Extract from
pöpp68 - privat öffentlich persönlich politisch
engl./dt. participation objections anyhow / Partizipation Einwände trotzdem!
296 p., numerous coloured images
ISBN 978-3-938515-24-2, email order: office(AT)ngbk.de

pöpp 68 · Jurassic Park 68/A · discursive workshop

Without a Moderator

Jole Wilcke in Conversation with Christophe Kotányi

"In the information society, nobody thinks anymore. We expected to ban paper from our life, instead we have banned thoughts."
Michael Crichton in Jurassic Park, 1990

"Where there is communication, there is no State."
Situationistische Internationale Nr. 8, 1963

Jole Wilcke: Christophe, you are a trained physicist or rather an astronomer. During our many discussions, I've realized that this fact plays a big role in our collaborative work. This year, forty years after '1968', there have been many contemporary witness accounts with titles such as '1968 in today's Europe' (Babylon) or '1968 - Give me that feeling back' (hr1). These recollections use reanimations of symbols, of cobblestones, burning cars, photographs of demonstrations and so on. But it is difficult to convey the real thing, the huge acceleration of free spaces and communication at that time. In the best case, as a re-enactment, and that is how most of the contemporary witness accounts appear to me, something gets lost. The film The Year Zero-One (1971, by Jacques Doillon), which was an allegory for May 1968 in France, was presented at the pöpp68 conference by Guillaume Paoli. In May 1968, an exceptional situation reigned in France. There were worker strikes and countrywide occupation of companies. Paoli described the actual movement as this DEADLOCK: Drop everything and do something other than work. Cars weren't driven, and hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets and spoke to each other. The entire city was one big debate. So, what remains of the revolt? As a utopia, it is long dead.

Christophe Kotányi: The spontaneous dynamics of this irresistible mobilization showed how well the Situationists had hit the point. One can still ask, however, why was this dynamic so short-lived? The issue was also to participate again in one's own life, which seems to me the issue today as well. The rejection of this dominant form of undercooled subjectivity, fit to survive and to adapt 'to the Poles and Zones' [1], is today a decisive political issue and calls for the production of situations to shake up subjectivity.

JW: Participation, as you put it, also means 'to participate in one's own person'. In other words, the power to invest oneself (with subjectivity). I would say, the power to be heard. The point is to 'be together' as a form of 'participation' - partnership as articulated by Jean Luc Nancy, communication.[2] But to be heard is crucial today, I think, especially today, on all four levels (private, public, political, personal). This seems to me today trickier than ever, because there is acceleration, but an acceleration going in an entirely different direction. "To be heard today," as Marianne Gronemeyer says, "means to submit to media rule." [3] Without setting the PR machine in motion, nothing goes.

CK: Hold on! That's exactly what the Situationists said, I believe: if one acts "subjectively" (not towards some end), one is not interesting for the media. The Situationists realized that. In short, subjectivity is the formula for freedom from the power of the media (fantasy, desire, spontaneity, and dreams...).

JW: Our title, "Jurassic Park 68/A Discursive Workshop without a Moderator", opens the debate on what we mean literally with the phrase "without a moderator". During the pöpp68 conference, you took the microphone with reluctance, and described it as a tool of power.

CK: An apparently harmless tool, but to me already a medium of power.

JW: Hardly anyone understood your point - everybody knew that the microphone would be used, just for pragmatic reasons, simply in order to understand what you said acoustically. But still, your point remains! And I would really like to understand it better: What does your critical attitude towards the microphone mean?

