‘Vi elsker vort land’ // ‘Our country we love’
‘We stand ready to face any foreign foe that gathers’
‘Every city has its witches, and each parish its trolls’
‘Them, we will hope to hold out of our lives’
‘We want peace in this country’
‘It can be won with hearts just’
An innocent folk song, intensely charged with collective memory, suddenly becomes imbued with sinister undertones. Attending a Danish society’s annual Sankte Hans evening in Norfolk, and singing these familiar words around a bonfire on the solstice evening, I was struck by the poignancy of these lyrics, in a 21st century Europe swaying increasingly towards right-wing nationalistic sentiments. This song from 1885 by Drachmann, indulges in the first two verses in classic romantic elements; a collective festive atmosphere, in the open air between land and sea, with foal and lamb freely crossing the meadow. In the third verse the tone changes remarkably, from a sweet and innocent seasonal theme to a militant, perhaps even martial and violently patriotic one.
A few days later I was in Denmark as border controls were being put into force, and news headlines reported how violent immigrants were exploiting the welfare state. My grandmother explained that those from ‘outside’ were entering Denmark purposefully to rob shops, as criminal convictions are lower here than in their own countries; they know they can get away with it lightly here, in a country not used to crime and only just starting to lock up their bicycles. Television showed CCTV footage of thefts, always by men with colored skin, and absurd lengthy discussions as to whether sunbathing nude should be banned on the beach. A once liberal and easy-going nation turns into a prudish and defensive place, rife with institutionalized discrimination.
Over much of Europe and America, the far right is gaining ground, as the situation becomes less and less stable. Panic ensues, as floods of immigrants seek shelter in Europe and the USA from wars and revolutions instigated by Europe and the USA that make their lands inhospitable.
Financial strife in a selfish capitalist world means those with less have less qualms about taking from those with more. Where better to go than sickeningly comfortable and affluent Denmark? The model welfare state, the delicate balance of a self-sufficient country tips and cannot possibly sustain itself. A small, but spacious land where fairness and equality have been the measures of the day, where people pay the highest taxes, decides it is not fair that they work hard to support ‘foreign entities’ who have no connection with them and have come to take advantage of generous benefits.
TO LOVE ONE’S COUNTRY ABOVE ALL OTHERS
My grandmother remarked that the Danish flag is the most beautiful of them all. Flags are as typical a sight dotting the Danish landscape as wind turbines. Coincidentally I was reading Tolstoy’s ‘Christianity & Patriotism’: “This sentiment, in its precise definition, is nothing else than putting one’s own state or people before every other state or people… It may very well be that this feeling is very useful and desirable for Governments and for the unity of a State, but it is impossible not to see that it is not at all a lofty sentiment, but on the contrary, a very stupid and very immoral one: stupid because, if every state is to think itself superior to all the others, it is obvious that they will all be wrong; and immoral because it inevitably inclines every man who feels it to endeavor to obtain advantages for his own state and nation to the detriment of other states and nations – an inclination directly opposed to the fundamental moral law acknowledged by all”.
With immense foresight, Tolstoy writes years before the outbreak of the first and second world wars, before the absolute devastations of the 20th century, of the hypnotism of the masses, carried away in celebrations of Patriotism, in particular between Russia and France.
“And they would all shout and wave their caps just as readily if what were being celebrated were the opposite of what it is”
In this period of time, we have witnessed lavish and extravagant Royal Weddings in Monaco and England – a concerted effort to put on a show of amiable feelings between countries and distract from growing frictions and economic peril, “The patriotism of oppressed nationalities is no exception; it is just as little natural to the working classes, and is fostered in them by the upper classes.”
In April 2011, Prince William married Kate Middleton and 4 million monarchists flocked to London to partake in Royal Wedding Celebrations, street parties in their honor were held all over the country, “Committees began to be formed for the organization of rejoicings, subscription lists were opened everywhere for the expenses of these celebrations”. Harmless fun, they say… of a spectacle consciously and cynically instated to inspire Nationalistic feelings in the public and boost the economy.
