Tag Archives: hegemony

“Polite Conversation is now Undesirable”: Peace and Agonism in Georg Johannesen’s Rhetoric

When I tell the truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those that do. (William Blake)

Sometimes, the voice for peace is aggressive, oppositional and agonistic to the point of violence. The Norwegian rhetorician, author and public intellectual Georg Johannesen (1931-2005) was no stranger to forceful rhetoric. Indeed, the promotion of peace by conscious and forceful articulation of agonism is one of the central and recurring motifs across his multifaceted oeuvre. In this article, I will focus on one, short, and relatively early text by Johannesen. It is an illustrative example of the rhetoric of what I suggest calling “counterhegemonic peace movements” in the nuclear age. Apart from introducing Georg Johannesen to a non-Norwegian public, the aim of this paper is to sketch out what I mean by that.

This topic fits well into the thematic framework of “reason and emotions in the landscape of (contemporary) politics”. The United Nations adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on June 7th, 2017. This is obviously a landmark decision and may be taken as an index of hope. On the other hand: None of the nuclear powers nor their allies have signed or ratified it. Whether we regard these facts optimistically or pessimistically, there is no doubt: The nuclear age is still our age. Thus, the history of controversy regarding nuclear weapons is an important element in the ‘ontology of the present’ (Foucault), and it does indeed highlight the conceptual complexity of relations between reason and emotion.

First, the nuclear age is an age of fear. Fear, however, is not irrational. According to the Philosopher (Aristotle), it is crucial to fear the right things at the right time and in the right way. This is courage: the apt response to danger. The fear of nuclear war is perfectly rational. Advocates for nuclear deterrence acknowledge this; according to this doctrine, it is the fear of nuclear escalation that prevent nuclear powers from going to war against each other. Advocates for nuclear disarmament counter this by pointing out that effective deterrence presuppose an effective treat, i.e. the readiness to use the weapons; to avoid the danger of nuclear escalation (and the devastating effects of even limited deployment of nuclear arms), these weapons should be abolished altogether.

The landscape of contemporary politics has the possibility of nuclear war as its horizon. Thus, the bomb is already in use by virtue of its very existence, as Georg Johannesen pointed out in the preface to his 1981 book Om den norske skrivemåten (“On the Norwegian Way of Writing”). He wrote that at a time of accelerating arms race – and of mass protest against it. The text we will present and discuss here is however some twenty years older. It was published as an editorial in a Norwegian journal in 1962 and reproduced in Georg Johannesen’s 1975 book Om den norske tenkemåten (“On the Norwegian Way of Thinking”). The initial publication did indeed cause a stir, but the reprints has reached a substantially greater audience. Both Om den norske tenkemåten and Om den norske skrivemåten were reprinted in 2004, and once again in 2019. The “Editorial” translated in extenso below.

Georg Johannesen – a very short introduction

Well-known in Norway as an author, as a public intellectual and as an academic, Georg Johannesen was outstanding, albeit controversial, in all these fields. What made him unique, however, was the way in which he combined them. As he himself put it: “If you divide GJ into three parts: 1) the scholar, 2) the poet and 3) the politician, I reinterpret this to be a division in accordance with three different situations in the interviewer, not in GJ.”[1] Some of his poetry is published in translations (into English, German, French, Serbo-Croatian and Vietnamese), and Norwegian actor Geddy Anniksdal has toured the world with three solo performances based on texts by Georg Johannesen.[2] Apart from this, Georg Johannesen is virtually unknown outside of Norway. An introduction is thus appropriate.

Georg Johannesen was born and raised in Bergen, in a lower middle-class family; Word War II and the German occupation (1940-45) left strong and lasting impressions in an obviously sensitive and intelligent child. He was never a pacifist but refused to do military service; of the 18 months of alternative service for conscientious objectors, he spent ten in prison. He studied English, History and Norwegian at the University of Oslo from 1953 on. Before graduating in history of literature in 1960, he had published a novel in 1957 and a volume of poetry two years later. Both earned considerable attention; in particular, Dikt 1959 (“Poems 1959”) was hailed as the voice of a new generation.

Georg Johannesen was a member of Sosialistisk studentlag (“Socialist students’ society”), affiliated with the Norwegian Labour party. He edited the society’s journal Underveis and wrote regularly for Orientering. This weekly paper was the mouthpiece of the opposition against NATO and more generally for the left wing of the Labour party. The majority of the Socialist student’s society, including Georg Johannesen, was expelled from the Labour party’s youth organization in 1959, following a visit to the GDR. (The loyal minority included Thorvald Stoltenberg, Knut Frydenlund og Gro Harlem Brundtland, who later held central positions in state and party.)This was a prelude to the events leading to the founding of Sosialistisk folkeparti (“Socialist people’s party”) in 1961: The Labour party turned down initiatives that would have committed Norway to disconnect from the nuclear strategy of the NATO and also banned any association with Orientering for party members. In the general elections of the same year, the new left-wing party won two seats in parliament, breaking the majority that the Labour party had held since 1945. Georg Johannesen joined the new party from the beginning.

Partisan commitment: A document and an example

This situation is the backdrop for Georg Johannesen’s 1962 text, to which we will turn in a moment. First, some details on the publication in which it occurred. Among the initiators of the Socialist people’s party were Torolf Solheim (1907-1995), veteran from the Communist resistance (but a member of the Labour party during the first post-war years), who published the periodical Fossegrimen (1954-1968). (“Fossegrimen” is a well-known figure in Norwegian folklore and national iconography. He lives in waterfalls and is a master fiddler; the best folk musicians are supposedly his pupils.)  For a period from 1962 on the journal was renamed Veien Frem (“The Way Forwards”), as a continuation of the antifascist periodical of the same name, published in the 1930ies by Nordahl Grieg (1902-1943); this was also a way of reclaiming a patriotic icon for the left. (Journalist, poet, playwright and novelist Nordahl Grieg earned controversy for his plays, writings and communist leanings during the 30ies. His wartime poetry, however, was in high esteem across the political spectrum. He died in an air raid over Berlin, aboard a Lancaster bomber as an enlisted reporter.)

In 1962, Georg Johannesen as one of the co-editors of Fossegrimen/Veien Frem, and wrote the following editorial statement:

The new weapons originated here. Our most prominent ally made them during their last fight with our second most prominent ally. Our allies number three and four also possess such weapons. (West Germany only demand them, it is part of sovereignty, one claims there.)

