The following text has been automatically reproduced by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) algorithm. It may not have been checked over by human eyes. For matters of precision please consult the original pdf.

War on latency: On some relations between surrealism and terror


Spheres of action Art and politicsIn the anglophone context of the last thirty years, the phrase ʻcritical theoryʼ has been used in two quite different ways. On the one hand it refers to the project of the Frankfurt School, in its various formulations, over a fifty-year period from the early 1930s (from early Horkheimer through to ʻmiddle periodʼ Habermas). On the other hand it has come to denote a far broader but nonetheless discrete tradition, with its roots in Marx, Nietzsche, Freud and Saussure, and its primary manifestations in France in the period from the late 1950s to the end of the 1990s, with Barthes, Lacan, Althusser, Foucault, Derrida and Lyotard as its main representatives. In the first case, the phrase is both selfdesignating and the object of explicit theoretical reflection. In the latter case, however, it was the result of the reception of a theoretically heterogeneous tradition into the literary departments of the Anglo-American academy, where ʻcriticismʼ was an established professional activity. Consequently, while the conceptual emphasis in the reception of the Frankfurt School has been on criticism or critique (Kritik) – the main opposition being between ʻTraditional and Critical Theoryʼ (Horkheimer, 1937) – the emphasis in the reception of the French tradition was placed heavily on ʻtheoryʼ, the main opposition being between theoretical and aor anti-theoretical (historically, aesthetic) interpretative practices. Yet ʻtheoryʼ, here, is not a name for an alien philosophy (in the way in which ʻcritical theoryʼ was initially an alias for a certain philosophical reception of Marxism) but a purportedly post-philosophical pursuit, occupying the place, but not the mode, of a Heideggerian ʻthinkingʼ.

What these two bodies of thought share is a suspicion of the self-sufficiency of philosophy, an orientation towards interand trans-disciplinarity, an openness to the general text of writing, and a critical attitude towards the institutions of Western capitalist societies. Where they differ is in their relations to the philosophies of Hegel and Heidegger. The former is self-consciously post-Hegelian and anti-Heideggerian, while the latter is insistently anti-Hegelian and generically post-Heideggerian. As Jean-Luc Nancy put it at the end of the 1980s: ʻ“French” thought today proceeds in part from a “German” rupture with a certain philosophical “France” (which is also a rupture with a certain “Germanity”).ʼ It was this displaced Germanicism of French thought that was the object of attack in Habermasʼs polemic The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1985) – a book that appeared in the wake of the extraordinary success in Germany of Sloterdijkʼs Critique of Cynical Reason (1983).

The philosophically ʻGermanicʼ character of much French critical theory is thus well established. Less attention has been paid to the influence of French thought – including that which proceeds from ʻa German rupture with a certain philosophical Franceʼ – on the German critical tradition. Yet some of the most productive developments within the orbit of Frankfurt critical theory have been driven by a reflective intensity in the relationship to intellectual and artistic events in France. (This is true not only of Benjamin, but also of aspects of early Horkheimer and Adornoʼs mature thought too.) More recently, there is a ʻpost-Frankfurtianʼ German thought of the 1980s and 1990s that has been profoundly influenced by currents of French theory of the 1960s and 1970s: French Nietzscheanism, structuralism, Barthes, Foucault, situationism, Deleuze/Guattari and Baudrillard. This problematizes the nationalism of German philosophy in a quite different way from Habermasʼs identification with American pragmatism and his concern to reformulate normative issues within the terms of post-analytical philosophy. It is notable that these currents have all been concerned in some way with aesthetic aspects of political action and the political meaning of art; and that they have been able to flow more freely, in Germany, in the art school than the philosophy department.

The papers that follow* are by a trio of thinkers from Karlsruhe, whose writings are marked by different aspects of the French thought of the 1960s: vitalism, structuralism and deconstruction, in Sloterdijk, Weibel and Groys, respectively.


