Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light
Editorial 01/2017 [i],
Benjamin Tallis, Editor-in-Chief, New Perspectives
In the fountain
Amid the square
For yesterday’s sunset
Vítězslav Nezval, ‘Bizarre Town – 14’, The Absolute Gravedigger.
The recent ISA annual convention was, as ever, an intoxicating mix of the scholarly and the social, the illuminating and the obscuratory, the inspiring and the off-putting, the optimistic and the pessimistic. It was, as ever, a great experience.
Some panels sparked rich discussion and reflection, such as the roundtable on 30 years of On Diplomacy (Der Derian, 1987), illuminating the diverse paths of innovation, insight and collegiality that can mediate our scholarly estrangements.[ii] Other panels unfortunately shone light on some of the less edifying tendencies in our discipline – such as the primetime ‘Has World Politics Changed?’ panel (of which more below). Mainly, as ever, the best thing about the convention was the chance to catch up with so many people, to carry on so many conversations (often late into the night) and to start new ones. There are too many to name but thanks to everyone who made it such an interesting, fulfilling and fun time.
Many conversations at the ISA touched on topics that feature in this issue of New Perspectives: from the hows and whys of Brexit and Trump to the supposed return (again!) of great power politics, and the roles and relative importance of identity, culture and political economy as social forces as well as what ‘Russia’ does, thinks and wants. This editorial reflects or, more accurately, refracts on these issues through the prism of twilight. Taking its cue from Rade Zinaić’s piece ‘The Twilight of the Proletariat’ the editorial critically explores the various connotations of twilight and examines its relevance – in decline, resurgence and repetition – for the study and practice of international relations and related social phenomena. It asks what we should preserve but also what we should let go and with Tim Edensor ( 2017) it questions whether we have been unfair to darkness. In the gloam it also encounters the artist Joseph Beuys and the poet Vitezslav Nezval who provoke reflection and recuperation but also apprehension. But before getting to the substance of this editorial, before heading into the ambiguous twilight, a few words on the journal itself.
The Baltimore convention was a very encouraging one for New Perspectives. Our panels went well – thanks to our editorial board members (Stuart Shields, Hannes Peltonen, Kimberly Elman Zarecor, Alena Drieschova, Xymena Kurowska and Merje Kuus) and other friends and colleagues (Tomáš Dopita, Polly Pallister-Wilkins and Petra Roter) who made that happen – and to all those who joined in the discussions.
It was also great to be at the ISA (and to share the joy of promotional work) with Jakub Eberle, our Deputy Editor-in-Chief, whose arrival has had a major impact on the timeliness, quality and scope of the journal – and of the discussions at our meetings. Our Managing Editor Tereza Valny has recently stepped down and we will miss her – Tereza has been a wonderful colleague without whom there would simply not have been as many New Perspectives over the last 18 months. We all wish her well in her new position in the History department of the University of Edinburgh, where she will continue to fly our interdisciplinary flag. We are happy, however, to welcome Gabriela Anderson, who replaces Tereza and has already hit the ground running, working in close collaboration with our incredible proof reader Jan Hrubín, who could spot a missing comma at 200 metres. Jakub Tayari and Vladimír Trojánek ensure that New Perspectives maintains its distinctive look and Matyáš Viktora continues his excellent work as our web and social media editor – you might have noticed us on Facebook. Along with Jakub, Matyáš has been instrumental in launching our new ‘Online First’ channel – you can now get NP articles ahead of print and, for a short time, each of them is free to download. Tell your friends.
As we enter our third year, let me take the chance to thank the NP team, our editorial board, those scholars far and wide who have supported us, our readers and authors for believing in us and all of those at the Institute of International Relations Prague who have made it possible to get this far this fast.
