PRINT April 1993

Auchtung Baby

News from Germany

German TV news and newspapers are still reporting small-scale attacks on foreigners (attacks they now mention almost as an aside), but news of larger brutalities comes more rarely these days. This winter, hundreds of thousands marched through West Germany’s inner cities with candles to demonstrate silently against “xenophobia.” (The more appropriate term “racism” is seldom used.) Without overemphasizing the relationship between the simultaneous appearance of racism on the streets and the infiltration of the cultural mainstream by neoright intellectuals, it is striking that this neoright has taken its tactics—the breaking of old taboos, for example—and even some of its concepts from the left.

Exploding such taboos as the use of concepts like “nation,” “national identity,” “German culture,” and “German tradition,” Germany’s new rightists, both in and out of the mainstream, portray themselves as the true dissidents, the new revolutionaries in the battle over the supposedly left-wing-controlled (by which they often mean Jewish-controlled) cultural hegemony. Some of them clearly know Gramsci, from whom this concept of cultural hegemony derives. And they make no attempt to hide their knowledge, not, at least, in places where they feel comfortable, or in the many small right-wing journals that are springing up—a phenomenon sufficiently noticeable that some of these openly neofascist periodicals are being reviewed and analyzed in liberal and mainstream press outlets such as the influential Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which treats them as little more than a hot new intellectual trend.

More and more former leftists and liberals are participating in this new trend. The nationalistic and anti-Semitic film director Hans Jürgen Syberberg is being invited to lecture by universities and film institutes that allow him to talk about his struggle against the “left-wing Jewish establishment,” to audiences that give him only the mildest rebuttals. And the minister of defense, Volker Ruehe, recommended as Christmas reading a book that pins the decline of the Weimar Republic on the Treaty of Versailles—just as the old German right did. The high point—so far, at least—was reached in early February, when Der Spiegel printed a long essay by the playwright Botho Strauss, who, among other things, described the right-wing position as the true position of the poet.

One should know that the traditionally left-liberal Spiegel, which, as early as the late ’80s, was not exactly innocent in spurring emotions against the “streams” and “waves” of asylum-seekers, holds an unparalleled position in German and indeed European society. This weekly magazine is virtually an official organ, a declaration of the German zeitgeist, a more reliable indicator of a national mood than any other publication in any other country. Early this year, Der Spiegel ran a cover story diagnosing the Western world in general and Germany in particular as morally bankrupt. Sex and violence, especially as conveyed by television, had overwhelmed German culture. Subtext: the depiction of violence (and of sex) is responsible for violence.

Not only did the story ignore the distinction between social violence (the antiimmigrant riots, for example) and personal brutality; it also, with culturally pessimistic brio, threw together everything from Basic Instinct on down in a decline-of-the-West kind of elegy. This wasn’t far from the fight against “excrement art” urged by the underground radical-right magazine Europa und Nation. (Anti-Americanism is also conspicuous in both cases; indeed Europa und Nation makes Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons the arch enemies, and Syberberg the “preserver of the beautiful.”) The role of Der Spiegel is particularly striking in that it was once anticensorship, fighting the banning of Pasolini’s Salo in the ’70s. Oh paradigm change, oh mores.

The German public isn’t prepared for a debate on censorship from the right. It lacks the American history of ten years of controversial art and culture forcing discussion of violence, sex, and the body. There was no Robert Mapplethorpe to innoculate it. Because this debate has been neglected, the discussions we are now having about sex and violence in the media imply a pre–Deleuze-and-Guattari, even a pre-Modern concept of the body as a surface for desecration (from the outside, by foreigners), just as in the Nazi rhetoric of the “body of the people.”

No wonder this Spiegel article mentions “foreign” culture in the context of threats to the German body from violence and sex. Besides the many new private television stations (until the mid ’80s, television in Germany was a government monopoly), journalism’s primary villain is the generation of ’68. The entire mainstream press, from left-wing liberal to right-wing conservative, agrees that the ’60s models of antiauthoritarian education, a libertarian attitude toward sexuality, and the “education to recklessness” have produced not only the right-wing hooligan but the father who abuses his child. Now, conservative sociologists and teachers are countering this malign influence with appeals to concepts like “character-building.” These pleas are going down well with a public that is looking for its “national identity.”

Diedrich Diederichsen is a writer and an editor of SPEX, a German journal of music and culture.
Jutta Koether is an artist and writer who lives in Cologne.