*These papers were presented at ʻSpheres of Action – Art and Politicsʼ, Tate Britain, London, 12 December 2005, organized by the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Middlesex University. List of Weibelʼs images appears on p. 56.Of all offensive gestures of aesthetic modernity, surrealism, more than any other, strengthened the insight that the main interest of the present time must focus on the explication of culture – provided we understand culture as the quintessence of symbolforming mechanisms and art creation processes. Surrealism follows the command that demands occupation of the symbolic dimensions in the crusade towards modernization. Its articulated and unarticulated aim is to make creative processes explicit and elucidate their sources as much as possible. For this purpose and without ceremony it brings forward the fetish of the epoch: the concept of ʻrevolutionʼ, legitimization of all things. However, as in political spheres (where it de facto has never been a question of an actual ʻturningʼ in the sense of a reversal from top to bottom, but of proliferation of top positions and their reappointment by representatives of the offensive middle classes, which indeed would not be possible without a partial transparency of the mechanisms of power – that is, democratization – and seldom without an initial phase of open force from below), the misnomer of events is also evident in the field of culture. Here, too, there was never a reversal or Umwälzung in the precise sense of the word, but, rather, solely a redistribution of symbolic hegemony – which demanded a certain revelation of artistic processes and called for a phase of barbarisms and Bilderstürme. In the field of culture, ʻrevolutionʼ is a pseudonym for ʻlegitimateʼ force against latent tendencies. It causes the new performers, who act with a clear conscience, to break from the holisms and comforts of bourgeois art settings. The recollection of one of the best-known scenes from the surrealistic offensive may well explain the parallelism between the atmo-terrorist explications of the atmosphere and the culturally revolutionary blows to the mentality of a bourgeois art audience.

On 1 July 1936, Salvador Dalí, who was at the start of his career as a self-proclaimed ambassador from the kingdom of the surreal, gave a performance at Londonʼs New Burlington Galleries on the occasion of the International Surrealist Exhibition, in which he intended to explain the principles of the ʻparanoiac critical methodʼ he had developed, with reference to his own exhibit. In order to make quite clear to his audience by his appearance that he was speaking to them as a representative of a radical Elsewhere and in the name of the Other, Dalí chose to wear a diving suit for his lecture. According to the report in the London Star on 2 July, a car radiator was attached to the top of the helmet; the artist was also holding a billiard cue in his hand and was accompanied by two large dogs. [1] In his self-portrayal, Comment on devient Dalí, the artist retells a version of the incident that resulted from this idea:

I had decided to make a speech on the occasion of the exhibition, but wearing a diving suit, in order to allegorize the subconscious. Hence I was dressed in my armour and even put on shoes with lead soles, thus preventing me from moving my legs. I had to be carried onto the podium. Then the helmet was placed on my head and screwed tight. I started my speech behind the glass of the helmet – in front of a microphone that was obviously not able to pick up anything. My facial expression however fascinated the audience. Soon I was gasping for breath with my mouth wide open, my face turned red at first and then blue and my eyes started to roll. Apparently one (sic) had forgotten to connect me to an air supply system, and I was close to suffocation.

The expert who had fitted me had disappeared. By gesticulating I made my friends aware that my situation was becoming critical. One fetched a pair of scissors and tried in vain to pierce the suit, another wanted to unscrew the helmet. As his attempt failed, he started to hit the screws with a hammer … two men tried to tear off the helmet, a third continued to hit the metal, so that I almost lost consciousness.

There was now a wild scuffle on the podium, during which I surfaced now and again like a jumping jack with dislocated limbs, and my copper helmet resounding like a gong. The audience then applauded this successful Dalí mimo-drama, which, in their War on latency On some relations between surrealism and terror

Peter sloterdijk

eyes, no doubt showed how the conscious tried to seize the unconscious. This triumph was, however, almost the death of me. When they finally pulled off the helmet, I was as pale as Jesus on his return from forty days fasting in the desert. [2]

This scene illustrates two things: surrealism is a dilettantism, where technical objects are not employed on their own terms, but as symbolic draperies; nevertheless, it is part of the explicit-making movement of modern art, as it unmistakably presents itself as a process that breaks latent tendencies and dissolves backgrounds.

