Text: Once upon a time, STRUCTURAL VIOLENCE was contained within societies / This is a theme in many tragedies, operas, and reports dealing with honor, murder, and death / Once the rigid traditions dissolve in the modern era, the VIOLENCE becomes explicit / Oskar Negt talks about METAMORPHOSES OF VIOLENCE / On occasion of the opera CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA - -


Text: Scene from CALALLERIA RUSTICANA by Pietro Mascagni

Text: Production: Calixto Bieito at the Hannover National Opera

Alexander Kluge: Cavalleria Rusticana – Rural Honor, by Mascagni. It is a one-act play that was just put on stage at the National Opera. What did we see? After all, the story was transposed onto a different context.

Oskar Negt: Well, I mean, it’s about the matters of honor that people in the countryside struggle with in regard to concepts of honor: it’s about restoring personal honor. It’s a combination of very different constellations. And here, I think that this concept of honor has been applied to a social class where people have adopted something that does not originate from their own environment. And in that sense the idea of defending your honor appears as somewhat foreign.

Text: Oskar Negt, philosopher

Text: What does honor mean in Sicily?

Kluge: It’s a kind of theater, or masquerade. Originally it was barons, in the very beginning it was Norman barons in Sicily who developed a code of honor that made sense within the context of feudalism, that had the function of establishing class distinctions. But then poorer parts of the population …

Negt: ... basically imitated it.

Kluge: In a way it became more rigid than the aristocracy ever did it, with the idea that dressing up in the costumes of the upper classes would allow for a distinction within the village.

Negt: And that takes away some of the self-evidence and the naturalness, precisely because of this radicalization and individualization of the concept of honor. For the barons and in feudal society generally speaking, honor is practically an obvious factor of distinction between the estates. And here in this production of Cavalleria Rusticana, it is ripped out of this specific social context.

Kluge: Because the director says that honor is still a reality, a social structure in 19th and 20th century Sicily, where something that is not for sale – my honor – is being defended. But that doesn’t apply anymore in a barter society, in the banlieues of Paris.

Negt: Yes, it’s a problem of transposing this radicalized concept of honor onto a full-fledged barter society. Capitalism has no need for honor.

Kluge: Because I can neither buy nor sell it.

Negt: In that sense, it’s not marketable. And that’s why Bieito’s production is successful in the way that it thematizes the abuse of this concept of honor. The concept is used to create certain images of the enemy, and in order to push some things that are not immediately related to honor.

Text: What used to be honor is now sheer power

Kluge: The word itself doesn’t even really come up. The impulse remains the same, but it is transformed: I want to declare that my position in the world is not for sale. I have a kind of honor, and that is my egocentrism. Once it becomes amorphous, it turns into sheer power. People defend themselves by exerting power over others.

Negt: And it becomes very clear that just like in many fundamentalist contexts, the idea of honor is abused here for conflicts that have nothing to do with honor.

Kluge: Mostly at the expense of women.

Negt: Mostly at the expense of women.

Kluge: That means, I cannot at all assert myself anymore in my role as a man. I have lost everything in this world, and I am able to see this very realistically. That’s why my spiritual values, my values, and the valuables that are subject to me, such as my wife, have to be revalued instead.

Negt: Revalued to a degree that makes them fragile. Because Santuzza in Cavalleria is a very fragile and ambivalent personality.

Text: SANTUZZA, Leandra Overmann

Kluge: In the beginning, you see her as someone who is abused. A woman who is often sick and faint is used by a man. The savior defiles the victim, the woman he just saved.

Negt: In that sense, the idea of honor also takes on an element of dishonesty, untruthfulness.

Kluge: You can’t even trust your saviors. And now, like a miracle from heaven, she is crowned beauty queen. Here she stands like a bride. That means, even a coincidence can elevate a person.

Negt: Of course. But the combination with Bajazzo in this production in particular shows how reality and play …

Kluge: Theater and representation.

Negt: … theater are transposed onto each other, and it often becomes impossible to know what’s theater and what’s reality.

Kluge: There is an expression: Terror is theater. It’s a highly offensive statement, if you consider how cruelly people get killed because of it. But is it true? Is terror, as we know it, actually theater?

Negt: At the very least, terror relies on performance. Terror only makes sense if there is a third actor who is being addressed. The spectator, in a way. The spectator is important. That’s what distinguishes terrorists from guerilleros. Guerrilleros are anchored, they rely on the down-to-earth qualities and the help of the population.

Text: Oskar Negt, philosopher

Kluge: What they defend participates in their battle.

