Luther Blissett on Wed, 11 Jun 1997 15:49:17 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Review of "Handbuch der Kommunikationsguerilla"


autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, Luther Blissett, Sonja Brünzels: Handbuch der
Kommunikationsguerilla, Verlag Libertäre Assoziation & Schwarze Risse /
Rote Straße, 1997, 235 pages, ISBN 3-922611-64-8, DM 29 [$17]

"The undertaking of this book is paradoxical" says the preface. "Highly
serious, it presents the dry theory of a practice that is not only supposed
to be subversive, but also fun." And indeed, the authors of "Handbuch der
Kommunikationsguerilla" outdo their critics. It's not just that they are
unwilling to use in the book what it is supposedly about - subversion,
pranks, frauds, fakes. One is quite surprised to find a "communication
guerilla" that tidily separates "theory" and "practice", in the obvious
belief that a theory of subversion wouldn't need to be subversive in
itself, and against itself. Is the "communication guerilla" perhaps at odds
with its lessons? Sometimes, that's not without charm, like in the next
sentence where the authors bravely announce their intention, quote, "to
depart from a political praxis which measures its own relevance according
to the degree of abstraction or the gesture of seriousness of its
resolutions." But the paradox seems rather helpless than refined. When the
baroque rhetorician Emanuele Tesauro struggled with the same problem -
explaining paradoxical acuteness in non-paradoxical language -, he knew to
top the contradiction and point it against itself: "You will however say
that my treatise on the symbols is the very symbol of carelessness because
it treats of the sophisticated conceits with little sophistication, and of
acuteness without acumen. [...] So, if you would want to create an emblem
for this book, you could paint an open book that teaches others what it
doesn't know itself." ["Dirai tu pertanto, questo mio Trattato de'Simboli,
esser il vero Simbolo della 'Temerità'; peroche tratta de'
Concetti'ngegnosi con poco igegno; & delle actuezze senza niuno acume
[...]: talche, se tu volessi fabricare una Impresa sopra questo Libro,
potresti pingere apunto un 'Libro aperto', che ad altri insegna quel ch'ei
non sà."]

The authors of "Handbuch der Kommunikationsguerilla" have a solid
background in semiotics, and they live in the college town Tübingen where
Germany's only department of rhetoric just celebrated its 400th
anniversary. But they are no language tricksters. While the book cover at
least imitates a popular car repair guide, the inside remains surprisingly
conventional. The London Psychogeographical Association, for example, is
introduced to the German audience as a group that "plagiarizes esoteric
texts and figures of argumentation". Similar procedure with Luther
Blissett: Although the collective phantom is credited as a co-author of the
book, there is no trace or continuation of his mytho-history as developed
in the Italian books "Mind Invaders" and "Totò, Peppino e la guerra
psichica". In their abstracting and objectifying gesture, the authors
orient themselves towards another prototype, Stewart Home's underground art
history "The Assault on Culture". In that book, Home was the first to
historify fringe currents like "Neoism"; so it's no surprise that Neoism,
along with the Situationist International, Gruppe Spur, Kommune 1, Provos
and Yippies, re-appears with its own chapter in "Handbuch der
Kommunikationsguerilla". There is, however, a difference. Stewart Home
wasn't so naive as to sell his narrative as a do-it-yourself "handbook". He
consciously employed historification to close chapters and rise with
something new from the historified ashes. Despite the obvious carreerist
motives behind "Handbuch der Kommunikationsguerilla" and the PR campaign
surrounding it, such dead-historification is probably not what its authors
intend. After all, they write about their own, ongoing project. But the
naive imitation of Home's rhetoric may well backlash against them and other
players of the Luther Blissett game.

One is tempted to trace such credulity to the radical milieu in which the
"Handbook" originated, the notoriously uptight South-West German Autonomen
left. Actionism against right-wing fraternities and the local Conservative
Party has been the main exercise of their "communication guerilla". This
all is carefully and tediously documented in the book. Nevertheless, the
"Handbook" reads as an honorable attempt to break out of the dead-humored
ghetto of the West German radical left. The "communication guerilla", as
the authors describe it, takes up influences from neo-situationist and
neo-lettrist, mostly Anglo-American and Italian currents, all the while
attempting to bridge the gap to traditional agitprop fun guerillas. The
further inclusion of graffitti sprayers, Swabian-dialect telephone
pranksters, BILWET, Che Guevara ersatz idol El "Sub" Marcos, NSK/Laibach
and the Berlin joke party KPD/RZ may be, perhaps, a compromise. But it's
also telling of a eurocentric perspective. Anybody with a superficial
knowledge of prank culture could have found better examples in the USA
where irresponsible humor and militant sectarianism tend to produce more
extreme results. But the authors would have had trouble domesticating them
for their own political agenda.

