Theda Skocpol is one of the great political scientists of the USA, and if she is torn about where this country is heading, this means there is real confusion. She talked to us, Karin Pettersson and me, about how the country got to this point, the massive failure on parts of the media, but also on the parts of the people refusing to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton was a viable candidate. She believes it is time for the American civil society to rise up to the challenge. She is a patriot, after all, she said. Which means today to withstand nationalism. Just one of the contradictions of our times.
The Trump Challenge
Democracy For the 21st Century
This is exciting, we will start a new podcast, and this podcast will be shaped around the discussion which will be going on on 60pages and via the initiative Disrupt Democracy on Medium: Karin and I will be talking to thinkers and scientist from Harvard and MIT for the next few months to come up with clues and ideas about how we got here and what we might do to get out of this dilemma. Karin and I are in the USA at the moment, she is from Sweden where she used to work for Aftonbladet as the editor of the opinion page, I am on a leave of absence from my job as a columnist for Der Spiegel, we are both fellows of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. This conversation here is the beginning, we set out what we want to do, cover questions of populism, the relationship between capital and labor, the progressive dilemma, the progressive alternative. She says she is the pragmatist and I am the utopian. I am not sure about that. And I would not even see this two opposing sides. I think both are relevant and necessary. But, please, judge for yourself.
Trump is the Revenge of the Nineties
Josh has brought some beers. It is Sunday evening, he has some papers due soon, he has a cold, he has one hour to talk about the lessons from Trump. We sit in the deserted building of the Department of Government. I have been really looking forward to this conversation. Josh is one of those people you rarely meet even at a place like Harvard. He is young, he has a sharp intellect and a keen understanding of how to use it. He is all about politics, but not in the way that would make you feel that you know what he is going to say. He has a clear set of things he believes, I think, but he is also formulating his views as he goes along. He is a truly exciting voice in the desolate landscape of political thinking. Because this is what it is all about: How to revive the practise of left and liberal thinking. In the face of Trump. But also in the tradition of what the politics of rights and respect could be like for the 21st century.
The Triumph of Arab Porn
Masturbation is as central to the Arab Spring as it is to Arab Porn, states Youssef Rakha, inventive, intriguing novelist from Cairo, in his essay “Arab Porn”. He wrote the text for 60pages after a workshop in Cairo in the fall of 2015 – the implications of what he has to say about the nature of political protests, their narcissistic way of turning a common cause into a vanity project, the irresponsibility of a lot of the people involved, but mainly the understanding that this is what politics should look like, a mass of people on the street or on Tahrir Square, presumably with very little plan of what to do with the notion of power: This all has a strange resonance today, after the failure of a liberal approach to politics which led to a US president Trump. You can learn from the future of democracy by studying the authoritarian past, sadly. Listen to what Youssef has to say.
The Trump Puzzle
One week to go, and still, the question is: What does this mean? Apart from the fact that Donald Trump is a racist, a sexist, a liar and a very dangerous person who would possibly or not destroy democracy in the US and thus with further consequences in other parts of the world as well. Is he part of a larger trend, away from a democratic consensus even in so called democratic countries? Is he a force of a larger authoritarian trend? Illiberal democracies and undemocratic liberalism, as Yascha Mounk calls it? And where does that leave Europe, where we are from, Karin and me, Sweden and Germany? We are in this privileged spot for a specific time, Harvard for one year. But we will return. Time will move on. What will be then? What will we be? Who will we be? Karin and I sat down at the Coop bookstore at Harvard Yard on a particularily crisp and clear sunny morning. Karin is a journalist like me, in charge of the opinion page of the Aftonbladet in Stockholm and a former politician for the Swedish Social Democrats. She is no longer a member.
When the Indian writer Aman Sethi first talked to me about the refugees, he had a very different perspective: He said, think of the people who come to Europe not as weak, don’t fall into the trap of making them dependent upon your help, your jugdement, your jurisdiction for that matter – think of them as strong and self-reliant, as humans who chose to leave the place they called home and come to this country, a brave and uniquely individual decision. One year later, the discourse is different. It is, in Germany and in other countries, a profoundly anti-human-rights discourse, it is the preperation for a post-democratic regime which relies on keeping the people called refugees outside. Aman called them musafir, the wanderer. He has been here forever.
