by Paul Virilio
To sufer with or to sympathize with? That is a question that concerns both ethics and aesthetics, as was clearly intuited by Gericault, the man who made his famous 'portraits of the insane' at La Salperriere Hospital in Paris over the winter of 1822 at the invitation of one Dr Georget, founder of 'social psychiatry'. Gericault's portraits were meant to serve as classificatory sets for the alienist's students and assistants.
Driven by a passion for immediacy, Gericault sought to seize the moment whether of madness or death live. Like the emergent press, he was especially keen on human interest stories such as the wreck of the Medusa, that TITANIC of the painting world ...
The art of painting at the time was already busy trying to outdo mere REPRESENTATION by offering the very presence of the event, as instantaneous photography would do, followed by the PHOTOFINISH and the first cinematographic newsreels of the Lumiere brothers and, ultimately, the LIVE COVERAGE offered by CNN.
INTERACTIVITY was actually born in the nine teenth century with the telegraph, certainly, but also and especially with clinical electricity, which involved planting electrodes on the faces of the human guinea pigs used in such 'medical art' as practised by Dr Duchenne de Boulogne. The recent Duchenne exhibition at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, aimed no less than to 'rehabilitate' Duchenne's work, though this La Salpetriere Hospital photographer was no mare than an 'expressionist of the passions' for whom his p atients' faces were only ever laboratory material that enabledhim to practise 'live anatomy'.
Already in the eighteenth century just prior to the French Revolution, this confusion of cold-bloodedness with a mode of perception that allowed the doctor or surgeon to diagnose illness due to the ability to repress emotion pity had contaminated the artistic representations of 'naturalistic' painters and engravers. Jacques Agoty, for instance, as a painter and anatomist on the trail of ' the invisible truth of bodies', wavered between an engraver's burin and an autopsy scalpel in his work.
But the truly decisive s tep had to wait until much more recently, till 1998, with ' The World of Bodies' exhibition at the the Mannheim Museum of Technology and Work (Landesmuseum fur Technik und Arbeit) , where close to 800,000 visitors rushed to contemplate 200 human corpses presented by Gunther von Hagens.
The German anatomist actually has invented a process for preserving the dead and, in particular, for sculpting them, by plastination, thereby taking things a lot further than the mere embalming of mummies. Standing tall like statues of antiquity, the flayed cadavers either brandished their skins like trophies of some kind or showed off their innards in imitation of Salvador Dali's Venus de Milo with drawers.
As sole explanation, Dr von Hagens resorted to the modern buzzword : 'It's about breaking the last remaining taboos', he says ... A kind of slide occurs as a result of this Mannheim terrorist manifesto, j ust as it does with the exhibition 'Sensation' in London and New York: it will not be long before we are forced to acknowledge that the German Expressionists who called for murder were not the only avant-garde artists. By the same token so were people like Ilse Koch, the blonde romantic who, in 1939, settled in a gloomy valley near Weimar where Goethe once liked to walk and where, more to the point, he dreamed up his MEPHISTOPHELES that spirit that denies all. The place was Buchenwald.
The woman they would call ' the Bitch Dog of Buchenwald' actually enjoyed aesthetic aspirations pretty similar to those of the good Dr von Hagens, for she had certain de tainees sporting tattoos skinned so that she could turn their skins into various objects of art brut, as well as lampshades.
'The painter brings his body with him first and foremost', wrote Paul Valery. In the course of the 1960s and 1970s, the painters of the Wiener Aktionismus, or Viennese Actionism, would follow this dictum to the letter, using their own bodies as the 'support surface' of their art.
Hermann Nitsch's Orgies Mysteries Theatre 'masses' , in which he sacrificed animals in a bloody and bawdy ritual, were followed by what no doubt takes the cake as the most extreme case of AUTO-DA-FE by any artist. The story goes that Rudolf Schwarzkogler actually died after a bout of castration he inflicted on himself during one of his performance pieces that took place without a single viewer in the huis clos between the artist and a video camera.
