Coulter, Gerry: After ‚Disciplined‘ Thought: Baudrillard and Poetic Resolution, 11.03.09

My impulse comes from a radical temperament which has more in common with poetry (Baudrillard, 1993:131).

I. Introduction

During the past twenty-five years concepts such as Truth, Meaning, and the Real (the capital letters represent universality), have been subjected to radical criticisms. Today many students of society are only comfortable with the terms truth, meaning, and the real (lower case) to represent an understanding that all knowledge exist along local and restricted horizons – as partial objects (see, for example, Baudrillard, 1994:108). Goethe understood, two centuries ago, that the self is the only criteria for truth we will ever know. Between Goethe and today stand a phalanx of „disciplined“ knowledge known as the social sciences. Leaders in the various fields who constitute the „police“ of each social science often deploy so called „scholarly journals“ to monitor and regulate discourse in their field. Sometimes, in recent years, a new term „multidisciplinarity“ has not necessarily represented a challenge to the police but merely operated as a kind of academic INTERPOL. We are able today to once again take seriously Goethe’s insight because open-access journals (such as AVINUS Magazine) work to frustrate the academic police while focusing on a very high quality of discourse. Among some of the more liberating aspects of the present is that it is now possible to turn to non-traditional approaches and methods of inquiry such as photography, film, visual culture, art, and poetry as inspirations for social thought. Few have accomplished this in terms of the poetic with the fierce commitment to radicallity than Jean Baudrillard.

In this essay I point to Baudrillard’s effort to seek a poetic, rather than empirical, resolution of the world. Specifically, I argue that such an approach opens new ways of non-disciplined thinking which are more indebted to art, literature, and poetry than to any traditional school or methodology. From Baudrillard I have learned that what is at stake is the future of radical thought as it exists beyond all politics. To enter into the poetic is to leave the world of politics behind. It is a world of theory where the very act of writing itself is a form of politics. It is not necessary that the reader of this paper has read Baudrillard although it may stimulate a greater interest in doing so. I offer my Baudrillard-inspired assessment of the place of the poetic in inquiry today to those who accept that we do indeed have much to learn from photographers, poets, and artists of all kinds.

II. Poetry As A Way Out of Voluntary Servitude

Theory is a core issue for thoughtful inquiry today. For Baudrillard „theory could even be poetry“ (1990:24). I have never known anyone who needed the poetic to live and write as much as he did. Baudrillard’s world was our world – one that frequently drifts into delirium. In a delirious world one strategy is to adopt a delirious point of view – one without homage to any principle of Truth or causality (2000:68). Baudrillard was very clear about not being a poet but he understood that poems, parables, stories, and fables (fiction) are as „real“ as anything else in this world. It was his deep respect and appreciation for these forms which allowed him to grant a poetic singularity to events and to subject them to powerful challenges which often ended in radical uncertainty (Ibid.).

Often a fable can be used to illustrate a point. I wonder if Baudrillard ever did so more poetically than in his use of „Death in Samarkand“ to illustrate the distractions that can be caused by even a single sign:

Consider the story of the soldier who meets Death at a crossing of the marketplace, and he believes he saw him make a menacing gesture in his direction. He rushes to the king’s palace and asks the king for his best horse in order that he might flee during the night far from Death, as far as Samarkand. Upon which the king summons Death to the palace and reproaches him for having frightened one of his best servants. ‚I didn’t mean to frighten him. It was just that I was surprised to see this soldier here, when we had a rendez-vous tomorrow in Samarkand‘ (1990d:72).

That one (or an entire society) can run towards one’s fate by attempting to avoid it is the kind of poetic irony that informs this kind of thinking. In Baudrillard we find references to Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees in at least nine of his books (1983; 1990c; 1993b; 1993c; 1995; 1998; 2001b; 2001c; 2005b). This fable is brought forward into our own time [Mandeville wrote it in the early 18th century] as a poetic way of understanding that corruption is vital to a society’s success – „the splendor of a society depends on its vices“ (1993b:102). This fable goes some distance in explaining America today. Baudrillard also draws on the fable of The Sorcerers Apprentice (1997b:24); Guido Ceronetti’s Incest Fable (1993b and 2001:93); and several fables from Borges: The Mirror People (1996:148); The Lottery in Babylon (1990d:150; 1996:91; 2001:93); and The Map and the Territory (1994:1; 1996:47; 2000:63). Such fables become poetic mirrors for Baudrillard about his own time. In the case of Borges‘ The Map and the Territory he says we need to turn this fable upside down:

We live as if inside Borges’s fable of the map and the territory; in this story nothing is left but pieces of the map scattered throughout the empty space of the territory. …Today there is nothing left but a map (the virtual abstraction of the territory), and on this map some fragments of the real are still floating and drifting (2000:63).

Also, at several junctures, Baudrillard cites Arthur C. Clarke’s parable The Nine Billion Names of God (1990c; 1993c; 1996; 1996b; and 1997b) to refer to our current circumstance. In it a community of Tibetan monks have been listing the many names of God for centuries. Growing tired they call in experts from IBM and the computers finish the job in a month. What the technicians did not know was the prophecy that once the nine billion names of God had been recorded the world would end. As they come down from the mountain the stars in the sky begin to disappear one by one (see Baudrillard, 2000:42). Fables such as this poetically point to the risks presented by techno-science.

