Monday, January 18, 2010

Warmistas, Anti-Warmistas, Hugo Chaves and Kundera’s Concept of Kitsch

Recently I re-read Milan Kundera’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. (Apologetically, I sometimes tear myself away from the climate change issues.) Within the context of the book Kundera presents an interesting discourse on what he calls The Grand March and an interesting discourse on the concept of kitsch. Borrowing heavily on Kundra this brief discussion looks at the role of kitch in the global warming issue.
To begin I would like to present Kundra’s concept of The Grand March. In Europe The Grand March has sympathized with Cuba, Tibet, Palestine, Czechoslovakia, etc., etc. and has traditionally been a march against imperialism or capitalism or dictatorship or ... . Kundra tells us it is a march from’ revolution to revolution, from struggle to struggle, ... replete with demonstrations that consist of carnival and theatre.’ The Grand March, he says, is the ‘splendid march on the road to brotherhood, equality, justice, happiness … [and] the glory of The Grand March is equal to the comic vanity of its marchers.’ I must admit however, I have yet to see a Hugo Chaves tee shirt so maybe the focus of The Grand March is changing.

Undoubtedly the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the independence of imperial colonies, the end of South African apartheid, and the removal of some of the worlds dictators left somewhat a void in the repertoire of Causes. Enter the anti-globalization and environmental movements in their modern form.

I think this brief introduction should suffice to provide an elementary feeling for what is meant by The Grand March. It persists throughout modern history in various guises and I am sure everyone is familiar with at least some aspects.

Now on to kitsch. Kitch is a German word that came into being in the middle of the sentimental 19th century. The word has subsequently been adopted in a number of languages and its repeated use has obliterated its original metaphysical meaning. The essence of kitsch was that it excluded everything from its purview which was unacceptable in human existence. According to Kundera, ‘The aesthetic ideal of the categorical agreement with being is the world in which the unaesthetic is denied and everyone acts as though it does not exist. This aesthetic ideal is called kitsch.’ … ‘ All demonstrations are merely expressing agreement with [one or another version] of the categorical agreement with being.’ Here I would go as far as to say this now includes the demonstrations against global warming. Not that global warming is denied, just many aspects of the issue.

According to Kundera, ‘The feeling induced by kitsch must be the kind the multitudes share. Kitsch may not, therefore depend on an unusual situation; it must derive from the basic images people have engraved in their memories.’ When it comes to basic images of global warming kitsch, what images are engraved in memory: in Germany at least, the Cologne Cathedral submersed in flood waters, and on the grander scale, polar bears treading water and the falling price of shore-line property in the Maldives. The other side of the coin is denied. As Kundera goes on to say, ‘Political movements rest not so much on rational attitudes as on fantasies [Al Gore], images [polar bears], words [global warming] and archetypes [Maldives] that come together to make up the political kitsch [of global warming].’ So, the identity of kitsch comes not from some political strategy but from images, metaphors and vocabulary. Here is where the Anti-Warmistas tend to be lacking, perhaps resulting from a lack of a decent PR budget, or then again, how can one visage day to day normality in a sexy manner? This is not to say they don’t try. There is the vocabulary consisting of ‘higher unemployment’, ‘higher taxes’ etc. but it does not capture the imagination as does an image. Lengthy explanation are not conducive to the formation of kitsch.

Whenever a single movement corners power we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch. According to Kundera, ‘When we reach the world of totalitarian kitsch, all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions [Copenhagen?]. Both the Warmista and the Anti-Warmista might be guilty of this. It follows then that the true opponent of totalitarian kitsch is the person who asks questions [likely of both Warmistas and Anti-Warmistas (antis have always antied to any Grand March ]. Under a regime of totalitarian kitsch ‘everything that infringes on kitsch must be banished from life: every display of individualism; every doubt; all irony (because in the world of kitch everything must be taken quite seriously’ - the enforced May Day parades were demonstrations of plentifulness, and no laughing matter; calling someone who questioned the Warmista as equal to a Holocaust Denier was no laughing matter).’ The gulag was a septic tank for the opponents of Soviet kitsch and I do believe similar suggestion were jousted about by the Warmistas for resolving the Anti-Warmista problem, but unfortunately I can’t remember the details.

Anyway, what makes a Warmista a Warmista, or an Anti-Warmista an Anti-Wartmista, is not this or that theory, but the ability to integrate any theory into the kitsch called The Grand March. Luckily, Kundera also gives us hope: ‘As soon as kitsch is recognized for the lie it is, it moves into the context of non-kitsch, thus losing its authoritative power.’ Amen to that.


TCO said...

Too boring. Did not bother struggling through to whatever your point was. Serious.

Dennis Bray said...

Dear TOC - my apologies for straining your brain. If you had read a little further you might have found a few words about 'serious'.

Anonymous said...

It's "kitsch", isn't it?

Dennis Bray said...

to Anon


The mystery of the missing s's: all have been added

Search and replace works both ways

Rich said...

Kitch is a German word I guess your search-and-replace was case sensitive.

Dennis Bray said...

The word KITSCH with an S (even in the German language) has its origins as a German word but has been adopted in many languages. Not that any of this is relevant to the price of eggs in China.

Werner Krauss said...

'Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the gras. The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the gras! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch!'
(Kundera in wikipedia on kitsch)

Of course, Dennis warmista / anti-warmista fits perfectly. But kitsch is not reserved for them; 'honest broker kitsch' is easy to imagine, too.

eduardo said...

@ 7

I read sometime ago that paying for blood donations can cause an undesired effect.The number of donations decreases, because donors 'do not feel good'

Dennis Bray said...


Are these repeat donors? I.e. maybe they didn't feel good because they donated (sold) too much blood, a loss of blood will do that to you. Just kidding - the 'feel good' factor is quite significant in many actions and behaviours.

Dennis Bray said...


You are absolutely right. I find the term 'honest broker' a little difficult at times too. Especially when you consider the definition of 'broker': often 'a pedler; a retailer; or a petty dealer'. Now, if we look at honest we find it means: 'a person holding an honourable position; respectable; blameless but undistinguished'. Logically, as a synonym we could use 'an honourable petty dealer'. Should scientists be dealers? Also, although to be respectable and blameless is a quality that most scientists would aim for, to be undistinguished is not. So, should scientists (honest) knowledge dealers or limit their activities to knowledge production?

Werner Krauss said...

I like the term broker as it is used in anthropology, have a look here:

The broker facilitates the bridging between two different cultures. The broker is often times a 'marginal man', I like this distinction. Fits well for people who can travel between cultures. 'Honest' is of course difficult to define. 'To live outside the law you must be honest', as the song goes. Of course, it is bad for the reputation of the broker when he is caught cheating. You get easily shot, too. I guess, 'honest' means that you are able to reconcile antagonistic meanings and opinions; in case of climate change, you have to save your reputation on both sides, the scientists and the non-scientists. Good luck! Translators or interpretors indeed live a dangerous life.

By the way, if someone introduces himself as a 'honest man', you better take care of your daughters!

TRAB said...

The is an old Chinese saying 'Show me an honest broker and I will give you a fish' or something like that. I think it has a lot of wisdom.