Fundamental Issues of War
Text: FUNDAMENTAL ISSUES OF WAR / How to end a war?
Text: Oskar Negt reports
Alexander Kluge: A man suffers an unforgivable insult. He responds by punching someone else in the face. That would be a normal insult prompting an immediate reaction. Which would not be considered a crime, by the way. But I can’t do that as the President of the United States. It’s also not an option for the pilot of a technologically sophisticated machine with a button that activates its weapons system at the flick of a thumb. How does a man act when he is stuck between two such extreme realities simultaneously – the immediate reality of life and the composite reality of the means of war.
Text: G.W. Bush
Text: Professor Dr. Oskar Negt, philosopher
Text: Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Oskar Negt: Well, it’s also a question of competence in regard to the tasks at hand. I think that’s something you need to learn. This is not something people are born with, but the elements at play when the president takes on a role that comes with such a potential and so much power. I think in that case it’s very important to neutralize and control the pre-technological practices of civilization in interpersonal encounters, which also entail the rules of war. And I think this really defines what is now considered a concrete concept of war: these contradictions exist in a state of tension like never before. So …technologically advanced potentials of destruction, cruise missiles that scan landscapes and search for targets, a highly developed computer technology that …
Kluge: ... is almost intelligent.
Negt: Yes, almost intelligent and perhaps even less prone to fallacy than human intelligence. That means, a high technological potential for destruction which of course is also part of peaceful production – computer technology is not only an aspect of war technology – and on the other hand, there are certain military events or punitive actions that come down to people hiding in caves, just like during the wars of the past …
Kluge: They are hungry, they are thirsty …
Negt: They are hungry, they are thirsty. They suffer, they escape, they flee in masses …
Kluge: There is an important chapter in “The Dialectic of Enlightenment.” It’s the first one that talks about the Odyssey as the journey humanity has undertaken in the Enlightenment, or rather, the journey that still lies ahead. Hence the “dialectic” of Enlightenment. And there is a crucial image …
Negt: The image of Odysseus, tied to the mast, tying himself up. In order to not lose his identity and individuality but to be able, at the same time, to listen to the sirens who lure humans into their realm and destroy them, he plugs his companions’ ears with wax so they won’t follow the sirens while he can enjoy their song. He makes sure that he can’t untangle himself from the mast. In other words, he applies force to himself. That’s the message, he forces himself, so as to preserve his identity and yet to be able to experience pleasure.
Text: ODYSSEUS’ bed
Kluge: There is another story in the same version of the Odyssey by Homer that sounds a little different. Penelope recognizes Odysseus because he knows that his bed has been firmly built into an olive tree, a living olive tree. That’s why the bed cannot be moved. That means, the place Odysseus keeps wanting to return to for twenty years is unmovable. That is a different definition of identity.
Negt: Of identity. It’s a spatial concept of identity. I think that this preservation of the potentials of spatial identity … and it comes up again when he shows that he is capable of shooting with a variety of weapons …
Kluge: The liberators kill the occupiers.
Negt: One of Odysseus’ identifying features …
Kluge: But that’s not enough for his wife to recognize him. And her recognition, that’s the price he receives in exchange for his identity. That’s pretty interesting. It’s not like he simply wants to return to his cozy corner. But the place also connects him to another person who is loyal to him.
Negt: Re-recognition, yes. That is identity in the form of deep-seated mutual recognition. It’s basically a broader concept of identity. It’s not simply focused on the individual but takes others into account as well.
Text: Prof. Dr. Oskar Negt, philosopher
Kluge: That is the most basic way of ending a war. That’s when the Trojan War ends for him. Before that moment, the war is not over, it’s merely the story of a failed homecoming.
Negt: That’s right. Only when he returns to the original peaceful society in which he grew up and which is part of him, the Trojan war is over. That means, restoration of peace also always means restoration of the temporal-spatial conditions under which I have put down roots, under which I grew up. Odysseus’ return comes with many different forms of recognition.
Text: WAR & LABOR / war labor
Kluge: If you take the concepts of labor and war: what is the relationship between them? People are working during the war, after all. But it’s the labor of destruction.
Negt: And even if it’s not strictly speaking the labor of destruction, then such a process of production will always take place in a high-risk environment. I think in a way labor and war are opposites – the sustainable aspect of labor is the worker’s self-recognition in his products, that is, a part of myself is in the things I produce. By recognizing myself in my work I am being transformed.
Kluge: I draw my self-confidence from the products of my labor. And this product could even include the people I collaborate with.
Negt: The people I work with … and there are forms of recognition which, beyond the notion of my subject …
Kluge: Penelope, the woman who took care of the household for twenty years, restores me, the returnee.
Negt: Exactly. And it’s not a coincidence that she is working on a fabric to pass the time until his return. That means, for me this relationship between labor and human dignity – that was the inspiration for the title of my new book – is a network of relationships of human recognition, of self-recognition. I think especially for Kant, recognizing others and being recognized by them in turn has to do with self-recognition, with self-respect.
Kluge: What does “the other” mean for Kant? How does he phrase that?
Negt: He says it is the respect of humanity within my person. Dignity is what distinguishes humans from animals. Everything has value, or rather, a price, but only humans have dignity.
Kluge: That means, human labor always contains a piece that is not for sale.
Negt: Precisely. And it can’t be exchanged. Even the production of exchange values itself contains an element that cannot be exchanged.
Kluge: So that in a sense goodwill plays a twofold role: as skill in the context of paid labor, and then again as surplus goodwill.
Negt: It’s excessive and it is recognized as goodwill by others.
Kluge: Both contain an element of community work, the resource that feeds constitutions, communities, cohabitation, and peace treaties.
Negt: Exactly. I think that the restoration or the initial agreement of peace in our world is dependent – on a very basic level – on the fact that people can live off of their labor, which is worthy of its price, so not simply slave labor but paid labor; and that they can recognize themselves in their labor to a certain degree. That means, not every kind of labor, not every kind of labor is fostering identity; only the labor that makes people realize that they are necessary, that they are needed, that they are seen as humans who produce and create autonomously. That is a crucial element of peace-keeping. Therefore, the destruction of working environments is always a source of aggression and potentially military solutions.
Kluge: The Odyssey is the bible of the “Dialectic of Enlightenment,” with all its facets, all the different stories, not just the one of Odysseus tied to the mast.
Negt: Also the ability to experience pleasure, the facilitation of the ability to experience pleasure …
Kluge: Re-recognition due to an immovable element in my life, even if I am away from home for 20 years.
Negt: Yes, that’s something Kant insists on – dignity is an inherent part of human beings, it’s the unexchangeable core of human beings.
Kluge: That’s the olive tree, which Odysseus used in his youth – a time he lost because of his trip to Troy – in order to build his bed into a real tree. It’s a connection between something living and himself as a living being.
Negt: It’s a beautiful symbol for the way in which the subject-object dialectic, as Hegel would call it, implies that only in the moment of re-recognition a state of peace has been achieved.
Kluge: And this state, which is not always easy to achieve for the gnarly wood of humanity, serves as an antidote to war and is simultaneously a means of making peace.
Negt: It’s impossible to build something totally straight from the gnarly wood humans are made of. That means, humans have something like a … in conflict with principles and with morality …
Text: FUNDAMENTAL ISSUES OF WAR / How to end a war?
Text: Oskar Negt reported