And now, into the twilight zone …
Caspar David Friedrich:
Giant Mountains (Riesengebirge) (1830)
The Large Enclosure (1832)
Vampire Nation or White Working Class
Many of us would be instinctively sympathetic to Tomislav Longinović’s project, which is laid out most extensively in his influential (2011) book Vampire Nation: Violence as Cultural Imaginary. Longinović seeks to deconstruct and destabilise the “ongoing vilification of the Serbian people by the external gaze, as well as their own self-definition through the lens of ‘vampire phantasm’” (THES, 2012). Indeed, some of critical IR, particularly poststructuralist IR’s greatest hits – notably David Campbell’s National Deconstruction (1998) and Lene Hansen’s Security as Practice (2006) – tackle related issues in complementary ways. New Perspectives has also ventured into this territory with Tomáš Dopita’s (2015) critical engagement with Campbell and Hansen’s works – ‘National Reconstruction’ – which, while critical of their methods and conclusions, affirmed much of their basic normative thrust.
Echoing some of the IR contributions in this field, Longinović challenges ethno-nationalist explanations for violence such as Michael Ignatieff’s (1993) Blood and Belonging and instead situates the Balkan wars firmly in a wider European tradition of state-forming violence and internecine bloodletting. His ‘vampire phantasm’ challenges the narrative of Serbia’s “stunted modernity” and violent, slow or incomplete transition being rooted in the “viperous burden” of the Serbian historical imagination (THES, 2012). Like much of what Zinaić calls “Critical Balkanology” this intends to “connect the disconnected” (Volcić, 2013), challenging “colonial” (Bjelić, 2002) readings with post-colonial, poststructuralist critique from within by “recuperating lost voices,” foregrounding and interrogating silences and challenging representations that stigmatise “the serbs,” all of which will be music to the ears of many poststructuralist and critical constructivist IR scholars.
In this issue, however, we publish a stinging riposte to Longinovic’s work – an exhilaratingly written critique of Vampire Nation and the ‘Balkan cultural critique’ that Rade Zinaić claims it to be emblematic of. While Longinović sees “the serbs” (as constructed from without and within) as, inter alia, an “apparition,” a “spectre,” a “chimerical assemblage” and a “simulacrum,” what Zinaić sees in his critique is “The Twilight of the Proletariat.” He thus speaks to live debates in IR – and beyond – that question the limits of different kinds of critique – in this case the limits of a poststructuralism that “cannot see beyond the singular individual as victim and vanguard”, thus “effacing awareness of class consciousness” and ultimately reproducing the dominant (neo-)liberal order that it purports to challenge.
Zinaić’s critique of Longinović seems to echo David Chandler’s critique of the EU as ‘Empire in Denial’ in the Balkans (and elsewhere) focusing on individual rights, the rule of law and anti-corruption initiatives that in effect neuter local collective political identities (2006). But whereas Chandler focuses on the role of the international community in this process, Zinaić holds Longinović and the “post-war, urban, middle class Yugoslav generations” (Longinović, 2011: 184) responsible as willing accomplices to the “neoliberal” “Euro-Atlantic” “empire’s” ostracism of what Zinaić refers to as the “(sub)proletariat.”
Zinaić’s argument echoes leftist critique of ‘metropolitan liberals’ across Europe and North America who, when castigating the ‘(White) Working Class’ for failing to live up to liberal values, apparently remain indifferent to the socio-economic plight of the ‘losers of globalisation’. Longinović codes “specific practices of everyday life” – “guslaric folklore, turbo folk […] ritualized practices inaugurated [by] Tito and Milošević” – as “plebeian” and as part of the “ethno-historicist” problem, leaving urban “middle-class intellectuals as the only group capable of speaking truth to power.” Zinaić drives home the stake, claiming that Longinovic “misreads Serbian politics as a problem of culture” rather than “political economy.”
Thus, like the white working class around the world, the Serbian (sub)proletariat is (allegedly) demonised culturally as well as disenfranchised economically. Yet it seems strange to proclaim the “twilight of the proletariat” at the very moment when the protest against this is being loudly heard around Europe and in North America – unless, of course, we are being “unjust to twilight” (Havel, 1996).
