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Reading by Geert Lovink, with a live interview by Tilman Baumgärtel (see below)
Tele 5 Schlaufen, Videos by Hans-Christian Dany, Hamburg
WMF, Johannisstr. 19, Berlin-Mitte
Wednesday, 4 March 1998, 8 p.m.
Geert Lovink, media activist, Amsterdam, read from the book Elektronische Einsamkeit. Was kommt, wenn der Spaß aufhört? (Electronic Solitude. What happens when the fun is over?) by Adilkno (Foundation for the Advancement of Illegal Knowledge), which had just been released by the Cologne-based publishing house supposé. The book includes essays such as "The Age of Good Intentions", "Boneware and Body Culture", "Genetic Socialism - A Call for Submission", "The Homeopathy of Evil - The Coming Man Revisited", "Contemporary Nihilism - On Organized Innocence" and "Forms of Decay - Proposals after the Party". After the reading, Geert Lovink was interviewed by Tilman Baumgärtel (see below).
Before, during and after the reading and interview, Hans-Christian Dany of Hamburg, artist and author of, among other titles, UTV, TELE5 and Club Coco, showed videos, the Tele 5 Schlaufen. The lounge closed with trax tv., a sound service with Martin Conrads, Ulrich Gutmair, convex tv. Berlin <http://www.art-bag.net/convextv>. [I.A.]
Interview Geert Lovink / Tilman Baumgärtel
Tilman Baumgärtel: Adilkno (Foundation for the Advancement of Illegal Knowledge) is made up of five people. I'd be interested to know how five people write a book together.
Geert Lovink: We don't, all five of us, sit down at the computer. But two of us do. You cannot be Adilkno alone. Then you're really alone. There are usually at least two of us, and then a third joins in. It's relatively easy. And with two people, it's really fun! You come up with thoughts you never would have had alone. That's the good thing about it. Something strange always pops up that you never would have written alone. And that goes for all the members. It's a new kind of authorship.
Tilman Baumgärtel: That's something I noticed during the reading, that you can easily join this or that section of the text with another, that's there's no direction from A to B, but that you can construct the text in an entirely new way.
Geert Lovink: Part of the reason for that is that we've moved the perspective from these "unidentified theoretical objects" in the Media Archive which had to do with every possible form of imaginary media - sovereign media, vague media, the data dandy, etc. - that is, imaginary constructs - towards a feeling that is a bit darker. We call this delicate, cheerful nihilism. It's a big mix. You could call them aphorisms. With these aphorisms we try to describe the atmosphere at the beginning of and in the mid-nineties. This is what we're interested in. To try, before criticism sets in, to filter certain notions, certain images.
Guest: I don't know you, but I would like to know whether these are your own experiences - this loneliness, for example.
Geert Lovink: Yes [Laughter]. Well, speaking for myself, I am not at home all that often [Laughter]. Actually, it's Lex; he's always at home, and in the last two years he gained more influence. He has been dealing with this very boring, dark side of normal everyday life in Holland. Where everyone says everybody's happy, that there's no country in the world where there are as many happy people as there are in Holland. We find this very sad [Laughter]. But we're not scientists. We don't see this as an object of study. I also have to deal with this, with my mother or sister, or friends, of course.
Tilman Baumgärtel: Is this celebration of failure and breakdown also not a little related to a certain intellectual self-image, that is, of being somewhat outside society, not really able to get in? Is this a reason for accenting deficiencies?
Geert Lovink: No. The percentage of people who have attained financial success really is quite small. Everyone knows that. I think that if you simply go to the outer districts and not concentrate so much on the cities, but rather, the small towns where many of the people live, you can see this yourself. And as a model, the breakdown is built into many appliances and machines. Starting with the rapid wear and tear -- you can see this already on Potsdamer Platz. In twenty years, it will be torn down and something new will be built there. That's the way it's built, and that's the way many things are being produced at the moment. That's not just an emotional situation.
Hans Christian Dany: I was a bit amazed because this whole culturally pessimistic mish-mash, this business of our having lost contact with objects and the loss of everything, including reality, seems a little familiar to me. And I wonder. Everyone listens politely to all that and applauds at the end, and I think that's kind of strange. Now we're hearing a bit of criticism of the built-in wear and tear, but the economic mechanisms fade from view. And we're all so terribly alienated -- so I'm just wondering. [Applause]
Geert Lovink: Part of my work has to do with strategies. I do think that at the moment it's also important to carry on the tradition or the intuitive impulse of negative thinking. The other option would be the one we see primarily in Holland. There everything is measured against a single question: Is there value in it? What comes with it? How much does it cost? How much profit will it deliver? We live under a pretty rigorous framework of positive thinking, of a certain type of pragmatism which is especially strong. Maybe it's a reaction to that. Maybe the mood is somewhat different in Germany. Much darker, of course. [Laughter] But for us, everything's got to be cheerful. Maybe that's where it comes from.