The ‘Serene Highness’ Princess Charlene married Prince Albert II of Monaco in July 2011. Appearing vacant, she cried during the service, tears of sorrow and not of joy. Reports claimed that Charlene had attempted to run away before the wedding, but Monaco police intercepted her at Nice Côte d’Azur Airport and confiscated her passport, During their Honeymoon, Charlene and Albert were booked in different hotels miles apart. ‘The guest-list at the religious ceremony included the kings of Spain, Sweden, Lesotho and Belgium, the presidents of France, Iceland, Ireland, Lebanon, Malta, Germany and Hungary, France’s richest man, celebrated opera singers, top models and racing car drivers’. The wedding was ‘followed by a lavish dinner prepared by a celebrity chef’. Here was another insincere excuse for all the capitalist Western world’s monarchy and celebrity to turn out in their finery for a show of solidarity and fireworks.
It is at crisis point that celebrations ensue, endless distractions, “The demonstrations of patriotic feeling in the working people, on various ceremonial occasions – are usually brought forward as a proof of the existence of patriotism. But we ought to understand how these manifestations are prepared. The enthusiasm of the crowd is, for the most part, artificially prepared by those to whom it is of use, and the degree of enthusiasm expressed by the crowd proves nothing but the degree of art of the creators of that enthusiasm”
Tolstoy compares the ‘madness’ of patriotism, with villagers suffering from ‘Malevanism’. A professor of mental pathology described an epidemic of insanity, which had appeared in several villages around Kiev under the influence of a man called Malevanny, who imagined that the end of the world would come very shortly. Consequently they began changing their whole manner of life, giving away their belongings, dressing up in fine clothes, eating good things and drinking, and gave up working. With no definitive future they descended into decadence, selling the necessities of life to purchase silk kerchiefs and parasols, only to serve as decoration.
‘Their extraordinary serenity often passed into exaltation – a joyful condition resting on no external causes. They were sentimentally disposed, courteous to excess, talkative, emotional’. The professor went on to say ‘Malevannism is the cry of distress of a sick population’. Tolstoy suggests that if this is so, then what a horrifying cry of distress from a sick population that has broken out in the unnatural attitudes assumed by people during ceremonious welcomes, receptions, and speeches, and with alarming rapidity infected the greater part of the town population of France, and almost the whole governing and civilized well-to-do classes of Russia! “The resemblance is complete, the only difference – and it is a vast difference for the society in which these phenomena take place – is that in one case it is the aberration of a few dozens of poor peaceful villagers and peasants, who live by their own small means, and can infect others only by the means of personal communication of their mental state by word of mouth; while in the other, it is the madness of millions of men, possessing vast sums of money and means for the diffusion of their madness, the exercising of force on others – guns, fortresses, dynamite-and moreover, having at their disposal the most powerful means for the diffusion of their madness – the post, an immense number of newspapers and publications of all sorts, incessantly printing and spreading abroad the infection to every end of the earth. At the worst the consequences of the Kiev epidemic will be that the peasants of a millionth part of Russia will spend what they have earned by their toil, and will not be in a position to pay their taxes. The consequences of the epidemic, which has seized upon people of terrible power enormous sums of money and means for exercising force and for the propaganda of their madness- may and must be terrible.”
In Denmark there is an increase in ‘madness’; the number of mentally retarded admitted to psychiatric hospitals is rapidly rising. ‘Dangerous sick should be kept away from risk’ read a newspaper headline reflecting the desire to hide or lock away ‘difference’. Paradoxically lies the case of the Norway terrorist, Anders Breivik’s ‘madness’, the cause of which is cited as immigration and cultural difference. Multiculturalism and the unbalanced nature of immigration is seen as a threat to be addressed not only in Scandinavia, but by leading political parties in France, UK, Germany and Italy, out of fear that European societies will fall apart and loose their social cohesion. “By persuading the people that they are in danger, the government succeeds in dominating them”.