An important aspect of dissolving backgrounds in the cultural field is the attempt to destroy the consensus between the producing and the receiving side in artistic activity, in order to set free the radical intrinsic value of the showing-event and uncover the absoluteness of the production and the intrinsic value of receptivity. Such interventions are valuable as elucidation measures against provincialism and cultural narcissism. It was not without reason that the surrealists, in the early phase of their wave of attacks, developed the art of astounding the bourgeois as a form of action sui generis, since this helped the innovators distinguish between in-group and out-group, and also allowed the public protest to be considered a sign of the successful dismantling of a handed-down system. Whoever scandalizes the public admits to progressive iconoclasm. He or she uses terror against symbols to burst mystified latent positions and achieve a breakthrough with more explicit techniques. The legitimate premiss of symbolic aggression lies in the belief that cultures have too many skeletons in the closet and it is time to burst the interrelations between armament and edification that are protected by latency. When the early avant-gardes nevertheless came to an erroneous conclusion, this could be seen in the fact that the populace they intended to frighten always learned its lesson faster than any one of the aesthetic bogeymen ever anticipated. After only a few rounds of the game between the provocateurs and the provoked, a situation arose in which the bourgeoisie, enticed by mass culture, took over the explication of art, culture and significance through marketing, design and auto-hypnosis, whilst the artists often continued to astound only formally, without noticing that the time for this method had passed. Others underwent a neo-romantic turn and once again came to terms with profundity. Soon, many modernists seemed to have forgotten the basic principle of modern philosophy defined by Hegel that applies analogously to aesthetic production: the depth of a thought can only be measured by the power of its comprehensiveness – otherwise it remains an empty symbol for unconquered latent elements.

These results can be measured by Dalíʼs failed and hence informative performance. It proves, on the one hand, that the destruction of consensus between the artist and the public cannot succeed once the latter has understood the new rule through which the extension of the work to the environment of the work becomes itself the form of work. The enthusiastic applause that Dalí received at the New Burlington Galleries illustrated how consistently the educated audience adhered to the new terms of art perception. On the other hand, the scene showed the artist as latencybreaker, conveying to the profane people a message from the kingdom of Otherness. Dalíʼs function in this game was distinguished by its ambiguity, which tells us a great deal about his vacillation between romanticism and objectivity. On the one hand, he commends himself as a technician of the Other, since in the lecture he never held, but which can easily be anticipated by its title, ʻAuthentic Paranoiac Fantasiesʼ, he intended to deal with a precise method that would make access to the ʻsubconsciousʼ controllable – that paranoiac critical method with which Dalí formulated formal instructions for the ʻConquest of the Irrational.ʼ [3] He confessed to a kind of photo-realism with regard to irrational inner pictures: he intended to objectify with masterly precision what had become apparent in dreams, delirium and inner visions. At this time he already understood his work as an artistic parallel to the so-called ʻdiscovery of the unconscious through psychoanalysisʼ – a scientific myth adopted wholesale by the aesthetic avant-gardes and the educated audiences of the 1920s and 1930s (and brought to esteem once again by Lacan between the 1950s and 1970s when he reanimated the surrealistic form of lecture for a ʻreturn to Freudʼ).