Negt: The population is at their back, and under their protection. Whereas the terrorists don’t care about this at all. They only see the bystander, who witnesses their actions and who is responsible for the circumstances, for example by increasing security measures … destabilization is the core element of terrorism, as opposed to the guerilleros’ territorial gains and their expansion of an autochthone, anchored structure. That is a significant difference between terrorists and guerilleros like Che Guevara and others.

Kluge: And horror, terror, torture don’t always target the individual who is being tortured – eventually he will die and cease to function. At some point, he will confess something, whether it’s true or not, whether it’s supported by facts or not. Instead, these tactics are symbolic actions to influence others. In Algier, they try to influence the population, not those who are being tortured.

Negt: And this begins to develop on a larger scale with the terreur of the Jacobins.

Kluge: What is that? What is terreur?

Negt: Terreur is the rule of terror – that means, those who turn out or may turn out not to be patriots have to be prevented from staging the counter-revolution. That means, terreur is always geared at prevention.

Kluge: It is the rule of the guillotine and the Committee of Public Safety.

Negt: It’s the documentation of terreur, of terror. And for the Jacobins, like Robespierre and Saint-Just, this terreur is tied to the unconditional validity of reason. For them, reason cannot be instilled in humans in a quiet and easy way, it requires a case of emergency. Those who don’t comply with the dominance of reason are bound to die.

Text: Saint Just, revolutionary

Kluge: And it is once again a demonstrative symbol, a public symbol. That means, as bad as it sounds – the demonstration of the guillotine as public event is in that sense a theatrical event for spectators.

Negt: For spectators. And that’s why it was desirable … the executions were always announced broadly. The entire population was asked to attend the executions.

Kluge: And the adversaries. There is no reason to fear those who are being executed. You think, okay, they were warned, they were told to stop being adversaries. They are executed as symbol of an undefined danger on the horizon.

Negt: In that sense it is a problem of performance, of staging, that begins with the French Revolution. And the staging of the end of the Iraq War bears significant similarities. When Bush stands on a ship, an aircraft carrier, and says: The job is done, it’s over, and he practically includes the entire martial environment and the media in his statement, that is very similar. There is a kind of theatrical message involved.

Text: Staging of Politics / "War Theater"

Kluge: If people in the USA now become aware of their own social decline. The middle classes become less than middle class. They are threatened by the economic processes that require fewer workers and generate a very high, globalizing revenue that does not have any consideration for human beings. And people are aware of that, so they need to become even more Christian at home. They are driven to form sects, just like in Antiquity where numerous religions emerge right next to each other. Sometimes it isn’t even Christian in the strict sense anymore, but a side path, at least compared to the protestant or catholic tradition.

Negt: Yes, that is absolutely correct. I mean, the middle classes in the United States in particular are extremely threatened. The public budgets are exhausted. The occupation in itself costs 3.4 billion – 3.4 billion dollars per month is the cost of the occupation, and the public budgets are ruined. And among middle-class people the fear of falling even lower is spreading. It’s not surprising that this leads to the emergence of new forms of fundamentalism, cultish fundamentalism. But of course this poses an extremely high risk of rupture to a social system.

Kluge: In theoretical terms, this is called balance economy. That means, the worse reality gets, the more spiritual resources I have to accumulate in my personal life.

Text: Karl Marx

Negt: Just like Marx said once, the narrower living conditions are, the greater the desire for patriotic uniformity. Patriotism is practically a compensation for the limitations of everyday life.

Kluge: But there are two kinds of patriotism. One emerges from self-confidence: I don’t want to be enslaved by an ursurpator. The other develops, like nationalism, as a form of escape: Because this world is punishing me, I turn towards a different world.

Negt: That’s correct. And it means that here in the United States, for example right now in regard to Schiavo’s death, they are preaching Christian fundamentalism as a way to restore dignity in a world that pulls the rug out from underneath their feet.

Text: Terri Schiavo

Kluge: Like the Sicilians who developed the concept of honor, Sicilian honor, and even the Mafia, in order to defend a remainder of honor that is not for sale.

Negt: The unexchangeable, yes. In a way, there is something anti-capitalist about it, and of course that is also true for other fundamentalisms, including Islamic fundamentalism. They restore the ability to walk straight, to walk upright, or however you want to define it.

Kluge: To walk upright, but with the help of violence, with a bang, with public symbols that show: I have risen.