This is TERMINAL ART that no longer requires anything more than the showdown between a tortured body and an automatic camera to be accomplished.
At the close of the twentieth century, with Stelarc, the Australian adept at 'body art', the visual arts Schopenhauer wrote were 'the suspension of the pain of living' would turn into a headlong rush towards pain and death for individuals who have gradually developed the unconsidered habit of leaving their bodies not so much ' to science' as to some sort of clinical voyeurism harking back to the heyday of a certain Dr Josef Mengele who performed experiments we all know abou t, AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU for a time becoming the biggest genetic laboratory in the world.
'Immediacy is a fraud', Father Dietrich Bonhoffer declared before d isappearing in the camp at Flossenburg in 1945 ... Well, art is every bit as much of a fraud as amnesiac immediacy.
If 'everything is ruled by lightning', as Heraclitus suggested, the PHOTO-FINISH imposes the instantaneity of its violence on all the various 'artistic representations' and modern art, like war BLITZKRIEG is no more than a kind of exhibitionism that imposes its own terrorist voyeurism: that of death, live.
By way of illustrating the path the impiety of art has taken in the twentieth century, let's look at two types of funerary imagery back to back, though these are separated by almost 2,000 years. The first are the famous PORTRAITS OF THE FAYOUM in Upper Egypt; the second, the PHOTOFINISHES of the Tuol Sleng Memorial in Phnom Penh, where the Angkar the government of ' Democratic Kampuchea' had thousands of innocents put to death in cold blood, women and children first ... carefully photographing them beforehand.
In Egypt at the dawn of Western history, people forced themselves to drag the deceased out of anonymity and into the public eye as an image in order to identify the essential being. In Cambodia at the going down of a pitiless century, the photographic identity of the detainee was filed before they were put to death.
In the twinkling of an eye we have, on the one hand, the birth of the portrait in all its humility, its discretion. On the other, systematic use of the freeze frame as a death sentence revealing THE LOOK OF DEATH.
Two versions of an 'art' that French artist, Christian Boltanski, has tried to pull off according to his own lights in order to fend off forgetting, negation: this aesthetic of disappearance that, alas, simply provides a cover for those who still, even now, reject the impiety of art.
It is better to be an object of desire than pity, they say . .. Once the province of advertising, this adage surely now belongs to the realm of art, the desire to consume yielding to the desire to rape or kill. If this really is the case, the academicism of horror will have triumphed, the profane art of modernity bowing down before the sacred art of conformism, its primacy, a conformism that always spawns ordinary everyday fascism.
How can we fail to see that the mask of modernism has been concealing the most classic academicism: that of an endlessly reproduced standardization of opinion, the duplication of 'bad feelings' identically reproducing the duplication of the 'good feelings' of the official art of yore?
How can we ultimately fail to twig that the apparent impiety of contemporary art is only ever the inverted image of sacred art, the reversal of the creator's initial question: why is there something instead of nothing?
Finally, just like the mass media, which no longer peddle anything other than obscenity and fear to satisfy the ratings, contemporary nihilism exposes the drama of an aesthetic of disappearance that no longer involves the domain of representation exclusively (political, artistic, and so on) but our whole vision of the world: visions of every kind of excess, starting with advertising outrages that ensure the succes de scandale without which the conditioning of appearances would immediately stop being effective .
And speaking of disappearance and decline, note the underhand way the naif painters have been bundled away: without wanting to wheel out yet again the 'Douanier' Rousseau, whose masterwork, War, inspired Picasso's Guernica, think of painters like Vivin or Bauchant.
Why the Freudian lapse? This discreet elimination of painters who never laid claim to any art savant, whether atademic or avant-garde? Do we really believe that this trend of art's towards ingenuity suddenly stopped in its tracks, decidedly too pitiful like that ingenu libertin, Raoul Dufy?
