The debate over cultural appropriation has taken on absurd proportions in recent days. Concerts have been halted or canceled because white musicians wore dreadlocks, a publisher pulling books accompanying the Winito movie after allegations of racism. Austrian philosopher Robert Waller commented: “We are dealing here with a tendency towards the rehabilitation of society.” In the end, anti-democratic forces are at work here.
The philosopher, who was born in Vienna in 1962 and currently teaches at the Linz University of Art and Design, has spoken in numerous books, articles, and civil society initiatives against over-regulation, the paternalism of citizens, and the welfare of society. Is he feeling sure now – or is he just shaking his head? “Both, of course,” smiles Pavalier in an interview with the APA. “I feel justified – precisely in the fact that I’ve been shaking my head for so long. The important thing to say about this is that the people making such demands are clearly not really interested in liberating the groups in their name they claim to speak.”
The current discussion of appropriation ‘in no way can be seen in a large political context. This postmodern cultural politics is the partner and beneficiary of the neoliberal redistribution and democratization of society in the early modern period that was difficult to achieve – specifically in public one ignores the special features of others and regards them as equal citizens. This may be a fiction, but it is a fiction so crucial to making democracy ever possible.”
Peter Sloterdijk observed many years ago that “strength nowadays likes to be combined with weakness and disguise.” The same can now be said: “These are initiatives that seem to come from the disadvantaged. But the powerful impact of these initiatives on society stems from the fact that they allow the strongest to silence others who are in a position to criticize existing conditions or even just demand democratic participation.”
democratization of universities
As an example from his first-hand experience, Päller cites “the universities in which democracy has been largely abolished in recent years, and not only in Austria. The university’s joint decision has been a farce since the University Act 2002. Under these circumstances, it is very beneficial to the unilateral governing bodies, For example, if you have students who complain that they encountered offensive language in a particular seminar or have harmful motives in the content they have studied. This helps the mayors to exercise their power over critical university staff. This can be used to intimidate them.”
Robert Faller quotes from the “Anthropophageal Manifesto” of the Brazilian Oswald de Andrade (1890-1954), which advocated cultural cannibalism: “I am only interested in what is not mine.” This openness to the other has led to a globalized global culture. It is an illusion to think that the authors of certain cultural products can be traced ‘ethnically, regionally or otherwise. Is only chicken curry allowed to be prepared by people from India?’ But in India there are many different populations – and they use various ingredients brought by Spanish and Portuguese trading ships and the British from other continents.
Depriving marginal groups of their rights
Today, “multiculturalism” has turned into discrimination and “isolation privacy.” “The debate over cultural appropriation is a strategy aimed at denying the cultural dominance of marginal or dependent groups in society. It is claimed that these groups are unable to produce anything, and no one else can have value and validity. This deprives them of their rights.”
Pfaller gives an example: “For example, saying that black cultural achievements in the United States should not be used by anyone else is like saying, ‘If you’re not working class, you’re not allowed to listen to rock music or don’t wear leather jackets.'” Doing so was not a shameful cultural appropriation, but rather a cultural and political success for the Left, which succeeded in forcing even the class enemy to care and appreciate proletarian culture, and Elvis’ takeover of the Presley Blues and the Rolling Stones. Propel black music to worldwide recognition and success.”
Robert Faller warns against the “substantialization” of groups. “Groups are heterogeneous. So if you were to say: Austrians are subservient compared to Germans, and if Germans buy Lederhausen, that’s a cultural appropriation, you act as if all Austrians wear tights.” Instead, the following should apply: “Culture belongs to everyone who supports it.” Which doesn’t just mean leather bras.
(Interview by Wolfgang Huber-Lang/APA)