Text: Scene from CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA / Production: Calixto Bieito

Text: Living Environment vs. Systemic Environment / "Quiet Fascism"

Kluge: Richard Sennett, the great sociologist in New York und London, says: You have to be careful not to shrug off the fundamentalist, sectarian Christianity in the USA that decides presidential elections, that can decide over war and peace, and to say that these people are simply wrong. Because they are not wrong in the sense that they can only preserve their dignity by expressing their religion in this form.

Text: Oskar Negt, philosopher

Negt: In that regard you should never shrug off fundamentalism in any form. But here, especially since it affects a large number of electoral votes, it is also very important to understand it as a serious problem of societal cohesion. In particular the current polarization and the dividedness of the United States is an enormous problem for this superpower that defines the global spheres of influence for the West.

Kluge: Richard Sennett calls this quiet fascism and says it is very different from the fascism of the 1930s – the kind of aggressive fascism that purposefully provokes wars. Here, it’s more a form of self-defense for people who believe that they are losing something they cannot afford to lose, and now look for a substitute in an almost prophylactic way of action.

Negt: But of course that provides the raw material for imperial gestures. It’s not a coincidence that these two things coincide.

Kluge: If someone uses it as an instrument, if someone instrumentalizes it …

Negt: And this is a current trend … the Department of Homeland Security, if you will, as a new government agency … but where does homeland security begin for the United States? It is being expanded further and further. Under Monroe 1823, it was the Western hemisphere. And in the post-war era, it was still a limited territory. By now, it is Kyrgyzstan and other territories where the United States represent their own interests of self-protection. That means, fundamentalism is the powerful raw material that allows us to say: We have to defend ourselves, our honor, our national pride. Not only when terrorists come to find us, but we have to seek out terrorists in the entire world. And of course, that is a dangerous new form of imperialism.

Kluge: And the quiet fascism that provides the foundation for this type of thinking has two completely separate components. One is the human desire to keep something that has eternal value, that will still be valuable to my children beyond my death. Today that is …

Negt: It’s resistance against expropriation.

Kluge: Against expropriation, and that is the religious impulse. Which is a force, an amorphous force. But first, it is impossible to defeat it, at least not with rational arguments. And second, it’s not merely prejudice. It’s absolutely true that they don’t have anything else. Third, it’s something that we should respect. If it is instrumentalized by, for example, a foundation, a television channel, an administration that says: We are going to use it in order to keep a global conservative movement going, or to oppress other parts of the world. Or we act like servants and literally do what this necessarily false consciousness dictates. That would be evil.

Negt: Yes, but that’s why it’s so important to raise public awareness for where this is coming from and what the societal causes are. Ultimately, this form of fundamentalism can only be defeated by improving the woes, people’s everyday woes.

Kluge: And if that’s not possible? Just like there was no way of ending unemployment in 1928 to prevent 1933 …

Negt: Well, but it’s absolutely possible to do something. Because the money is there, it is merely spent on other things. If they spend 400 billion dollars on military expenses in order to defeat terrorism, then it would make a big difference if they spent 200 billion dollars instead on fighting the causes of terrorism. And I think that considering the bubble these Christian fundamentalists live in, I don’t think you can change their minds with arguments. But if you look at the 36 million poor people living below the poverty line in the United States, then social welfare can do a lot more to break this kind of fundamentalism than anything else.

Text: From the prelude to: CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA

Text: Tatiana Bergh, co-tutor

Text: Real problems are replaced with virtual problems

Kluge: But if, for example, my own suffering, my devaluation – the knowledge that my worth as a human being is less than that of my ancestors – leads to a situation where right-wingers and Christians in the USA focus on the question whether to pull the plug on someone who’s practically been braindead for 15 years … if that turns into such a heated battle over these questions, and if there is nothing better to defend my position as President than to declare my belief in regard to something I am not even responsible for, then this is an example for a situation where real problems are or appear to be unsolvable, and thus virtual problems move to the foreground, are fought over.

Negt: Yes, but education can help show and publicly expose the fact that the problems being solved here are false problems.

Kluge: But part of this kind of education means that, first of all, I have to take seriously people’s impulse of searching for something to balance out their own devaluation.

Text: Oskar Negt, philosopher

Negt: Absolutely. That’s the main issue. Absolutely. But then what? I mean, it’s simply a question how to deal with it. And the other thing is that the instrumentalization of these desires is so obvious. When Bush even tries to change the constitution in order to undermine the supposedly neutral judges in this fight, that is a step back for the entire tradition of the United States, beginning with the Bill of Rights and the Virginia Constitution, which becomes obvious in other areas as well. That means, the attack on national and international law and legal norms, if you take all of that into consideration … the development of political judgement becomes the responsibility of intellectuals and scientists and people who feel responsible for the community, for the success and failure of the community.

