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