Fiction (especially novels) also plays an enormous role in Baudrillard’s poetic thinking. He writes of the fiction of Western values with a poetic twist – arguing that it is not the presence of Western values that people outside of the West detest – as much as the West’s absence of values (2002b:65). Even the superpower America is reduced to a powerful fiction (1988:95, 1993:132) and he is never more poetic than in his assessment of Disneyland as a „deterrence machine for the rejuvenation of the fiction of reality“ (1994:13) because Disneyland exists to hide that all of „real“ America is Disneyland (Ibid.:12). America is his fiction about a powerful fiction – the land of „just as it is“ (1988:28) and „the last remaining primitive society“ – „the primitive society of the future“ (1988:7). Many Americans, especially the men of the Right, hated Baudrillard’s poetic and fictive America. It is interesting how they soon gave the world George W. Bush and a kind of „Baud-reality“ settled over international events. It is important also to remember that Baudrillard was not a proponent of such events, rather, he found them intolerable (1987b:107).

Baudrillard’s poetic sensibility led him to challenge us to probe the course of events and their possible meanings in non-traditional ways. This meant that an event like that which took place in New York on September 11, 2001 can be understood as peculiarly affirming of his poetic writing of the world [he posited, as an explanation of why the towers toppled, the suggestion that the twin towers may have committed suicide in response to the attacks of the suicide planes (2003:43)]. This is difficult poetry for many to accept but we should remember that its author was convinced that he lived in a time when „everything in the moral, political and philosophical spheres is heading towards the lowest common denominator“ (1998b:103). Perhaps the resonance of consternation his thought evoked was just loud enough to penetrate the nearly deafening cacophony of banal [mediated] explanations of the event.

Baudrillard’s poetic ear could discern the sounds of the „background noise of the universe“ (1996:2) and the „silent laugher of flowers, grass, plants and forest“ (2002:1). These sounds have been heard by almost no other students of society since the inception of modernity yet novelists, artists, and poets hear them everyday. Baudrillard’s writing demands of us a poetic sensibility and as this sensibility has been systematically denied by almost every stage of our education.

For the education systems of modernity it is difficult to imagine a more striking case of system failure than Baudrillard. His writings represent a system’s failure to integrate him despite the ruthless, comprehensive and compulsory regimes of education and socialization he, like each of us, face. Baudrillard is also an example of the kind of thinker who understands the irony of community and that the biggest battle any of us face, in being ourselves, is against any collective to which we belong. As a theorist he is closer to playwrights like Samuel Beckett or Harold Pinter who understand that each person is fundamentally at odds with the universe. This perspective, which is at the core of his poetic way of seeing, imbued Baudrillard with a profound suspicion of the real. In a time in which Truth „no longer affords a solution“… „perhaps“, says Baudrillard, „we can aim at a poetic resolution of the world“ (2000:68).

Poetic resolution can be a strategy of resistance to systematization while leaving open the possibility of radical thought. Radical thought is best practiced as a form of academic agnosticism – the notion that it is better to have things in which not to believe, than to believe. This includes raising questions concerning, for example, what kind of future people desire when they say they wish to end terrorism. To them Baudrillard asks „what kind of state would be capable of dissuading and annihilating all terrorism in the bud…? It would have to arm itself with such terrorism and generalize terror on every level“ (1990c:22).

This kind of assertion is very close to what we often refer to as poetic justice – the reversible. It forces us to look beyond current fears to the implications of our thoughts and actions. In a world which so often disappoints the young, a poetic approach is a far more generous gift to lay at their feet than is an empirical methodology. This is also one reason why so many traditional „social scientists“ loathe Baudrillard and seek to protect their students from him.

To adopt a poetic view of the world one must renounce empiricism. A poetic approach is much closer to metaphysics than it is to pragmatic epistemologies. In our time of the proliferation of everything, how many sense, as does Baudrillard, the poetic notion that „power emerges from absence“? (1997:9)

Baudrillard’s writing takes on the poetic quality of „slimming things down and reducing stocks“ – „to escape fullness you have to create voids between spaces so that there can be collisions and short-circuits“ (1993:38). He understood that poetry exists today everywhere but in poetry. The challenge is to find poetic power – the poetic function in its primal state“ (Ibid.) elsewhere – such as in theoretical writing or in the arts, which have, arguably, had a greater influence on theory in recent years than have the empirical sciences (see Coulter, 2008). If writing is to aim at a total resolution of the world then why should this not be a poetic resolution? (1996:100) It is for this reason that the kinds of writing which are obsessed with meaning (ideological and moral), are so unconcerned with the act of writing which, for Baudrillard, involves „the poetic, ironic, allusive force of language, …the juggling with meaning“ (Ibid.:103). Baudrillard believes that art [and for him theory is an art form] ought to be concerned with illusion – otherwise all it does is mirror the world around it and therefore serves no purpose. As an art, writing is concerned with the „poetic transfiguration of the world“ (1997:140). This could be very playful as in his poetic „fate-based unrealist analysis“ of the death of Diana:

On the one hand, if we assess all that would have had not to have happened for the event not to take place, then quite clearly it could not but occur. There would have to have been no Pont de l’Alma, and hence no Battle of the Alma. There would have had to have been no Mercedes, and hence no German car company whose founder had a daughter called Mercedes. No Dodi and no Ritz, nor all the wealth of the Arab princes and the historical rivalry with the British. The British Empire itself would have had to have been wiped from history. So everything combines, a contrario and in absentia, to demonstrate the urgent necessity of this death. The event therefore, is itself unreal, since it is made up of all that should not have taken place for it not to occur. And, as a result, thanks to all those negative probabilities, it produces and incalculable effect. (Baudrillard, 2001:136-37).