Twilight at Dawn
With Jeremy Corbyn, Jean-Luc Melenchon and Bernie Sanders having made serious inroads with their retro-leftism, and leaders such as Theresa May, Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Donald Trump busily reassembling (or simulating) the anti-liberal, national-social nexus from the right, reports of the demise of the proletariat may be exaggerated (beyond the Balkans). Rhetorically at least politicians across the spectrum and an array of commentators point specifically to the ‘political economy’ of (neoliberal) globalisation as the culprit for the current discontent, as Derek Sayer has documented (2017).
Sayer cites British Prime Minister Theresa May: “tensions and differences between those who are gaining from globalisation and those who feel they are losing out”; UKIP leader Nigel Farage hailed “a victory for real people, a victory for ordinary people” against “the multinationals … the big merchant banks … big politics …”; on the left, journalists Larry Elliott and Ian Jack respectively saw “a rejection of globalisation” and “the poor turning on an elite who ignored them,” while campaigner John Pilger saw a backlash against a “liberal, enlightened […] bourgeoisie with insatiable consumerist tastes.” As for the US, Sayer quotes Glenn Greenwald’s claim that “sustained economic misery makes people more receptive to tribalistic scapegoating” and adds that in such analyses we seem to be “back in that familiar left‐wing land of the last instance where ‘It’s the economy, stupid,’ and all the evils of the world, including white racism and xenophobia, can be laid at the door of neoliberalism and capitalism.” Sayer’s compelling rejection of this argument is appropriately titled ‘White Riot’ (all cited in Sayer, 2017).
This is an issue of great significance for international as well as domestic politics, as the ‘Russia and the World: 2017 IMEMO Forecast’ makes clear. The forecast, from Russia’s leading foreign policy institute, not only makes clear the stake of the revolt against the liberal establishment in the West, but also clearly sides with those who see that “fear of globalisation is at the forefront of this revolt against the political mainstream”, rather than “value aspects” such as rejection of “gender equality, gay rights, ethnic diversity, and environmental protection – [that are] promoted by elites,” and which it claims are “of secondary importance.” This is particularly interesting given the Putin regime’s frequent ‘values-based’ denigrations the ‘decadent’ West (e.g. Snyder, 2015).
The interplay – or intersection – of economic factors, of capitalism, with other social forces is also at the heart of the debate that animates the forum in this issue, in which Ian Bruff, Matthias Ebenau and Richard Westra respond to Daniel Šitera’s (2015) review essay on their recent edited collections on Comparative Capitalisms. This rich and spirited discussion offers plenty for critical scholars within, but also beyond, the field of International Political Economy to reflect on the scope and focus of their critique, but also on their purpose and normative positioning. Drawing on Adam Przeworski’s (1986) work, Šitera highlights the need to balance pessimistic interpretations of the world with the (informed) optimism that must animate the quest to change it. In light of these contributions it is instructive to reflect on Václav Havel’s observation, in a different context, that “the word twilight has been traditionally linked in our minds with the notions of end, extinction, defeat, ruin or approaching death” but, as he went on to remind us, twilight comes not only at dusk, but also at dawn.
Making Power Great Again
In addition to the challenges to the values-based, cultural and socio-economic challenges, the putative return of great power politics also calls the liberal international order into question – a topic of much discussion at ISA 2017. The IMEMO forecast follows in the tradition of its predecessors in avowedly seeing the world in great-power terms and, once again, through the lenses worn by Russia as a great power (see, e.g., Neumann, 2015; Reshetnikov, 2016). Indeed, Russia’s actions in Ukraine – and elsewhere – have been seized upon as evidence of the return of great power (geo)politics and the dangers of ignoring the ‘rules’ of the great game (e.g. Mearsheimer, 2014; Wilson, 2014). After last year lamenting the presence of the wrong players, IMEMO’s 2017 forecast sees Russia “alone at the table” against the backdrop of a “degrading world order” characterised by a decline in “traditional international formats” and “significantly influenced by peripheral interests and provincial thinking.” The Russian analysts forecast a protracted international interregnum but also engage in extended discussion of the significance of “mak[ing] America great again.”