There are, however, activists in America who might have been better allies
for  a.f.r.i.k.a. and Company. Just like the authors, they operate in the
midlands between traditional radical politics and post-situationist
pranking. Bob Black and John Zerzan should be mentioned here, the Shizflux
group, Dreamtime Village, the Internet publisher Jean A. Heriot and finally
the editors of the British paper Here & Now. Oddly enough, a.f.r.i.k.a.
don't seem to know any of them. Instead, they take great pains using
anti-humanist propaganda of the Stewart Home or even Laibach brands for the
good of their upright "communication guerilla". At least, that helps to
break down ideological barriers. The authors explicitly include groups
which don't fit their political schemes. Yet they leave out everything that
could shake the "guerilla" metaphor. Like, for instance, the phantom
diplomat and godfather of Luther Blissett, Edmund F. Dräcker. In 1937, he
was launched in the German embassy at Rome and subsequently kept alive in
the West-German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The "Handbook" neither
mentions literary fakes and pseudoepigraphies like the Corpus Hermeticum,
the poems of Ossian, the fiction puzzles of Borges and Pynchon, 'concept
art' simulations like Ingold Airlines or chiliastic chimeras like the
Rosicrucian Brotherhood (which, after all, was coined in a.f.r.i.k.a.'s
hometown). Knowing little or nothing about this tradition, the authors give
only a superficial picture of psychogeographical esoterics. The entire
complex of intelligence disinformation might have seemed too delicate for
them. Finally, trash media like "Weekly World News" or "Weltreport" are
silenced in favor of the properly counter-cultural and non-pornographic "Il
Male". Thanks to their selective perception, the authors get rid of some
annoying questions: Whether their allegedly subversive communication is per
se subversive, whether it is per se underground and per se, to quote a term
of the book, "emancipatory".

There are twenty-seven groups and currents which "Handbuch der
Kommunikationsguerilla" portrays in extra chapters. It would be interesting
to know whether they all would call themselves "emancipatory". If not, what
is then their common denominator? What is it that would justify their
summarization under the buzzword "communication guerilla"? The authors
prove smart enough to come up with a crucial question here: "Why does
nobody doubt the conditions", or, to put it in other words, why consensus
reality is being believed. But does the word "communication guerilla" fit
that question? And does the book actually embark on it?

The word "communication" seems hairy enough in the first place. Literally,
it reads as "production of community". Communication then would be a key
factor in binding [Latin: "munia"] consensus reality. The "Handbook" quotes
the well-known statement that one "cannot not communicate". If that is
really the case, it would negatively imply that community has no stable
existence. Community, as dependent upon communication, would then be a
construct, a fiction. From this background, the term "communication
guerilla" could mean two entirely different things. It could either
describe "subversion of communication", and hence an agency which seeks to
disrupt communication itself as the production of consensus reality. Or it
could simply stand for "subversive communication", or, hegemonial
interventions into consensus reality in order to regain a piece of
community- and reality-making for the self-appointed "guerilla".

Not surprisingly, a.f.r.i.k.a. go for the second option. Pseudo-"subversive
communication" is the classical left-wing choice. It's also convenient for
selling oneself through "Der Spiegel" in non-prankish fashion. The choice
is obvious in the programme of the "communication guerilla": Step one,
"deconstruction of ruling codes", step two, "spreading our own,
alternative/emancipatory codes". Indeed a simplistic notion of
'deconstruction', a word that sounds almost as hip and subversive as
"Neoism". Beyond such semantics, deconstruction might first of all be an
activity of the code itself. The deconstructionist would only point at the
ruptures and maybe hammer a few strikes to speed things up. It's a
difficult job as her activity undermines itself and herself as well. Not
having a code outside the ruling one, she can't simply put an "alternative"
code in its place. The mere attempt, she says, would only substitute the
one metaphysics with the other and end up reproducing the ideology of the