In our states, there is no insight. There, the perdition of humanity is prepared; at the same time, one perceives oneself to be extraordinary advocates for human dignity. This trick is called freedom. To prepare insight, we must create contempt for the western freedom.

We are, for instance, not impressed by the fact that we are permitted to publish this journal with deviant opinions. We understand that it occurs to be quite harmless to the harmful people. We ourselves will know exactly when we have found the way forwards: the moment when they want to prohibit us.

The will to war equals the enthusiasm for the western freedom. The hatred to Russia equals the lack of insight now demanded from everyone. For who can claim that the Russians are so much worse than us that it justifies our current policy? We repeat that the new weapons originated here; they were used twice by our great friend, who still show no signs of de-Trumanisation.

For this is the most important difference between the 30ies and the 60ies: the ones that the 30ies fought now govern us. It is possible that there are other villains, but here we are governed by our own.

We should no longer engage in alehouse politics and whisper the three princes of Laos a word of advice. We should try to prepare ourselves for something that must happen precisely here and in short time. If this sounds like a threat, it is correct. If it sounds like an empty threat, it is also correct. Now, nuclear Catholics and nuclear Protestants confront each other like fascists and antifascists once did. This is the most important similarity between the 30ies and today.

Polite conversation with supporters of NATO is now undesirable. From three reasons:

It would be far from matter-of-factly to discuss with a man who without insight ran about with a loaded gun. Knocking him over is matter-of-factly. We do not believe in the distinction between evil and stupidity or in the usefulness of explaining without changing.

Increased use of invectives would make Norwegian politics more matter-of-factly. Our spades should transform into spades, and our governments into what they are. This is insight.

We intend to seize power in this country, and then we intend to put Hallvard Lange and similar before a court of law. There, conversation may commence.[3]

Hallvard Lange (1902-1970), was Norwegian minister of foreign affairs (Labour) from 1946 until 1965. Two notes on the translation: “Alehouse politics” is in the original “politiske kannestøperier”, an allusion to Ludvig Holberg’s comedy Den politiske Kannestøber (“The political Tinker”, 1722). The expression “matter-of-factly” translates the Norwegian “saklig”; it has strong normative connotations, pertaining ideals of unbiased, reasonable and rational public and academic discourse.

“Saklighet” was a key term in Arne Næss’ En del elementære logiske emner (“Some elementary logical topics”). First published in 1947, Næss’ book has seen eleven reprints, and was until the turn of the millenim by far the most used textbook for examen philosophicum, the introduction to philosophy course still mandatory for all university students in Norway. Næss himself was a pacifist, maintained “saklighet” as a basic democratic virtue, and appealed to it in his unequivocal critique of cold-war-policies, cf. his contribution “Mer saklighet i Øst-Vest-debattene” (“More matter-of-fact-ness in East-West Debates”) in Tenk en gang til – om fred og forsvar (“Think once again – on peace and defence”, Oslo, Tanum 1952). Among the contributors to that volume, all highly critical of cold-war-policies (and Norway’s role in it), were Gutorm Gjessing, professor of etnography at the University of Oslo and co-initiator of Sosialistisk Folkeparti in 1961.

Ever since its publication, the “Editorial” has been cited as proof of Georg Johannesen’s alleged extremism, which supposedly has exerted bad influence on generations of Norwegian leftists. It is obviously provocative, and intentionally so, but the message is extremely matter-of-factly: To start a political party is to seek power. If you accuse your adversaries of complicity in severe crimes, they should be allowed to answer – preferably before a court of justice. It is of course impolite to call the government ‘villains’; this government does, however, support the nuclear strategy of the NATO, which imply threatening with nuclear weapons. If we (reasonably) assume that the deployment of nuclear arms implies total war, threatening with nuclear weapons (which imply the will to use them), is arguably in close vicinity of fascism. To produce and possess nuclear weapons is arguably to prepare for the perpetration of crimes against humanity. Etc.

Georg Johannesen’s attack on the moral and political integrity of the government was thus an attack on the doxa (‘the Norwegian way of thinking’); an attempt to shift the premises of the discussion, and a call for mobilization. At the time of its initial publication, it addressed a specific political situation – but more than that, it thematized the situation as such. Most of all, it was an attempt to clarify the self-understanding of the left-wing opposition and its new-formed party. Unsurprisingly, the message did not come down well with everyone, especially among the party’s academic supporters. Left-wing students like Jon Elster and Nils Petter Gleditsch (both of whom were to become prominent academics) were loudly critical.[4] After all, it was their circles who were accused of engaging in “ale-house politics” (i.e. giving priority to academic discussions of international affairs at the expense of working for change at home).

When reprinted in a volume of “Articles and interventions on cultural and socio-political issues 1954-74” (as the subtitle translates), the text was in one sense made available as a historical document. But along with the rest of the book, it became something more: a kind of bottled message for successive generations of new readers. Historical source-material becomes a source of self-reflection for those readers who somehow identify with the historical understanding articulated in the text. A rhetorical intervention in a specific situation becomes an articulation of the “ontology of the present”. Pertaining to the initial publication, the “Editorial” may be read as an appeal to members and supporters of the newly formed party in the specific constellation of Norwegian politics in the early 1960ies. For subsequent generations of readers, it becomes an example of partisan reasoning as such, and of the necessity of partisan commitment.

Note that “partisan reasoning” and “partisan commitment”, as I use the terms here, does not mean to subordinate one’s reasoning to party doctrine or one’s commitments to party discipline. A political party in the ordinary sense of the word, is a way of organizing political activity – including collective reasoning – around shared commitments.[5] Parties (as political organisations) express partisan commitments, they do not create them. Commitments to collective ideals and projects are partisan to the extent that they are opposed to and in conflict with other ideals and projects. Partisan reasoning is agonistic and relational; it must reflect upon one’s own commitments, upon the adversary and upon the nature of the conflict. Albeit analytically separable, these aspects will always be articulated on each other.

All these aspects are obviously present in Georg Johannesen’s text. It appeals to mobilization of a partisan “we”, aware of its present powerlessness, but committed to seek the power needed effect change. It makes serious charges against those in power, i.e. it goes far beyond expressing disagreement. Finally, the conflict is described as a matter of life and death, notably in a non-metaphorical sense. It is this combination that illustrate the rhetoric of counter-hegemonic peace movements in the nuclear age.

