the theory of revolution, and the fifth to the Soviet Union, Stalin, and Stalinism. Even though this book of prose by Brecht was never finalized and only appeared posthumuously, there are good reasons to assume that it is in Me-Ti that Brecht expounded his project for humanity, his anthropology of the leftist intellectual, and his practical philosophy as a revolutionary. It is appropriate to focus on a few moments in Me-Ti that may not be completely clear to today’s reader, but that are very important to understanding the text.

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David Riff / Dmitry Gutov /// Simply Describing

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David Riff: Do you remember when we visited Fred Jameson at Duke University a couple of years ago? On the first night in America, Fred’s assistant Colin took us to a burger bar, where we sat around drinking beers and making small talk. Colin was telling us about  his research: Adornian music theory, post-operaist virtuosity, and American radical politics. Suddenly, there was this extraordinary moment. Our friend Vlad Sofronov, a very thin Trotskyist bald spectacled activist philosopher who had been silent all evening, leaned over and looked Colin straight in the eye. Head on, he asked him in a thick Russian accent: “Colin, what is your method? Simply describing?” I want to start our dialogue with a similar bluntness: what is your method, Comrade Gutov?
Dmitry Gutov: I remember the situation very well; it is etched into my mind. What did Vlad want to say with his question? That “simply describing” is not our method, that it is non-partisan positivism that suspends its judgement on the phenomena of reality and is therefore poorly suited to the revolutionary transformation of reality.

But I want to make a case for “simply describing.” It is not so easy to provide a simple description.  Tendentious statements are far easier to construct. Everything in the world is dialectical, every object, every event. Before adding home-grown truths to that general flow, or better yet, before inserting them, it is much better to let things speak for themselves. This is really what “simply describing” is for, as a procedure. In other words, there are two kinds of “simply describing,” and not all “simple descriptions” are bad. Anyone who says otherwise is being undialectical. Because “simple descriptions” can be false and they can be true. When an author proposes no solution and never takes anyone’s side too obviously, but makes an accurate image, his or her position can only gain from it.

DR: I like what you say about there being two kinds of “simply describing.” The question is how to tell the difference between a good one and a bad one, and how to get from the false “simple description” to the true. Even if “everything in the world is already dialectical” (which, said like that, sounds like religion), you can’t channel the twists and turns of change and rely on blind faith alone for reality to reveal itself. If reality itself is dialectical, that means it is constantly changing in a contradictory process. Most “simple descriptions” do not reveal those contradictions, but obscure them and close them off with a constellation of “simple facts.”  That, in turn, creates an illusion of eternal truth, not only in the pubic hairs on a Nazi sculpture, but also the many facts and figures in an IMF report. Both are “simply describing” their respective objects, but as I would argue, in a very positive way. The question, then, is how to avoid doing that, how to avoid letting “simple facts” speak for those powers who think they are eternal, and how to reach a “simple description” of a fundamentally different type. And the former only comes after what Hegel called the “work of the negative;” it will be a way of handling the uncertainty that lies at the heart of all things.

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Gene Ray /// Some Notes on Brecht and Dialectics

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In the theater and forms of writing he practiced, Brecht tried in many ways to depict “the immense pressure of misery forcing the exploited to think.” In discovering the causes of their misery, they discover themselves, as changed, changing and changeable humanity. Seeing the world opened up to time and history in this way, Brecht was sure, inspires the exploited to think for themselves and fight back. Any art that shows this process becomes a weapon of class struggle. Brecht theorized this kind of committed art under different names at different times. “Realism” and “dialectics” are probably the most useful, and the most important to grasp. In the precise but flexible way he developed these terms, they may be helpful to those seeking to develop an effectively politicized artistic practice today.

Dialectical Realism

In the polemics with Lukács in the late 1930s, Brecht aimed to defend his work against charges of “formalism” and to position it within the official, Comintern-sanctioned conceptions of “realism.”In some essays written for Das Wort, the Moscow-based journal, but not published at the time of these debates, he sought to broaden the notion of realism according to some very sensible criteria.He rejected, in fact demolished, simplistic attempts to separate artistic form and content into crudely opposed elements.For Brecht this was a dangerous tendency that distracted from the real critical problem.Every artwork, every artistic innovation or experiment, brings form and content into some kind of relation – in short, into a dialectic.What critics need to ask is this:does a particular dialectic of form and content reveal the individual as a “causal nexus” capable of struggling and collectively changing the world?This question can only be answered by looking at the work itself and the effects it produces in context.The answer can’t be looked for, Brecht insisted, in past models imposed once and for all or in abstract rules set down in advance.

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