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The public sphere and curiosity

 

The modern public domain has a double face. On the one hand its "outer" aspect, which - except for its quality of propaganda organ for the established order and mediator for bourgeois ideology - is its higher claim to reflect reality on the whole. Its expansionistic dynamics also leads it to "illuminate", that is to re-interpret, transform or even to replace larger and larger parts of reality with its own image of it, and thereby reduce it according to the interests, standards and realities of the establishement. Therefrom its alienating but transcendenting character - the public sphere tends to "surpass" life, to take its place or confiscate it.

The other, "inner" face (undistinguishable from the first) of the public sphere, is its "inner image", the more and more important (and economically favourable) reflection of its own realities, that is, its own self-reflection which is becoming all the more narcissistic and cynically eclecticistic in relation to the disastrous effects the crisis and degeneration of bourgeois civilization inflict all life.

One of the characteristics of the modern public sphere (developped from its muffling of the opposition between the burden of the given and the demands of society, and the real needs and desires of man, and between itself and the real reality) is its self-reproducing - for the citizens more or less sophisticated but anxiety moderating - mendacity and entertaining manipulation of reality and life, its formalization and "aesthetization" of everything it touches, and its use of arbitrarily exchangable-made criterias in the service of the impressionistic, for the moment suiting form. The public sphere builds coulisses between us and life in order to imprison our lives in these, and in this culture plays a central role.

The surplus alienation resulting from this is being mobilized, made to participate, and is thereby being reproduced - in difference with the old bourgeois public sphere and the past so called communist countries - as a normal state in and by the public sphere in a very active though often unconscious way (but also outspoken). The public domain is not only representative institutions and persons, but also a "socialization", a medium, a language in itself with its own, though perverted and poor symbolism and logic, which builds upon and tends to work as subtitutes for the unsatisfaction, the tension and the deep conflicts experienced in our existence, and it stupefies this tension and plays down its frightening consequenses by governing it in formalized, more comfortable values, points of view, behaviours and even body-language. This market-adapted language is omnipotent because it hits all senses and can offer many different, even contradictory answers to the frustrated needs of life, methods by which all originality and - even if relative - freedom are expropriated, or at least neutralized in an eternal reproduction of the established relation structures. In the public sphere the actor and the spectator have become one.

The public domain is moreover defined by the trade of information, or rather achievement maximation of information in the service of the ruling ideology and for the sake of connerce, which by its superfluity and fragmentarism contributes to the permanent raping of the senses and thereby of thought. Also sociality decomes exchange value (and personal interchangeability becomes a virtue); the use values of communication and creativeness are alienated to the profit of the market demands of the public sphere.

The public sphere also expresses and is the utopia of the established camouflaged as reality image in the present time, where different kinds of myths take place which are being confirmed as exceptions which everyone can hope to fill the abysses we carry in ourselves with, which are the hardly distinguishable abysses of alieanation but also of life. These are myths of a new kind because the public sphere is represented by material - confirmed by the senses - "gods" who are also inspiring the illusion that they share the same world as we at the same time as the "eternity" of fame. The function is the same, but the suggestion is probably more intensive even if more temporary, at least the formal variety and speed are greater. This many-sided or fragmentary "utopia" is consisted of different kinds of experiences or states (success, richness, happiness, love etc.) with a consumption character which is always actualized and recurring possibilities for all those who have not been able to reach them. The public domain's utopia is a rat wheel where the top point looks like life, but where the bottom point is death.

As antipole, modern youth rebellion (after its origin as cristallized phenomenon in the US of the 50's) is now integrated in the modern public sphere, and youth thereby tends to disappear as a separate social subject. After an effective disciplination of childhood and a rapid expropriation of pubertal sexuality, the citizens remain in a permanent puberty, or pseudo-puberty, a frozen rebellion parallelly with a frozen sense of responsability, which can very well coexist within the same social group and often in the same individual. Aggressivity and sexuality are being checked down in this form to non-productivity (in the meaning that it makes all production of material and spiritual values to a reproduction of the market itself), to a massage of the blood-circulation system of bourgeois ideology against its collapse from within. The public domain is total de-erotization by pseudo-erotizating everything.

The public domain's acceptance of the unreachable "öffentlichkheit" as the image of "eternal life" generates an implicit acceptance of something that superficially considered looks like death, but which is alienated non-activity, consumption of the permanent distraction of the senses, reproduction of alienated thinking or alienated perception - parallelly with "constructive" expressions of course - a sublimization which does not create but accepts and reproduces. Civilized adultness becomes a mater of clever but spiritually diffuse flexibility in the flow of given impressions and behaviours. An initiation in death, which is the condition and contrast giver of life, would make the forces of life more clear and thereby be a source of knowledge and an erotic well of a gravity that the death-oriented public sphere could not expropriate. The Öffentlichkheit is an opium for the people.

Even the unconscious is getting more and more public. And in the public domain there is above all no night; its stage-lights shine deeper and deeper down, blinding everything that might shine of its own power, fed by overdoses of repressive de-sublimization in its unceasing struggle to fill all silence and over-voice all the anguished, desperate but also enigmatic and marvellous questions of life. The public sphere is supported by and promotes a basically voyeuristic, that is temporarily more or less exciting but frustrated and riskless, in other words a short-circuited and impotent curiosity. In the "worthless" areas, in the abyss and in the night, is the other curiosity which is driven by what the insatiable thirst for reality has always promized. It is here the surrealist presence grows.

The Surrealist Movement's Group in Stockholm:

Aase Berg, Kajsa Bergh, Johannes Bergmark, Carl-Michael Edenborg, Bruno Jacobs, Jonas Lundkvist, Petra Mandal, H. Christian Werner, Tomas Werner.

(Published in MANNEN PÅ GATAN # 1, 1991)

 

 

 

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