Kluge: Earlier, you elaborated on this process with another example: Most questions don’t have a spatial or temporal anchor anymore. In the globalized world, things happen everywhere, not only in one specific place. In reaction, the phenomenon of geostrategy, the fight over territory, experiences a revival; and the fight over time experiences a revival as well – my lifetime becomes the measure of all things. That means, something unreal stops us from adjusting to reality.

Text: Reality without space and time / Geostrategy

Negt: That’s correct. And I mean, the conservative response to the growing instability in the world, which is facilitated by this social system, the disappearance of ties and loyalties and so on, creates something like a horror vacui, a fear of emptiness or chaos. There’s also the fear of chaos, which causes geopoliticians to step forward and say: We have to use the United States as the only remaining superpower to restore stable spheres of influence. To establish spheres (of course with China in mind), where they can intervene anytime, whether it is legitimate in the eyes of international law or not. And apparently this provides a sense of security for a lot of people.  

Kluge: And this, too, is theatrical. There is no doubt that you cannot rule everywhere in the world. You can’t, it’s impossible. But in a theatrum mundi, in a world theater, I can at least pretend that it is possible.

Negt: It’s as if the middle ages are returning. I always feel as if it’s like the middle ages, when Frederick II, the great Hohenstauffen Emperor, who could not rule his enormous empire with military forces only, built forts and said: Whoever attacks this fort is attacking imperial authority, and we’ll fight them. They are the enemies of the empire. That’s how military bases work. In Kyrgyzstan, the Americans have 2000 men. And 30 km away, the Russians have positioned 1000 of their own. That means, the symbolic and the theatrical, this theatrical power play takes place right now on a global scale.

Text: Frederick II of Hohenstauffen in Sicily / How the island was separated from Europe

Kluge: You mentioned Frederick II. He is King of Sicily, but also German Emperor. And after his death, Sicily is separated from the continent. The Stauffen dynasty is dethroned, other rulers are in power. But in Sicily they return once again, and this distanced Sicily from Europe even more. Once it was a rich country, populated by the Greek, by Muslims, by Phoenicians, one after the other. Now suddenly this country becomes poor, in the 19th, already in the 18th century. And the idea of honor, the virtue of a once powerful aristocracy, now becomes internalized by people in the villages. Could you describe this process, which plays a major role in Cavalleria Rusticana?

Negt: Well, it’s simply a concept of honor that, like I said, was originally tied to a lucrative and very wealthy elite.

Kluge: The lower classes were excluded.

Negt: It’s not a concept of poverty. Honor is not a concept of poverty.

Kluge: My estate is protected as long as I can defend it. That’s really the point of honor. It’s the reason why no one is allowed to defile my daughter.

Negt: And that means it is connected to ... this idea of honor is tied to certain power relations, to property, to honor-based forms of conduct.

Kluge: And now they are being imitated in the villages. It is not the same, because there is no property involved. And honor alone does not help me acquire any.

Negt: No, they are completely isolated and individualized. The idea of honor, the Sicilian idea of honor, like in Cavalleria Rusticana – cavalleria means honor, after all – is completely individualized and particularized and therefore has lost its practical context and can be manipulated. It’s not what honor really used to be in the feudal context.

Kluge: And I always have to do things that will have a fatal outcome, either for my love or for my life. That means, the weak man whose wife has been stolen …

Negt: He has nothing but his honor.

Kluge: … he bites the stronger man in the ear, initiates a duel, and of course will be killed by the strong one. His faithfulness towards his wife, or between the lovers, is not feasible in this context.

Negt: That means historically speaking, these concepts of the ruling classes are often appropriated by the lower classes and in the process take on a completely different form.

Kluge: And chivalrous duels in the rural context have very different outcomes.

Negt: They also don’t have their own rules. I mean, in a feudal context, duels have specific rules, rules regarding injuries and how a duel is decided. The issue about these from-the-top-down concepts of honor is that they are basically excessive, that their dimensions become boundless, fatal.

Text: "Like a Banlieue in Paris" / Cavalleria Rusticana

Kluge: And this basic structure now disappears, because the Sicilian system does not apply in the banlieues of Paris or a neighborhood in Madrid where Muslims and Christians live together. But the inner drive that demands: I need something that allows me to recognize my own dignity. That remains. 

Negt: That remains, and it’s completely independent from history or class or estate. I think the desire to defend the unrepeatable, the irreplaceable, so to speak, is a basic human trait and motive. That means, the desire not to feel treated like a mere means to an end in this world is very powerful.