This takes me back to the Danish folk-song. There is Mysticism inherent in Fascist ideology, in which non-rational elements generate an emotive response, and subsequently help to generate political power. The mourning of lost values, of vital meaning, associated with the communion of a ‘pure people’. And now the right-wing Danish Folk Party is trying to inspire people with a new folk-song ‘My world goes from here’. They say ‘Denmark is not an immigrant-country and never has been. Thus we will not accept transformation to a multiethnic society’. In our Globalized, displaced world, what loyalties or ties, do we have? “In what form is the patriotism of an Irish-man to be expressed in our day when he lives in the United States, and belongs through his religion to Rome, though his nationality to Ireland, and through his political position to the United States? This is the position of the Czech in Austria, the Pole in Russia, the Hindu in the British Empire, of the Tartar and the Armenian in Turkey.”
Tolstoy harbors an unfailing belief in the common good, Christian moral standard, that each man can be taken responsible for his own actions. But in his own words, “One does not speak the truth he knows because he feels that he has a duty to the people with whom he is connected; another-because the truth might deprive him of the profitable position by means of which he supports his family; a third-because he wants to attain fame and power and then to use them for the service of men; a fourth-because he does not want to outrage the old sacred traditions; a fifth-because the utterance of the truth will provoke persecution, and prevent the beneficent social activity to which he is devoting himself or intends to devote himself”.
This can also be enlightening when related to the News of the World scandals, where one man assumes an omnipotent stance. “Public opinion produces power; power produces public opinion: and it seems as though there is no way out from this vicious circle”. James Murdoch finished a speech made at a Television Festival, with his ‘inescapable conclusion’ that ‘the only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.’ Money and efficiency are the values by which our contemporary society stands, not truth or health. How to react against a Neo-liberal world order whose main concern is money?
John Berger asks in ‘The Shape of a Pocket’, ‘Who could have foreseen the solitude in which people today live? A solitude confirmed daily by networks of bodiless and false images concerning the world. Yet their falseness is not an error. If the pursuit of profit is considered as the only means of salvation for mankind, turnover becomes the absolute priority, and consequently the existent has to be disregarded or ignored or suppressed’.
Having just returned from Denmark, the events in Norway were not entirely surprising. It seemed immediately to be an internal issue, and not, as the clichéd early reports suggested, a Jihadist attack. However, as with suicide bombers, he was fighting ‘obscure battles in a mythic past’. Breivik was unable to generate followers in physical reality, offline. This was a bid for attention in reality, outside the overwhelming hegemony of the technological system. The ultimate resistance to this system is death, in particular the death of innocent victims, such as children. The Norway killings reflect a lone warrior’s desperation, but within a broader scramble for meaning and value.
The strangely symbolic image above was found in a derelict house in a forest in Denmark.
HOW WAS IT THAT THE HEGEMONIC DISCOURSE OF THE CIVILATORY MODEL WAS BORN?
This is just the beginning of an interview we conducted with a Venezuelan academic, which will form part of the film we are making on Eco-agriculture and the struggle against MONOFORM, looking towards indigenous movements. We arrived at his house in Caracas to record just before dusk. A mango tree was growing into the house; he told us that when they were ripe they tumbled noisily onto the glass roof. Despite my incomprehension of the Spanish language, I was fascinated watching this man speak. In my absence of understanding, other observations became acute; the shift of light at nightfall over the books, relics and statuettes within his beautiful home, a cherub hanging in each room, the crescendo of the sounds of wildlife outside. It was only afterwards making the translation that I discovered exactly what he had said.
One possible starting point is to think about comparing different mythologies of creation of different cultures and religions. The Christian myth of creation, as it appears in the genesis, is compared to another set of myths of creation that are peculiar, because it is a myth of creation which believes in the creation of a collection of environments and subsequently the creation of human beings, and specifically of man. And the creation of man implies a relation of domination with his environment, and instructions and rights to subordinate everything that surrounds him. It is very signifying that this is the myth of creation. Also the fact that woman is created as an appendix of man. So actually only on that method of creation we already have the fundamental aspects of what we are speaking about here – patriarchal hierarchy and domination. Obviously if we read a lot of the contemporary theological critique, both protestant and catholic, there are many ways of interpreting the bible, and the relation of humanity in relation to its environment, as a protector of the creation. But if we think about the main hegemonic discourse in the past 2000 years this is essentially the core one.