Tapio Juntunen’s insightful analysis of the strange renaissance of ‘Finlandization’ in response to the Ukraine crisis – driven by Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski among others – provides another perspective on the resurgence of great power politics in theory and practice. Juntunen outlines and explores the multiple historical uses and effects of ‘Finlandization’ as a performative myth. His ‘Helsinki Syndrome’ provides an excellent illustration of Rasmussen’s (2003) distinction between Finlandization as a “lesson of history” (as Brzezinski, Kissinger, et al. would have us believe) and a “history of lessons” (to conform to the “iron laws of great power politics”). Juntunen’s analysis contributes to the burgeoning field of Historical International Relations and it is apt in this context that he cites Halvard Leira and Benjamin de Carvalho’s recent warning that in IR “instead of emphasising the volatility and change of international politics”, the past is too often used “[…] as a quarry to be mined for the insights [that confirm] the universal and timeless workings of the (anarchical) structure of international politics” (2016: 101).
This tendency was also on prominent display at the recent ISA annual convention in Baltimore. At one of the first blockbuster panels of this year’s conference (Wednesday, 10:30), in front of a packed hall, a panel of leading scholars set out to address the question “Has World Politics Changed?” Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, John Mearsheimer’s contribution largely consisted of arguing that the main import of any change that there had been was to prove him and his neo-realist approach right. A series of examples was given but amounted to what Juntunen, channelling Quentin Skinner, identifies as “apparent but misleading familiarit[ies],” comforting historical lenses, which, in a process analogous to the “parachronistic renaissance” of Finlandization, again seek to confirm the ‘iron laws of great power politics’ and the ‘timeless workings of the anarchical structure of international politics’.[iii]
However, while attempting a reflexive critique, Amitav Acharya (a late addition to the panel) did something similar. In effect, he argued the same, hand-wringing, self-critical liberal point that it’s (still) the economy (and specifically the economy of neoliberal globalisation), stupid. As in the examples presented above, this was held to be the reason – without compelling evidence or argumentation – for the Brexit and Trump votes as well as seemingly heralding the awakening of a new, transnational, self-conscious class of those who see themselves as economically disenfranchised and politically neglected by the elites that serve the interests of (transnational) capital. Acharya didn’t use the term but it would not be too much of a leap to see such a group as a new proletariat.
Gods and Idols
Whether it is twilight at dawn or dusk for the proletariat – empirically and conceptually/analytically – remains to be seen but, normatively speaking, its demise and its renaissance would each be met with a mixed reaction. The same could be said for great power (geo)politics as an animating idea of international relations in theory and practice. A twilight of the gods for some, of the idols for others.[iv]
However, for those whose concepts and theories are indeed entering a dusky twilight there are (at least) two things to bear in mind. The first is that twilight – of both kinds – is a rhythmic, cyclical phenomenon, something which regularly returns, and the type of return that we both observe and try to bring about in both the scholarly and wider social worlds is key. The second is that we may have been unjust not only to twilight, but also to darkness.
First, with regard to returns, Zinaić’s critical lament for the proletariat is not the first. Jacques Derrida’s Spectres of Marx notes that “at twilight, before or after a night of bad dreams, at the presumed end of history, it is a holy hunt against this spectre [Marxism]” (1994: 49) and by extension against the theoretical and practical notion of the proletariat. Earlier, however, before the fall of the wall, before history supposedly ended, and in a different vein, the art critic and theorist Thierry de Duve hailed the recently deceased artist Joseph Beuys as “The Last of the Proletarians” (2008). This was the same artist who had earlier been famously derided by the leading critic and art historian Benjamin Buchloh in his stinging “Joseph Beuys: The Twilight of the Idol” (2008). Beuys, however, was perhaps uniquely equipped to deal with such ruination, given his focus on recuperation and psycho-social healing.[v] Nonetheless, in considering the politics of return – whether in relation to the proletariat, or the tragic temporalities of realist visions of great power politics – we should also reflect on ‘Nein Quarterly’s’[vi] reworking of Marx’s famous dictum about history repeating (he himself re-working Hegel), which Nein takes further:
“First as tragedy. Then as Farce. Then as Methodology.”