From this perspective, surrealism takes its place in the manifestations of the operational ʻrevolutionʼ, which carries on the continuous advancement of modernization. On the other hand, Dalí adhered, decidedly countercritically, to the romantic conception of the artist-ambassador who among the unenlightened transforms into a delegate of the Beyond, pregnant with sense. This attitude reveals him as a domineering amateur, surrendering to the illusion that he is capable of employing complicated technical devices to articulate metaphysical kitsch. The user attitude is typical in this case, childishly leaving the technical side of his own performance to experts of whose competence he had not convinced himself. Also the fact that the scene was not rehearsed shows the artistʼs poor, literary treatment of technical structures. Nevertheless, Dalíʼs choice of outfits has an illuminating aspect; his accident is prophetic – not only in terms of the reaction of the spectators, who proclaimed applause for what they failed to understand as a new cultural bearing. The fact that the artist chose a diving suit equipped with an artificial air supply for his appearance as ambassador from the deep leaves no doubt about his connection with the development of atmospheric consciousness, which, as we attempt to show here, is central to the self-explication of culture in the twentieth century. Even if the surrealist achieves only a semi-technical interpretation of the global and cultural background as the ʻsea of the subconsciousʼ, he or she already postulates a competence to navigate in this space with formally expanded procedures. His performance makes it obvious that, in the present age, conscious existence must be lived as an explicit dive into context. Those who venture out of their own camps in multimilieu society must be sure of their ʻdiving equipmentʼ – that is, of their physical and mental immune systems. The accident cannot be accounted to dilettantism alone; it also discloses the systematic risks of technical atmospheric explication and technically forced access to an other element – precisely in the way that the risk of poisoning the home troops was inseparable from the actions of military atmo-terrorism in gas warfare. If Dalíʼs portrayal of the incident is accurate, then he was not far from going down in history as a martyr of dives in the symbolic sense.

Under the given circumstances, the accident proved to be a form of production, in that it triggered panic in the artist, which had always been inherent as impetus for his work.

Permanent revolution, permanent fear

In the unsuccessful attempt to present the ʻsubconsciousʼ as a navigable zone, the very fear of annihilation came to the fore, which the aesthetic explication process was activated to conquer and expel. To put it in general terms: the contraphobic experiment of modernization is never really able to emancipate itself from its background of fear, as this would not be capable of appearing until fear could be allowed to enter into existence as fear itself – which, by the nature of things, presents an impossible hypothesis. Modernity as a background explication therefore remains caught in the circle of victory over fear through technology that causes fear. Primary as well as secondary fear always provides a fresh boost for the continuation of the process; its urgency justifies the use of further latency-breaking and background-controlling force at every stage of modernization – or, according to prevailing phraseology, it demands permanent basic research and innovation.

Aesthetic modernity is a process of using force not against persons or objects, but against non-clarified cultural relations. It organizes a wave of attacks against the holistic attitudes of the types belief, love and honesty and against pseudo-evident categories such as shape, content, image, works and art. Its modus operandi is live experimentation on the users of these definitions. Aggressive modernism consequently breaks away from the respect for classicists, in which, as it remarks with great aversion, at least vague holism is manifested – combined with a tendency to continue to follow a ʻtotemʼ, retained in its undefined and undeveloped state. As a result of its keen wish for explicitness, surrealism declares war on mediocrity: it sees in it the opportune hideout for antimodern lethargies, which oppose the operative development and reconstructive revelation of integrated rules. As normality rates as a crime in this war of mentality, art as a medium of combating crime can build on unusual combat orders. When Isaac Babel declared ʻbanality is the counterrevolutionʼ, he indirectly expressed the principle of ʻrevolutionʼ. The use of fear as force against normality bursts aesthetic and social latency and raises to the surface laws according to which societies and works of art are construed.

Permanent ʻrevolutionʼ calls for permanent fear.

It postulates a society that proves itself repeatedly as readily frightened and controllable. New art is saturated with the excitement of the very newest, as it appears terror-mimetic and warlike – often without being able to define whether it declares war on the war of societies or wages war on its own behalf. The artist permanently faces the decision of whether to advance against the public as saviour of differences or as warlord of innovation. In view of this ambivalence in modernistic aggression, so-called postmodernism was not entirely wrong when it defined itself as an anti-explicit and anti-extremist reaction to the aesthetic and analytic terror of modern art. Like all forms of terrorism, the aesthetic falls back on the unmarked background in front of which works of art articulate and makes it appear on the forestage as an intrinsic phenomenon. The prototype of modern painting of this trend, Kasimir Malevichʼs ʻBlack Squareʼ of 1913, owes its inexhaustible interpretability to the artistʼs decision to evacuate the image space in favour of the pure, dark surface. Thereby its squareness itself becomes the figure, which in other pictorial situations appears as the carrier in the background.