Now making a step forward, there is an important historic preview in which we find that Christianity, and what is called Western Europe today, jumps forward from its relatively small, fenced provinciality and defined territory surrounded on one side by the sea, and on the other by the Islamic world, which controlled all the trade routes, with little importance given to America at that point, because the main economic powers were focused between Asia and Europe. There are a handful of very important events that relate to America, with the beginning of modernism, with the beginning of capitalism, with the jump that represented the beginning of Western Europe’s control of the trade routes across the Atlantic and the slave trade in America. All of these dynamics are the pillars that served as a base for 18th century Western Europe to become the dominant economic power (over Islam).
The impact of this change, the discovery of all that was starting to become the global world at that point already, had an extraordinarily important effect on how the world was understood, and how time was perceived. It was the first time that Europe began to see the world as a whole body, to classify cultures and historical times, obviously from a Eurocentric point of view, but with the aim to cover a totality. You then start to identify among some authors/thinkers the construction step by step of different possibilities of interpretation that emphasize some aspects but dismiss others. On the contrary, I think that no historical process or cultural narrative can be interpreted as an inevitable set of events, as if you are telling inexorable tales the way that they had to happen. They were selecting from different options and possibilities of historical reality, some paths or routes were chosen whilst others were discarded. These options of course were taken depending on the individual and the particular place/position of those in power and from the vision of the world in which they belonged. The ones that were chosen were the ones that they thought could communicate and have a resonance within a shared common sense and therefore be legitimized or validated.
So here we can see some of the things that are remarked historically as milestones in the development of modern science, from which its important to distinguish paradigmatic theories of people like Bacon and Descartes. In Bacon we find a visionary and extraordinarily modern notion of the future that later constitutes itself as modernity which essentially says that humanity is defenseless in front of the powers of nature and that humanity has no tools to confront that, so the only way to confront this is through knowledge. This explicit approach is summarized in the famous quote ‘power is knowledge’, that the task of scientific knowledge and thought is to detect regularities, to transform and to submit nature. It is like a call to war to subordinate nature. This is a very potent idea that today doesn’t appear to be revolutionary as it is now part of our common sense that essentially says knowledge’s use is as tool to subordinate and to dominate, to improve our material gain. But at that time it was quite a radical stance to take in relation to the past, and it became a kind of work program, a strategic plan of domination and control. Relating to this logic is Descartes’ vision of the possibility to separate subject from object, reason from body. The subject of knowledge is not the human, nor the body, but reason.
The construction that knowledge is reason has huge consequences because it is a notion that separates the process of accumulation of knowledge from the conditions of production of knowledge, transforming reason itself into the subject. What I mean by this is if you have the notion that reason is the subject of knowledge then knowledge depends fundamentally on the application of methods. Reason applies method, and through this method you absorb objective and universal knowledge. This notion of thought has a radical and revolutionary aspect, but once again has become common sense in today’s world because science is now recognized as a searcher of objective and universal knowledge. Universal objective knowledge does not depend on the subject that it knows, and since it is universal, neither does it depend on the historical and social context, power relations, Cosmology etc. This potent affirmation, from the point of view of science, or the scientific method, ends up having an extraordinary consequence fundamentally because it is an epistemological device of the concealment of the subject.