It will not be long before the drawings of kindergarten children are banned, replaced by digital calligraphic exercises.
Meanwhile, let's get back to art's fraudulent immediacy, to the PRESENTATION of works that supposedly come across as obvious to all and sundry without requiring the intercession of any form of reflection. Here's Marshall McLuhan, that bucolic prosateur of the 'global village' : 'lf we really want to know what's going on in the present, we should first ask the artists; they know a lot more than scientists and technocrats since they live in the absolute present. '
Here we find the same line of thought as Rene Gimpel's only, deformed by the Canadian sociologist's media-haunted ideology . What is this ABSOLUTE PRESENT (that 'absolute' is surely tautological!) if not the resurgence of a classicism that already laid claim to the eternal present of art, even going so far as to freeze it in geometric standards (witness the Golden Mean) bearing no relationship to the relative and ephemeral nature of analogical perception of events. Impressionism would try to free us from these standards, on the threshold of industrial modernity.
Contrary to appearances, REAL TIME this 'present' that imposes itself on everyone in the speeding-up of daily reality is, in fact, only ever the repetition of the splendid academic isolation of bygone days. A mass media academicism that seeks to freeze all originality and all poetics in the inertia of immediacy.
'Inertia is a raw form of despair', Saint-Exupery claimed, at the end of his life. This goes some way to explaining the relentless desire not to save phenomena, as in the past, but to shed them, to spirit them away behind the artifice of the manipulation of signs and signals by a digital technology that has now sunk its teeth into the whole array of artistic disciplines, from the taking of photographs to the capturing of sounds. Things have reached such a pitch that a pitiful musician par excellence like Bob Dylan can bemoan the fact that
All the music you hear these days is just electricity! You can't hear the singer breathing anymore behind this electronic wall. You can't hear a heart beating anymore. Go to any bar and listen to a blues group and you'll be touched, moved. Then listen to the same group on a CD and you'll wonder where the sound you heard in the bar disappeared to.
The demise of the relative and analogical character of photographic shots and sound samples in favour of the absolute, digital character of the computer, following the synthesizer, is thus also the loss of the poetics of the ephemeral. For one brief moment Impressionism in painting and in music was able to retrieve the flavour of the ephemeral before the nihilism of contemporary technology wiped it out once and for all.
'We live in a world traversed by a limitless destructive force', reckoned Jonathan Mann, the man in charge of the World Health Organization's fight against AIDS, before he disappeared, a victim of the crash of Swissair Flight 111 .
Impossible indeed to imagine the art of the twentieth century without weighing the threat of which it is a prime example. A quiet yet visible, even blinding, threat. ls In the wake of the counter culture, aren't we now at the dawning of a culture and an art that are counter-nature?
That, in any case, was the question that seemed to be being posed by a conference held at the Institut Heinrich Heine in Paris in the winter of 1999. The title of the conference was: 'The Elimination of Nature as a Theme in Contemporary Art'
As far as contemporary science and biology go, doubt is no longer an option, for genetics is on the way to becoming an art, a transgenic art, a culture of the embryo to purely performative ends, just as the eugenicists of the beginning of the twentieth century hoped. When Nietzsche decided that 'moral judgements, like all religious judgements, belong to ignorance', he flung the door to the laboratories of terror wide open.
To demonstrate or to 'monstrate', that is the question: whether to practise some kind of aesthetic or ethic demonstration or to practise the cleansing of all 'nature', all 'culture', through the technically oriented efficiency of a mere 'monstration', a show, a blatant presentation of horror.
The expressionism of a MONSTER, born of the labour of a science deliberately deprived of a conscience ... As though, thanks to the progress of genetics, teratology had suddenly become the SUMMUM of BIOLOGY and the oddball the new form of genius only, not a literary or artistic genius anymore, but a GENETIC GENIUS.