CK: Yes, the microphone is an instrument of power, just like cars, and all highly developed technique - let's not forget that. As soon as I speak into a microphone, I feel it: my voice is powerful! Professionals learn to control it, while beginners are very soon intimidated or intoxicated by their own voice. In any case, as soon as a microphone appears in a room, what Ivan Illich has called 'conviviality' disappears, the merging of the voices, the feeling of being together. [4] This is indeed the goal of the microphone, as of every technical instrument: to divide and to conquer. That is also what Guy Debord showed in his film, The Society of the Spectacle (1973), which we saw together at the Arsenal. Industrial technology acts, and that is its job, to separate people. It hinders people from meeting each another: from car traffic through architecture. That is the aim and not a mere side effect. As a goal, it can indeed be subverted. Debord indeed believed, I would say, that modern technology could not be reformed, only subverted. I see the cell phone and the Internet as "subversion of subversion" - as anti-participatory instruments. We communicate but we don't meet each other. Again, one can certainly subvert that, but even the telephone has to do with speaking at a distance and not coming close to each another. Perhaps it is the astronomer who speaks out of me here: with the telescope one does not see; one sees far.
The Internet was designed as a participatory instrument. How it came to its subversion, or better, perversion, would require a deeper analysis. [5] The Internet is actually a mathematical instrument - that makes it participatory. The perversion also happens at a mathematical level. The paradoxical logic of this mathematics can act in a participatory as well as an anti-participatory way, depending on who has the control. At the superficial level of the 'users', one doesn't notice anything. Let's say it this way: The transformation of the computer into an intoxicant is an anti-participatory strategy. The so-called virus is a 'subversive' answer.

JW: But the microphone can also be used subversively, as it was by Punk. At that time, I was fascinated by the Dead Kennedys. Their singer Jello Biafra screamed into the microphone in such an insane way: "Help me hate the world / Own and love my life."

CK: That's right, one can also fight for subjectivity with a microphone, like fighting a war for peace. But, I'd argue, that is not the way to understanding. It is just a sending and receiving of messages. What I understand as subjectivity (feelings, desire, anger...) becomes attenuated or distorted. At the conference, my 'without a microphone' was only an attempt to make clear what 'without a moderator' means. It is often important, for example, that many speak simultaneously as in the theater, for example. This is not possible with a microphone. Interruption is also decisive for understanding. This is also not possible with a microphone. During the conference, when the microphone was passed around, I sometimes had a feeling like when, during dancing, the music is suddenly interrupted. One has to live with it, but it seems to me that this belongs to our theme.

JW: Yes, but in the theater, actors use their trained stage voices, and there is a very different kind of freedom, which does not exist in a classical podium discussion with a moderator. The term moderator is used today in a widely diversified way. He or she is a coordinator, a team leader, or a user and policy manager in an eRoom and so on. He appeared, in the form we experience him massively today, in the 1980s with the talk-show. In our first discussion, you said that the technologization of communication must be seen as a restructuring of authority, which happened above all during the cold war. In the 1960s movement the rule was rather: here I am, as a person; I carry no label. Today what counts are, above all, expertise and rules, and market values for labels have again become important.

CK: Good, then let's say: 'as on the marketplace or in love'. But also in the theater as in musical composition, the game is to violate the rules again and again. Modern polyphonic music introduces dissonance where classical music forbids it. And even classical harmony breaks its own rules in order to make composition of polyphony possible at all (all the notes on the piano are a little bit false). Even classical music is a conflict of notes among themselves.

JW: What wasn't familiar to me until now is the fact that nuclear power plants are also 'moderated'. Markus Hedrich speaks about the concept of a 'nuclear mentality' as the 'echo' of a 'nuclear society'. [6] And Jean Ziegler believes: "In reality, the individual conditioned by globalized capital is reduced purely to his or her functionality. His feeling of freedom is pure illusion. Because he is unable to see his own alienation in the labyrinth of market forces which act on him, rule over him and spoil him of his individuality [...]. The individual conditioned through globalized capital has no identity, no freedom anymore. Globalized capital generates atomized individuals, miserable things isolated from each other [...]." [7] Participation should also essentially be understood as participation in subjectivity. But how does that go? Does the moderator control the effectiveness of the chain-reaction?

CK: To be more precise, the moderator is a sort of graphite stick, which is pushed in and out in order to catch the neutrons that are generated by radioactive decay. The thing must be very precisely controlled in order to slow down the chain reaction without stopping it. It involves a very fine-tuning in a situation where everything can explode or come to a stop, without any warning. The moderator is, so to speak, a neutral element, an attenuator.