If you have a determined/specific place where knowledge occurs and there is an extraordinarily class based society, for example, in which there are some groups that dominate and others that are dominated, and the dominating group announces: ‘society is by nature a divided society and the rich have the right to dominate it’ then there is the possibility to identify in the subject that announces it that he is not saying it because he is rich, but that this is only an aspect of why he is saying it. If on the contrary, a discourse is built that has no subject announcing it, because it is a notion of abstract reason that uses a scientific method, then it becomes completely objective and it is a reason that has no subject. This way you build a concealed subject that historically is possible to identify with a lot of clarity. It is a masculine subject, it is a white subject, and it is a European subject. It is a subject that at least publicly declares itself heterosexual, it is a privileged subject, it is a subject that speaks the legitimate languages of knowledge, and it doesn’t speak Kechua or any other native language. The subject only speaks English, French, Latin etc… so in this way transformed the others into the subjects and producers of secondary knowledge of another category. This construction ends up dominating in such a way that even in the historical processes where scientific and cultural knowledge extends itself into other areas of society, it is already concealed. With all these constructions of racism, Euro centricity, nature domination etc… at this point it does not really matter who comes in, whether they are black, white, woman, man, African, South East Asian, or South American, because they enter with this constituted pattern of knowledge. That is why we speak about a constituted pattern of knowledge that is modern, Eurocentric, patriarchal, racist, because it conveys all of that, and to dismantle that pattern of knowledge would create the possibility of a condition to overcome the world in which we exist.
Another dynamic that accompanies these processes later on is what some feminist critiques called the process of disenchantment from nature or the killing of the nature. The image of nature, which is holistic and complex, starts to be reduced to a more mechanistic image, to the image of a thing, to the notion that it is a mechanism that can be decomposed, and later on analyzed. Therefore it has very severe consequences for two reasons; on one side it ends up converting life into a thing, and by betting on decomposing the complexities into simple parts, it assumes it is therefore possible to possess knowledge. If you think today of genetic engineering, this exactly is the process. This gene produces x so lets just move it from one side to the other in an act of mechanisism and reductionism to the max. So with all that happened with the theory of relativism, principio de incertidumbre, anything that is not relevant to the common principles of contemporary science becomes nothing. If these things were treated as a type of speculative epistemology from people who were reflecting on wisdom you wouldn’t have too many consequences, but because precisely that all of this happens within the interior process of the establishment of the modern colonial world capitalist system, it becomes something really potent that legitimizes, accelerates, pushes and makes it possible because there is no doubt that in the European consciousness its superiority in relation to the rest is verified, because day by day it manages to dominate everyone else.
With that logic, from the moment that it connects itself with the logic of the expansion of capitalism, because capitalism as a social order implies competition and growth, it is not possible to think of a capitalist system without growth. This logic of eternal progress or expansion has its means of support from a technological and epistemological point of view, and, following this pattern of knowledge; at the end it becomes one thing, which is the capitalist neocolonial patriarchal pattern.
This is an improved and shortened version of ‘Tour Chernobyl’. Documentation of a disaster tour undertaken in Chernobyl, with a narrative text underpinning the historical significance of the nuclear accident and its role in the ending of the Cold War. A symptom of a Soviet philosophy based on dialectics, and a crucial paradox of our time, it shows the devastating consequences of the event, but also the resilience of nature.
‘ALL BODIES ARE IN MOVEMENT. EVEN WHEN IT IS IMMOBILE, A BODY COMES INTO PRESENCE, PUTS INTO PLAY THE WORLD IT BEARS, AND FOLLOWS IT’S FATE. CERTAIN BODIES GO TOGETHER. THEY TEND TOWARD ONE ANOTHER, LEAN ON ONE ANOTHER: THERE IS COMMUNITY AMONG THEM. OTHERS FLEE ONE ANOTHER, DON’T GO TOGETHER, AND CLASH. WITHIN THE COMMUNITY OF EACH FORM-OF-LIFE THERE ARE ALSO COMMUNITIES OF THINGS AND GESTURES, COMMUNITIES OF HABBITS AND EFFECTS, A COMMUNITY OF THOUGHTS. IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING THAT BODIES DEPRIVED OF COMMUNITY ALSO HAVE NO TASTE: THEY DO NOT SEE THAT CERTAIN THINGS GO TOGETHER, WHILE OTHERS DO NOT.’ CIVIL WAR
