Capital in Beijing: Who is this Enthusiastic Man?
Hello, Beijing, can you hear me? Alexander Kluge (above) explains Marx to the historian of ideas Wang Hui (below right) (Photo: Zhang Zhilou/Goethe-Institut Beijing)
30 March 2012
How do you make Marx dance? The Goethe-Institut now brought Alexander Kluge’s film Capital to Beijing. The writer praises China’s good instincts. Perhaps the beginning of a new friendship? By Mark Siemons
“The revolution needs a tremendous amount of time,” exclaims Alexander Kluge in Beijing. It took four hundred years to reach contemporary civilization, and to learn solidarity, “we’ll surely need six hundred years.” The approximately 150 Chinese students and intellectuals sitting tonight in the auditorium of the state-run art academy obviously have no qualms about investing their time. Many of them previously spent nine hours watching Nachrichten aus der ideologischen Antike (News From Ideological Antiquity), Kluge’s film montage about Marx’s Capital after an idea by Eisenstein. And now they are listening to the writer himself, who is not sitting in front of them in person, but is speaking with them from the projection screen of a digital conference from his Munich office.
Strangely enough, the media indirectness does not minimize the presence of the event, but lends it another level: due to the slightly overexposed broadcast image in Beijing, the enthusiastic white-haired man sitting there at a table with papers and a bottle of seltzer seven hours time difference away himself becomes news from a sort of antiquity, an apparition from a different historical sphere with roots reaching far back in time. Kluge’s idea of constant metamorphosis and recurrence of the historical encounters the present interest of the Chinese audience of making Marx dance again with the help of the foreign perspective.
Kluge’s Marx film, shot in 2008 as a commission by the Suhrkamp publishing house, has been an electrifying rumour in Chinese art circles for years. At the encouragement of curators from Beijing’s Iberia Center for Contemporary Art the Goethe-Institut now had the film subtitled and showed it at a number of venues in Beijing, accompanied by discussion of Kluge’s montage technique and of the topicality of criticism of capitalism. Then, at the art academy in Hangzhou while the film was running, Chinese and European artists and intellectuals such as Gao Shiming, Boris Groys, Wang Jianwei, Yang Fudong and Zhang Peili began examining the motives in the film for new digital film in interviews, explanations and their own work.
Hence, Kluge’s Marx project is being continued in China. In the long history of humankind, said Kluge, there have been histories of oppression and emancipation at roughly equal measure. One unimagined ploy of history appears to be destined that where Marx provided formulas for oppression he is now also sought as a potential medium of an artistic and intellectual liberation, especially among younger people. The fact that Kluge’s film neither concerns any orthodox Marx exegesis nor even relevant Marxist themes appears to increase the appeal of the undertaking.
“Nothing disappears”As in the film, from his projected image Kluge made it perfectly clear that he is less interested in politics and economics in the narrower sense than in their reflection in the many individual interwoven life stories; he takes Marx as a poet. “All things are enchanted people,” he quotes him; each one incorporates life time, experience, successful or failed cooperation, and in the case of failure things become “bent and crooked and our tyrants” – for example in the case of institutions and laws. Then, no government can prevent that the people rebel against it, said Kluge with “our Chinese in Königsberg” (Kant). Kluge’s conversational partner was the Beijing historian of ideas Wang Hui, who is considered part of the New Left in China. He compared the concept of things as reflections of people to the idea borrowed from the Taoist thinker Zhuangzi of a universal “equality of things” including humanity, which demands that we reconsider all common attributions and names.
This device now also appears to follow a new kind of capital training, shaking the ground underfoot a bit. During a debate of the Kluge complex of “global circumstances” a student called out enthusiastically, “We must return to the thinking of Confucius and the economics of Marx!” The state censors apparently feel unable to cope with such discursive ambiguity; they announced that they had not enough time to examine it and therefore the theatrical version of Capital by Rimini Protokoll was now postponed.
For Kluge, China appears to fit into his scheme of eternal metamorphosis. “Nothing disappears,” he insisted. “It disappears for a moment and then it reappears somewhere else.” He described it as a “good coincidence or good instinct,” that the vice president of China in Europe recently visited Ireland, a comparatively poor country where in the Middle Ages monks brought antiquity back into the game from the sidelines. “Those are the best stories of the western world.” Yet civilization arose twice, in the west and in the east. Kluge announced his plans to look more closely at China soon in his dtcp television programme.
With the kind permission of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in which this article first appeared.