This passage demonstrates Baudrillard’s more mischievous understanding of his art – the art of writing (which is at the core of the art of theory), to „confront objects with the absurdity of their function, in a poetic unreality“ (1997b:13). Here the myth of linearity is exposed by its inversion. This includes a certain poetic confrontation with the art of writing theory itself as in this exquisite passage on human experience:

Everyday experience falls like snow. Immaterial, crystalline and microscopic, it enshrouds all the features of the landscape. It absorbs sounds, the resonance of thoughts and events; the wind sweeps across it sometimes with unexpected violence and it gives off an inner light, a malign fluorescence which bathes all forms in crepuscular indistinctness. Watching time snow down, ideas snow down, watching the silence of some aurora borealis light up, giving in to the vertigo of enshrouding and whiteness (1990:59).

Or this poetic passage written on the journey home in his America:

At 30,000 feet and 600 miles per hour, I have beneath me the ice-flows of Greenland, the Indes Galantes in my earphones, Catherine Deneuve on the screen, and an old man asleep on my lap. ‚Yes, I feel all the violence of love…‘ sings the sublime voice, from one time zone to the next. The people in the plane are asleep. Speed knows nothing of the violence of love. Between one night and the next, the one we came from and the one we shall land in, there will have been only four hours of daylight. But the sublime voice, the voice of insomnia travels even more quickly. It moves through the freezing, trans-oceanic atmosphere, runs along the long lashes of the actress, along the horizon, violet where the sun is rising, as we fly along in our warm coffin of a jet, and finally fades away somewhere off the coast of Iceland (1988:24).

A key aspect of the enigmatic quality of Baudrillard’s writing then is to be found in its poetic nature – he was a theorist who does not sacrifice the art of writing to the concepts he wrote about – if he did he would have produced merely sociology and therein reduced poetic enigmas to meaning. Poetry is a synonym for fiction and the fabulous. „Theory is“, after all, „never so fine as when it takes the form of a fiction or a fable“ (2006:11). The closing down of systemic Meaning opens new poetic ones (2005:71). The expression of the poetic depends on language and the role of language (recalling Lacan) „is to stand in for meaning“ which is eternally absent (1990b:6).

Baudrillard poetically wondered if we really want to have to choose between meaning and non-meaning today. He argued that we do not want this choice because while meaning’s absence is intolerable „it would be just as intolerable to see the world assume a definitive meaning“ (2001:128). This would be the end of thought, poetry and writing – a world where we could look up solutions in a book (a Bible, a Koran, etc.,) or a computer model. The computer model is the goal of every techno-science of our time which will ultimately challenge the human to the core:

If we discover that not everything can be cloned, simulated, programmed, genetically and neurologically managed, then whatever survives could be truly called „human“: some inalienable and indestructible human quality could finally be identified. Of course, there is always the risk, in this experimental adventure, that nothing will pass the test – that the human will be permanently eradicated (2000:15-16).

If Baudrillard preferred fiction to science it may well have been because fiction holds a greater power in the mind of one who’s hopes are fatal. „Night does not fall, objects secrete it at the end of day when, in their tiredness, they exile themselves into their silence“ (1990b:149).

One of the challenges faced by those inclined toward poetic resolution is to allow the poetic aspect of things to flow through him or her, just as it is the task of the painter to find the poetic light given off by objects from within (no such light is scientifically or empirically possible but all good painters and poets know it is there). For Baudrillard, the poetic sensibility also defines itself in an awareness of contradiction and reversibility – „when things contradict their very reality – this too is poetic“ (1996:59). The poetic is central to that which remains fundamentally radical in Baudrillard. Radical thought for him is a form of constant challenge – even to one’s most cherished ideas and sources. It is why he could never subject his writing to the limits of a politics.

The poetic (poems, fables, fiction, stories, parables) is for Baudrillard part of his deep appreciation of ambivalence and ambiguity (1993c:215) and is important to how he copes with the extermination of value (Ibid.:198). We do not discover anything in poetic enjoyment and this is a vital part of what makes the poetic a radical experience (Ibid.:208). The poetic involves an „insurrection of a language against its own laws“ (Ibid.:198) and it allows us to resist the „repressive interiorized space of language“ (Ibid.:234), providing the basis for the „mutual volitization of the status of the thing and discourse“ (Ibid.:235). He finds no room for poetry in psychoanalysis, in ideology, nor in morality – these are „brute forms of writing burdened with the concept“ (Ibid.:223). Poetry then is the place of the „redistribution of symbolic exchange in the very heart of words“ (Ibid.:205) and the „site of the extermination of value and the law“ (Ibid.:195).

His poetic approach allowed Baudrillard (who studied under Henri Lefebvre and Roland Barthes), eventually taking his degree and teaching sociology, to avoid the voluntary servitude that so many subject themselves to in the many non-poetic approaches to inquiry (empirical, politically motivated, techno-scientific and so on). As such he is a very important case in the development of an alternative approach to inquiry – one in which creativity and writing were powerful and central. Baudrillard’s effort to resolve the world poetically is not for everyone. For those who feel its seduction it is important to press on to assess the implications of this thought aimed at a poetic resolution of the world. Others may consider leaving this paper at this point for an immediate return to politics and/or traditional academe.