‘HEREBY IT IS MANIFEST THAT DURING THE TIME MEN LIVE WITHOUT A COMMON POWER TO KEEP THEM ALL IN AWE, THEY ARE IN THAT CONDITION WHICH IS CALLED WAR, AND SUCH A WAR IS AS IS OF EVERY MAN AGAINST EVERY MAN. FOR WAR CONSISTETH NOT IN BATTLE ONLY, OR THE ACT OF FIGHTING, BUT IN A TRACT OF TIME WHEREIN THE WILL TO CONTEND BY BATTLE IS SUFFICIENTLY KNOWN. AGAIN, MEN HAVE NO PLEASURE, BUT ON THE CONTRARY A GREAT DEAL OF GRIEF, IN KEEPING COMPANY WHERE THERE IS NO POWER ABLE TO OVER-AWE THEM ALL’ HOBBES – LEVIATHAN
A noon screening of Agnès Varda’s ‘The Beaches of Agnes’, the left bank filmmaker’s Proustian reflection on her own life passed. Sitting through scenes of Oostende, that were familiar from my own trip there and from ‘Rings of Saturn’, rare decision to leave the theatre followed. A two hour cycle ride along the old railway track into the city on a december morning had induced sweat and the need for coffee and so I walked out, leaving my heavy bag in the cinema where my friend Charlie remained. Returning at the end of the film I found the cinema empty and Charlie outside without the bag. Neglecting to mention for him to look after it, he had not noticed it and the bag had been left behind. A frantic search ensued, but eventually came the acceptance that it was gone. The CC TV in the office was checked. We witnessed all 5 members of the audience leaving the auditorium, only for one man to return, and exit once more with my rucksack in hand. He was well dressed, in a black overcoat and with long dark hair, and had shielded my rucksack behind a purple department store bag.
Police were called and the long wait commenced. Meanwhile the staff disclosed that in fact he was a regular and a member and hinted that he lived on Elm Hill, the most picturesque, ancient and expensive streets in the city. The police interviews were of course repetitive and full of paperwork, hours passed and frustration mounted at what he could have with my laptop, clothes, journals etc. in that time. Discouraged, we walked back to Charlie’s house, checking in a few pawn shops along the way. On our way out to eat, walking down Elm Hill, we saw a police car parked outside a courtyard of antiques shops and resolved to go back after dinner and investigate for ourselves.
Smoking a cigarette in the misty rain on the cobbled square, we saw a light on in the apartment above the tea shop. We rang the bell, and sure enough the man from the CCTV footage answered the door. Direct questions prompted direct negations. Emotive pleas about reclaiming journals and film work on the computer elicited a demand to take our shoes off, and follow him upstairs. Glancing into his bedroom I could see his Tarkovsky books which I revered also. We were shown into the sitting room, exquisite choral music emanated from the radio. ‘That’s your programme on the floor’ The Schnittke concert I had attended a few nights before.
‘You have such beautiful depictions of suffering in stone on your walls’. His immaculate world, which he clearly inhabited alone, was hung with pictures of the sorrowful heads of great masterpieces. ‘That one is the Ecstasy of the Virgin St Teresa by Benini’. In his kitchen hung a This Mortal Coil poster of a drowning woman and an Antonioni film poster. He had eaten my mandarin, the peel lay on the kitchen surface. We discussed books and film. His favorite director was Robert Bresson, and he was an English teacher. There was a small gesture of regret, it had been an opportunistic venture but having disclosed the contents of the bag ‘It wasnt what I expected’.
Asking finally for the return of my possessions, he went outside and retrieved a black bin back with some of the things. Every other item in my bag had to be listed one by one; ‘First as Tragedy then as Farce’ by Zizek, fur hat, headphones etc., and gradually everything was returned.
He had not even realised that the police had come round earlier. At that time he had been in the library, which coincidentally was where we had gone for dinner.
Returning to the cinema to retrieve our bicycles, we animatedly recounted our tale to the box office staff. Astonishingly a dark figure suddenly emerged down the street wearing a Russian hat emblazoned with the red star. The one thing he had asked was not to be ostracized by the cinema, his life. This confrontation with a criminal manifests that you can read the most profound and worldly books, and watch the most searingly truthful films, amass all of this knowledge, and yet the question of progress morally remains obsolete.