The world is sick, a lot sicker than people realise. That's what we must first acknowledge so that we can take pity on it. We shouldn't condemn this world so much as feel sorry for it. The world needs pity. Only pity has a chance of cobbling its pride.
So wrote George Bernanos in 1939 . . . Sixty years on, the world is sicker still, but scientist propaganda is infinitely more effective and anaesthesia has the territory covered. As for pride, pride has gotten completely out of hand, thanks to globalization; and pity has now bitten the dust just as piety once succumbed in the century of philo-folly a la Nietzsche.
They say the purpose of ethics is to slow down the rate at which things happen. Confronted by the general speeding-up of phenomena in our hypermodern world, this curbing by conscience seems pretty feeble.
We are familiar with extreme sports, in which the champion risks death striving for some pointless performance 'going for it'. Now we find the man of science, adept in extreme sciences, running the supreme risk of denaturing the living being having already shattered his living environment.
Thanks to the decryption of the map of the human genome, geneticists are now using cloning in the quest for the chimera, the hybridization of man and animal. How can we fail to see that these 'scientific extremists', far from merely threatening the unicity of the human race by trafficking embryos, are also taking their axe to the whole philosophical and physiological panoply that previously gave the term SCIENCE its very meaning? In so doing, they threaten science itself with disappearance.
Extreme arts, such transgenic practices, aim at nothing less than to embark BIOLOGY on the road to a kind of 'expressionism' whereby teratology will no longer be content just to study malformations, but will resolutely set off in quest of their chimeric reproduction.
As in ancient myths, science, thus enfeebled, will once more become the 'theatre of phantasmatic appearances' of chimera of all kinds. And so the engendering of monsters will endeavour to contribute to the malevolent power of the demi-urge, with its ability to go beyond the physiology of the being. Which is only in keeping with what was already being produced by the German Expressionism denounced by Rene Gimpel. But also, first and foremost, by the horror of the laboratories of the extermination camps.
It is no longer enough now to oppose negationism of the Shoah; we also need to categorically reject negationism of art by rejecting this 'art brut' that secretly constitutes engineering of the living, thanks to the gradual decryption of DNA; this 'eugenics' that no longer speaks its name yet is gearing up all the same to reproduce the abominiltion of desolation, not just by putting innocent. victims to death anymore but by bringing the new HOMUNCULUS to life.
In 1 997, a member of the French National Ethics Committee, Axel Kahn, wrote of cloning: 'It is no longer a matter of tests on a man but of actual tests for a man. That a life so created is now genetically programmed to suffer abnormally this constitutes absolute horror.
How can we fail to see here the catastrophic continuation of Nazi experimentation, experimentation destined as a priority for the pilots of the Luftwaffe and the soldiers of the Wehrmacht, those supermen engaged body and soul in a total war?
In Hitler's time, Professor Eugen Fischer, founder and director of the 'Institute of Anthropology, Human Genetics and Eugenics (lEG) , declared that animal experiments still dominated research only because we have very limited means of obtaning human material. Fischer went on to say that, 'When we have done with research on rabbits, which remains the main type of research for the moment, we will move on to human embryos'. With the abundant stock of human embryos at the end of the twentieth century this is, alas, a done deal ...
But stay tuned to what the German geneticist went on to say in 1940 . 'Research on twins constitutes the specific method for studying human genetics. ' Two years later, Adolf Hitler made Eugen Fischer an honorary member of the 'Scientific Senate' of the Wehrmacht; he was succeeded as head of the IEG by Professor Otmar von Verschuer, a specialist in twins ...
From that moment, AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU became a research laboratory undoubtedly unique in the world, the laboratory of the ' Institute of Anthropology, Human Genetics and Eugenics' . The name of Professor Verschuer's assistant was Josef Mengele. You know the rest.
As recently as 1998, the British medical weekly The Lancet condemned the initiatives of the European Union and the United States in trying to introduce a total ban on the practice of human cloning. A year later, the editors were still arguing that 'the creation of human beings' had become 'inevitable', regardless. The editors of the London publication wrote that:
The medical community will one day have to address the care of and respect for people created by cloning techniques. That discussion had better begin now, before the newspaper headlines roll over the individuality of the first person born this way.