III. Hope In System Failure

From the passages cited above we see that Baudrillard managed to bring the explosive power of language to poetic resolution. To the end he remained suspicious of all efforts to perfect the world as he did efforts to explain it with certainty. On poetry he said: „the words refer to each other, creating a pure event, in the meantime they have captured a fragment of the world, even if they have no identifiable referent from which a practical instruction can be drawn“ (2005b:73). This is not a kind of thinking that is in the business of making the world more certain or more knowable:

Here, however, lies the task of philosophical thought: to go to the limit of hypotheses and processes, even if they are catastrophic. The only justification for thinking and writing is that it accelerates these terminal processes. Here, beyond the discourse of truth, resides the poetic and enigmatic value of thinking. For, facing a world that is unintelligible and enigmatic, our task is clear: we must make that world even more unintelligible, even more enigmatic (2000:83).

Baudrillard was somewhat melancholic but he was no Romantic. He spent a good deal of his time writing his frustrations with his times. He was intensely frustrated by what we gave up in „cancelling our metaphysical contract and making another more perilous one with things“ (2001b:36; see also 1983b:149). His poetic strategy against consumerism, militarism, globalism, and nationalism, was to have things in which not to believe as opposed to things in which to believe. Surrounded as we are today by fundamentalists such as George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden this is not a bad strategy. For Baudrillard (and this is also part of his early departure from Marxism), the death of god is the end of transcendence.

The end of transcendence and responsibility to another world beyond our own meant that transcendence became secular and the effort to make the world transparent and operational replaced it. For Baudrillard, the death of god is the root of modernities turn to techno-perfection as against earlier forms of spiritual perfection. In modernity the understanding of good and evil become split – and our efforts go into making the world better only to see it go from bad to worse (2004:105). Irony comes to the fore in modernity and thoughtful inquiry, when it turns to empiricism, loses sight of irony investing itself in system support. The attempt to perfect this world [through techno-science] will almost certainly lead to systemic collapse – Baudrillard’s fatal hope – and his fatal optimism in reversibility.

Baudrillard was disappointed but no thinker who writes does so without hope. What we get from Baudrillard is a fatal hope – an optimism about the reversibility of systems. Following the current period of the proliferation of information, security, and technology (the era of the perfect crime), Baudrillard hopes for a collapse. Baudrillard, living in extreme times, takes the problematic to a radical conclusion as we no longer have the same kind of hope in a distant future that someone living before the contemporary could more easily hold. Such is the uncertainty of our times which are invested in Baudrillard’s fatal hope of systemic collapse. For him the alternative to collapse was much worse – that the system would succeed resulting in a genuinely brave new world glittering with advanced technologies. In such a world we would live out our lives in total security where computers would generate the models of lives which would become as predictable as the weather. This would be a world in which evil, all negative events, disease, and uncertainty are removed. But this too will be a world of [distilled and slow] death for an adaptive and thoughtful species. Against such a world Baudrillard saw the poetic possibility of collapse. Thought (and writing), in this view, seeks poetic resolution to an unsatisfactory, uncertain, and ultimately (he hoped) unknowable world. The poetic function of thought and writing then is based on the belief that empiricism and the techno-rational societies it contributes to, would fail. Of course this failure can only be viewed as poetic from a Baudrillardian point of view as his was the poetics of reversion.

IV. Radical Optimism

…why not take the view that the fundamental rule is that of evil, and that any happy event throws itself into question? Is it not true optimism to consider the world a fundamentally negative event, with many happy exceptions? By contrast, does not true pessimism consist in viewing the world as fundamentally good, leaving the slightest accident, to make us despair of that vision? Such is the rule of a radical optimism, we must take evil as the basic rule, (Baudrillard, 1997:138).

Herodotus was the first we know to have considered reversibility seriously in his memory of those who were „great long ago“ but who have now „become small“ (Herodotus, 1998: Book I, v). We have called this aspect of human passage many things. Some call it poetic justice (such as the fall of great empires into small satellites of new empires); others have referred to it as the turning of the wheel of fortune. „Human happiness never remains long in the same place“ (Ibid.) For Baudrillard it is part of the most poetic thing we know – that which comes as close to justice as anything we ever experience as humans: reversibility – the poetic reversibility of one thing into another (1993c:220).

For Baudrillard reversibility is the fundamental rule (2005:41) but this does not imply a determinism in his thought – indeed, reversibility is an absolute weapon against determinism (1990c:82). Baudrillard notes that the reversibility of things, which is an ironic form today, does not entail a romantic viewpoint. Rather, it means that, for us: „a strange game is being played“ and we do not know all the rules of this game – in our time, indifference has become a strategic terrain (1993:175).

The poetic provided Baudrillard with the germ of an idea that might be his single greatest thought: reversibility. It is central to what Baudrillard calls „objective irony“ – the „strong probability, verging on a certainty, that systems will be undone by their own systematicity“ (2000:78; see also Coulter, 2004). For Baudrillard this applies to both technical and human systems (political, social, economic). The more a system advances toward its perfection, the more it is prone to deconstruct itself (Ibid.).