Hegemony and opposition

Before I give an outline of my idea of counter-hegemonic peace movements in the nuclear age, some – tentative – conceptual clarifications are in place. ‘Hegemony’ is used here in a broadly ‘neo-gramscian’ manner, inspired by Laclau and Mouffe. [6] Theoretically, the concept of hegemony can be used to trace the internal relations between material, institutional and symbolic domination, while avoiding reductionism. Hegemony is intended to account for non-coercive forms of domination, particularly in settings marked by social, cultural and political diversity. Here, domination works by organizing, rather than by suppressing pluralism – and the same goes for resistance. Religious hegemony is not the power to impose orthodoxy, but the capacity to draw the line between heterodoxy and heresy, and to determine the terms of recognition and toleration. Political hegemony may acknowledge, recognize and even encourage oppositional voices and movements; it works through the designation of spaces and roles for partisan commitments and in the soft and subtle limits put on them. Loyal opposition is a part of hegemony.

Rhetorical hegemony is the capacity to define the limits of legitimate public expression. To clarify, we may make an ad hoc distinction between disagreement and dissent. Let us say that disagreement pertain to differences of opinions, attitudes and commitments that appear legitimate within a shared framework. If the framework itself is challenged, we encounter deeper or more radical differences. This is what I call dissent: The expression of opinions, attitudes and commitments that are incompatible with the generally accepted framework. They are not necessarily intended to challenge hegemony but nevertheless expose the limits of legitimate public expressions. Dissent makes the framework visible by showing that not everyone shares what is taken to be common ground. In this sense, dissent is a political analogy to the anomalies that expose the presuppositions of a scientific paradigm, i.e. the kind of hegemony that unites a research discipline.[7]

Occasional expressions of dissent are normally put aside, much like anomalies in normal science; they will supposedly wither away or be dealt with later. Recurring protest may, however, turn into a more persistent opposition against current policies. The more central the policies challenged by opposition are to hegemony, the more difficult it will be to accommodate oppositional claims. Permanent frustration will potentially severe loyalty on both sides and turn differences into conflict: Opposition becomes the other of the hegemonic “we”, and the dominant powers becomes the other of the oppositional “we”. Normal politics – melioristic mitigation of differences – is replaced by political agonism, postulating a division in the ‘body politic’.

In standard usage, the ‘body politic’ is united under a single governmental authority.[8] A divided body politic is thus a contradiction in terms, expressive of a genuine paradox. In theories of radical democracy, this paradox is the locus of the political: Any authority is legitimate only to the extent that it is contestable in principle; if it is contested in fact, authority weakens by loss of legitimacy. Political stability require that the basis for legitimate authority is not seriously challenged; in other words, that hegemony prevails in circumscribing opposition. Hegemony is at safest where opposition need not be taken seriously.

Rhetorical hegemony does not work by suppression of oppositional voices. In democracies, the limits of legitimate public expression are not maintained by censorship, but by symbolic power, the authority that unites public opinion (the ‘soul’ of the ‘body politic’). This unity is not a matter of a unitary doctrine, but of doxa – a shared framework within which disagreement is possible and accepted. Symbolic power is operative in authorising some voices, arguments and expressions as valuable and relevant to the formation of public opinion, and relegating others to the margins of public debate. When not met with silence, dissenters are typically met with ridicule, condescendence and suspicion. Divergent opinions and expressions are tolerated to the extent that they do not challenge hegemony. Sometimes, they are the negative foil for the projection of hegemonic commitments; sometimes they may be acclaimed as a ‘useful corrective’ that ultimately assert the correctness of hegemony.

Thus, even radical opposition may be co-opted, either negatively, as the incarnation of disloyalty, or positively, by limited concessions or varieties of repressive tolerance. But the heart of the matter remains. Radical opposition, appealing to common sense, decency and commitment to the common good, challenge the unity of public opinion. Dissent articulates impertinent questions: Is ‘common sense’ really common? Does it really make sense? Is the ‘common good’ good for all and everyone? When oppositional claims are consistently frustrated, and oppositional voices are relegated, parts of the opposition may eventually question hegemony as such.

Campaigns for nuclear disarmament will e.g. argue that nuclear deterrence is too expensive and risky by the standards of common sense; that threatening potential enemies with annihilation is the epitome of indecency; and finally that peace is acknowledged as fundamental to the common good. Advocates of status quo who want to counter such arguments head-on, may apply varieties of the common saying “That May Be True in Theory, but It Is of No Use in Practice”, insinuating a lack of understanding on part of the opposition. “Matter-of-factly” reference to Realpolitik is often accompanied by overt attacks on the integrity of the opposition: Conscientious objectors may be accused of cowardice; to address the consequences of nuclear war may be dismissed as alarmism; activists may be described alternatively as naïve or cunning, i.e. as either the enemy’s useful idiots or his agents.

The conscious dissident does not believe in the mitigation of differences but rather take an agonistic stance towards commonly accepted premises for communication. Often, the standards of polite conversation are broken: The dissident address topics that are normally avoided or euphemised, in a confrontational manner, disrespectful of common symbols and commitments. Georg Johannesen’s text above is a case in point.

From fear to anger: Contesting deterrence

No one deny that nuclear weapons are extremely powerful and dangerous; the foreseeable consequences of any use of them give reason to fear. This fear is ontologically constitutive for the nuclear age; it is ‘our age’ insofar as there is a ‘we’ that is aware of the existential threat of nuclear disaster. Foucault coined the notion of the “ontology of the present” in commentaries on Kant’s writings on enlightenment and revolution.[9] In Kant’s interpretation the enthusiasm for the idea of a republic, voiced by spectators witnessing the French revolution from a safe distance, was a “historical sign”, indicating humanity’s moral disposition.[10] In analogy, the reactions to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, could also be interpreted as a historical sign, indicative of the moral disposition of distant spectators. This analogy would certainly merit closer examination. For now, it must suffice to note that a salient point in the ‘ontology of the present’ is the interpretation of public responses to events that reveal and evoke hope and fear simultaneously.