Merely re-heated versions of old approaches are not up to the task of taking us beyond the “Retromania” that drives much current politics (whether via Trump, Corbyn, Melenchon or Kaczynski) as much as recent cultural production (Reynolds, 2011; Cowley, 2016). Contemporary challenges make clear the need for scholars to do more to rethink our approaches, be they Realist, Liberal, Constructivist, Marxist or Poststructuralist, and expand our horizons. Despite the impediments to doing so (scholars need a ‘brand’; personal reputation becomes too closely associated with an analytical approach; idols are too easily fashioned as scholars become stars), IR as a discipline needs to do more to guard against the path dependency that comes from merely instrumentalising the ‘change and volatility’ of international politics to the purpose of trying to show that we were (all) right all along.
This means accepting (or precipitating) the twilight at dusk, the twilight that takes us toward the darkness of some of the aspects of our approaches and ideas as we improve them through the encounters that come from provoking new constellations. As Derrida put it (1996: 109):
“if we let it be understood that we intend to understand spirits in the plural and in the sense of specters, of untimely specters that one must not chase away but sort out, critique, keep close by, and allow to come back […] to guide and hierarchize among the ‘spirits’ will fatally exclude in its turn.”
This also leads to the second point – that we are unjust to darkness, which we need not see – in all cases – as purely destructive or fatal (Edensor, 2017). The geographer Tim Edensor[vii] claims that we need to “reconnect” with darkness (2013) and to rethink the relation we tend to understand between dark and light (2015). He argues that “in recent history, darkness has been conceptualised negatively, for instance, with the ‘dark side’ and the ‘forces of darkness’ conceived as the opposite of that which enlightens and illuminates.” This has lead us to overlook the positive qualities of darkness: “the potential for conviviality and intimacy to be fostered in the dark, the aesthetics and atmospherics of darkness and shadow, the possibilities for apprehending the world through other senses and the dismissal of the star-saturated sky” (ibid.).
Zhanna Aguzarova, ‘Stars are Always Beautiful, Especially at Night’
Searching for the Dark, Searching for the Light
As previous editorials have laid out, New Perspectives’ mission is to provoke constellations of knowledge and understanding through encounter and conversation (Tallis, 2015a; b). We do this partly by providing exactly the space for critical “conviviality” – conviviality that goes “past the affable” as Greg Masters so aptly described the work of Joseph Beuys (Masters, 1998). The forum that we publish in this issue is the latest in a series that is rapidly becoming a mainstay of New Perspectives due to the possibility that it provides for sustained encounter and conversation.
The Pack (1969)
The conversation between Šitera, Westra, Bruff and Ebenau is replete with productive tensions that resonate with those between Zinaić and Longinovic on the role of political economy, identity and culture. But as well as in these direct conversations, we also provoke constellations and encounters through the juxtaposition of original pieces such as Zinaić’s and Juntunen’s, which at turns complement and then contradict each other and which encourage different readings of both the IMEMO forecast and the forum. We will be hosting further discussions on several of these pieces in future issues, as we want to again carry the conversation further, to go beyond the dead ends, the sub-disciplinary cul-de-sacs that we often find ourselves in, and to explore the potential for new combinations of our approaches, for new syntheses and new creativities to flourish.
