Peter Lunenfeld on Tue, 4 Apr 2000 18:35:43 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Museum Europe

Museum Europe
Geert Lovink and Peter Lunenfeld talk about Continents and History

Peter Lunenfeld (PL): During your presentation at mediawork 15: Post '89
Theory, you mentioned your interest in seeing Europe become a museum. What
precisely did you mean to do by raising the idea that Europe should
transform itself purposefully into a repository of culture? How would a
post-historical Europe be less dangerous to itself and to others?

Geert Lovink (GL): For me, crucial to the idea of Museum Europe is the role
of culture. Here are some of my imperatives:

Approaching technology from culture is not by definition conservative or
regressive (or Luddite). It should be possible to think and act from within
technology and no longer position culture outside of it. Soon technology
will not even be our second nature but our first. This means that we will no
longer see technology as something which is coming from the outside (the
Alien), trying to destroy our human culture or even human nature. 

It should be possible to be absolutely modern, not just in an
unreconstructed way (which I learned from McKenzie Wark). We can now skip
the boring, cynical parts of post modernism and take up the huge tasks and
fights which are ahead of us, for example the conflicts between generations
and (sub)cultures, the war against youth, the rise of inequality in income,
education and access to basic resources, not to mention the environmental
troubles which are surrounding us. The fight over cyberspace is just one of
them, a particular passionate one (at least for me) which has not yet
reached the level of maturity as real issues over redistribution (of
channels and wealth) have not yet been posed.

Finally, we should strive not to repeat the fatal mistakes of the last
century. To accomplish all of this, Europe need not to give up History so
much as to generate lots of histories with a small "h": not to crush
optimism or expectations, but rather to fight the regression which is built
into the New.

PL: These ideas struck a resonant chord with the mediawork audience, though,
of course, what you were saying was far less inflammatory for  Americans
(especially those based on the West Coast, a vantage point from which Europe
already very far distant and historicized). Museum Europe raises an
interesting issue, which is simply this: Can a country or a continent eschew
"active participation" in either History or histories and remain rich? In
other words, in becoming a museum wouldn't Europe be committing economic
suicide, or at least accepting a greatly reduced economic role?

GL: I indeed think that culture is widely being overestimated these days.
Money is driving the new economy, not culture or the arts (or creativity).
One has to face this fact in order to negate it. Culture can longer be seen
as a motor, as it was in the mid nineties, but rather as an after-effect.
Europe is still rich (second only to the US) and getting richer, but of
course it will lose the fight over the Internet and the New Economy, which I
personally think of as afunny, rather than tragic eventuality. At least,
this second position should not turn into a disaster. All European cyber
efforts will be too little too late -- with some few exceptions for
localities such as London, Stockholm, Helsinki, Amsterdam, and a few others.
Yes, we can claim to be the inventors of WWW  -- thanks to  Tim Berners-Lee
for writing that book -- but we can as well blame ourselves for not
understanding the genius of this idea. At this point, and in this place, I
prefer to enjoy the debacle called Europe, as our group Adilkno has
described die Lage in the late nineties. So, the expectation that culture
can be our very European, magic ingredient to turn technology into gold,
should be criticized and actively discouraged.

PL: You mention specific urban exceptions to your vision for the continent
as a whole. What precisely do you mean to do by exempting cosmopolitan
metropolises like London and Amsterdam?

GL: I am particularly referring to the role of new media arts, design, and
education and the virtual intelligentsia in a more general term. Things are
just moving too fast these days for arts to play a role. The situation in
Europe is competitive. For example, it was just announced that Cisco will
build its European headquarters in Amsterdam, bringing 4500 new IT jobs.
That will have a significant impact on this rather small city (and a
devastating effect on rental prices and the already overheated real estate
market). It is all getting expensive and crowded. Not a very good
environment for new ideas and concepts to flourish. I think places like
Berlin are better off these days with their sophisticated, sustainable ways
of cultivating crisis and bankruptcy. It is not always pleasant to live in
the New Economy (ask so many of the citizens of Silicon Valley).

PL: After his <> presentation at LA's MOCA, I spoke with Vuk
Cosic about Museum Europe. He expressed his interest not in Europe ending
its active historical agency, but rather that the continent might put it
into deep freeze. The question also arose about how a Europe that had made
this decision would confront a "rogue" state like Finland, which through its
early adoption culture and devotion to all things Nokia would threaten to
melt the freeze?