The doctrine of nuclear deterrence is based on a certain interpretation of the rationality of fear: Supposedly, the fear of nuclear escalation – to the point of mutually assured destruction – makes it rational to avoid or limit war as much as possible. Several objections can be raised against this: There are e.g. good reasons to avoid or limit war anyways, and nuclear powers may wage conventional wars on the assumption that their geopolitical adversaries are deterred from interference, etc. In this context, I will focus on the role of fear in the contestation of the doctrine of nuclear deterrence. A basic point in the rejection of deterrence is that nuclear deterrence itself is dangerous; it is a risk-game based on heightening the stakes infinitely. Moreover, deterrence relies on the effectiveness of threats, and a threat is effective to the extent that it implies its potential execution. Put simply: If we have reason to fear nuclear war, we have reason to fear those who threaten with nuclear arms – and no less our allies than our enemies.

Even to put forward such a description of the situation is a counter-hegemonic move, inasmuch as it undermines conditions for trust and loyalty that seem to be indispensable for a stable political order. That the wider public is reluctant to accept this understanding of the situation may indicate the strength of the hegemony. Apathy seem to be a more common response, since to accept this understanding of the situation give reason to despair. The response of peace movements is to politicise despair by transforming fear into anger and directing it towards those responsible. I repeat that fear is not irrational per se; neither is anger. Righteous anger is an apt response to grave injustice and arguably the most important political emotion, precisely because of its intrinsic links to reason, i.e. justifiable accusations, claims, and projects. So long as these accusations, claims and projects remain controversial, any commitment to them will remain partisan, and their justification will be an articulation of partisan reason.


Representing the Socialist people’s party, Georg Johannesen was a member of Oslo’s city council 1967-71, focusing on urban development (i.e. housing and traffic policies). He ran unsuccessfully for parliament in 1969, was not elected to the central committee of the party, and eventually withdrew from party politics. From the early 1970ies, Georg Johannesen was affiliated with the University of Bergen, as a researcher and eventually as associate professor at the department of Nordic studies. He was pioneer in the study of popular literature and non-fiction, demanding a “totalized” concept of literature, and introduced a rhetorical turn in Nordic studies and didactics.

His re-education from freelance author and translator to university teacher involved (according to his own words) “ten years of serious hobby studies of among other subjects: Norwegian literary criticism, classical rhetoric, language theory from abroad, continental sociology, Norwegian daily press and public broadcasting, moral philosophy and religious texts, party programs or poetry.”[11] Basically, he was catching up with his European contemporaries. His age peers count intellectual celebrities like Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Derrida, Guy Debord, Félix Guattari, Umberto Eco and others. WWII and its aftermath shaped their formative years, they all digested intellectual impulses from structuralism and western Marxism; as publicly visible but not yet established intellectuals, with an independent attitude to genre and disciplinary boundaries, they became anti-authoritarian authorities in the 1960ies and beyond.

Georg Johannesen’s deconstructive reading and his rhizomatic writing may well be characterised as post-structuralist and post-marxist. Note, however, that these terms should not be taken to indicate that structuralism and Marxism are obsolete. The point is rather to avoid falling behind the insights from them, and to continue the investigations into the (de)formation of language and discourse that they inspire. When Georg Johannesen turned from activism to academic pursuits (at a time when numerous students made the opposite turn), this was not a farewell to his basic commitments. We may put it this way: He had challenged hegemony and tried to change the premises of debate by rhetorical effort. This however, proved extremely difficult, and he turned to the study of rhetoric in order to understand the operation of hegemony and the formation of the premises of public discourse.

“If I take part in public debate”, Georg Johannesen used to say, “it is to expose the moderator as the enemy”. His last book was on history’s losers and was aptly titled Eksil (“Exile”). It was published in 2005. He passed away unexpectedly on Christmas eve the same year; two months short of his 75th birthday. From 1986 on, Georg Johannsen received a Norwegian government grant.[12] He continued in a part-time position at the University of Bergen, from 1996 as professor of rhetoric. The experts who assessed his qualifications for professorship, noted matter-of-factly that international rhetorical research has been completely unaffected by Georg Johannesens activities.[13]

Georg Johannesen explicitly downplayed his own impact factor: “I may have influenced some dozens of students and five to ten close friends of mine.”[14] This may of course be dismissed as an instance of false modesty, but in view of the consistency of Georg Johannesen’s commitments, it carries a more sincere significance. In 1967 he claimed that world peace is best served if states like Norway are abolished. The reasons he pointed out are still valid: Reliance on nuclear arms and NATO membership, overconsumption of resources, and the unwillingness to face up to the fact that we are governed by our own villains.


[1] Georg Johannesen and Hans Marius Hansteen in conversation: “Skiljet mellom forskar og diktar er skapt av ein dum forskar” [“The distinction between scholar and poet is invented by a stupid scholar”], i Gjerdåker/Skarheim (red.) Samtaler på universitetet. 19 faglige møter mellom lærer og student. Oslo, Universitetsforlaget, 1991, s 69. Translated here.

[2] Internationally, Anniksdal perform in English and Spanish. Her shows are produced by the independent theater company Grenland Friteater: Blue is the Smoke of War (1997-2005), No Doctor for the Dead / No doctor par les muertos (2004-) and 7 Songs of the Refugee (2015-). http://en.grenlandfriteater.com/shows/.

[3] Georg Johannesen: “Lederartikkel”, in: Om den norske tenkemåten, 1975, p 114-115. Translated here.

[4] Cf. Helge Vold: “Om Veien Frem og Fossegrimen”, in Basar, 2, 1978 (p 66).

[5] Cf Jonathan White and Lea Ypi: The Meaning of Partisanship, Oxford, Oxford Univ. Press 2016.

[6] Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe: Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London, Verso 2001 (first edition 1985).

[7] Thomas S. Kuhn described the history of science in political terms, and The Structure of Scientific Revolutions highlight how seemingly pure intellectual commitments are emotionally charged and entangled in power relations. Kuhn was inspired by French historical epistemology; this may account for the ‘family resemblance’ to Foucault’s notions of discouse, explicitly applied in Laclau and Mouffe’s reformulation of Gramsci’s theory of hegemony.

[8] “body politic,” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/body%20politic. Accessed 6/5/2020.

[9] Michel Foucault (1986) “Kant on Enlightenment and revolution”, Economy and Society, 15:1, 88-96, DOI: 10.1080/03085148600000016 See also: Foucault: “What is Enlightenment?” in The Foucault Reader, NY, Pantheon Books, 1984, p 32-50.