Kluge: And it is still the same drive in the human soul, but without limits. Theoretically, honor can be restored. But in a constellation where sheer power is used to restore individual dignity, there are no limits.

Negt: Well, for example when Michael Kohlhaas in Kleist’s great story feels offended in his honor and his dignity because a nobleman turns his valuable horses into nags.

Kluge: He fights.

Negt: He fights.

Kluge: Even under the gallows he is still giving inflammatory speeches.

Negt: But strangely enough, he is also satisfied in the end when he is finally done justice, even if he has to die for it.

Text: SANTUZZA blows up the MOTHER of her murdered HUSBAND

Kluge: Let’s go back to the phrase: metamorphoses of violence. I don’t mean the violence from the top. Neither am I talking about power from the top. I’m talking about the violence rising from the bottom. I defend something that I’m not willing to give up.

Text: Oskar Negt, philosopher

Negt: Yes, there’s a nice story by Schiller, with the title "The Criminal of Lost Honour." Lost. You could also say violated honor. This experience of violations, I think, is a crucial factor that causes people to react and think about how much power they have to restore their honor or get justice for a violation. And the beginning of such an internal protest always emerges from a narrow context, for example relating to one person or a relationship or an institution, traditionally speaking; for example when an unemployed person feels mistreated by the employment office and immediately confronts an individual staff member. That’s the natural way, this kind of behavior is completely transparent to us and we consider it legitimate.

Kluge: And if I am being expropriated without there being a specific adversary, which happens a lot in the modern world – what now?

Negt: Well, then the initial protest easily takes on a form where resistance internally accumulates and expands and is increasingly directed at the general environment which is unwilling to help me deal with these feelings. There’s an internal process of generalization.

Kluge: And it could be generalized even further in the sense that it is not only happening in my own mind, but I might realize that the same thing happens to other people as well.

Negt: That would be the next metamorphosis, the next transformation of such a protest, which is about understanding that many other people feel the same. And now I can see whether it’s possible to recruit them for specific protests, for public protests – for example like Michael Kohlhaas who draws a growing army that eventually marches. Those are different transformations of power, powerlessness, and violence. 

Kluge: I realize that my adversary has to mobilize excessive means against me and my protest, and that gives me confidence.

Negt: That gives me self-confidence and provides a foundation of legitimacy. I can see my own behavior as more and more reasonable. And that’s why there is a transformation, an escalation of violent potential which in turn allows the opposition to rally and react with excessive, disproportionate measures.

Kluge: And if there is a real practical acknowledgement of this protest, if it can achieve something, if this force is connected to a cause, then a proud movement emerges. And that can lead to the great revolution, which may or may not remain bloodless. In any case, that is an element of social change.

Negt: Yes, that would be the recognition of a socially influential force.

Text: The aggressive transformation

Kluge: On the other hand, such forces can also take on a form that is unsustainable for the planet and any community. They can take on the appearance of fascism. And when that happens, like in an opposition to the Security Council, all other humans and the organizations they are part of, all peoples, would have to raise a defense. But I’m afraid that these are undecidable conflicts, battles.

Text: The "theatrical" death / Terror is theatrical

Text: Scene from BAJAZZO by Ruggiero Leoncavallo / Production: Calixto Bieito at the Hannover National Opera / "He kills his unfaithful wife"

Kluge: Violence is contagious.

Negt: That’s true. That means, it can find expression in military interventions, in an excessive form of self-defense, even in the Security Council’s resolutions behind these actions. The original and certainly legitimate motives are not acknowledged, and instead we only see the consequences of an unacceptable form of violence. But this does not erase the original motives, and it also doesn’t provide any models to deal with these motives in an adequate way.

Kluge: This is the issue at the core of the asymmetrical war. In an asymmetrical war, a peace treaty cannot be achieved by defeating the opponent, who can’t even be clearly determined. I can’t win a protest against a spiritual power with material weapons.

Negt: Exactly, and this is a big problem in our time, that there are fewer and fewer symmetrical wars. How could there not be? And the asymmetrical wars you talk about are basically individuals or individual groups exerting a power that they cannot employ in a military confrontation. That means, they are aware of what is most disconcerting to the opposition, and that’s why these asymmetrical wars are so dangerous, because the enemy does not appear as a collective, represented by a uniform and symbols.

Kluge: Instead they have to make up an enemy who can be defeated as a substitute.


Text: In collaboration with the Hannover National Opera / Musical director: Mihkel Kütson / Director: Calixto Bieito / SANTUZZA: Leandra Overmann / TURRIDU: Ki-Chun Park