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PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 26.2 (2004) 1-15

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The Kulturstaat in the Time of Empire
Notes on Germany Thirteen Years After

Chris Salter

Truly we live in dark times! An innocent word is foolish. A smooth brow denotes callousness. Those who laugh have not heard the terrible news.
—Brecht, "To those born after," 1938
America is the country of the future and its world-historical importance has yet to be revealed in the ages which lie ahead. It is a land of desire for all those who are weary of the historical arsenal of old Europe.
—G.W.F. Hegel, 1868

Six Years Ago

Six years ago in PAJ 52, I detailed the situation of the Berlin kulturszene in an article entitled "Forgetting, Erasure and the Cry of the Billy Goat: Berlin Theatre Five Years After." At that time, the highly subsidized cultural sector was already grappling with issues brought about by the radical shift in German society after the fall of the Wall and subsequent reunification between East and West. Six years later, these issues have not disappeared; on the contrary, they have escalated to a crisis point that potentially threatens the very existence of the state-supported cultural apparatus, the kulturstaat.

What was evident from the survey of the cultural landscape then as well as in PAJ 65, a special issue entitled "Berlin 2000," is that German cultural politics is a special kind of animal, embodying deep political and social ramifications that ripple across the entire society. After reunification and the end of the post-World War II boom period of expansion, the burning issue on everyone's mind currently is the future of state-supported culture in a globalized economy when "pure" market prerogatives are increasingly putting pressure on the very concept of the social welfare state. What impact, if any, is the current crisis having on the cultural scene? What future does the kulturstaat, an intrinsic component of European social welfare state democracy, have as we enter a new age of Empire; an age driven by a renewed and aggressive American-led economic, political, military, and cultural hegemony? [End Page 1]

The Position of Empire

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire (2000) radically describes the new form of imperial order driven by the mechanisms of late, global capitalism. The boundaries of the traditional nation state as exemplified by Europe have eroded and been replaced by a new and parasitic political, economic, cultural, and social imperium which is boundariless, knowing no fixed locale except where the inextricable flows of "off shore" market capitalism run. In contrast to the sovereign, geographically-situated nationhood of the faded empires of old Europe, this new Empire appropriates and incorporates both the U.S.-generated vision of infinite frontier and expansionism and the sacred cows of late-postmodern theory and praxis: decenteredness, hybridity, and the transmutation of fixed subjectivity and identity. Fluidity, transformation, and infinite production are key concepts as Empire seamlessly inserts and replicates itself in a metastatic process across the planet.

What Hardt and Negri most pointedly detail is the major shift undergone throughout the post-war world in the methods and means of capitalist production. Empire's embracing of global, fluid markets and the "informatized," knowledge-based creation of wealth bring us increasingly into a new form of "biopolitical" production where the "economic, the political, and the cultural increasingly overlap and invest one another." Biopolitics is late capital's last frontier—a realm where, through the creation of needs, in social relations and bodies and minds, capitalism "produces producers." In short, in bioproduction, capitalism is the ultimate autopoietic machine. It not only produces commodities, it produces new forms of subjectivities and social relations to consume and reproduce these commodities, constructing and catalyzing economic, social, and cultural life in an endless self-reproducing cycle.

This supranational, hermetically sealed vision of capitalism poses a complex dilemma for the reigning belief that the state's main function is to financially provide for the social good. Empire now asks a...


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