GL: What is deep freezing other than upholding? I am very much in favor of
the next Cold War, a self-imposed renunciation of historical ambitions. A
lot needs to be done here throughout Europe, and not only in the Balkans,
where it is obviously necessary. Finland's policy, rather than combating the
Museum, actively contributes to the containment of Europe. In general one
could say that prosperity, under a strict regime of the welfare state
(redistribution of wealth, health care and education for all etc.)
neutralizes historical ambitions. And this system is still in place in
Scandinavia (though under threat, as it is elsewhere). I am a big fan of
nationalizing telecom infrastructure such as cable. I know this is a very
unpopular, heretic idea but I am very convinced that this will be the only
way to forestall a severe economic crisis (as the economy as a whole is
depending more and more on this infrastructure). Nationalization could be
done in such a way that it restores public ownership (not necessary the
power of the State). It could also enforce the coming into being of a
digital public domain. All this can only be done first in the Northern
countries like Scandinavia and Holland.

PL: And, I would add, that nationalization of the telcom infrastructure will
absolutely never happen in the United States without a full scale, armed
revolution. To discuss the nationalization and welfare state in the year
2000 is to immediately confront the spread of neo-liberalism. Can you expand
on the ways in which Museum Europe relates to the ongoing privatization of
state operations throughout the continent?

GL: Third Way thinkers have no idea about the long term destabilizing effect
of their privatization craze. They have forgotten how fatal the relation in
Europe can be between the social question and war. And how the social
question, almost by default, is being transformed into ethnic and gender
issues. Unfortunately perhaps, Europe is not an innocent place upon which
all sorts of pragmatic Anglo-Saxon ideas can be projected. That would be
naive, and challenges the box of Pandora, named History, to be opened. It is
also rather one dimensional, lacking knowledge of reflexivity (as the Popper
scholar George Soros calls it). One should be able to anticipate the
consequences of one's policies. That would be true cybernetics, to
understand the feedback loops of our actions. Perhaps this is too much of
dialectics for today's world which so much likes to elide oppositions,
preferring to bathe in a profusion of difference.

PL: I see this discussion as being an integral part of how we will analyze
the impact of IT and networks on society as a whole, not just in Europe, but
around the world. I feel it will occasion the wholesale reworking, or better
yet, invention of discursive systems to discuss economics, culture, and
identity. That's why I've been so insistent of late that we need new names
for the present, if only to give ourselves the same kind of freedom to
invent that the postmodernists claimed for themselves in the mid-'70s and
early '80s, before the cynicism you note earlier came to dominate that mode
of discourse. I felt this lack of nomenclature particularly strongly when I
was organizing and then titling the last mediawork, which I ended up calling
"Post '89 Theory" as a kind of default. That was an accurate description,
though as I noted there and on then more recently during the <iniva><blast>
on-line discussion on "Networks and Markets," one that was too easy to take
as being determined by a particular year, when what I really meant was Post
Post '68. I just want to get away from the sort of historicizing
referentiality of the prefix. 

GL: I do not read the 1989 events as a reawakening of History. In some
countries, like Former Yugoslavia we can see a return to History, an almost
fatal attraction/passion there. But elsewhere, throughout the former Eastern
Block one can witness a common desire to wake up from the nightmare called
History. People want to leave normal lives, and would like to be left alone,
just be regular, normal Europeans, each with their own particular local
folklore. It will still take decades to restore the damage done by Yalta
(the partition of Europe between the super powers). Only after, much later,
we can start to think of a new relation between the EU and Russia. For the
time being, most of the Eastern part of Europe is still under the spell of
this endless period of Transition (with its horrific readjustment ideology).

PL: To close our discussion here, can you lay out how you would define your
particular political positions these days, in relation to both North
American neo-liberalism and the European tradition from which you come?

GL: Libertarians in America have no idea about the workings of the State in
Europe because they lack the experience of totalitarian regimes (and their
deeper causes). The workings of the state are not intended simply to
frustrate the market, as many tend to believe these days. The welfare state
was (and still is for me) as much an answer to historical fascism as it is
an attempt to civilize capitalism. I am saying all this as an anarchist
(with autonomist tendencies). One who has not forgotten the ideological and
economic constellations of the early thirties of the twentieth century in
Europe, with all its tragic consequences, from which we are still trying to
recove. A fatal, destructive period, which by the way also managed to
destroy the anarchist and syndicalist movements, a fact which is perhaps
often overlooked -- a blow which anarchism as a historical force has not
been able to survive.

Geert Lovink is a media theorist and net critic, until recently based in
Amsterdam. Peter Lunenfeld lives in Los Angeles. His latest book is Snap to
Grid: A User's Guide to Digital Arts, Media, and Culture (MIT Press, 2000).
mediawork 15: Post '89 Theory took place on February 11, 2000 at Art Center
College of Design, Pasadena, CA.

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