[10] Cf. Kant, Streit der Fakultäten.

[11] Om den norske skrivemåten. “Innledning” [“introduction”], 1981, p 7.

[12] A Norwegian government grant (“statsstipend”) is awarded by parliament in order to give select individuals opportunity to pursue scholarly, artistic and cultural activity on an independent basis.

[13] Øivind Andersen, Jørgen Fafner og Kurt Johannesson: “Georg Johannesens retorikkforskning” / in: Arnfinn Åslund (red.) Johannesens bok. Om og til Georg Johannesen. Oslo, Cappelen 1996, p 328.

[14] Hans Marius Hansteen and Georg Johannesen in conversation, op cit page 75.

Locals Collection


The population
density of Essex
Mass a chu sett s
is one person
every two acres




We stand distributed in our respective fields.
We communicate by semaphore.




My friend who lives around Cancun returned from a long journey through thickets of family and illness to find all his material possessions piled into one corner of one room.  All around the house in spaces with which his possessions once interacted, wads of chewed gum had been affixed to every surface.  In the course of the hours which followed his encounter with this rearrangement, he gathered the gum into a formation the size of a softball, which he placed in a bowl.


This is a map of Doxa, an electronic county in a state of confusion that could be anywhere in the United States except for the socio-economic particularities which determine the array of psycho-spatial relations to the notion crisis that one encounters.  But because the socio-economic particularities as such are determinate everywhere in the same kind of way, noting them without specificity makes of this map of a backwater a map of anywhere.

This map of Doxa is not made on the basis of a geometrical projection: no device is in place that transposes sphere to flat surface.   Perspectives are pre-linear: the aspects of others which face you the reader because they face me who mediates your relation remain facing you even as other aspects of the context of encounter may twist or turn or change.

This is a map of a very local slices of meanings associated by a particular duration (roughly January 2009-January 2010).  Like any map, what is represented is weighted toward the point of its assembly, so the performances of relations to economic crisis which I take to be performance of an ideological crisis connected to the beginning phases of the collapse of the American Empire are weighted toward the end of this period.  The explanatory narrative is also staged as an exploration of Doxa.  A map is a collage of appearances.


The Crisis Hunter sets out on repeated explorations of the same immediate environment looking for specimens of crisis to trap in a jar smother & mount each one caught on a corkboard after running a pin through its thorax.  The Crisis Hunter would like to gather a cross-section of crisis types in order to enable Linnaeus or Buffon or other colleagues to fashion a typology; in the detailing of the specific surface features which distinguish this genus from another a distance can be established.  I the Crisis Hunter am now looking down into a cabinet of crisis curiosities I can admire the colors of the wings and the delicacy of the antennae & tell stories about the hunting.  I caught this one in the area behind the outhouse at the Shipbuilding Museum late at night bathed in yellow light that reminded me of the outhouse behind the cabin where I would spend summers as a child so much  that the physical environment around which I stumbled holding my fine mesh net and peanut butter jar seemed to flicker between dimensions and perhaps this is what crisis is the experience of the capture, the ways experience complicates in the hypnotic space of  beating wings & blurring colors.  That is what capturing the crisis mounted second from the right in the top row produced in me.  It seemed most itself when it was evading me, most clearly itself when I could only take it in as aspects of motion and the play of lights.

Another one, this one, bottom row same column, this one I found at the peripheries of stories I gathered from a financial advisor over dinner in the North End of Boston who after glasses of wine began to talk about the segments of his clientele which were burning and other segments which were not burning, talking in a way that indicated that perhaps the whole situation would be easier if either all segments were on fire or none were on fire but this shifting mosaic of pieces burning not burning this riot of movement without  obvious direction & it was there around those sentences that I saw the moth-like crisis come but I was constrained by antipasti on a small table and open bottles of wine and did not have my fine-meshed net or my peanut butter jar in any event so I captured it with my hands, smothered it in my mouth & placed it in the pocket of my shirt and perhaps that is what later drew the cameras to me at the basketball game I looked up to see myself enormous looking up to see myself small looking up hovering over center court in Boston Garden and the crowd began to cheer & after the game walking through the corridors people tried to touch the hem of my garments like I could heal them but the whole time I was trying to protect the corpse of the moth-like crisis I held carefully in my pocket that I had smothered in my mouth after capturing it with my hands.  Perhaps they sensed that in my pocket was a kind of solution.

Meta: Looking at a Cabinet of Crisis Curiousities.



 The notion of crisis: a singular noun, a spatio-temporal specificity.

In the crisis-days prior to the war. 1929 Commenting on the Wall Street crash of yesterday, the German press unanimously agrees that Germany has no reason to mourn. They’ll feel the Pulses of the Stars, To find out Agues, Coughs, Catarrhs; And tell what Crisis does Divine The Rot in Sheep, or Mange in Swine & Then shall the sicke..by the vertue and power of a happy Crisis, saile forth into the hauen of health.  The Crises here are excellent good; the proportion of the chin good; the wart above it most exceeding good.

In principle crisis is a something a pattern of distortion distributed across waveforms regular enough to allow for commonalities to be attributed for example here when we see these moths we see the veering to the right characteristic of petit bourgeois organisms and their responses to certain types of real or imagined environmental perturbations and based on information we have from elsewhere we could reconstruct the symbolic environment of these petit bourgeois organisms, catalogue routine activities recurrent perturbations and responses and in that way catalogue and know the ecosystem into which these particular moths will fly.  But I admit that it is confusing to have to think in terms of moths and systems and relations or effects to talk about crisis which should be condensed in these moths.  But look at them.  At the same time, a crisis should have a location.  It should have boundaries.  Because you can refer to it using a noun, one should be able to move into and out of crisis.  Crisis should start somewhere so it can end.



1933 To escape a crisis so full of terror and despair the Federal Reserve Banks can hardly be blamed for their policy of credit restriction up to the moment of Wall Street Consciences Synteresis, and Syneidesis which can warrant her to passe her Crisis or conclusive judgement so exact that will with greatest scorne reiect the slump or depression of the 1930s which began with the Wall Street crash of 1929 in America.