They went on to stress that, all in all, ' there is no difference between an identical twin and a clone (delayed identical twin) ' .
It is not too hard to imagine the consequences of this confusion between PROCREATION and CREATION, of the demiurgic pretensions of a eugenics that no longer has any limits. Now that medically assisted procreation of the embryo has led to genetically programmed creation of the double, the gap between HUMAN and TRANS HUMAN has been closed j ust as those old New Age disciples had hoped; and the celebrated British review The Lancet can arrogate to itself the exorbitant right to remove the term INHUMAN from our vocabulary!
Sir Francis Galton, the unredeemed eugenicist, is back in the land of his cousin Darwin: freedom of aesthetic expression now knows no bounds. Not only is everything from now on 'possible'. It is 'inevitable' !
Thanks to the genetic bomb, the science of biology has become a major art only, an EXTREME ART.
This helps make sense of the title of that Heinrich Heine I nstitute conference, 'The Elimination of Nature as a Theme in Contemporary Art' . It also makes sense of the recent innovation not only of a COUNTER CULTURE, opposed to the culture of the bourgeoisie, but also of an art that is frankly COUNTER-NATURE, peddling as it does a eugenics that has finally triumphed over all prejudice absolutely, in spite of the numberless horrors of the waning century.
Having broken the taboos of suffocating bourgeois culture, we are now supposed to break the being, the unicity of humankind, through the impending explosion of a genetic bomb that will be to biology what the atomic bomb was to physics.
You don't make literature out of warm and fuzzy feelings, they say. And they are probably right. But how far do we go in the opposite direction? As far as SNUFF LITERATURE, in which the conformism of abjection innovates an academicism of horror, an official art of macabre entertainment? In the United States, to take one example, the torturing of the human body by sharp instruments seems to have become the preferred image of advertising, according to the Wall Street Journal of 4 May 2000.
Hit over the head by such media bludgeoning, the art lover is surely already the victim of what psychiatrists call impaired judgement. Which is the first step in an accelerated process of derealization, contemporary art accepting the escalation in extremism and therefore in insignificance, with significance going the way of the 'heroic' nature of old-fashioned official art, and obscenity now exceeding all bounds with SNUFF MOVIES and death, live ...
Let's turn now to contemporary theatre and dance, in particular the work of choreographer, Meg Stuart. Since the early 1 990s, Stuart has been taking her stage performance to the limit. In Disfigured Study of 1991, the dancer's skin looked like it was straining to contain a body in the process of dislocating itself in a brutal vision of automatic self-mutilation. Devastated bodies seemed like so many panicky signs of a live spectacle in which 'the catastrophic intensity condenses a terrifying serenity at the edge of the abyss' as you could read in the press apropos Stuart's most recent work, Appetite, conceived with the installation artist, Ann Hamilton.
In work like this, everything is dance, dance involving ' bodies without hands, twisted legs, wavering identity expressing who knows what selfhatred'. After the SNUFF VIDEO, we now have the SNUFF DANCE, the dance of death of the slaughterhouses of modernity.
Whether Adorno likes it or not, the spectacle of abjection remains the same, after as before Auschwitz . But it has become politically incorrect to say so. All in the name of freedom of expression, a freedom contemporary with the terrorist politics Joseph Goebbels described as 'the art of making possible what seemed impossible'.
But let's dispel any doubts we might still have. Despite the current negationism, freedom of expression has at least one limit: the call to murder and torture. Remember the media of hate in the ex-Yugoslavia of Slobodan Milosovic? Remember the 'Thousand Hills Radio' of the Great Lakes region of Africa calling Rwandans to inter-ethnic genocide? Confronted by such 'expressionist' events, surely we can see what comes next, looming over us as it is: an officially terrorist art preaching suicide and selfmutilation thereby extending the current infatuation with scarring and piercing. Or else random slaughter, the coming of a THANATOPHILIA that would revive the now fo rgotten fascist slogan: VIVA LA MUERTA!