DISCREET is a new kind of intelligence agency that is currently under development. Between June 22 and July 11, 2016—during the 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art. Paranoia, Terror, Anxiety and Safety are discussed by the founding agents as well as it’s basic mission statement, its goals, strategies, and actions for an open-source secret service organization. DISCREET seeks to respond to the massive increase of means available to entities worldwide not under democratic control.
Skytale Skype Skynet
This lecture by Paul Feigelfeld – held during the Utopian Union Berlin Summit on June 10, 2016 – examines the defining role of cryptology, control, and centralization in its technological development. From the earliest known coded communications to the massive intelligence campaigns today, what has to be analyzed are the infrastructures, power mechanisms, epistemological and formal foundations of our present reality. What becomes clear is contrary to what many believe: Communication and media have never been more material and less transparent than today. From rare earth minerals and its new technocolonized geopolitics, to the climatic effects and territorial paradoxes of data centers or the metaphor of cloud computing and the advent of true ubiquity and technorganisms, both theory and art have to develop new approaches that the talk wants to give first impacts for.
This is a field recording of an experimental reading performance which took place on Friday the 13th, 2016 at the Deutsche Architekturzentrum in Berlin.
The artist group Das Numen – consisting of Andreas Greiner, Markus Hoffmann, Julian Charrière and Felix Kiessling – presented their recently published catalog of their whole body of work. With a background in Olafur Eliasson’s „Institut für Raumexperimente“, Das Numen work at the thresholds of art and science and nature and techology and play with the processes of translation and transformation between different realms, spheres, and disciplines.
The four texts in it were written by Carson Chan, Paul Feigelfeld, Melanie Franke and Otte E. Rössler, and performed in various formats by either the authors themselves or, if impossible, by performers.
While surrounded by four readers, the audience was participating in another performance, during which the artists of Das Numen prepared special cocktails with transformed and purified water from the river Spree just outside the Deutsche Architekturzentrum.
The first performance involved the readers reading interlocking paragraphs of the respective texts, creating a folded new text by four authors. The second part of the performance was a phase shifting canon which peaked in all the performers reading all the texts at the same time, time delayed and from different positions of the room.
The End of the Story
I went to Portbou to find Walter Benjamin, and I went with two friends, because, as one of them had said, we should not at the end of our lives be sad about all the things we had not done. We arrived on a cloudy evening by car from Barcelona. The first thing you notice about Portbou, where Benjamin killed himself in September 1940 after being told by the border police that he would be sent back the next morning, is the train station. It is huge and old and looks from the one side like a dam built of grey stone and from the inside like a small replica of something Parisian, something fin-de-siècle, something very European. And indeed, this is in all ambivalence of the word a truly European place, inhabited by a certain sad melancholia which is maybe kin to these kind of border towns and built in an ecclectical style in its purest fashion, if such a thing exists at all, pure ecclecticism. It is not a pretty village, but we came to like it, looking back, even to love it, for what it is and what it was: a place where you learn about what it was like to be a refugee.
We ate well the first night and had breakfast by the ocean the next morning. Then we climbed up the hill towards the French border, in the opposite direction from where Benjamin had come, carrying his heavy bag with, that is the rumor, a finished or almost finished manuscript inside, presumably another masterpiece, lost for ever. There were flowers in full bloom and a steady wind and a strikingly blue sky, and when we got to the top we came to the monument built there for the 500000 refugees who had fled in this direction, about 18 months before Benjamin had fled in the opposite direction: women, children, men who looked like Hemingway, all fleeing Spain after the victory of general Franco. This would be the testing ground for the following bigger war on a number of levels, the squashing of the liberal left between the right and the left totalitarians for one, but what struck me was the fact that the Spanish refugees had been put into camps once they got into France – presumably the same camps which were used for the Jews a little later.
What then are the forces of history? What do we know? We had come to look for a man and had discovered the legacy of hundreds of thousands of people. This is Europe. A place of perpetual displacement. Back in Barcelona for the night we walked by the city hall which is now run by a woman who came out of the people’s movement reclaiming the city from the capitalists. It is a constant struggle all over Europe these days. “Refugees Welcome” it said on a banner that was hanging from a balcony. The city was full ablaze with the celebration for the day of Saint Jorge. There were no refugees to be seen. And when I got back to Berlin on Monday morning, I got a call from my friend Renata Adler, author of “Speedboat” and “Pitch Dark”, legendary reporter and fierce essayist, the she was coming to Germany to write about the refugees. We have to talk about this, I said. And she said: Darling, of course we have to.