The scandal of the work lies in, among other things, the fact that it still stands its ground as a painting in its own right and by no means presents merely an empty canvas as object of interest, as would have been conceivable in the context of Dadaistic campaigns to deride art. It may well be that the picture can be regarded as a minimally irregular platonic icon of the equilateral rectangle, deserving tribute due to its sensuousness. It is, however, simultaneously the icon of the aniconic or pre-iconic – of the normally invisible picture background. The black square therefore stands before a white background, which surrounds it, almost as a frame. In the ʻWhite Squareʼ painted in 1914 even this difference is almost compensated.

The basic gesture of such formal representations is the raising of the non-thematic to the thematic. Not only are the possibly varied picture contents, which could appear in the foreground, reduced to a background which always appears the same, but, far more, the background as such is painted with the greatest care and thus made explicit as figure of the figure-bearer. The terror of purification can be unambiguously seen in the desire for the ʻsupremacy of pure feelingʼ. The work of art demands the unconditional capitulation of the beholdersʼ perception before its real presence. Although suprematism, with its anti-naturalism and its anti-phenomenonalism, makes itself clearly known as an offensive movement on the aesthetic flank of explication, it remains bound to the idealistic belief that to make explicit means the return of what is sensually present to what is spiritually absent. It is bound to old European and Platonic rules, in so far as it explains things upwards and simplifies the empirical forms to pure, primary forms. In this respect, surrealism operated differently by following more closely the materialistic, downward manner of explication – without going so far as to be named sousrealism. Yet, whilst the material trend remained coquetry for the surrealist movement, its alliance with depth psychologies, in particular the psychoanalytic trend, revealed its own characteristic trait. The surrealistic reception of Viennese psychoanalysis is one of numerous cases illustrating that the initial success of Freudianism among the educated audience and numerous artists was not achieved as a therapeutic method, which naturally only a very small number of persons experienced first hand, but as a strategy for the interpretation of symbols and background manipulation, leaving every interested party open to the choice of application to suit individual requirements. Is not indeed the analysis one did not undergo always the most appealing?

Freudʼs approach led to the unfolding of a realm of a special kind of latency and came to be known by an expression adopted from idealistic philosophy – namely from Schelling, Schubert, Carus and the nineteenthcentury philosophies of life, especially Schopenhauer and Hartmann – as ʻthe unconsciousʼ. This defined a subjective dimension of security, of inner latencies and of the invisibly overlapped preconditions for an ego-ish state. According to the Freudian formulation, the meaning of the expression had narrowed radically and become so specialized that it could be put to clinical use. It no longer signified the reservoir of dark, integrating forces in a preconscious nature that possesses healing power and creates pictures, nor the underground of blindly, self-affirming streams of will below the ʻsubjectʼ. It defined a small, inner container that becomes filled with repressed emotions and is subjected to neurotogenic tension through the buoyancy of the repressed. [4]

The surrealistsʼ enthusiasm for psychoanalysis was due to the fact that they confused the Freudian definition of the unconscious with Romantic metaphysics. From creative misinterpretation arose declarations such as Dalíʼs Declaration of Independence of Fantasy and Declaration of Human Rights to Madness in 1939, in which sentences are found such as:

A man has the right to love women with ecstatic fishheads. A man has the right to find lukewarm telephones repulsive and to demand telephones as cold, green and aphrodisiac as the sleep of a Spanish fly when haunted by faces. [5]

The surrealistic allusion to the right to be mad warns individuals of their tendency to submission to normalizing therapies; it wishes to make monarchists out of the usually unhappy patients who pursue their own return from an exile, neurotic with reason, to the kingdom of their very personal madness.