At this point we might note the project of the multinational Monsanto designed to genetically programme crop sterilization and designated by the telling name, 'TERMINATOR'. Are we still talking biotechnology here? Aren't we really talking about a form of necro-technology aimed at ensuring one firm's monopoly?
Thanatophilia, ,necro-technology and one day soon, teratology . :. Is this genetic trance still a science, some new alchemy, or is it an extreme art?
For confirmation we need loqk no further than the Harvard Medical School where Malcolm Logan and Clifford Tabin recently created a mutation that says a lot about the fundamentally expressionist nature of gene tic engineering.
After locating a gene that seemed to play a decisive role in the formation of a chicken's hindlimbs, Logan and Tabin took the radical step of introducing the gene into the genome of a virus which they then injected into the developing wings of a chicken embryo to test the function of the gene.
Some weeks later, this TERATOLOGICAL breakthrough made headlines.
The chicken's wings have undergone major transformations and now look like legs, with the wing twisted into a position suitable for walking and the fingers pivoting to facilitate pressure on the ground. The placement of the muscles is radically different, too, better adapted to the specific functions of walking.
But this monster is not yet perfect, however, for its Kafkaesque metamorphosis is incomplete ... The 'four-legged chicken' is in fact an experimental failure worthy of featuring in the bestiary of a Jerome Bosch! After the 'Doctor Strangeloves' of the atomic bomb, voila 'Frankenstein', no less: the monster has become the chimerical horizon of the study of malformations. And it won't be long before human guinea pigs are used instead of animals in future experiments.
Let's hear it from those trying to denounce this drift of genetic expressionism, from the inside:
The dazzle of success is goading biologists implacably on, each obstacle overcome leading them to take up the next challenge a challenge even greater, even more insane? We should note that if this challenge is not met, the consequences will not be felt by the biologists alone but also by this improbable and uncertain child whose birth they will have enabled in spite of everything.
So writes Axel Kahn apropos 'medically assisted procreation'. Kahn concludes, 'Everything in the history of human enterprise would indicate that this headlong rush into the future will one day end in cat-astrophies in botched attempts at human beings.
How can we fail here to denounce yet another facet of negationism: that of the deliberate overlooking of the famous NUREMBURG CODE, set down in 1 947 in the wake of the horrors the Nazi doctors perpetrated? 'The Nuremburg Code established the conditions under which tests on human beings could be conducted; it is a fundamental text for modern medical ethics', as Axel Kahn rightly reminds us ... There is not a hint of respect for any of this in the contemporary trials: 'When will the Nuremburg Code be applied to medically assisted procreation ... to the attempts at creating a human being?' asks Kahn, as a geneticist and member of the French National Ethics Committee, by way of conclusion.
Ethics or aesthetics? That is indeed the question at the dawn of the millenni um. If freedom of SCIENTIFIC expression now actually has no more limits than freedom of ARTISTIC expression, where will inhumanity end in future?
After all the great periods of art, after the great schools such as the classical and the baroque, after contemporary expressionism, are we not now heading for that great transgenic art in which every pharmacy, every laboratory will launch its own 'lifestyles', its own transhuman fashions? A chimerical explosion worthy of featuring in some future Salon of New Realities if not in a Museum of Eugenic Art.
As one critic recently put it: 'Artists have their bit to say about the laws of nature at this fin de siecle. ' What is urgently required is 'to difine a new relationship between species, one that is not conceived in the loaded terms of bestiality'.
It is not entirely irrelevant to point out here that if 'extreme sports' came before 'extreme sciences' , there is a good reason for this, one that has to do with the cult of performance, of art for art's sake, the breaking of records of every imaginable kind.