JW: All right, it attenuates, but what happens if it stops working? The moderator also guarantees something like security. That interests me more as an image, as a symbol. And whether a link exists between the two aspects, embodied in the concept of the moderator. (French. modérer, "to moderate").

CK: Isn't that also a theme in the concept of 'nuclear consciousness' to which you have just alluded? The fear that it can 'explode' but shouldn't explode, would, for me, be 'objective' fear. By contrast, 'subjective' fear would be that it isn't allowed to explode even if it must. Moderation in a nuclear power plant stands for control, in the dialogue it stands for distortion. In a nuclear plant, the moderator is there only to slow things down. The moderator in the auditorium, however, must also keep the conversation going: he must guide without guiding, he must manipulate. The promise of communication without fear has the effect, however, that fear becomes incommunicable. Because he separates the speakers, just as the moderator in the nuclear plant separates the 'fuel cells'. What emerges is an exchange of information, but not an encounter. The moderator brings so to speak objective security and subjective insecurity. In other words, no communication without fear can develop in the room

JW: Why is he there then? Why is he present, almost everywhere, and not just in the media?

CK: Gregory Bateson would say: The moderator's job is to mark the messages, in the sense of 'this is a message', 'that is not a message'. [8] But who marks his messages? As soon as he gets mixed up in the discussion, it doesn't work anymore. His statements should be always 'no messages', but they are messages. Therefore, either they are acts of authority or of manipulation. 'Without moderator' actually means the moderator doesn't exist. The moderator is either a manipulator or a boss. It would be better if he took part in the discussion, which is what he mostly does anyway. Otherwise, his lack of participation spreads around and the discussion becomes noncommittal. Also in a nuclear plant, the moderator becomes very quickly radioactive, and nobody knows what to do about that.

JW: And when no one marks the messages?

CK: One always digresses, one must drift. That is possible in a discussion and already more difficult in a written text. Friedrich Kittler said: "Writing with my computer is an illusion; in reality, I am operating an electronic circuit." Where does this noncommittal quality of electronic communication come from, and why does a conversation always involve commitment? Our discursive workshop without a moderator wants encounters instead of an exchange of noncommittal information. We don't want a moderator; we want to drift. Somehow, that is all related, but how?

JW: ... I would say in continued practice and as an attitude. The way one evaluates this depends on what one wants to achieve. As a curatorial/methodological praxis, I'm interested in formats, which are kept open, which do not only claim connectivity, but also carry it as a risk within the system [9]. Formally speaking this means: accepting insecurity is more radical. And as an attitude, insecurity also represents the other side of a society, which systematically seeks security and where control takes more and more space. For me, participation happens when common decisions lead to new ways of action, new areas of action and very crucially with the chance, coming from risk, to do things in an entirely different way. Since 2002, I have been active with UNWETTER in various contexts. Our basic format of a 'discursive picnic', which functions like a 'potluck', and where each person is at the same time guest and host, is a tool box that can be used for the production of knowledge, it can be operated and managed by various participants. With this format, we have experimented in the museum context as well as in self-selected locations. In both cases, the task also involves the occupation of a 'place', through a targeted action on classificatory and spatial relationships. I'm interested in the question: What is a place? Is it a place where one can meet, a free space which one can structure or where one can hang around without consuming? But this is only one aspect.

CK: For me, there must be a commitment - that is important. And commitment comes from ignition through encounter. No moderator can produce this situation. The important observation for us is perhaps that in a nuclear plant, moderation is turned on only after ignition has started, in order to slow down the chain-reaction (to reduce heat, friction and danger.)

JW: The Situationists started from the subjective experience of the individual, from his desires and lusts. This was for them the pivotal point for every political action. This involved also long and endless debates, in which your father, Attila Kotányi, also participated. They made this into a program with the thesis that the dominant discourse of the spectacle had repressed active communication. Words themselves are not 'informative' and definitions are 'always open and never definitive'. The potentialities of language, they argued, lie in poetry. "The recovery of poetry can be the same as the reinvention of revolution.".[10] Was there a cut in the 80s, when moderation became modern? And is this somehow related?