It is curiously difficult to locate crisis.  The words that define it that elaborate it float about.  In the stories people tell crisis lands in a dizzying array of spaces.  Depending on one’s situation, one might be in crisis if unemployed or go visit crisis when reorganizing one’s business through the instruments of commercial debt or see crisis on television.  One might be related to people who are in it to the side of it who float above it who skim along beneath it.


The Courtier is not bothered by the economic situation.  O sure he reads the newspapers and knows the narratives.  But that’s in order to make conversation.  It is important to make conversation. Conversation is the mirroring back to another of what the other just said.  It is flattering & he is good at it that is at its prerequisite that is at appearing to be interested without engaging.  Engagement risks loss of control & loss of control risks exposure.  He does not call himself The Courtier. The continual avoidance of exposure sharpens the self-awareness.  A sharpened self-awareness is a polished surface for mirroring back to the other what the other just said. This self-awareness has its edges like any surface its points of dropping off sloughing away caving in.  Very American, he imagines himself the froth atop an espresso.  He imagines himself light in any situation.  Like a bird.  Like a bird overhead.  He imagines himself the froth atop an espresso that he sits lightly in situations, smoothing the way, servile but unobtrusive, his self-awareness a polished surface that mirrors back whatever you just said.  What you just said is very important I devote my full attention to that very important thing.

He says: When I think of economic crisis I do not think of anything.  The newspapers say we’ve recovered.




Rule One: an ideological crisis is many things but one thing it is not is an ideological crisis.


1.  Ask any Regulation School theorist and they’d have told you that crisis is the most pervasive and consistent phenomenon produced by capitalism.  Crisis is everywhere continually emerging through geographical change consolidations automations obsolencences planned and unplanned emerging continually everywhere through the ordinary workings of the system of systems.  Crisis is the air that capitalism produces for itself to breath; it is the medium through which capitalism grows and contracts, seizes up and lurches.  But if this is the case and crisis is everywhere emerging continually through the ordinary operations of the capitalist system of systems, then crisis is not crisis at all.  It is entirely banal, the smell of cigarette smoke that clings to your clothing. 



2. Hegemony is an ideological practice or is a way of referring to what the practice of ideology is that is to the what that is being done through the circulation adaptation recirculation adaptation of ideology through the dominant relay systems.  Hegemony is the continuous implicit argument for the legitimacy of the existing order through the continuous normalization of its effects.  Ordinary crisis is continuous so not crisis at all.  Ordinary crisis which is not crisis at all is more a stream of disruptions which could issue into actual crisis but for the fact that the stream of disruptions is contained in regularly moving streams of disruptions.  Movement within these streams is the everyday practice of ideology circulation adaptation recirculation adaptation.

2.1 Crisis would emerge as a discrete category so as crisis something sensed or felt as crisis across a seizing up of this normalization function, so a disruption of repetition not so much at the level of statements or images as at the level of the regularity with which disruptions emerge and fall away.

2.1.1. This regularity of emergence and falling away renders as neutral the medium which enables the regularity of these flows of disruptions in the way that the overall system of commodity circulation is legitimated across the continuous transformation and stratification of the commodities that circulate within it. This follows from the tendency to see in each element of ordinary disruption a discrete event or thing, self-contained self-referential.

2.1.2 Events or things succeed one another with remarkable regularity each one self-contained and self-referential to the extent that each refers to dense contexts in the immediate spatio-temporal vicinity of the Event or thing, dense contexts which are referenced but excluded by the mode of presentation of the local at the level of the aggregate.

2.2 The medium across which the aggregate flashes, so the fact of the aggregate, is neutral to the extent that it is the space of regular appearance.  Regular appearance enables or constitutes meta-narratives and cross-referencing.  The medium which enables these is a neutral space of control.

Benign control like GPS or the locating chips that are in your cellphone.  It’s for your own good you see.  In case you end up one of the missing children.

3. What disrupts the normalization is the emergence of the medium in its artificiality.

At the end of the 2000 presidential election in the US all the television networks called Florida in the same mistaken way because all were buying exit poll results from the same consultancy: the grinding attrition of legitimacy entailed by enthusiastic collaborations in selling the war in Iraq; Hurricane Katrina opening onto a reveal of racialized class war; the unraveling of the descriptive power of neoliberal categories in a context that did not allow for their adaptation only their repetition.



Rule One: an ideological crisis is many things but one thing it is not is an ideological crisis.

In a sense the strictly economic register of “crisis” is an abstraction an index a chain reaction entailed by the stalling out of traffic in derivatives.  As signifiers, as objects of exchange, derivatives are expressions of a system-level attempt to use debt as a mechanism to maintain exchange velocities across a period of fundamental reorganization in capitalist manufacturing sectors. They were predicated on an assumption that real estate values would continue rising endlessly such that risk would be minimized.



Are you asking me?  I can tell you.  Changed lending practices opened up real estate for a lot of people who may or may not have been qualified so may or may not have been able to make the payments.  Had the mortgage writers opted to extend the terms over 40 or 50 years this wouldn’t have been the same kind of problem.  But they didn’t.  Anyway one of the changes was that you could finance a house up to 100%.  Nothing down.  You might decide to keep your liquidity and just use someone else’s money.  And you probably would have assumed like a lot of people did that real estate values would endlessly go up.  So being into a loan for a million say if you couldn’t actually afford it wasn’t so irrational because in the end you assumed that you’d be able to flip the property.  You know, unload it.  People think: you look at a house you look at a property and it’s a real thing, you know, something solid.  It’s value would be something solid too, like the trees or the dirt.  But values are set through transaction patterns.  The solid ground is subordinated to systems of mirrors and ways of looking into and through them.  People know this and they don’t it seems like.  Anyway, when the derivatives thing hit creative lending practices dried up and when the lending dried up the demand dried up and when demand dried up prices starting dropping.  So you had people who had financed a mortgage for a million bucks at 100% who find that the property’s now worth 600,000 and there’s nothing they can do.  Sometimes people just walk away, call it a bad investment.  In some areas of the country there’s little choice because property values have fallen by 30 or 40 percent.  It’s not so bad around here.  But still, if you’re in that position of owing a million on a place that’s now worth about half that, you’re fucked.  Upside down.  Under water.  Well and truly.


Derivatives as objects of exchange are symptomatic of a change in the meaning of autonomous flows of capital.