When it comes to the ingestion of certain substances by top-level sportspeople, a number of trainers are already asking about limits. 'We are at the beginnings of biological reprogramming yet we don't know how far we are not going to be able to go.' Beyond the drug tests and medical monitoring that champions are already subject to, the general lack of guidelines opens the way to gene tic manipulation and cellular enhancement as well as doping on a molecular level. According to Gerard Dine, head of the 'Mobile Biological Unit' launched by the French Minister of Youth and Sport:
Sportspeople are managed by an entourage who are under more and more pressure from the media and their financial backers. If the current debate isn't settled pretty .. swiftly, a person will only have to ask in order to be programmed to win.
'The assembly-line champion is already on the drawing board. Soon we will even be able to intervene with precision on energy levels and mechanical, muscular and neurological elements' , one expert claims. After all, the German Democratic Republic did it in the 1 970s using synthetic hormones, but these left a trace. Thanks to genomics, you can now enter the human system in the same way as you break into a computer bank without leaving any trace at all.
'The lack of guidelines requires us urgently to define an ethical boundary that would make clear what comes under therapy and what is out of bounds' .
If we do not put in place some sort of code that would extend what was covered by the Nuremburg Code in the area of experimentation on top-level sports people, the Olympic Games of the year 2020 or 2030, say, will be mere games of the transgenic circus in which the magicians of the human genome will hold up for our applause the exploits of the stadium gods of a triumphant super-humanity.
Ethical boundary, aesthetic boundary of sport as of art. Without limits, there is no value; without value, there is no esteem, no respect and especially no pity: death to the referee! You know how it goes ...
Already, more or less everywhere you turn, you hear the words that precede that fatal habituation to the banalization of excess. For certain philosophers the body is already no more than a phenomenon of memory, the remnants of an archaic body; and the human being, a mere biped, fragile of flesh and so slow to grow up and defend itself that the species should not have survived ...
To make up for this lack, this 'native infirmity' as they call it, echoing a phrase used by Leroi-Gourhan: man invented tools, prostheses and a whole technological corpus without which he would not have survived ... But this is a restrospective vision incapable of coming to terms with the outrageousness of the time that is approaching. Ghicault, Picasso and Dali, Galton and Mengele ... Who comes next?
Where will it end, this impie ty of art, of the arts and crafts of this 'transfiguration' that not only fulfils the dreams of the German Expressionists but also those of the Futurists, those 'hate-makers' whose destructiveness Hans Magnus Enzensberger has dissected.
Remember Mayakovsky's war cry, that blast of poetic premonition: ' Let your axes dance on the bald skulls of the well-heeled egoists and grocers. Kill! Kill! Kill! One good thing: their skulls will make perfect ashtrays.
Ashtrays, lampshades, quotidian objects and prostheses of a life where the banality of evil, its ordinariness, is far more terrifying than all the atrocities put together, as Hannah Arendt noted while observing the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961.
Under the reign of Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea, the hopes of the poet of the October Revolution were satisfied yet again, though it was with spades, not axes, that the self-mutilation of a social body of nearly two million Cambodians was perpetrated. 'The murderers did not use firearms. The silence, they knew, added further to the climate of terror'.
The silence of the lambs still required the silence of the executioners. The silence of an untroubled conscience, such as that enjoyed by a so-called 'political science' now disowned by former 'revolutionary' Leng-Sary who today declares, apparently by way of excuse, 'The world has changed. I no longer believe in the class struggle. The period from 1975 to 1979 was a failure. We went from utopia to barbarity. '
Meanwhile, Tuol Sleng has become a museum a genocide museum. The sinister Camp-S2 1 (Security Office 21), where the gaolers were teenagers, offers visitors a tour of the gallery of photographic portraits of its multitudinous victims. Here, contrary to the German extermination camps, the bodies have disappeared, but the faces remain ...
excerpt from the book: Art and Fear by PAUL VIRILIO