Tulibu dibu douchoo

by Pil and Galia Kollectiv

One of the major questions for Marxists since the death of Stalin is, ‘when did it all go wrong’? Now in a post Soviet world where Communism is nothing but history the question of ‘when’ is asked with even greater urgency and one of the common answers, a favorite of old school English Marxists, is ‘already with Lenin’. True Marxist theory, they claim, is universal (or is not at all Marxist) and cannot be applied incorrectly to situations which give the particular a major role in say, a revolution. Lenin took this universal western European theory which was meant to address the problems of the working classes in the most advanced economies (and was written almost at the Western most point of European civilization - the British Library in London) and crudely applied it to the totally different conditions of a nearly Feudal, and not very advanced, Russia. Instead of ‘workers of the whole world unite!’ Lenin gave us the ‘Russian worker is the only revolutionary force in Europe!’. By this, so goes the theory, Lenin betrayed Marx and led the way to the monstrous coupling of Marxist universalism and statist nationalism under Stalin. But we are more interested in the counter claim, which proposes that what Lenin achieved was exactly the opposite. By removing Marx’s ideas from their Western context and injecting them into a completely foreign situation, Lenin transformed them from a particular theory of pseudo-universalism (which wrongly assumes that the conditions it encounters are the foundational conditions, that an economy always works like the German industrial one does) into a truly universal one that could be applied to any place. The marginality of Lenin (even Russian’s refer to him as ‘Tatar’) is what allowed him to be totally universal. [1]

Perhaps Lenin is again becoming an important figure for theory today because these questions of the center, the global and the particular stand at the heart of politics in a growingly global world. The end of the cold war produced a curious effect in relation to the particularism of the nation-state. Instead of the hyper-mediatised global village or cybernetic Utopia dreamt of by activists in the early 1990s, the breakdown of the state did not produce a post-historical universality. On the contrary, what we ended up with were localised yet connected pockets of highly controlled and violent confines. In ex-Yugoslavian countries, Afghanistan and certain African countries like Somalia the authoritarian nation-state was replaced by these unstable, yet rather oppressive, fragments. In an ironic reversal of the Lenin’s interpretation of Marx, even global Capitalism, the only truly universal force at work today, has to flow through highly localized veins. Global giant IKEA sells cartoon versions of Swedish nationality as little Swedish flags stuck in its Swedish cakes – symbols that concretise its global reach. The Arsenal football team’s real success is in pairing a highly localized operation (north east London) with the global (the board, the manager and all the first team players bar one are not English). Even the recent ‘tragedy’ of financial Capital and the reason that it failed so spectacularly is that it lacked this local, material, ‘real’ to invest in: Chinese money was always re-invested in financial markets in the West and not in, say, Chinese infrastructure, and, as Bill Clinton claims, no major new technologies demanded a substantial investment of Capital in the 2000s and the money simply kept on circulating between banks and never converted back into matter.

What becomes of the periphery within this new glocal order? In the context of Israel, cultural production is always measured against an elusive notion of relevance. The accusation that one is not addressing the local sufficiently equates to one of treason, and since the question of what constitutes the local is permanently contested ground, this accusation becomes a powerful hegemonic tool. One must sing or write in Hebrew, acknowledge the political situation, incorporate Mediterranean aesthetics – otherwise one produces a poor imitation of a foreign culture with no immediate application. Gilad Elbom’s 2004 novel, Scream Queens of the Dead Sea, opens with the paragraph:

I don’t know why I’m writing this book in a foreign language, when I have at my disposal such a beautiful mother tongue. It’s not a perfect tongue, I know. It’s been dead for the past two thousand years, and it goes from right to left, and we constantly have to come up with new words for simple things like oranges and submachine guns and encryption software. But it’s the language of the Bible, the dialect of the Divine, the words in which the world was created. So why am I writing in English when I have this native language good enough for God? [2]

The internal monologue is immediately interrupted with an external judgment, the accusation of betrayal again: “My mother says that I’m being ungrateful”. However, it is only via the foreign language that the peripheral experience can be articulated through the cosmopolitan absence that defines it. And it is only the non-native speaker, with his awkward phrasing and excessive attention to linguistic quirks who can put the peculiarities of a generic, globalised English to work in order to produce an outward looking account of the Hebrew grammar as metonym for the Israeli psyche. It is significant that the book takes place in Jerusalem, itself peripheral to the Israeli cultural experience, centered as it is around Tel-Aviv. Paradoxically, Zionism always wanted to buy itself a place in the global, normative family of nations (to be but one nation amongst equals). But to do so it needed to develop a unique culture and identity, distinct from its European origins yet on a par with French or British culture. In other words, to be equal it had to be other. Therefore, the more Israel wants to be ‘normal’ the more it has to defend its uniqueness; the more included in the world it wants to be, the more exclusions it produces. Instead of the Leninist local defining the universal, Israel produces the local as a consequence of the universal.