Total war, environmental war

We should not forget that what is today called the consumer society was invented in a hothouse – in those glass-covered arcades of the early nineteenth century, in which a first generation of adventure-customers came to breathe the intoxicating perfume of a closed inside world of consumer goods. The arcades represent an early stage of urban atmospheric explication – an objective turning out of the ʻhome addictedʼ disposition, which, according to Walter Benjamin, seized the nineteenth century. Home addiction, says Benjamin, is the irresistible urge ʻto found a homeʼ in all surroundings. [6]

In Benjaminʼs theory of the interior, the ʻsupertemporalʼ need for uterus simulation, expressly with the forms of a concrete historic situation, has already been conceived. Indeed, the twentieth century with its large buildings has shown how far the erection of ʻliving spaceʼ can be extended beyond the boundaries of the need to search for a comfortable interior. The year 1936 is enrolled in the chronicle of aesthetic and cultural theoretic atmospheric explication not only through Salvador Dalíʼs accident in London in a diving suit. On 1 November of the same year, the 31-year-old author Elias Canetti gave a speech on the occasion of Hermann Brochʼs fiftieth birthday, a speech which was unusual in content and tone, in which he not only drew a detailed portrait of the author he was honouring, but at the same time shaped a new genre of laudation. The originality of Canettiʼs speech was that it raised the question of a connection between an author and his time in a manner previously unknown. Canetti defined the artistʼs stay in time as a breath-connection – as a special way of diving into the concrete atmospheric conditions of the epoch. Canetti sees in Broch the first grand master of a ʻPoetry of the Atmospheric as a Staticʼ – meaning, of an art which would be capable of illustrating ʻstatic breathing spaceʼ, expressed in a manner: making visible the climatic design of persons and groups in their typical spaces. ʻ[His] involvement is always with the entire space in which he is present, with a kind of atmospheric unity.ʼ [7]

Canetti praises Brochʼs ability to grasp every person he attempts to portray, also in an ecological sense: he recognizes the singular existence of every person in his or her own breathing air, surrounded by an unmistakable climatic membrane, embodied in a personal ʻbreathing householdʼ. He compares the poet to a curious bird with the freedom to creep into every possible cage and take ʻair samplesʼ from them. Thus he knows, bestowed with a mysteriously keen ʻmemory for air and breathʼ, how it feels to be in this or that atmospheric habitat. As Broch turns to his characters more as a poet than a philosopher, he does not describe them as abstract ego-points in a universal ether; he portrays them as personified figures, each one living in its characteristic air membrane and moving between a variety of atmospheric constellations. The question of a possibility of poetry ʻdrawn from breathing experienceʼ leads only to fruitful information in light of this multiplicity:

Above all, the answer would need to be that the diversity of our world consists, for the main part, of the variety of our breathing spaces. The space in which you are now sitting in a certain order, almost completely closed in from the environment, the manner in which your breath blends to an air common to all … all this is, from the point of view of the person breathing, a unique … situation. Yet, go a few steps further and you will find a completely different situation in another breathing space. … The city is full of such breathing spaces, as full as it is of individual human beings; and in the same way as the split up of these people, of whom no one is the same as the other, a kind of every manʼs cul-de-sac constitutes the main excitement and main misery of life, one could also lament the split up of the atmosphere. [8]

According to this characterization, Brochʼs art of narrative is based on the discovery of atmospheric multiplicity through which the modern novel reaches beyond the representation of individual destiny. Its theme is no longer individuals in their limited activities and experiments, far more the extended unity of individual and breathing space. The actions are no longer carried out between persons, but between breathing households and their respective occupants. Through this ecological viewpoint, the alienation-critical motive of modernity is given new basic principles: the atmospheric separation of people among themselves accomplished by their own respective ʻhouseholdsʼ; the difficulty for those with different outlooks, different membranes, different climates to reach them appears more justified than ever. The division of the social world into individual spaces of obstinacy, inaccessible to one another, is the moral analogue to the microclimatic ʻsplit up of the atmosphereʼ (which for its part corresponds to a split up of ʻworld valuesʼ). As Broch, after his advance onto the individually climatic and personally ecological plane, had quasi-systematically grasped the depth of isolation in modern individuals, the question of the conditions of their unison in a common ether beyond the atmospheric separation must have occurred to him with a clearness and urgency unequalled in his own time or at a later point in time in the history of sociological examinations on the elements of social connection – with the possible exception of Canettiʼs related attempt in Crowds and Power.