a.f.r.i.k.a. don't share these views, as obvious in their discussion of
multiple names. The "Handbook" chiefly describes them as a resolution of
the individual into the collective. Except in the Luther Blissett chapter,
it pays little attention to the self-perpetuating paradox of multiple
identities, their contradictory contraction of subjectivity. The mythology
of such phantoms emerges from the everyday exploration of their
inconsistence. In their chapter on multiple names, a.f.r.i.k.a. however
suggest to read multiple names as creation of consistent myths, of
community. Once again, a proof that the "communication guerilla" does not
intend to subvert or criticize the notion of communication. The authors
even miss the opportunity of a solid materialist critique of the multiple
name business. First of all, they don't differentiate collective myths and
phantoms like Luther Blissett, public domain pen-names like Karen Eliot and
simultaneous multiple identities like Monty Cantsin. One could argue that
collective phantoms, the most apocalyptic of the three, may easily be
recuperated into totalitarian narratives: legends of saints, fuehrer cult
or advertising. In Nike's latest TV spot, a number of little boys say "I am
Tiger Woods" as if to prove that the corporate mainstream can seize a
terrain for the successful golf player which subculture had paved for the
unsuccessful soccer player Luther Blissett.

Which brings us to the central term of the "Handbook", "cultural grammar".
The authors rather seem to mean a "grammar of culture", the rule book of
norms and values which the "communication guerilla" seeks to subvert. But
how can the "communication guerilla" trick out "cultural grammar" when its
own handbook doesn't have any revolutionary or "alternative" grammar and
rhetoric, and not even a subversive or ironical one? When the authors write
on page seventeen "grammar is...", they already employ a vulgar- and
deep-grammatical predication that establishes a truth, applies linguistic
power and creates consensus reality. Are these the "alternative codes"? Or
rather, the revenge of "cultural grammar"?

Despite its attempts at overcoming dogmas, the "Handbook" remains largely
committed to a black-and-white Autonomen ideology which, sometimes, seems
not less uptight than its counterpart, the wealthy petty bourgeoisie of
South-West Germany. Reading about a.f.r.i.k.a.'s obsessive fights against
its pillars - the church, the Conservative Party and particularly the
fraternities -, we are relieved to hear that some things have remained
intact and evil at least in this part of the world. a.f.r.i.k.a.'s own
contribution to the "communication guerilla", satirical agitprop carnival
against the right, would, if they could read German, safely alienate many
people whose activities were incorporated into the "Handbook". With their
too-well-behaving enemies, the authors don't have to bother with an
important issue - whether an ethics of subversion doesn't require
self-subversion as well, and in the first place. The "Handbook" passes on
this question. It remains stuck in a p.c. leftism that seems, to use a
metaphor, closer to Larry O'Hara and the Green Anarchists than to the
London Psychogeographical Association or the Neoist Alliance.

a.f.r.i.k.a. clearly relate to a German 'art', 'politics' and 'theory'
discourse which is virulent since the early '90s and seeks to bridge the
gap between 'critical art' and the radical left. Its chief exponents are
'conceptual' groups like Minimal Club, Büro Bert, free classes at several
artschools and such affiliated papers as "ANYP", "Die Beute", the pop music
gazette "Spex" and the arts journal "Texte zur Kunst", to name only a few.
To date, 'the discourse', as it likes to call itself, remains the only one
in Germany which straightly adapted Anglo-American cultural studies and
their debate of multiculturalism and political correctness. a.f.r.i.k.a.
not only refer to the respective theorists in their "Handbook". Following
the model of p.c. activists in several German cities, they also founded a
"Welfare Committee" in Tübingen; it still serves a platform for their
"guerilla" actionism. [The "Welfare Committees" were founded by German
leftists and 'discourse' exponents in the early 1990s as meta platforms for
'artistic' and 'political' activism against racism and the neo-right.
Located within "the discourse", they were heavily pushed by "Spex" and
related media.] In its typography, the "Handbuch" imitates, more thoroughly
than car repair guides, the "Büro Bert" readers of Edition I.D. Archiv,
major "discourse" sourcebooks. Next to providing less obstinate tactics for
the radical left, one obvious function of "Handbuch der
Kommunikationsguerilla" is to introduce "Neoism", psychogeography and
multiple names to the German "discourse" and establish the authors as
theorists therein. While a.f.r.i.k.a. is certainly less uncritical in its
appropriation of critical theory than Minimal Club and Company, there still
seems to be an enormous gap between their own satirical agitprop and the
playfare irritainment of, say, tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE. Although much
older than the "Handbook", his concept of a "fun guerilla" gives the most
comprehensive critique of a.f.r.i.k.a.-style "communication guerilla" today:


the idea of revolutionary guerrillas creating situations
intended to bring into overtness the intrinsic nazism of legalised power.
: polarizing "authorities" vs.. - vs what/whom?
the idea of the fun guerrilla as possibly more revolutionarily effective
insofar as it presents the happiness potential of revolution
& insofar as it relaxes people from the tension of serious decision making
by presenting them w/ the possibility
of playful roles wch are flexible (unbinding) enough
not to involve life & death polarization.
"police/criminals" catalyzed to laughter
by a person facing possible "victimization" from them
might perceive the person & the situation in a changed enough way
to disarm the rigidity of the roles
fun guerrilla not as ridicule (contrary to popular opinion)
- ridicule just perpetuates the polarizing, the rigidity, the tension,
& the victimization..

The "Handbook" however prefers to employ a humor which seems less
revolutionary than thoroughly German, just as the rest of the book.
Subversive proposals include turning the ministry of health slogan "NO
POWER TO DRUGS" into "NO POWER - ONLY DRUGS" or "United Colors of Benetton"
into "United Bullshit of Advertising". At least, we may breathe the
authentic tongue-in-cheek spirit of Gruppe Spur and Subversive Aktion here,
and the aura of their similarly flat-witted "Gaudi" manifestos. It seems as
if Kommune 1, another group presented in the "Handbook", had a better
judgement of its revolutionary potential. Rainer Langhans, a founding
member of the tenant's collective, just declared that the break-down of
private and public spheres in the TV talk shows of the '90s was exactly
what he and his comrades had fought for. So, once again, we end up with
communication, community-making.

In all that partly homemade, partly historified mess, the authors of the
"Handbook" bravely cling to the humanist utopia of a domination-free
discourse. So they even resist the post-marxist cold-bloodedness of
cultural studies and their hegemonial forerunners Gramsci, Foucault,
Raymond Williams and Stephen Greenblatt. Yet the "Handbook" remains a
top-notch demonstration object for the hegemony-obsessed: Claiming to fight
for a non-authoritarian discourse, the authors willingly pick out currents
and tactics to incorporate them into their own project and bolster their
own brandname, the "communication guerilla". Discursive power, applied.

The "Handbook" nevertheless succeeds in subverting itself, particularly
where it attempts to launch fakes. Whether it's the made-up press citations
or the psychogeographical relabelling of an esoteric party, they all
undermine themselves through obviousness. The book arrives at more
enjoyable contradictions where its discursive command crumbles and the
authors become victims of their own tactics. One chapter feeds from
disinformation about "Neoism" and its ties to the radical right, while
another really believes that the role of the band Laibach in Slowenian
nationalism was a purely postmodernist and parodistic one. The book is full
of such slippages, and, a nice detail, faulty bibliographical entries.

At the end of the millenium and at the end of history, the left is caught
in hopeless contradictions. With the fall of the bureaucratic curators of
the dream, it seems as if the dream itself lost its power. The left
helplessly faces this insight. Their activists have ended up in a no man's
land which, clinging to the revolutionary dogma, they had always tried to
avoid. When they believe to act in the name of universal values, they only
do the dirty work of imperialists. When they hope to fight for the
oppressed in the peripheries, they will only fight for the sound right of
the oppressed to become oppressors themselves. So what is left?

Luther Blissett is neither here, nor there. Her body is many bodies. Her
nature is subtle and not easy to grasp. Her name is an enigma. Some say
that everybody can be Luther Blissett, but they conclude that, if Luther
Blissett fits everybody, it has no proper meaning. Luther Blissett
navigates between all signs and languages to dance with and within them.
But she provides no shelter from control. One may only grasp her in the
tension of her paradox. Luther Blissett stands for a comprehensive
strategy, which is non-strategy. He has an identity, which is non-identity.
He lives at a safe place, which is no place. It is Luther's praxis to act
out of paradoxes. Where the old left gets stuck in its contradictions,
Luther Blissett remains firm in the eye of the storm. She is the storm.


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