CK: In the 80s, there was an unprecedented offensive of the spectacle: the digitalization of the media was followed by the invention of 'communication highways' around 1985. This made it possible to win the cold war (through star war). I experienced the years after German Reunification as a victorious restoration of the spectacle. We have won! The spectacle, however, consumes its children. The important thing is how a discussion, a conversation, gets going, where and how a moderator is switched in. Ignition becomes explosive when it is 'objective', as in the laboratory. In the Sun, ignition is subjective. There is no moderator. No one knows how that works, but the theory is highly paradoxical. As a definition for 'subjective', we can say 'without moderator'. Not even 'self-moderating' would be correct, because it is subjective and therefore no moderation is needed at all. Drifting within language - like Rap does - is like within the Sun: a ray of light must travel a billion years to reach the surface! A nuclear power plant is a simulation of the Sun, but the Sun doesn't need a moderator. The Sun operates with nuclear fusion, not by nuclear fission. According to this logic, the word 'moderator' came indeed from nuclear technology, as a metaphor, I would say, because the difference is difficult to grasp. Therefore, industrial metaphorics is once again misused here in order to make encounters impossible.

JW: The resource 'subjectivity' is mercilessly exploited by consumerist capitalism. In our context, one should rather speak of nuclear capitalism. This is also where much criticism comes from, because consumerist capitalism draws much of its energy from nuclear power. Nearly all nuclear power plants are still in operation and capitalism is hardly questioned anymore. Resignation? The metaphor 'without moderator' stands for a radical call to actively shape one's self in the face of the controlling subjectivity of a nuclear-consumerist culture. We refuse all forms of historicization, because we think that '68 does not belong to the past - something very different will come, this has no name yet, but the questions are very much the same. '68 was a cultural revolution: what does it mean today to hold to the idea of change? What can replace the idea of utopia? Raise one's voice or drop out? We will see - do it differently than one has imagined and make room for visions, ideas and encounters.

1 After Arthur Rimbaud, "The Drunken Boat" (original: "Le Bateau ivre", 1871) [back]
2 See: Jean-Luc Nancy, The Unrepresentable Society, Stuttgart 1988 [back]
3 See: Marianne Gronemeyer, "Soziale Bewegungen im Dilemma", in Rolf Engelke, Thomas Klein and Michael Wilk (eds.), Soziale Bewegungen im Globalisierten Kapitalismus, Frankfurt am Main 2005, pp. 13-14 [back]
4 Conviviality: Illich criticizes people's growing dependence on the machine, which can lead to a mechanical control over human beings. He advocated self-restraint and to draw boundaries to this end. This is the only way the individual can experience more personal "competence, control and initiative." See: Ivan Illich, Selbstbegrenzung - Tools for Conviviality, Hamburg 1980. [back]
5 I tried this within the framework of the conversations "Capitalism and Regression" (2004/05) in the Roten Salon of the Berliner Volksbühne. [back]
6 "The concept of a nuclear mentality, in this case, means the multiplicity of psychological impulses, which come out of the explorative period of nuclear systems, and which, for the individual, led to a certain conditioning. The psychological effects of these systems on individuals were understood to have been so fundamental, that their effects crossed the boundaries going through society." Cit. from: Markus Hedrich, "Die Ikonographie der Bombe - Nukleare Mentalität und Bombenkult im Amerika der fünfziger Jahre", Dissertation 1998, http://www.grin.com/profile/21399/markus-hedrich (as of: 08.09.2008) [back]
7 Jean Ziegler, Die neuen Herrscher der Welt und ihre globalen Widersacher, Munich 2003, p. 234 [back]
8 See: Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Chicago 1972 [back]
9 See: Grant Kester, Dialogical Aesthetics: A Critical Framework For Littoral Art, http://www.variant.randomstate.org/9texts/KesterSupplement.html (as of: 08.09.2008)[back]
10 Roberto Ohrt (ed.), Der Beginn einer Epoche: Texte der Situationisten, Hamburg 1995, p. 162[back]

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