One of Baudrillard’s more poetic examples of this, for technical systems, is the computer virus: „the tiniest one is enough to wreck the credibility of computer systems, which is not without its funny side“ (2002b:6). This is extended by Baudrillard into his understanding of globalization and the New World Order as reversible: „the more the hegemony of the global consensus is reinforced, the greater the risk, or chances it will collapse“ (1995:86). That for Baudrillard would be the most poetic resolution of all: „all the philosophies of modernity will appear naïve when compared with the natural reversibility of the world“ (1996:10).

V. Conclusion

Philosophy would like to transform the enigma of the world into a philosophical question, but the enigma leaves no room for any question… the enigma of the world remains total (1996b:20).

The poetic plays a significant part in Baudrillard’s strategy to bring resolution, through thought and writing, to the unsatisfactory times in which he finds himself. Along with fables, countless literary and artistic references, poetry is Baudrillard’s great inspiration in his struggle against the forces of integral reality (2004:5). In his writing Baudrillard felt a radical opposition between a poetic, singular configuration, linked to the metamorphosis of forms, as against the kind of virtual reality that is prevalent today. In a poetic approach it is the forms which become – language as the passage of forms – a kind of inhabited void (2004:84). Poetic resolution – and nothing is more poetic for Baudrillard than reversibility – was a way out of the restrictions of the social sciences and political commitments to „improving“ our world until it was a technoscientific nightmare.

As we seek new approaches to inquiry we would do well to remember that we do not necessarily have to seek Meaning or Truth – but a more poetic way of living, writing and thinking. Beyond discourses of Truth, Baudrillard found his own way to make the world, which came to him as enigmatic and unintelligible – a little more enigmatic, a little more unintelligible. What he left to us was a gift far more precious than Truth – he pointed to its absence and in doing so he took us beyond the limits of established forms of inquiry. If he reminds us of Goethe it is because his approach valued Goethe’s insight. From Baudrillard we learn the poetry of accepting a world that is given to us as enigmatic and unintelligible and to push it to poetic, not empirical, resolution. If we are to avoid both of the twin nightmares of total systemic collapse and total systemic success new forms of inquiry have a lot at stake in poetic resolution of the kind Baudrillard practiced.

Baudrillard understood the power of language as few have. Writing for him was a precious „singularity“, „a resistance to real time“, „something that does not conform“, „an act of resistance“, the „invention of an antagonistic world“ rather than a „defence of a world that might have existed“ (1998b:32 ff.). Writing could never be sacrificed to politics and intellectuals should speak for themselves – not for others as it always leads to condescension (1993:79). He understood from the lived experience of his poetic perspective that theory (as poetry, fiction and fable) precedes the world. „Things appear to us only through the meaning we have given them“ (2004:91). For Baudrillard this meant seeking a poetic resolution of the world through challenge with an eye on system reversion. It kept his wisdom and writing joyful to the end despite everything. It also helped him to attain escape velocity from his contemporaries (especially Foucault) and propelled him beyond politics to a more joyous way of seeing. I offer it as one way of approaching Avinus Magazine as it takes its place on the world stage of ideas and discourse. It is the kind of thinking and writing (radical thought) that does not conform to the kind of inquiry which merely contributes to the building of an uninhabitable world. Baudrillard pointed to a poetic approach which may contribute to vastly different ways of seeing and knowing so long as we remember that truth and meaning exist only partially, along our local and restricted horizon. This is the kind of „undisciplined“ thought in which the likes of Goethe was able to participate. It is the basis of a respectful and challenging approach to the multi-vocality of human discourse and inquiry. For the first time in two centuries, the established academic police actually do have something to fear. One of the ways in which Avinus may thrive is in making their job all the more difficult.

Gerry Coulter’s essay „Jean Baudrillard and the Definitive Ambivalence of Gaming“ appeared in the SAGE journal Games and Culture (Volume 2, Number 4, December, 2007:358-365). His recent article: „Baudrillard and Hölderlin and Poetic Resolution“, in Nebula, Volume 5, Number 4, December 2008; An essay „A Way of Proceeding: Joseph Beuys, the Epistemological Break, and Radical Thought Today“ appears in Kritikos: A Journal of Postmodern Cultural Sound, Text, and Image (May – June, 2008):; and his quarterly column for Euro Art (On-line) Magazine: „Kees van Dongen and the Power of Seduction“ (Spring 2008) is available at: Dr. Coulter’s teaching has been recognized on numerous occasions most recently by Bishop’s University’s highest award for teaching – the William and Nancy Turner Prize.


Poesie gegen die Kultur des Todes. Fernando Rendón im Interview mit Camilo Jiménez, anlässlich der Verleihung des Alternativen Nobelpreises 2006, 08.12.06

Eine gekürzte Version dieses Interviews erschien am 6. Dezember 2006 in der kolumbianischen Tageszeitung El País (
Das Interview wurde von Britta Astrid Verlinden übersetzt.

Das Internationale Festival der Poesie in Medellín (FIPM), Kolumbien, ist das größte und eins der renommiertesten Poesiefestivals der Welt. Als es 1991 vom Dichter Fernando Rendón gegründet wurde, war die weltberühmte Mafiastadt Medellín eine der gefährlichsten und gewalttätigsten Städte der Welt. Ein blutiger Krieg zwischen den von Drogenkartellen geforderten Paramilitärorganisationen und dem kolumbianischen Staat herrschte damals im Lande, und im Mittelpunkt der Kämpfe stand mit rund 60 Toten pro Tag Medellín als „Welthauptstadt der Gewalt“.