Guest: In what ways are these old structures, that is, the ones you describe as a sort of giving up, being replaced? Loss of communication? Isn't something new replacing it, for example, via the Net and technology? For me, that was missing a bit.
Geert Lovink: Yes, but I also have to add: Adilkno has never really addressed the issue of the Internet [Laughter] -- sure, that's just the way it is -- maybe I have personally, but the group hasn't. We don't communicate via email, either. We write letters, as we always have. So it's simply not a part of our everyday life. For the group. For me, personally, it's different. But as for the group -- we've simply never dealt with it. I do think that it's important to come up with something one way or the other to set against these utopias. Of course you can criticize these cyber-ideologies, and we do that as well, but sometimes I think that that is still a critique of ideology. But there are many people who do not deal with these cyber-ideologies, so they only have a limited effect. But working with computers, networks and media as such -- telecommuting, tele-existence -- that is a widespread phenomenon. But one shouldn't immediately equate that with the Internet. That's more a part of everyday life. And one shouldn't equate working with technology with the Internet. [Laughter]
This cultural pessimism -- we're simply trying to carry forward the sort of negative thinking of critical theory, or to reinterpret it or reinvent it. It's not a matter of criticizing or contributing to political strategies which are still needed as much as they were before. It's simply a small attempt to capture in words things as they truly exist.
Guest: But you surely don't want to get stuck in this phase of becoming conscious of these things.
Geert Lovink: No, of course not. At the moment, we're addressing the issue of tourism. It's an essay we're working on concerning the bright world of IKEA which actually has a pretty terrible interpretation of everyday life inherently built into it. This bright world, this mediocre utopia which is more or less attainable for everyone. You see this especially in eastern Europe. You see what the ideals of the west actually are. We're trying to describe these ideals. Yes, and besides, we're addressing eastern Europe, and recently, Turkey as well. And a bit more.
Tilman Baumgärtel: My impression is that this ideal -- IKEA, the middle class existence -- isn't actually attainable for more and more people, but rather, the opposite.
Geert Lovink: No, that's not what it's about! It's not about saying that the ideals are attainable; it's about saying that that's what people are working for. We're dealing with an unspoken consensus here. For many people, this is something worth striving for. It's not a question of whether or not they achieve it, whether or not they make it. I also think that there's a disintegration going on. It won't be attainable for many people for a while.
Tilman Baumgärtel: One thing I'd still be interested in: I was saying earlier that you're also active as a networker who has brought together various scenes such as east and west. What sort of existence is that, to be a mediator between different scenes, cultures, countries? What's the value in it for yourself?
Geert Lovink: Value? The dark sides... It's a strange sort of nomadic life that isn't particularly worth striving for. I think.
Tilman Baumgärtel: So why do you do it then?
Geert Lovink: First, it has to do with the fact that we can't create an existence in Holland with Adilkno or with the things we're interested in. That's why it's become more and more international. In some places, we've seen that there is an audience for it, here in Berlin, for example, and in eastern Europe. That's when it becomes a bit seductive. When there's only a small circle of you at home dealing with theory, and this group is extremely small, then you go international pretty quickly. That happens on its own. That's the way it happened.
Tilman Baumgärtel: How do you take it physically? Last year I went through a phase in which I went conference hopping for two weeks straight, but you practically do that the whole year round. How do you do it?
Geert Lovink: No, no. That's not the way it is. Yes, sometimes I'm traveling, but the best thing is to stay somewhere for a longer period of time, and I do that, too. I hate staying somewhere for just a few days. Again and again, I end up staying for a few months. That's good. Yes... Sometimes you get sick... What can I say? That's not so good. Then you think things over again. And a few months later, it starts all over again. I try to keep a handle on it.
Tilman Baumgärtel: Another topic. What I've always found interesting about your texts is that you've always had an outside perspective on the German media scene or German media theory scene. You've written quite a bit on these media philosophers of the 80s, Kittler, Bolz, etc. What I find interesting about that is that you've brought this into the context of 1989 and the fall of the Wall. Could you say something about that?
Geert Lovink: I do feel like an outsider. But that isn't so much the case anymore. For the last two or three years I've also written a lot in German, also with Pit Schultz, and that then isn't translated, but then suddenly it'll go very quickly, and it's suddenly very different. I've lived in Berlin twice, in 1983 and in 1990. This outsider's point of view has gradually faded. At the moment, my position is actually quite different. But I think, as I always have, that it's absolutely necessary that more people express themselves in English and try to get theory across. That's simply not done enough. And that's why I've done it, because I've always wondered why people don't do it themselves. But fine, the area in which German is spoken is large enough.
Tilman Baumgärtel: I've heard you say a few times that you'd like to be German? Why?
Geert Lovink: Oh, yes, super. A German citizen. Just because there's this traditional hatred in Holland for the Germans, so you make yourself rather unpopular when you say such things. [General amusement]
Tilman Baumgärtel: Thank you, Geert Lovink.