In his speech in 1936 Canetti recognized in Hermann Broch the prophetic warner of an unprecedented danger to humanity, that in the metaphoric as in the physical sense was an atmospheric threat:

Yet the greatest danger that has ever occurred in the history of mankind has chosen our generation as its victim. It is the defenselessness of breath that I would like to now finally speak of. It is difficult to grasp its real significance. Human beings are more receptive for air than for any other thing. They still move within it like Adam in paradise … Air is the last common property. It belongs to all collectively.

It is not pre-portioned; even the poorest may take their share.… And now this last thing that was common to us all is to poison us all.… Hermann Brochʼs work is positioned between war and war, gas war and gas war. It is possible that he still now feels the toxic particles of the last war somewhere … but it is certain that he, who understands how to breathe better than we ourselves, is suffocating today on the gas that will take the breath from us others, whoever knows when that will be. [9]

Canettiʼs impassioned observation shows how information of the gas warfare from 1915 to 1918 had been abstractly translated by the most intensive diagnostician of the 1930s. Broch had realized that after the intentional atmospheric destruction of chemical warfare, social synthesis began in many respects to take on the character of gas warfare, as if atmoterrorism had turned inwards. The ʻtotal warʼ heralded by old particles and new signs would inevitably take on the characteristics of an environmental war: during this war, the atmosphere itself would become a theatre of war; furthermore, air would become a kind of weapon and a special kind of battlefield.

And, in addition, from the commonly breathed air, from the ether of the collective, the community, in its mania, will in future wage a chemical war against itself. How this can happen can be explained by a theory of ʻsemi-consciousnessʼ – undoubtedly the most original, if also the most fragmentary part remaining of Brochʼs mass psychological hypotheses. A state of semi-consciousness is that in which people move merely as trend followers in a trance of normality. As the prevailing total war is waged principally atmoterroristically and ecologically (this in the medium of total mass communication), it spreads to the ʻmoraleʼ of the troops, who can now hardly be distinguished from the population. Through toxic communions, the fighters and non-fighters, the synchronically gassed and simultaneously excited, consolidate in a collective state of subconsciousness. The modern masses see themselves integrated in an emergency communistic unit that should give them an acute feeling of identity due to their common threatened state. The climatic poisons emanated by the people themselves then prove to be especially dangerous, as long as they are standing beneath sealed communication domes, hopelessly aroused. In the pathogenic air-conditioning systems of synchronically excited publics, the inhabitants breathe in their own breath, again and again. Whatever is in the air is put there through totalitarian circular communication: it is filled with the victory dreams of offended masses and their drunken, far from empirical self-exaltation, followed like a shadow by the desire to humiliate others. Life in a multimedia state is like a stay in an enthusiastic gas palace.


1. ^ See Ian Gibson, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí, Norton, New York, 1998.

2. ^ Salvador Dalí, Dalí, translated into German by Franz Meyer, Moewig, Rastatt, 1988, pp. 229–30.

3. ^ Salvador Dalí, La Conquête de lʼIrrationnel, Éditions Surréalistes, Paris, 1935.

4. ^ The philosophical sources of the definition of the unconscious are illustrated mainly in the works of Odo Marquard, Transzendentaler Idealismus. Romantische Naturphilosophie. Psychoanalyse, Verlag für Philosophie Dinter, Cologne, 1987; and Jean-Marie Vaysse, Lʼinconscient des modernes. Essai sur lʼorigine métaphysique de la psychanalyse, Gallimard, Paris, 1999.

5. ^ Dali, Dalí, p. 290.

6. ^ Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans H. Eiland and K. McLaughlin, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London, 1999, p. 220 [1,4,4].

7. ^ Elias Canetti, ʻHermann Broch. Rede zum

50. ^ Geburtstagʼ, in Elias Canetti, Das Gewissen der Worte. Essays, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1981, pp. 22, 18.

8. ^ Ibid., p. 23.

9. ^ Ibid., pp. 23–4.

Download the PDFBuy the latest issue