After the controversy surrounding the new version of Winnetou, the question also arises about how far the art can go. What language artist Lene Morgenstern has to say about it.
Daily: Mrs. Morgenstern, Winnetou’s children’s book, which has meanwhile been withdrawn, has been the subject of intense debate lately. How do you face these discussions?
Lena Morgenstern: I experience Winnetou’s discussions are exciting, tense, and not a bit surprising. Culture is up for discussion. But you could also tell that she’s in the spotlight. This does not happen every day.
While some fully agree with Winito’s end, others see this decision as exaggerated. what do you say?
Are we talking about “Young Boss Winito”, or about the Karl May novels, or about the movie adaptation of Pierre Brice? I think one had to read the scrapped book and watch the children’s movie (I didn’t see it either) to be able to form an opinion about it. But if we ignore the exact contents of this book, I can get something from both positions. The publisher’s decision to do so signifies the “end” of the children’s book. He thought and removed controversial works from the market. Opposite to Winito’s “End” he talks about himself that it’s not Winito’s character that suffers from the disease, but rather the look that created the character who doesn’t fit (anymore).
Are books like Winito outdated?
Karl May wrote his books in Winnetou at the end of the nineteenth century. They are no longer compatible with the values we want to live by today. We want a world where all people have equal rights, regardless of origin, gender, skin colour, religion or culture. We do not want to divide people into races. We do not want to see some as intellectuals and others as savages. BUT: We want the wilderness after all, and by that I mean the adventurous, the unpredictable, and the one that sweeps us like drunk, the Dionysian. It’s a paradox. We want both: the brave new world and the poignant, uncontrollable moment. It is true that literature and cinema are almost perfect means of satisfying people’s desires.
However, the description, language, images and perspective of Winito’s character’s story are no longer relevant for our time. Racism is not okay, colonial outlook is not okay. Heroism, deep friendship, longing for nature, the good that triumphs, who will remain – in these characters or in others. So you don’t have to flush the baby with the bath water.
Winito needs words and pictures to help him in our time. Win two, so to speak. An update can help him. Or we put books and movies in the museum, because it’s part of our professional life. This is how we saw – at other times – the world.
If one applies these criteria, should one also discuss other books?
It’s not just about books. We are now in the question: Who has the right to prevent what and why? The critique of cultural appropriation – which is what it is all about – has generated a debate that continues. This is an important and exciting process. Where it leads us remains to be seen. In America, the debate has been going on for years. This controversy is new to Europe, and some say it’s appropriate and speaking of grabbing the credits, he put it cleverly. Discussion (and action!) should take place in the realm of discrimination.
Doesn’t the constant call for more freedom and personal responsibility somehow compete with the campaign against this new version?
There seems to be a dilemma: we live in a time of so much freedom – there has never been so much freedom. At the same time, we put ourselves in limitations. Banned here, prohibited there. Ban culture. Many find this uncomfortable. The thing is this: if we understand freedom as freedom for all, it is clear that despite all the freedom we long for, we must not step on each other’s toes. That is: complete freedom is a fantasy. In fact they do not exist because they cannot exist. It is still called a big name in the world because you can attract people with it. Personal responsibility would be a good alternative to prohibition culture. But others will say: Ban is a necessary means due to the lack of personal responsibility.
When does art become problematic, or where should you draw the line?
Art is free, it’s in the constitution. Art is allowed to act freely. However, the art is canceled, for example if the publishers so decide. Those who “must stand straight” for artwork draw boundaries they don’t want to cross. But art is still free in itself, and may not have been published or ultimately obscured, but it does exist. The question I find central in this context is: When we talk about art, do we always deal with art at all? How much art is in “Young Chief Winnetou”? How much art is in Karl May’s novels? Some things called art are actually works. The question, then, must be: What is a business allowed to do? Can the market abuse cultures and violate human (rights) for profit? We know the answer, and we know it.
But can art be “just”, and should it be?
If we lived in a just world, the art that exists today would not exist at all. Art can and should ask questions, and art can be disturbing and exciting too. Art can be critical and exaggerated, and it can also be sarcastic, funny, and annoying at times. Of course, art can also be interests, kind and loving of the heart. It allows art to enter the imagination. in eclectic. in conclusion. Art is allowed to create and work on Winnetou characters. Art is allowed to be dreadful. The art is allowed to pin small green frogs with beer cups and eggs at their ends on a cross and place them in the Museion. However, in all this, art will look in the direction I talked about above. We live in a society that wants to represent certain values. Art wants, must, must, and will defend these values.
Interview: Lisa Lange
Pictures(s): © 123RF.com and/or with © Archive Die Neue Südtiroler Tageszeitung GmbH (if reference is not available)