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Eike Gebhardt I GG & G (English)

God, Gold, and Guilt – behind the mere alliteration we sense a vague interdependence of these notions. Indeed, we do feel caught – and rightly so: A well-kept secret made transparent. Artneuland did not design this conference to target Christian commonplaces, e.g. the idol of the golden calf, or absolution in exchange for money (the closest nexus between gold and guilt and God), nor did Artneuland aim to mock the new monotheism of mammon (i.e. neoliberalism). Rather, to use a histrionic term, the goal was to uncover some of the psycho-historical processes that make this nexus so compelling, nay inescapable. Perhaps out of necessity, our allegedly secular age has managed to ignore or repress this nexus, and/or has concealed it under a plethora of euphemisms; in any event, we hardly seem aware of it – while others point to the religious underpinnings of our pragmatism. As usual, therefore, Artneuland did recruit participants and authors not only form some different cultures but from the various disciplines as well – in line with Artneuland’s basic intent to seek out or create an opening, a bridge, or any oold transition point between seemingly separate forms of life. These borders separating cultures, lifestyles or even forms of discourse may, to some, appear quire natural; to others all ideological, even downright political. Artneuland wants to act as an interpreter, i.e. a mediator and translator between cultural discourses that often seem, quite literally, worlds apart. Verbal translation is clearly insufficient in these cases. We have to translate and interpret traditional, symbolic and idiomatic meanings, connotations, and cultural axioms to the point where they yield a common denominator evident to all participants. Translating concepts and attitudes (and their reasons, i.e. origin and legitimation) is quite different from verbally translating a cultural monologue to another participant on a panel. In the ideal case, the reasoning behind a position will become, in the true sense of the word, transparent to the listener, similar to a palimpsest. By comparing the (historical, traditional, social etc.) reasons for certain arguments we might be able to spot, compare and assesss the psychohistoric intent behind the respective positions. Basically, this is what happens in any authentic communication: We presuppose that our addressee is, so to speak, an alien. If indeed we all were using the same frame of reference, we wouldn’t have to talk at all – we would just convey information; any machine could do that. It’s the experience of something alien in images, impressions, and ideas “we hold to be self-evident” that forces us to question, time and again, our own tacit axioms and “working truths” of our respective culture. To us, God is no longer such an axiom, pseudo-religious revivals notwithstanding. For other cultures, though, ‘He’ still is a code for everything they do not understand or (want to?) feel responsible for, including their own actions. (They only follow orders, albeit allegedly divine …) Guilt - shame at not living up to a presumed responsibility – does work in both directions: either in terms of failing God’s commandments, or failing to assume responsibility for one’s own life. Obedience is our preferential way of abdicating all responsibility, the German poet Schiller once insisted. Even if we obey our innermost voice: In either case, we merely follow orders … What we consider our „will“, seems largely independent of our judgements, our self-examination; strangely enough, it is our spontaneous will, not “sicklied over with the pale cast of thought” i.e. unhampered y reason, reasons or reflexion, which we consider the expression of our essential self. A axiomatic culture trap indeed, and it reminds us once again to doubt and question anything that lays a claim to being natural – or worse: self-evident; most likely it is just an ideology. In Western cultures, the primacy of work life imparting dignity, nay actual identity; and, as a consequence, we do give shape and meaning to our life by means of money/geld/gold: an unimposing everyday authority, invisible as such and omnipresent, just like God … And, as a further consequence, we do feel guilt in case of conflict only – a clash of values, so to speak; quite rare these days when other values seem tendentially reduced to the status of private hobbies. Should we, perhaps, institutionalize this value-conflict, creating a permanent forum for it? Artneuland is attempting just that. More than a century ago, the wise pragmaticist Charrles Sanders Peirce insisted that we do not, indeed cannot really understand our world as long as it functions properly. It’s when our sacred truths (Peirce mocked them as mere social tools) cease to function normally and ‘naturally’ – e.g. in a confrontation with an alien culture – that we will be forced to examine the reasons for these “working truths”; hopefully, we will discover their contingency for certain purposes, i.e. their relativity: They were made by humans, and thus they can be changed by humans. Including God: ‘He’ did not create man; man created God. Any alien view, therefore, is a heuristic support for our enlightenment. Guilt is the prototype of such an alien view on what we do, feel and think. Alienation, therefore, is the first impetus not only for emancipation but, as a consequence, for creativity – in the arts, the sciences, in social life, including the tacit political theology informing our dis-courses, in and with which we legitimate, and question our premises. It is the evil seed of insight and cognition – the end of a God-given paradise, to be sure, but a summons to create our own. Without alienation, there is no need to try.

// September 2007
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