Es war in diesen Gewaltjahren, dass ca. 4000 Mitglieder der linksliberalen Unión Patriótica (UP, Patriotische Union) sowie schätzungsweise 2500 Gewerkschafter systematisch eliminiert wurden. Mitte der 80er Jahre hatte der kolumbianische Präsident Belisario Betancurt einen enormen Erfolg, als 1984 der Waffenstillstand von den Guerrillaorganisationen im Land unterzeichnet wurde. Die Friedenspolitik des Präsidenten stieß jedoch auf allen Seiten auf erbitterten Widerstand, wurde von Paramilitärs, Militärs und Politikern behindert und führte dann zu einer weiteren Eskalation des bewaffneten Konfliktes.

Die Krise erreichte ihren Höhepunkt, als 1985 die Guerillagruppe M-19 den Justizpalast in Bogotá besetzte. Die darauf folgende blutige Erstürmung der Militärs hinterließ hunderte von Toten, den niedergebrannten Palast und eine äußerst kritische politische Lage, in der die Bevölkerung Kolumbiens Opfer von Angst und Gewalt wurde. 4 Jahre folgten, in denen jedwede Friedensbemühung im Land scheiterte. Es waren aber 4 Jahre, in denen die Regierungskritiker, die sich noch nicht den Guerillaorganisationen im Urwald anschließen und zu den Waffen greifen wollten, hatten zunächst immer noch die Patriotische Union als einzige politische Bühne der Opposition. Die 1989 durchgeführten Massaker an den Mitgliedern der linken Patriotischen Union verstärkte jedoch das allgemeine Klima des Misstrauens und vertiefte den gewalttätigen Konflikt in Kolumbien in einem bis dahin nicht gekannten Maß.

Es war in dieser Zeit, dass die Dichter Fernando Rendón und Ángela García die Idee hatten, ein Poesiefestival zu gründen, das in Medellín stattfinden und die Dichtung als „Waffe gegen den Terror“ verwenden sollte. 13 Mitglieder des renommierten Literatur Magazins Prometo, dessen Herausgeber Rendón und García waren, sammelten ihre Kräfte zusammen und veranstalteten 1991 das Poesiefestival. Das FIPM gilt bis heute als Protestakt gegen die politische Gewalt in Kolumbien. Die Verwendung der Dichtung als Waffe gegen den Terror ist bis heute die Grundidee des Festivals geblieben.

Über achtzig Dichter aus 55 Ländern nehmen jährlich am Festival teil, dessen 17. Ausgabe im Juli 2007 mit der Teilnahme von namhaften Belletristen wie Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Breyten Breytenbach und Elke Erbe stattfindet. Das Festival ist das größte Poesiefestival der Welt und ein außerordentliches Ereignis: Auf den gefährlichen Straßen Medellíns, in Parks, Wohnvierteln, Theatern, Universitäten, Schulen und Bibliotheken tragen die Dichter während 10 Tagen ihre Werke in mehr als 60 Sprachen und Dialekten vor. Rund 200 000 Besucher in 33 kolumbianischen Städten und Dörfern hören die rund 900 öffentlichen Lesungen.


Der Alternative Nobelpreis

„Das FIPM hat bewiesen, dass die Kreativität, die Schönheit, die freie Meinung und die Gesellschaft gegenüber einer Lage der tief greifenden Angst und Gewalt zusammen gedeihen und diese Lage überwinden können“, so die Erklärung der Stiftung Right Lifelihood Award, die Fernando Rendón und den Organisatoren des FIPM den Alternativen Nobelpreis 2006 am 8. Dezember verlieh. Der 1980 gestiftete Alternative Nobelpreis (der nur in Deutschland als solchen gekannt und offiziell Right Lifelihood Award genannt wird) wird jährlich an 3 oder 4 Preisträger verliehen. Sie wurde von einer Gruppe Intellektueller und Politiker in Schweden gegründet, als der Vorstand der Nobelstiftung den Vorschlag des ehemaligen Mitglieds des Europäischen Parlaments Jakob Uexküll ablehnte, einen Nobelpreis für Ökologie und Entwicklung zu vergeben. Daher ehrt der Alternative Nobelpreis Menschen oder Organisationen, die „Lösungen zu den dringendsten Problemen unserer Zeit finden und umsetzen.“ Aus diesem Grund ist der Preis nicht in strengen Kategorien geordnet. Seit 20 Jahren bekommen den Alternativen Nobelpreis Umweltschützer, Friedensaktivisten, Menschenrechtskämpfer sowie prominente Menschen aus den Bereichen Entwicklung, Kultur, Verbraucherschutz, Bildung, Gesundheit, Energie und Ressourcenschonung.

Ende November 2006 befand sich Fernando Rendón, Direktor des FIPM, auf seinem Weg nach Stockholm, wo er den Alternativen Nobelpreis bekam, in Berlin. Im Gespräch mit dem AVINUS Magazin spricht Rendón über die Schwierigkeiten, heutzutage das Festival in Kolumbien zu veranstalten, und über die Kultur des Todes in Kolumbien.

