Rainer Ganahl - Oscar Negt (mid 90s_ interview done in german translated by me.s


Rainer Ganahl: How has the public sphere and its discourse (Öffentlichkeit ) changed since the time of the appearance of your first book in the early 70s?
Oskar Negt: To begin with, the transformation of the public sphere (Öffentlichkeit) lies doubtlessly in the speedy development of microelectronics, that is tho say, technological media that, on the one hand are smaller in format and become consequently easier to use; on the other, provide more effective means of communications which overlaps with the traditional forms of what is public, i. e. its traditonal spaces and time frames. The public sphere/discourse Alexander Kluge and I have analysed in Öffentlichkeit und Erfahrung (Public sphere/discourse and experience) and then also Geschichte und Eigensinn (History and Idiosyncracy), 1981 was directed towards a public discourse of protetst (Protestöffentlichkeit) that was very much determined by books, by writing and newspaper articles and by gatherings and depicted a type of printed public sphere. Up until now we have been dealing with a fundamental transformation of the entire media landscape in the sense that our experience of reality of Lebenszusammenhänge (living complexes), of every day life expressions are juxtaposed by a kind of second reality.
RG: Can one say that Öffentlichkeit and the world of medai are interconnected and have become synonimous?
ON: What is understood today as Öffentlichkeit, as public sphere, public discourse, also in a political context, is essentially a mediatized world of opinions, of expressions. One could go so far as to say what is not in the media is not public, but this public discourse suffers in its powerful extension increasing difficulties to provide content. A public discourse that in this social-darwinistic fight for surviving of the media is adapted strongly to the quick devaluation of information or events, has to produce constantly new material. The persecution towrads Diana or when criminals write their memoirs reveals increasinly the attempts to extract any piece of information that people are not yet aware of. That means intimacy has been plundered by public discourse. But originally Öffentlichkeit, public discourse was a kind of shelter, a restricted area for the private sphere. I can answer your question and say that the raw material of this perverted media determined public disourse is even more concerned with the attempt to espy and exploit the last overlooked corners in the media complex. And the exploitation of this intimacy, Richard Sennet speaks of the “tyranny of intimacy” in the public realm and describes it not mistakenly as The Fall of Public Man , is a loss, a loss of Öffentlichkeit, of public discourse, the public sphere of the political. We are observing here a structural transformation of Öffentlichkeit whereas the critical dimension of the public sphere/discourse is going to be increasingly lost.
RG: If you see in the public sphere/discourse of the 70s a protest-Öffentlichkeit that informed itself using the print media, books, reading, gatherings and demonstrations, then we can conclude that this Öffentlichkeit is one that was carried out by intellectuals. Today, as you say, we are dealing with the reality of mass media that is probably less characterized by intellectual discourse but that is produced and consumed by different types of intellectuals. Is Öffentlichkeit today more consensus oriented or are there still possibilities for public discourses that are conflict oriented and alternative to the status quo?
ON: It is difficult to say. Today, public discourses are more specificly event-oriented. Public discourses are event oriented: with that I mean that certain events like Brent Spar, the intended sinking of an oil drilling platform by a multinational oil company that has an omnipotent self-understanding and following events like the Gulf War, and many more. Also smaller events that can be a starting point for Öffentlichkeit productions that can gain an influencial structure; Above all in domains that lie underneith the media. That is also true for xenophobia, where in Hoyerswerda, burning torches were thrown into an inhabited asylant applicant's home, that provoked a chain of people holding candles against xenophobia. Öffentlichkeit isn't always this reliable mobilizing force anymore that reaches beyond the given situation and on which you can rely - if you think for example of labor unions or of certain political parties. It is born out of discontent, bound to certain developements, event related public discourse can be very powerful. We have the latest developement in France with the jobless but we also have other protests that are directed against the xenophobia of a society; we have demonstrations related to the wreath delivery on the graves of Rosa Luxenburg and Karl Liebknecht where one hundred thousand people passed by. This Öffentlichkeit doesn't have anymore linear structures but it can nonetheless be effective.
RG .. and also surprise
ON: ... comes as a surprise and has as an effect that groups believed to be dead or thinkers and contexts said to be dead can suddenlly be revitalized. This is also true for certain forms of student protests that were silent over the last 8 years. Now, you can say that it didn't have much of an impact but it has had an impact. It showed to many people that are working in these university circles that certain processes went wrong, that contradictions in this society have become more pronounced, mounting to explode. These student groups that were protesting have a much clearer vision for society, for the problem of society as it was the case in 1987, during the last big protest movements. This decentralized, event specific Öffentlichkeit (pl.) really exist. They are based on - and this is the difference to this media reality - they are based on modes of processing, on modes of protest of the reality learned through experience (Erfahrungsrealität): the experience of joblessness, the social experience of joblessness in France, the social experience of students, the social experience of long distance truck drivers, who are on strike. This is what is expressed here.