Edensor’s re-evaluation of darkness points to two other ways in which such creativity can flourish: through the engagement of other ‘senses’, to which we would add the other sensibilities brought by scholarly approaches that extend or question our own approaches, and in the role of culture, beyond scholarship, in providing new ways of seeing, understanding and exploring. Edensor notes that darkness is attractive to those drawn to the “demi-monde,” to Janus-faced Bohemia[viii], to the creative land of artists such as Joseph Beuys and of poets such as Vítězslav Nezval. In the second of our series of ‘Cultural Cuts’ we excerpt from a new translation of Nezval’s The Absolute Gravedigger (the first into English) by Stephan Delbos and Tereza Novická (2016). Nezval was a leading surrealist poet and serial avant-gardist on the astonishing interwar scene in a country whose golden age came at the same time as the Twenty-Years Crisis (Carr, 1974 ; Sayer, 2013). Nezval’s work is alive with the surrealist zeitgeist of the 30s, but Beuys too has been described as a surrealist – one who, according to Buchloh, came “too late, at a moment when it is completely obsolete and impossible” (quoted in David & Chevrier, 1997: 392-4).
How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965)
However, as Derrida may have argued that is perhaps the time when we could learn the most from his work. The Philosopher Arthur C. Danto argues that Beuys should be considered (along with Duchamp and Warhol) as one of the “Founding fathers of contemporary sensibility” but unlike the others has “somewhat faded from contemporary awareness, and seems to belong to an earlier era” (2008: xiii). Like the proletariat and great powers, he’ll be back – but we don’t yet know in what guise or with what effect. Nezval, on the other hand, has – partly thanks to Delbos (2011) and Sayer (2013) – only recently started to gain the kind of international reputation that his oeuvre should command. Both demand further (re-) consideration as they shed new darkness as well as new light on our concerns.
In the fountain
Amid the square
For yesterday’s sunset
Vítězslav Nezval, Image from pen.org
To cite this editorial, please cite the journal version – Tallis, Benjamin (2017), ‘Editorial: Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light’, New Perspectives, vol 25(1): 7-17.) (PDF version available here)
[i] The title of this editorial is taken from Ivan Klíma’s (1996) novel. The protagonist, Pavel, having previously blamed his stifled creativity and productivity on the communist regime, finds himself in a different and differently difficult situation after 1989 … “The system never allowed you to win, so it saved you from defeat as well.”
[ii] We are delighted to be publishing a forum based on the panel ‘On 30 Years of On Diplomacy’ in our next issue (02/2017). Many thanks to Halvard Leira for convening the panel and for facilitating the transformation to a journal forum and to the panellists – Paul Sharp, Iver B. Neumann, Merje Kuus, Noe Cornago, Michele Acuto, Rebecca Adler-Nissen and, of course, to James Der Derian – for agreeing to provide their new perspectives.
[iii] One ISA Panel doesn’t make a discipline, and the other panellists provided more enlightening and reflexive contributions, but the number of people who got up and left after Mearsheimer stopped speaking was indicatively depressing, as was his response to questions.
[iv] Friedrich Nietzsche’s punning response to Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) and the sloppy thinking of his age was Götzen-Dämmerung (Twilight of the Idols – false gods).
[v] See, for example, Beuys’ works ‘The Pack’, ‘The End of the Twentieth Century’, or ‘7000 Oaks’ as well as his final work ‘Palazzo Regale
[vi] Nein Quarterly is the alter-ego of Eric Jarosinski, whose “Compendium of Utopian Negation” gained fame through Twitter and has subsequently been syndicated in Die Welt and other leading newspapers, as well as spawning the book Nein: A Manifesto (2015).
[vii] Incidentally, although fittingly, Edensor also authored an earlier review piece entitled ‘Welcome Back to the Working Class’ (2000).
[viii] As both de Duve (2008) and Rosalind Krauss (2008) point out, Beuys as a bohemian raises questions for Marxists. They see “the true name of Bohemia” as the “lumpenproletariat” that so repelled Marx.
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