At the 2003 International Security Conference

The International Security Conference in Munich
The International Security Conference in Munich. Courtesy of arbeiterfotografie.com.

Alexander Kluge is best known outside of Germany as a filmmaker, but in his own country he is also a renowned author, the 2003 recipient of the Georg Büchner Prize. Trained as a lawyer, Kluge became acquainted with Theodor Adorno while working for the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, and the roots of his philosophical approach to writing can be found in the tradition of Critical Theory. Selections from his latest book, Die Lücke, die der Teufel läßt, have been published in English by New Directions as The Devil’s Blind Spot.

Die Lücke, die der Teufel läßt is a 900-page volume of stories, many of them grounded in historical fact, some pure fiction, and all but a few under five pages long. Kluge pieces together fragments of history and human experience, both real and imagined, to form a composite image out of what is seen and what is implied. Subjects range from witchcraft to warfare, Carthage to Chernobyl, Aristotle to astronomy, organized under chapter headings that pose questions such as “Can a body politic say I?” and “Is there a dividing line between eras?” The stories printed here appear in the chapter “What is power / Whom can we trust?”

The classical field of scientific management (or ergometry) was focused on production: how much time and effort is expended in what process to create what product. So, for instance, at this conference I am interested in the following distinction: how much brainpower goes into carrying out routine duties and moderation (sales discussions, lobbying, greeting, maintaining hierarchical relationships), and how much consists of critique. My conclusion: 92% is used in routine duties and moderation!))

In the rooms of the five-star hotel in Munich, where the conference halls are still adorned with the rounded arches and bulky curtains familiar from German films of the early ’60s, with Spanish trellises breaking up the view, a swell of voices reveals a wealth of languages and lively, acute intelligence at work. There is no mental labor in the absence of pressure. The pressure here comes from the fact that in just a few hours, the lobbyists will have to impart new ideas into the cooperative minds of the decision makers in attendance, new in view of the situation, the change in all matters of US strategy that has come about with President Bush’s new administration. This is the primary reason for the electrified buzz of conversation which fills the room all the way up to the chandeliers, fueled by coffee.

On the median strip in front of the hotel: a small group of freezing people. They hold signs protesting the National Missile Defense (NMD) project and cautioning against a new arms race. One of the activists, Berthold G., has managed to make his way into the hotel; he is dressed as a waiter, and blends in with the others who are serving small cups of coffee to the security-conference delegates. A triumph over the security forces. Exploiting the fact that the hotel is so large that individual employees do not necessarily know one another. Berthold G. could set out flyers or start a critical dialogue with someone. But with whom? Starting such a conversation would blow his cover. Who among the thinkers here would listen to him, the critical intellectual?

Time is valuable. A retired vice admiral of the German Federal Armed Forces—a defense company lobbyist, former chief planner, and well-known military author—had a bit of free time because he had gotten his most important conversations out of the way the previous evening. What could convince him to engage in a critical discussion? What does critique even mean to him, as someone who does not waste words or thoughts? It would be a critical act to tell a decision maker something that later failed to come true. Not only critical, but also malicious to say something false, and thus to destroy the assumption of reliability, of relationships founded on trust. Each bears the other’s burden, and so every step that strengthens relationships of mutual trust represents progress in this context.

What does Berthold G. understand of this economy of mental labor? Now, during a break in the proceedings, the Supreme Commander of the Macedonian army has taken up residence in one corner of the dining room, where he holds court. It is suspected that his adjutant, a woman, is also his lover. He wears the uniform of the Macedonian armed forces. His connections to NATO secure his position within his own country, something which the country’s internal political arrangements cannot guarantee. He commands a conventional army. This afternoon he will deliver a speech exactly fourteen minutes long, i.e., just as long as that of his counterpart, the Bulgarian Defense Minister. His primary concern is to avoid saying anything that might disturb any of those in attendance. To achieve this requires the employment of a high degree of intelligence, by Western standards.

I myself, who describe all of this, practice the trade, as I have said, of scientific management. My employer, an automotive company, has lent my services to the foundation that organized this conference. I find myself constitutionally incapable of slipping out of my role. My character, as unique as a fingerprint, compels me to act as a productivity expert.

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