RG: In your last publications you were dealing with pedagogy. You talk about political pedagogy. Could you please say something about the relationship of pedagogy and Öffentlichkeit?
ON: For me it is very clear that we cannot just accompany these developements with mere observation. But regarding each of these trouble spots - be it work in our income society, be it school or childhood, be it the crisis in the relationship with immigrants - we have to come up with specific, very concrete reform programs if we don't want our society to break apart even at its centrifugal forces. This is for me an essential point. This is shown in Childhood and School in a World of Change (Kindheit und Schule in einer Welt der Umbrüche), my latest book. We have to formulate specific reform programs as a way out. And for me, in my own live history, learning and political education are a central role.
RG: This means that Öffentlichkeit can be learned, that Öffentlichkeit is created, is fought over and needs to be defended ...
ON: Yes, Yes, the capacity for public judgment (Urteilsfähigkeit) isn't given by itself and doesn't just emerge through practice but needs practice and has to be learned. This can take place in schools, in families, where ever, also in university classrooms. The capacity for public judgment (öffentliche Urteilskraft) has to be learned.
RG: A question regarding university and school politics: As you know in the United States we can observe attempts to question curricula and to investigate them for structural inequalities, racisms, sexisms and eurocentrisms. What kind of history, what kind of literature should we teach to whom? These efforts are develloped in the context of the phenomenon of Cultural Studies. In the German speaking area I see only little sensitivity to these questions of representation. How do you see this?
ON: I don't see it. But I think it is possible that due to the post-war and war experience, the experience of fascism, the checking of German curricula in regard to racism or anti-semitism isn't particularily necessary. I can't imagine it. But maybe there are some textbooks that contain hidden anti-woman positions. But I think this cultural dimension, assuming that in Germany we have to overcome certain prejudices in this moment, is not very relevant. I don't know of any textbooks that contain open or hidden racist positions; I can't perceive it as a relevant problem. But I also could be wrong. I haven't checked it under this point of view but I don't know any textbook or any curriculum that indeed needs relevant corrections.
RG: The internet is playing an ever increasing role in private and public life. I see in the very complex phenomenon of the internet a kind of Doppelöffentlichkeit, the public sphere/discourse's double, a kind of Clone or Alias of the public realms that are involved with selling and consumption. How do you see the internet in the context of Öffentlichkeit?
ON: The only consequence of the internet in the academic field is that the page numbers of dissertations have doubled because a internet buttom for the subject “Utopia” is bringing up the entire australian or japanese literature on a variety of perspectives. They are quoted but not read. I don't think highly of the expansion of our consciousness (Bewußtseinserweiterung) of the internet, with the exception of simply technical data, information, that can't be received via other chanels. But my skepsis is very big on the importance of the internet. I think, taht in the beginning an innovation is always connected with massive hopes that is very soon limited to the borders of what it can deliver. For me the problem isn't information, but the information processing capacity. This is the main problem of today's learning. How can I process additional information? If the processing capacity of this information isn't increasing, and this you can produce only in the pre-media realm like in the family, in school, in university, in a more craftmenship like pre-industrial way, then, these technological means serve nothing.Without the expansion of the processing capacity the internet isn't playing a big role.
RG: You are talking that the media should be reinstalled as media and not as reality. Could you please explain this further.
ON: Yes, I am thinking that one has to take out the media world of its context of suggestive reality. Therefore it is important to not move outside the media, to critize from the outside but in fact to look also within this pressing media world for alternatives. This can very well be explained with the children's chanel on public TV. On the children's chanel youngsters will not be bothered with commercials; you offer real children stories, i.e. fantasy material that has in the everyday experience of children's faculty for processing. (Verarbeitsungsmöglichkeiten). For me this is a small thing, but possibly, these small things are suitable (made for) in order to make the media world, that is excercising a big suggestion, a fascination, but that can also be useful, more understandable. To show that it isn't a kind of ersatz-reality, that behalves like the real (eigentlich) reality. The real problems in this society are all grounded in a pre-media reality. In order to solve these and in order to have processes going would have as a result people increasingly see these media in its medial character, i.e. as helping organs, as additional organs in the literal sense, as remote senses and not as ersatz-reality.
RGL Idiosyncrasy (Eigensinn - literally: one's proper sense) is for you a critical category. How is Eigensinn defined and how can it be used in the realm of the public sphere and the media?
OK: I said each demand for appropriation touches upon resistance. That is the arch cell of each rebellion. The exsisting society creates with each manipulation also a counter energy. It is not a linear process, for sure not. But people are not unlimitedly subsummable/subjugateable under something that is strange to them. This subjection has limits. Eigensinn would consist in rendering one's own sense - again able to judge in the way Marx had said: our senses must again become theoreticians, it means they must regain their faculty for critical judgment.