Saturday, June 03, 2006
This is a follow-up to my first post about Interrogation Machine: Laibach and NSK [amazon] by Alexei Monroe, ed. Slavoz Zizek. I read it because Scott McLemee suggested to me the Laibach/NSK/Zizek connection is enlightening. I think it has proved to be so. Just to get you started, here are the NSK and Laibach wikipedia entries. NSK is the collective. Laibach is the music branch. IRWIN is the visual art branch. Noordung is the theater branch. (But they also made the teddy bear, apparently - see previous post.)
I don’t care for Laibach, although this is funny. The visual stuff I find rather more ... arresting. If you aren’t familiar, go here, and then click through to the various images. (Oh, and they put out stamps.) I think this may be my favorite. Here are a couple links that were working a couple days ago but aren’t today. We’ll see if they straighten up and fly right. The second is the more interesting, since it narrates the scandalous tale of how the NSK design folks managed to fob off a lightly edited former Nazi propaganda poster as some promotional thing for a socialist youth event. Looking at the poster, you think: it looks like a Nazi propaganda poster. As hoaxes go, it seems rather a ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ affair, therefore. If you can make people buy that, they’re basically into Nazi memorabilia. Which is somehow the whole NSK point. Here are a couple links to pieces about IRWIN. I must say. I think I rather like IRWIN. Noordung sounds like a hoot. But there isn’t a lot on the web. Maybe I’ll post more about Noordung later, based on what I got from the book.
Here’s another chunk:
Confronted, in an image such as The Thrower, by a return of the ideologically repressed (the traumatic core of socialist state power), the individual is forced to take a stance in the relation to the image and to the group as a whole, and the polarization produced by the image makes indifference to the image (and to Laibach) unlikely. The contradictions of Laiback texts are designed in, and are pervaded by auto-mythification, tautology, and black irony. The iron certainty of Laibach’s tone sets up the expectation of a coherent, systematic program, yet the opacity of the whole, and the absence of any literl goals, frustrates this. The painfulness of this position for the subject is alluded to in the early work "Apologija Laibach," which includes the line "The explanation is the whip and you bleed."
There are no easy answers, and radical ambiguity is essential to the project; it is vital that doubts should remain about Laibach’s "real" intentions. While Laibach locates power elsewhere, the group has always sought to avoid being located in any space but its own. The shifting paradoxes work against any categorical placement of Laibach because of the resulting difficulty of definitely linking them with other trends or movements. In presenting a total form, Laibach incite and necessitate a plurality of positions and responses which themselves add to the works’ recapitulative quality, even when they are negative. According to Zizek:
The first reaction of the enlightened Leftist critics [in Slovenia] was to conceive of Laibach as the ironic imitation of totalitarian rituals; however, their support of Laibach was always accompanied by an uneasy feeling: "What if they really mean it? What if they truly identify with the totalitarian ritual?" - or, a more cunning version of it, transferring one’s doubt onto the other: "What if Laibach onverestimates their public? What if the public takes seriously what Laibach mockingly imitates so that Laibach actually strengthens what it purports to undermine?"
In fact Zizek sees such doubts as the result of a misreading, as Laiback actually "’frustrates’ the system (the ruling ideology) precisely insofar as it is not its ironic imitation, but over-identification with it - by bringing to light the obscene super-egeo underside of this system, over-identification suspends its efficiency."
I overidentification is to be effective, it has to (appear) total. Overidentification transcends and symbolically reactivates the terror of the social field (as structured by the regimes that shape it). The spectral menace of totality gives the phenomenon sufficient "credibility" to sow doubt and disquiet (as well as fascination. Sufficient "evidence" has to be present to activate social and ideological defense mechanisms. On the track Perspektive, Laibach calmly and dispassionately list the elements of manipulation: Nazi-Kunst, Taylorism, and disco among others. In contrast, when the contemporary far right seeks politiucal (rather than subcultural) power, it attempts to distance itself as far as possible from its totalitarian core, and "soften" its image. Effective overidentification requires that suspicious evidence is not suppressed, but highlighted. Thus, presented with "the eternal question" - "Are you Fascists or not?" - Laibach responded: "Isn’t it evident?"
Laibach statements emphasize the "consumer’s" responsibility to decipher their signals and undertake the potentially painful process of integrating them into some type of interpretative framework. (p. 78-9)
What do people think of this sort of thing? I’m curious. There’s something so inscrutably and essentially former Yugoslavian about the whole NSK ball of wax that I wouldn’t presume to say what’s really going on. Haven’t a clue. But the strategy of ‘overidentification’ is rather an interesting one. I was trying to come up with analogies. We have things like the Colbert Report, which is likewise a matter of more or less permanently inhabiting an absurdly extreme role. But much more obviously complete parody. But it still functions in much the same way. Namely, the rhetorical strategy of making people own their extremism, when they would rather not, can be effective. And some folks just plain don’t get parody, it seems.
But Laibach and NSK seem different, because they are genuinely more ambiguous in their productions. For more or less that reason, I find it rather implausible to suppose they could be brilliantly, functionally subversive in the way Zizek suggests. Any thoughts?
It’s funny. I once off-handedly suggested a visual art project - er, web joke - to a friend. And it turns out she went and did it. Think same. This was years ago, during the whole Apple ‘think different’ campaign. (We were all in the Bay Area, so ‘think different’ was plastered oppressively all over the place. I suggested Microsoft should fight back with ‘think same’. But Eva evidently had the right font for the Apple thing, so she did that instead. But it was just a joke, man. It didn’t mean anything. It’s just supposed to be hard on your eyeballs.)
"Thus, presented with ‘the eternal question’ - ‘Are you Fascists or not?’ - Laibach responded: ‘Isn’t it evident?’”
Yes, it’s evident that they’re not. Fascists actually seek political power. Avant-garde art collectives ... not so much, although they can play with political imagery in order to gain a feeling of being political. What Zizek refers to as overidentification is really a form of political fantasy, after all—the fantasy that by showing up a type of political/social contradiction through art, some sort of meaning can inhere that isn’t gained through ordinary art. There is a fairly exact analogy between this “politics” and the “politics” generally practised by most academic leftists in the humanities. Or perhaps to the folk-psychoanalytic belief that when psychoanalysis causes someone to realize where a problem comes from, that knowledge in itself is in some sense curative.
Hopefully this isn’t too shallow, but they rather sound a lot like Nitzer Ebb to me. Or perhaps it’s Nitzer Ebb that sounds like them.
In either case, whether they’re fascist or not is relevant only if they’re hooked into a group that, as Rich points out above, actively seeks political power. In other words, if they were the rhetoric/propaganda wing of such a group.
Some of the stuff in the Sermon on the Mount works on the principle of overidentification—for instance, “turn the other cheek” is a classic smart-ass move if done properly. The same would be true of the concept of “going the second mile,” which sadly has simply become a way of talking about putting in an extra effort.
Don’t even get me started on the heroic point-missing surrounding the Good Samaritan....