Derivatives as objects of exchange expose the extent and speed of the semi-visible networks through which these objects circulate; they expose the interconnectedness of financial centers, banking insurance and currencies.  They expose the powerlessness of nation-states to regulate much less control autonomous capital flows.

1938 Whereas the others beauty and lustiness is a Crysis of their youth, not their idleness,

the crisis-minded always maintain that the problems of their particular decade are unique and insuperable.  

The powerlessness of nation-states to act coherently within or on the spaces of flows that the ideology of neoliberalism enabled exposes the incoherence of the political arrangement in the image of which neoliberalism operated. Neoliberalism promised a self-regulating market world in which everything would be open to change while at the same time nothing fundamental would change.  If a system tends toward equilibrium, elements within it may be scrambled but a single coherent viewpoint would nonetheless be possible as a transposition of the notion of equilibrium. In this way an imaginary American nation-state was super-imposed atop a lattice of bi- and multilateral agreements, institutional and legal infrastructures, supply chains and shipping arrangements, an expression of an imaginary natural tendency toward equilibrium within imaginary bounded systems.

1938 How many people are crisis-conscious?  1940 The point is to join up the crisis-feeling to what can be felt all the time in normal life.

The marketing of neoliberalism in the states as an ideology so dominant it did not have a name was of a piece with the construction and consolidation of a discursive empire particular to conservative politics.   If conservatives were to support unregulated capitalist activity and not see in it a danger to their own political worldview, there had to be a mediating term which enabled tendencies logically contradictory to hold together.

For example, American dominance of the global capitalist order might have been as natural as the tendency to equilibrium in imaginary bounded systems if the Bretton Woods arrangement was understood not an expression of the balance of military and economic power after Word War II but merely a beneficient something fashioned in order to make reconstruction easier and facilitate political stability by stabilizing currencies.  Neocolonialism might not be colonialism at all if your view of it is predicated on voyages between shelving units in retails outlets marooned in parking lots.



First come the traffic barriers.  Then come the action figures & their walkie talkies which bring conversations about license plates and stochastics.

The hole is dug by elaborate antiquated machinery all spindly arms and cables. The material is hauled away.

Once the void is determinate, a committee convenes around its edges. Each time they array and linger, silent, looking.

Then material arrives not the same but if the same then scrambled. Insectoid machines fill in the hole.  The walkie talkies go silent. The action figures depart. The traffic barriers disappear.

The next day it begins again a few inches further along.

I monitor the Wandering Hole of the Causalityway.  As happens with everyone who lives here, The Hole has migrated into my mind.

These days I think about the Silent Committee.  I understand the compulsion to empty a space hollow it out look at the emptiness again and again.  There’s an environment that arises in the space where continuity and rupture intertwine. It is a place full of parasites.  Carriers rain down like ticks & parasites transfer & pass through their life cycles indifferent to the host environment self-contained and feeding with no effects on the host system only a silent eating until there’s a mutation.  Mutation catches the host system unawares.  The parasite system begins to express its characteristics which are shaped by its origin between continuity and rupture as a rationality inside a rationality.  A disconnect between them.  Thinking its his or her idea, the host repeats the parasite’s characteristics digging holes, looking into the emptiness, filling them back in.

Repetition becomes inertia.  Continuities destroy themselves.




1965 Crisis-management problems.

Some people saw in the Reagan administration a thousand points of light.  Others saw supporters of Liberation Theology being thrown out of helicopters into the Nicaraguan forest.  Sometimes it is difficult to comprehend how different are the realities that coexist in the same geographic space much less how they are coordinated.  Maybe there isn’t anything about space that is ever the same that is ever identical with itself.

It would be difficult to say exactly what the connections might be between the sense of imploding empire and the ideological problem that accompanies it that expresses it that is it, the seizing up of autonomous capital flows and the debacle in Iraq. But it is not at all difficult to see that there are connections.  When the Bush Administration decided to invade Iraq they draped a war on ghosts over the neoconservative fantasy of a new American century in which the United States was a military hegemon that stood outside of that presided over networks of bi-and-multi-lateral agreements and institutions and patterns of capital and commodity flows.  In this imaginary world the United States would ground a system the logic of which tended to dissolve nation-states in an image of nation-state and because without the nation-state conservatism has nothing to talk about the ideological rationale for the nation-state as ground was to be American conservative politics.

The Project for a New American Century was a conservative policy group formed in the 1990s the primary function of which was to write letters requesting that another war be launched against Iraq.  Please start another war against Iraq they would say.  We do not at all like the way in which the last one turned out.   From their collective viewpoint the problem with the first war followed from the unseemly involvement of the United Nations which prevented the manly American military from motoring into Baghdad and finishing the job. The UN was a castrating multiplicity.  The new and improved Iraq war would erase the memory of symbolic castration.  The Wolfowitz Plan was the perfect encapsulation of this way of thinking.  Iraq was to be a two-week theatrical run on a very large stage, an abstract space into which American forces would march to be greeted by Happy Natives welcoming their Liberators.  Flowers would be strewn everywhere like August 1944 Paris except with live television coverage brought to you by the Pooled Press.

But things didn’t quite work out.



Dave the Other Guy sits on a bar stool belted into a chair fighting the fish, pulling back & being pulled forward by the fish, watching the line run back and forth across the giant reel guiding it with his hand.

The invisible rod slips out of its holder: jerking around behind the mobile weight of the memory tuna the shadow of the rod traces complex patterns over the surface of the bar.

Dave the Other Guy’s arms shake from the fight then & now.  Exhausted, he tries to hand off the rod to Tim the Lead Man who refuses in both times saying: “The first time you had sex did you try to hand off?”  In order to prevent permanent damage to the man’s reputation, he says.  Out here everybody remembers everything.

He says: The rule is that you have to boat the tuna within twenty minutes before it starts to cook itself in the energy expended by fighting you.

Now in a second stool Tim the Lead Man looks for a gaffing hook pulls one up from beneath the surface of the bar & at that moment realizes the hook is too small.  Nonetheless he grabs the lead & guides the memory tuna through the ocean of liquor bottles as the boat we are on jerks forward & reverses circling confusing the fish boxing it in. When the head of the fish breaks the surface of the water Tim arcs the too small gaffing hook over my macaroni & cheese and into the head and continuing the gesture pulls the 250 pound memory fish bleeding across my pint of ale and into the boat the far side of the bar.