Wie haben Sie nach 14 Jahren des unerbittlichen Kampfes für das Überleben des Internationalen Festivals der Poesie in Medellín (FIPM) die Ankündigung aufgenommen, dass Ihnen der Alternative Nobelpreis verliehen wird?

Wir erhalten diese Auszeichnung als Anerkennung der weltweiten Einzigartigkeit des FIPM. Wir waren mit einer krassen Situation des Terrors und der Gewalt konfrontiert und haben teilweise zu ihrer Überwindung beigetragen. Ich sage teilweise, weil die paramilitärischen Gruppen Kolumbiens weiterhin viele Zonen Medellíns beherrschen. In der Begründung des Alternativen Nobelpreiskomitees heißt es, „die Verleihung dieses Preises ehrt den Mut und die Hoffnung in Momenten der Verzweiflung.“ Ich sehe das genauso und freue mich sehr, dass unsere jahrelangen Bemühungen nun belohnt werden. Wir möchten diesen Preis den jungen Menschen in Kolumbien widmen, da sie die eigentlichen Kämpfer für den Frieden sind.

Und was wird aus den 200 000 Euro, mit denen der Preis dotiert ist?

Wir befinden uns seit vielen Jahren in einer defizitären Situation. Vor kurzer Zeit verlangte der kolumbianische Staat eine Steuernachzahlung in Höhe von ca. 30 000 Euro von uns. Wir haben also Verwendung für einen guten Teil des Preisgeldes. Darüber hinaus wollen wir auch das Festival finanziell stärken, denn dies ist der einzige Weg, uns Kredite zu verschaffen und unser Poesie-Projekt auch in schwierigeren Zeiten erhalten zu können.

Das FIPM ist das größte Poesiefestival der Welt. Wie kam es zu seiner Gründung und wie erreichte es solche Anerkennung?

Ich war immer der Meinung, dass die Poesie ein außergewöhnliches Gut ist, zu dem jeder Mensch Zugang haben sollte. In Zeiten, in denen das kollektive Leben eine sekundäre Rolle in der Gesellschaft spielt, bleiben den meisten Menschen ihre Gemeingüter verwehrt. Ich wollte nicht, dass dasselbe für das Gemeingut Poesie passiert. Poesie ist in meinen Augen ein Erbe der Menschheit. Und 1991, nach dem Genozid der Unión Patriótica in Kolumbien und mitten im Krieg zwischen dem Medellínkartell und dem kolumbianischen Staat, also in einer Epoche, in der die Bürger Medellíns den Terror dieses Krieges am eigenen Leib erfahren mussten, entschied ich mich, diesem Terror die Poesie entgegenzusetzen. Meine Absicht war es, ein Projekt aufzubauen, mit dem ich die Poesie nach und nach in alle Bereiche der Gesellschaft einführen könnte – und zwar für den Frieden.

Um sich am Leben zu halten, musste das FIPM seit seiner Entstehung große Hindernisse überwinden, die oft sogar von staatlichen kolumbianischen Institutionen ausgingen. Inwiefern wird sich diese Situation nach der Verleihung des Alternativen Nobelpreises Ihrer Meinung nach ändern?

Wir haben immer große Probleme gehabt, vorwärts zu kommen. 2003 unterrichteten uns die Paramilitärs, dass sie uns mit Kugeln durchsieben würden, sollten wir in Kolumbien das Erste Weltgipfeltreffen der Poesie für den Frieden veranstalten. Die Person, die uns diese Drohung mitteilte, war niemand Geringeres als ein Funktionär des Präsidialamtes der kolumbianischen Republik. Derselbe Funktionär – was für ein Zufall! – legte uns einige Tage später nahe, dass auch das Präsidialamt der Planung dieser Veranstaltung nicht gerade wohlwollend zusehe, da das FIPM schon genügend politisch ausgerichtet sei – was eine Lüge ist. Das FIPM hatte nie die Absicht, den kolumbianischen Staat zu verärgern, sondern hat im Gegenteil immer versucht, Brücken zu schlagen zwischen dem Staat und den verschiedenen Sektoren, die an der Schaffung eines Rahmens für den politischen Dialog in Kolumbien interessiert sind. Auf der anderen Seite hat es auch Hindernisse auf finanzieller Ebene gegeben: Praktisch alle Bürgermeister Medellíns, außer dem jetzigen, strichen während ihrer jeweiligen Amtszeit jegliche Zuschüsse für das Festival. Ebenso haben wir Widerstand durch die Medien erfahren. Anfangs begeisterten sie sich für die Entstehung des FIPM, aber als sie begriffen, dass unsere Organisation nicht manipulierbar war, ließ die Berichterstattung nach. Angesichts dieser Situation machen wir heute sämtliche Öffentlichkeitsarbeit alleine. Dazu kommt, dass El Mundo, eine renommierte Zeitung Medellíns, vom Staat einmal verlangte, unsere Förderung komplett einzustellen. Mir scheint, dass all das über die politischen Absichten der Medien in Kolumbien hinaus auch eine Konsequenz des mangelnden Wissens um die Natur der Poesie vieler Kulturjournalisten im Lande ist.

Und welches Verständnis haben die Organisatoren des FIPM von der Natur der Poesie?

Im Unterschied zu den Kulturredakteuren Kolumbiens verstehen wir die Poesie – und das wird jeden Tag nötiger – als eine Form der Erkenntnis, der Interpretation und der Transformation der Realität.