As Deleuze and Guattari assert in their writing on minor literature, the encounter between the peripheral and the central both de-territorialises and grounds the ‘major’ language. Kafka de-territorialises the German language because in the writing of a Prague Jew it loses its relationship to the German state. But, more interestingly perhaps, he snatches it away from the symbolic linguistic order and brings it closer to a pure articulation of sound: “Language stops being representative in order to now move toward its extremities or its limits”. [3] Kafka, they also write, “deliberately kills all metaphor, all symbolism, all signification, no less than all designation. Metamorphosis is the contrary of metaphor”. [4] This reduction of signification to the concrete, of the symbolic to the objective, is one of the greatest themes of Modernism, as in the transformation of painting from a thing which represents a symbolic space within the space of the canvas to a self contained surface – a painted object in a room rather than a window to a different world. But Deleuze and Guattari correctly recognize that the purest articulation of this universalist trope (the formal qualities of the object transcending the particularity of that which is being represented) comes from the peripheral. This is, for example, what Cabaret Voltaire Dada achieved: the very ‘minor’ culture of Jewish Romanian refugees in Zurich which reduced language into a series of theatrical gestures without signification, perhaps to the state of a “gaga di bling blong gaga blung” of the Hugo Ball poem. These syllables are equally meaningful (or meaningless) to all, but could only attack the logos of the dominant European languages, the vehicular languages of transaction, from the point of view of the vernacular, the pseudo-Negroid East European mongrel poetry of native Yiddish and Romanian speakers, whose heritage survives in folkloric masks and rituals.

The comic effect of Dada nonsense poetry survives in YouTube hits like the Bulgarian Pop Idol Valentina Hasan’s moving attempt to sing Mariah Carey’s “Without You” in what she considers to be English:

No one ken to ken to sivmen nor yon clees toju maliveh.
When I gez aju zavateh na nalechoo more.
New yonooz tonigh molinigh yon sorra shooo.
Yes ee shooo, ooo

Ken Leee
Tulibu dibu douchoo…

In a subsequent clip, Hasan has been taught to sing in what at least more closely resembles English, but she is clearly too focused on her pronunciation to deliver any real conviction. Did we really need the cheesy lyrics to convey the song’s sentimental message after all? In a way, “Tulibu dibu douchoo” ends up being the more believable emotion, if only in the sense of capturing Hasan’s desire to have what Mariah does. The real affect of the song, the real lost object of desire is not an unacquainted lover but the American dream itself, the dream of freedom without geo-political affiliation.

The power of the periphery to re-inscribe meaning into hegemonic structures has been more deliberately put to use by Slovenian pop group / art movement Laibach. Their industrial cover versions, ‘copies without originals’ of Western pop songs like “Life is Life” and “The Final Countdown”, have indeed been read as a kind of “minor music”, smuggling critique into pop culture by treating its products as serious ideological texts from a marginalized East European vantage point. [5] Rather than singing Western sounding pop songs in Slovenian, Laibach chose to appropriate familiar canonical music by bands like The Beatles, Queen and The Rolling Stones, using their status as outsider representatives of the Totalitarian other to rock’s liberal narrative to underscore the structures of mass mobilization that were there all along. Against the background of Tito’s Yugoslavia, Laibach demolished the myth of rock ’n’ roll as a force for greater freedom in the Eastern block and showed the kind of universalism carried forth by the entertainment industry to be a form of violence that promotes its own particular brand over other types of freedom.

Returning to the question of what might be relevant to peripheral cultural production, what these examples have in common is that they are better placed to address the universal from their marginal positions than any ‘local flavoured’ adaptations of Western European or Anglo-American aesthetics. This year’s Tate Triennial curated by Nicolas Bourriaud under the heading Altermodern proposed a new art movement typified by the artist as nomad and the journey as paradigm. The resulting exhibition seemed to showcase the outcomes of so many artist in residence programs, a veritable pick ‘n’ mix of geopolitical biographies encountering numerous others to generate an alternate counter narrative of globalization. That these represented the privileged transnational lines of movement of the creative classes was barely acknowledged. Ultimately, truly successful forms of local culture are convincing hybrids that overwrite the authenticity of their points of origin, and in this Israeli ‘oriental’ pop music is no different to Laibach’s colonization of chart hits. This deeply artificial hybrid of Arabic folk music and mechanized western pop continues to thrive exactly because it now stands in for the ‘authentic’. Relevance is produced not through a commitment to geographic boundaries and historical affiliations but through a corruption of major language that universalizes the local at the same time as revealing the particularities of the dominant mode that would think of itself as universal. The provinciality of aspiring to belong to and even (over)identifying with the hegemony is potentially far more critical than the exoticism of valorizing the parochial in the name of identity. There is no need to celebrate the marginality of the local footnote to global culture – its triumph lies in its ability to marginalize this very culture itself.

[1] For more on this see Budgen, Sebastian, Kouvelakis, Stathis and Žižek, Slavoj [eds.], Lenin Reloaded: Toward a Politics of Truth, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.

[2] Elbom, Gilad, Scream Queens of the Dead Sea, New York : Thunder's Mouth Press, 2004, p. 1.

[3] Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix, "What is a Minor Literature", Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature [Dana Polan – tr.], Minnesota, MN: Univeristy Of Minnesota Press, 1986, p. 23.

[4] Ibid., p. 22.

[5] Monroe, Alexei, Interrogation Machine: Laibach and NSK, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005, pp. 226 – 233.