And now the commercial fisherman who had been floating the whole time on other boats nearby are emerging from cabins appearing on decks breaking into applause sounding boat horns & shouting Now that’s how you boat a tuna.





Outside my window the tide is low the tree branches bare the air Sunday morning silent in a fading imperial power the inflexible stories that the empire tells are distributed about the grasses like tickertape like white lace like frost the stories that are empire an empire of stories in a frozen space where movement is realignment is loss of position is a sense of something moving that should not be some ineffable change affecting objects and spaces.

Beyond the story of assemblages of stories a horizontal band of brown grasses framed by a model of collapse of empire, one without events, something on the order of the Hapsburgs in which collapse is a tightening around routines a moving into the regular a motivated avoidance a flight into the stable into nothing too demanding into a map of the world like a phonebook a list of objects their proper locations and co-ordinates that allow you to reach them in the low tide mud past the tree branches bare in the Sunday morning silence the sun fading through pink the tide filling the gullies by degrees the stories evaporating something ineffable in the air something is changing.


3 Each television monitor is the Cathederal at Aachen.  Like Charlemagne, each television image of the Leader is faced by an audience and the image of the Leader faces the altar faces God.  In this way the Leader mediates the relations between the audience and Order.  The gazes of all converge in the Gaze of the Leader.  The actions of the Leader are the Actions of all.

3.1  Judged by a royalist logic that seems to require symmetry of inside and outside, virtue and what befalls, the second Bush administration was Illegitimate and the disasters its actions have brought down an expression of its Illegitimacy.

3.1.1 The role of the polity in such a situation is not obvious. Within the revolutionary tradition the actions of the Authorized Subject/Object of History position were hedged around by potential revolts.  But we are past all that now.

3.2   The crisis of empire is a spectacle.  We watch it unfold as a cheap tragedy with an idiot anti-hero. The space of action is contained within the monitor.  It unfolds at a temporal remove from us.  In that dimension, the chorus already knows the story. A spatially and temporally inverted image of the chorus, outside the space of action, the audience assembles.

3.2.1 The anti-hero disappears to build himself a library in some wasteland locale.

There is no release.  There is no catharsis.  As a spectacle it is terribly unsatisfying.

3.2.2 Perhaps it is the lack of catharsis that inspires we the audience to pay expiation ourselves. And what is expiation? A long march through thickets of pain & phantom purple mountains on the edge of the sunrise where no purple mountains should be the evacuation of the present it’s placement under the sign of a version of the past a placement which defines the present as an extension of a version of the past the loop this puts into a sort of motion and the accompanying self-immolation without end. But we do not act.

3.3  We watch and wait then watch some more.


When you have a child you want the stream of disruptions to be contained and containable the medium across which disruptions stream to remain neutral a space of meta-narratives of patterns and control you do not want it to surge into the foreground and ordinary disruptions to wobble into crisis not for yourself but for the future that has to array itself around the child.  But there is nothing you can do to influence it.

So you collapse into a fiction of the ordinary find an ordinary boy make an ordinary space of ordinary objects arranged in ordinary ways.  Maybe then the wobble and spray will pass over like a tidal wave will curl over certain spaces or overlook you like crisis is the Khymer Rouge sweeping into a city rounding up people who wear glasses to send to die in the countryside & maybe you can survive if you look as though you can see.


They hold each other as they sit on the couch.  His eyes look in two directions.  He is very sweet.  He is hard to talk to.  She is counting on her fingers.

He says: If you ask her any number she can tell you. She remembers everything about numbers.  Other things not so much.

Not so much other things.  One time her daughter was going downtown with a lady from the city.  As they passed a building, she pointed and said that is where the man holds me down on a bed. Then lots of people from the city on the telephone.  How could you not know about the man who was doing things to your daughter?  I know eggs and how many there are. My health is not good.  There are so many numbers to remember.

He who is holding her he looks out for her.  When you knock on the window he comes downstairs to let you in.  He helps you through the back room full of boxes and restaurant equipment to the stairs.  He says going up: The only way secret entrance like a fort.

He makes her eggs and she knows how many there are.  She counts the things in her cupboard. Unless she’s not feeling well again.  Again lately she has not been feeling well again.  Again.  He says to her: How many trips to the emergency room this year?  She says: 206. Loud.  Definite.  She knows everything about numbers.

He says on the phone with people from the city: Her health is getting worse things are going wrong I cannot protect her.  He says: I ask the people from the city on the phone can’t you help her?  And each says I can’t but I will find the person who can.  Then someone else calls.  Over and over the same conversation.  So many people who will not help us.  She just needs some care.  I think they want us to die.

They hold each other as they sit on the couch.  His eyes look in two directions.  He is very sweet.  He is hard to talk to.  She is counting on her fingers.



I was playing a video driving game in which my car would only crash.

The impact of the crash extended indefinitely, shaking the wheel, the animated viewpoint tumbling end over end, the sound quite loud the crashing continuous end over end the wheel rattling the animated viewpoint.

Each time I lean past the edge of the low cube within which the game unfolds I see a large room that is dark and empty and silent.

I think about the drop-off, the boundary between inside and outside.









Imagine you are in a room opposite.  Between the two a space of passage that is overlaid with transparent versions of itself again and again each version slightly misaligned with respect to the layer before or after it depending on your viewpoint where you start from what motion is.

Draw a thin red square around the assemblage of spaces of passage with the tip of a pen that tears the flesh of the world





redthinClimb through the opening.
























A thin line of bodies is moving across the water through the amplified sound shower of the rivermouth                              disappearing                                              reappearing

                 disappearing again                     on the slacktide               blue planar surfaces buckle & fold around thin wavering multi-colored vertical lines a lattice of attentions the light within against the water and sky breaks into beams & nodes then patterns maybe cracks or a honeycomb a scrim behind the recurrent appearance           disappearance                 configuration                of multicolored vertical folds that hover within above the black line that marks that is the edge the surface the water in the amplified sound shower of the rivermouth.


                          Locals Collection

                          Data Mining in Post-Reality

Stephen Hastings-King

Thanks to Marc Teatum, Heather McDonough, Sarah Slifer, Paige Larkin, Brad Powers & Guy Yasko for their responses to earlier versions of this piece, each of which generated a turn.

And to the fine people at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum for their support.


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