At least somewhat ‘strange’ or: occupying the occupied

At least somewhat ‘strange’ – or at least remarkable: the fact of being occupied by social spaces and occupying social spaces, namely cities.

It is several years ago that I visited Vienna the first time, and I returned a couple of times. The first time was somewhat unpleasant – unpleasant in terms of disliking the place as exhibiting imperial power. Indeed, having known Budapest already, I joined in the popular saying: Budapest is the ‘nicer Vienna’. The nicer Vienna because it was seen as the city where people, real people, would live. One could surely move towards issues like the ‘Hungarian soul’: a bit of permanent resistance and suffering going hand in hand – Leiden, dass dann führt zu Leidenschaft und Leidenschaft, die Leiden schafft.

Vienna … a space that presented itself to me as occupying, remaining unapproachable, remote … . Anyway, what did it matter? It had been another business trip amongst many. Not so on one later occasion. Actually it may be that I went there for business but in the meantime a friend of mine, Viennese whom I knew for many years from Brussels, lived in Vienna again and I remember that I stayed in his apartment. Another district, in short: Working class Vienna. Much could be said … In a nutshell it was the experience that allowed me to occupy space. Sure, local knowledge helped – the ‘local guide’ who showed me also those places next to the ‘imperial exhibits’: the people’s park, one or the other coffeehouse: and as much as Vienna is shaped by the gallant Cafe Centrale, Vienna is characterised by those Kaffeehäuser that are a bit dingy, humming along with the croaking sound of the violin, the waiters apparently competing in ignoring the guests, the Volksbuhne and those spaces that are occupied the peculiar charm of bohemian, intellectual, critical debates …

Anyway, I returned later on different occasions, stayed in different quarters, though mostly in district VII and VIII. The city gained space, I gave it space in my life even if only for the short times of my stays, always remaining visitor even barely coming as tourist – it had been about short business trips to the government, to conferences, or as the last time for teaching … and of course unforgettable: one year the visit with my students and my friend Joe.

The city gained space, I gave it space in my life …. – even visiting the imperial places as the museum of history of arts – a specifically lost ground which, by the way, hosts also a beautiful collection of Pieter Bruegel’s the older works –, the Albertina and its private collection, the state opera, the Burgtheater and yes, the Cafe Centrale, I visited as well the people’s park, the People’s opera, and the several small galleries and theaters, local stages, the Kaffeehäuser and restaurants … Mixing, merging … becoming a place where the different circles of debates, culture, ordinariness are emerging as a new normal, merging as living space, lived space for some time – not necessarily to be agreed with, but to a large part challenging, demanding to be … occupied again and again.


And Budapest? – Yes, it is still, with its own eccentricities, the beloved place, also the place to meet a good friend …, and yes, there is the shadow of de-occupation: the city loosing its very specific charm which I learned to love, I tried to capture a little bit in the Diary from a Journey into another World: Diaries against nationalism, inspired by trying to overcome personal resentments.

Mocking and Roots

Returned from Rome – not only known as Santa Sede, but also known as one of the main “sites of antiquity”, seen as cradle of civilisation. Sure, it may be contested if such a claim is actually legitimate – there had been many antiquities and consequently there are many places that can be equally seen as such main sites. Having been there – this time actually not as long as on other occasions – I had been drawn immediately and tensely into this question. Perhaps it is our new office, if you want you may say the ultimate tension between times: an old building (though not reaching as far back as antiquity, a most elegant interior: with columns, arches and nearly monumental vases and statues, and at the same time accommodating one of the most modern social and economic research institutes. But all this …, does it go hand in hand? Is it compatible at all? On my facebook-site I surely made several disrespectful remarks – and I am not tempted to deny them. And I also made several remarks that simply reflect some general criticism: immeasurable wealth in the face of increasing world-poverty … With all this one should surely not simplify things – even personally I know a reasonable number of people: honestly faithful, honestly working for human rights, for combating poverty, trying to build up a just society. Actually the other day a leading figure of the Italian catholic church plead for a stronger influence of his organisation in politics – let us even assume that  he is a god-willing, honest person. But there we are in the middle of a first fundamentally critical point: This organisation claims not only influencing the state – we surely have to admit that there are several organisations, with different political couleurs, claiming the same. But this organisation, the Holy See as calls itself, calims TO BE the state, at least a state. What we easily overlook begins – symbolically – with the Vatican’s own Euro coins, and being surely expressed by the huge number of embassies. Actually walking through Rome, in most varied places, you find the embassies, the Diplomatic Mission to the Holy See. Btw., I think our Finish embassy has the most stunning location, overlooking Rome … Sure, btw. – but there is another point to it: next to it, there is a wall – narrow, just a small protection for the tourists that are roaming across this space: in memory of Garibaldi. On the wall you can read the Roman constitution – and there is surely a reason to mention and celebrate Garibaldi and the modern constitution in one breath. Literally, standing there, looking across the city, the Holy See is at your back – and you may want to say, it is in a position that is left behind. But you have to say: the church is a kind of backbone of this current system. There is no simple answer – on the cover of a book I bought in the Gallery of Modern Arts (Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna), I read:

Ogni epoca, per trovare identità e forza, ha inventato un’idea diversa di “classico”. Cosí il “classico” riguarda sempre non solo il passato ma il presente e una visiona del futuro. Per dar forma al mondo di domini è necessario ripensare le nostre molteplici radici. (Salvatore Settis: Futuro del “Classico”; Giulio Einaudi editore; 2004 [nuova edizione])

I think it is in some way remarkable that I bought the book in an arts gallery: arts seems to be much better able to reflect its origins without sticking to it like the fly in the trap, sweetened by honey, pleasing like Adonis, in Greek mythology the god of beauty and desire and dazing like opium. If life, real life, would support us in every day to live history in this “dialectical way”: keeping the valuable, but push the overcome part on the rubbish heap of history, mutual respect would surely be easier to reach. But as long as organisations claim to be states … All this has surely another dimension too: if and to the extent to which the church did have a legitimate role society it had been at times that are in social science frequently looked at in terms of cooperative, associational, communal … . There is much transfiguration going hand in hand with this – the golden ages of harmonious communities have never been really prevalent, at least not during those times that we may consider as sufficiently known. Nevertheless, there surely had been times preceding the modern state. and this brings us to a critical point, looking at many of today’s political movements, not least some of those claiming very critical positions against the current mainstream. Again. I do not want to question the credibility of these claims. Nor do I want to claim knowing the answers. To be honest, I am still looking for the exact question. At least I feel uncomfortable, looking at solutions based in values, in good will, in general feelings and partial analysis, not considering the fundamental changes of the productive systems. New quest for salvation: in old religions, revived Evangelism or new claims of excellence are unlikely to help. As said, I had been in the Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna. Entering the exhibition-hall, there is first a fascinating …, installation: The floor of the entire hall is a mirror, a broken mirror. Old statues standing on it … Can we say: Antonio Allegretti’s “Eva dopo il peccato” (1881) in desperation of what she lost? Giacomo Ginotti’s “Euclide” (1883) not understanding that the blueprints he made, didn’t work out? Alfonso Balzico’s “Guiletta” (1884-1886) hesitatingly-amused by looking at what emerged and could have been known by everybody? And the same Balzico’s “La Civetta” (1856-1860) even openly positioning herself beyond these worldly trivialities? Still, for all of them it is still very much a game – a bright light still shining – not victims like those who did the actual work, the ones, for which the hope of the regeneration of the soul, which is supposed to happen every seven years, doesn’t exist. It may be pure incidence that I communicate these days with Rainer about an article he sent in connection with some debate on some writing on religion: Hearing the Voice of God. Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann studies how American evangelicals experience the friend they have in Jesus (article by by Jill Wolfson; July/August 2012). He asked me for my opinion on it:

…. In the meantime I have had a look at the text you sent. It looks as if there is quite a lot in the book in question that is in one or another way complementing the book “Gewinn in alle Ewigkeit” (Fleischmann). The first impression is striking: “Society outside [outside of the life of the sect] doesn’t exist.” And subsequently there is immediately a second point for debate: In which way did “our generations” – at least some of us – supported a development which is actually at least in analytical terms well reflected in Thatcher’s statement that “there is no such thing as society.” It is this question, so difficult to answer and even so difficult to ask: the search for personality as social being, linked to the point that the social is not just subordination and adaption. Looking at it in terms of class analysis: How can we understand Marx’ notion of a “class for itself” as development towards respecting personality, avoiding that everybody has to look individually for meaning in some dialogue: bound to an authority, without necessarily being a religious issue but easily being religious. ….

Is that really so different from how he interprets the text? His thoughts are mainly concerned with the freedom of thought, the freedom from dogmatic incrustation and the nearness to or distance from the state. Yes, indeed, the critic of the history of religion needs surely a new approach. And surely it is about how we produce and reproduce out daily life: the goods we need, the means we use and the way we produce and live together – in a way, distribution is only second stage here. That is part of what real critique of political economy is about.