In einem von Ihnen veröffentlichten Kommentar zur Preisverleihung schreiben Sie: „Die Auszeichnung ist eine Anerkennung der historischen Rolle der Poesie und des Geistes im Widerstand zur Kultur des Todes.“ Was meinen Sie mit der „Kultur des Todes“?

Die Kultur des Todes ist die Kultur des Krieges, die der kolumbianische Staat offen fördert. Diese Kultur kommt zum Vorschein, wenn die paramilitärischen Organisationen Kolumbiens erklären, dass 60% des Senats in ihren Händen ist, und dies niemand im Land dementiert. Diese Kultur spiegelt sich in der Tatsache wider, dass im Laufe der letzten Monate immer mehr Mitglieder des kolumbianischen Kongresses sich in Strafprozessen wieder finden. Sie drückt sich auch aus in Fällen wie dem des Senators Álvaro Araujo, der kürzlich verkündete, sollte er aufgrund vermeintlicher Verbindungen zu den Paramilitärs in einen Prozess verwickelt werden, so würde er bedauerlicherweise wegen ähnlicher Gründe auch seine Schwester denunzieren müssen (die niemand Geringeres ist als die Außenministerin) und seinen Ex-Schwager (der niemand Geringeres ist als der Vorsitzende Richter des Obersten Gerichtshofs) sowie einen weiteren Verwandten (der Richter am Verfassungsgericht ist) und sogar den Präsidenten der Republik, Álvaro Uribe. Auf diese Art herrscht in Kolumbien eine Kultur des Todes, die Gewalt, Terror und Krieg rechtfertigt und die zur weltweit höchsten Rate an ermordeten Gewerkschaftern, zur höchsten Anzahl ermordeter Journalisten der westlichen Hemisphäre in den letzten dreißig Jahren und zu zahllosen Vertreibungen in Lateinamerika geführt hat. Zu Letzterem gehören vier Millionen Menschen und ihre Enteignung von mehr als fünf Millionen Hektar Land.

Wie schätzen Sie die aktuelle Beziehung der kolumbianischen Regierung zur Kultur ein?

Vor wenigen Jahren wurde das kolumbianische Kulturministerium mit einer langen bürokratischen Namensliste und einem dermaßen geringen Budget gegründet, dass vermutlich sogar das Kulturbudget der Stadt Medellín mit einer Höhe von 10 Millionen Euro mehr als doppelt so hoch ist – ich bezweifle, dass das Budget des Kulturministeriums auch nur fünf Millionen Euro beträgt. Auf eine höchst elitäre Art nimmt der kolumbianische Kulturminister nur ausgesuchte kulturelle Events unter seine Fittiche, wie zum Beispiel das Iberoamerikanische Theaterfestival in Bogotá. Es wird vom Ministerium mit mehr als 600 000 Euro unterstützt, findet allerdings nur in Bogotá statt und bleibt somit den Bogotanern vorbehalten. Währenddessen erhielt das FIPM, das bereits 35 kolumbianische Städte erreicht hat, im letzten Jahr nur 20 000 Euro, wovon uns die Hälfte erst vor zehn Tagen überwiesen wurde. Ich denke, wenn die Regierung aufhört, der Kultur weiter Steuerzwänge aufzuerlegen, und einen Teil ihres Kriegsbudgets auf die Kultur umverteilt, könnte sie zur Stärkung des Kultursektors beitragen und so mithelfen, das Ende der Barbarei im Land herbeizuführen.

Und wer vertritt unter diesen Bedingungen den Kultursektor in Kolumbien?

Zurzeit befinden sich die Freunde der Kultur in Kolumbien auf der Seite der Opposition. Die Mehrheit der kolumbianischen Intellektuellen, und die der Dichter, befürworteten die Präsidentschaftsambitionen des Mitte-links-Kandidaten Carlos Gaviria in den vergangenen Wahlen. Wir werden dies fortsetzen und der Mitte-Links-Partei Polo Democrático Alternativo in den Kommunal- und Landeswahlkampf 2008 helfen. Bei den Präsidentschaftswahlen 2010 erwarten wir einen Sieg mit Carlos Gaviria an der Spitze, der alle Dimensionen des Lebens in unserem Land erneuern wird.

Was hat Ihnen und dem FIPM der Besuch in Berlin gebracht?

Die Sicherheit, dass das Festival fortbestehen und sogar an Stärke gewinnen wird. Im Gespräch mit dem Bundestagsvizepräsidenten, Wolfgang Thierse, und anderen Abgeordneten gab es großes Interesse seitens verschiedener deutscher Politiker, im nächsten Jahr eine Gruppe von Parlamentariern nach Kolumbien zu entsenden und dem Festival den Rücken zu stärken. Auf einem Treffen mit mehr als vierzig Vertretern von Zusammenarbeitsorganisationen und Kulturministerien aus Afrika, Asien, Europa und Lateinamerika wurde mir gesagt, dass die Unterstützung für das Festival angesichts der derzeitigen Situation in Kolumbien so wichtig ist wie nie zuvor. Aus Deutschland nehme ich außerdem die Gewissheit mit nach Kolumbien, dass, auch wenn der kolumbianische Staat weiterhin die Unterstützung verweigert, große europäische Nationen fest davon überzeugt sind, dass das Festival eine wichtige friedensstiftende Rolle für Kolumbien spielt.