From Farce to Tragedy

Ruangrupa’s documenta has done German’s culture warriors the favour of becoming the perfect enemy through its mind-boggling, bumbling obliviousness, i.e. its blindness to antisemitic tropes in a mural by the collective Taring Padi. The half-hearted excuses don’t help. This is a betrayal all who have been trying to move the conversation about Germany’s instrumentalized and weaponized Erinnerungskultur forward (or to start such a conversation under near-impossible conditions).

The tragedy here is that the affair plays precisely into a well-established Culture Wars playbook, and it makes it more difficult than ever to get out of a carefully designed and maintained vicious circle. In the process, it obscures a number of simple points that hardly amount to rocket science.

Noch mal zum mitschreiben:

-The antisemitic, fetishistic concretization of capitalism and imperialism in the figure of The Jew is anathema to any and all forms of emancipatory politics and culture.

-Solidarity with Palestinians and the rejection of Israeli settler colonialism must be grounded in a refusal to buy into the equation of Israel with The Jews, and the Israeli state’s self-image as the only legitimate home of Jews.

-Antisemitism can and must be analysed within the overarching framework of modern racial and colonial necropolics without denying its specific history and distinctive features, or its continuing virulence. Context doesn’t erase specificity; it brings it to the fore.

-BDS is not intrinsically antisemitic. There are legitimate reasons for supporting the campaign; reasons that one may find problematic, but that can be debated—or could be debated, if German political demagogy did not make this all but impossible. Then there are other reasons for supporting BDS.

-Specific cases (such as that of the Taring Padi mural) will often be used not to critique those cases, and the patterns and structures they may be part of, but as confirmation that all artists and intellectuals from Muslim countries are representative of some antisemitic Islamist hive mind. This is a transposition of the logic of antisemitic “reason” into the much more salonfähige register of anti-Muslim racism.

So what can we learn from this mess wrapped inside a train wreck wrapped inside an omnishambles?

-If you’re German, try to control your urge to turn intellectuals and artists from the Global South into racist caricatures. Hey, perhaps even question that urge, and your entrenched habits and privilege coated in self-righteousness. And if you’re coming from elsewhere to Germany to participate in an exhibition, be aware of the context, and try to confound the expectations of self-righteous racists.

-You try to shift the terms of debate and develop ways of living and organizing otherwise? You think of your practice as prefiguring postcapitalist forms of life? That’s just grand, but deserting from the Culture Wars requires tactical awareness and skills; otherwise you’re just blindly blundering into a minefield. Be mindful of context and perceptions. An opaque surface can quickly become a projection screen.

-It is up to you to make clear that your Anti-Zionism is not a front for antisemitism. It is up to you to prove that your “anti-antisemitic” critique of artists or intellectuals from the Middle East, Africa or Asia is not neocolonial cultural warfare.

-Don’t be anybody’s useful idiot. Try not to be a useless idiot either.

-Try again; fail better.