A Small Follow-Up to an Exemplary Affair
Baron Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg has attracted attention by his contemporary behavior. The surprise may be called all the more a pleasant one, as it had been said of him from ill-wishing sides that he suffers from anachronistic and pathological mental states such as intellectual honesty, independent thinking or reliable diligence. Some cultural conservatives are even said to have imputed originality to him. All of these slanders have proven to be groundless. As a jogging and surfing media literate under forty, the noble scion is flesh from the flesh of the Facebook generation. Copy and paste is not considered shamelessness to him (what is that?), but cleverness; nothing postmodern is alien to him. Why should one still think anything oneself, when one has always been a patented queer and self-thinker anyway? So this sympathetic bearer of the zeitgeist succeeded in an exemplary way in expressing the ideas he didn’t have, not even in his own words. No one can take that away from him.
All those who copied the postmodern theorem of the “death of the author” from whomever knew how to put their name over it with grandeur. This subtle irony was also immediately understood by the Baron. In times of individualization, the author and the authoress do not disappear to make way for an anonymous collective of intellectual factory production. Only the names change like the doorplates in a prefabricated building. What dies is the myth of origin, that someone once actually thought and invented, researched, developed and formulated something that had to be quoted. Texts are simply there like the universe. Or like the apples on the tree that you only have to pick. To put it better and less naturalistically: The world is in any case one big text in the form of a virtual self-service supermarket, into which one may log in if one happens to be in the mood for reputation.
Every thought has already been there and stored in postmodern nirvana. All you have to do is gain technical access. That is why the habitual reduplication will not stop in the remote text regions of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung or the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, but will hack into the central treasure troves of the West, the East, and all intelligent worlds in general. The Baron belongs to the forerunners of a far higher second-hand thinking than he himself could display. Let’s take as a simple example the theorem of the so-called Pythagoras. This origin myth is cracked, when the so far still unrecognized 23-year-old Emil Backe states the theorem in a term paper for the University of Cologne and puts his name above it. Of course, Backe’s theorem cannot have a long stock of originality either, but that is not the point. The postmodern time horizon is getting shorter and shorter anyway. This is also true when Backe, who is now already 25 years old, presents the “Faust” that he has painstakingly downloaded. For a quarter of an hour, it is discussed in the community as his most mature work to date, and you really can’t ask for more than that.
Perhaps some eternalist now claims that in this way nothing new would come about and at some point the human copy machines would have to run out of material. Anyone who thinks this way doesn’t know the remix process. It is by no means just about the repetitive and serial appropriation of individual works, but even more about the combination of as many different text modules as possible. Therein lies the actual creativity of the original forgery. And the Baron’s dissertation also provides an example of this, although it cannot yet be called quite classical in this sense. Conceivable, for example, would be a remix of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” essays by Kurt Gödel, and the autobiography of Oliver Kahn; reconfigured as a retirement work by Emil Backe, which he blogs at the age of 29. The variety of remix possibilities is almost unlimited. Thus, at last, everyone becomes a celebrity and, beyond the copy work, the subject of his own electronic Yellow Press, tweeting every day with patience interesting messages about the composition of his dinner.
Basically, the copied state of mind could be completely automated. Why should one still download and remix oneself when the computer can do it much better on demand? The difference is a quantitative one, not a qualitative one. It is only about the speed with which the ars combinatoria is to be accomplished. Nowhere is anyone at home in the thinking room, neither with the intelligent robots nor with their masters. Who still needs an ego today, when everyone has long since been individualized? Admittedly, one single basic qualification remains indispensable: the subject being copied should still be able to write his or her name. Entering three crosses would not be individual enough. So much literacy is necessary, even in the postmodern copy store. The Baron, for example, could clearly spell his name, otherwise it would not be on the title page of the dissertation. He could have gone into business with it. Or into nuclear physics. The fact that he preferred jurisprudence, however, indicates a certain narrow-mindedness. The future will bring the individual universal copier, before which the universal geniuses of the Renaissance would have to pale.
So the artificial excitement of worn-out cultural seniors, who want to recognize in all this a decadence of the de-skilled intellectual business, is quite superfluous. The dynamic avant-gardists at the base are of a different opinion: “We should be careful with such judgments and deep indignation…because copying, copying, decorating with false feathers on a small scale is our daily business.” Who copied this down from the universe of texts? No one other than the head of the “Names & Careers” department in the “Handelsblatt” newspaper, who can also write her name for professional reasons. She knows where the bartel gets the cider; and that’s why she adorns herself not with other people’s feathers, but with false ones. There are no real ones left. This is the way it is with the work of art in the age of its mechanical reproducibility, as Emil Backe once expressed it in his imitative way, when he had just had a particularly good copying day on a somewhat larger scale.
The fact that the Baron, despite his enormous and sacrificially cultivated copying skills, can no longer perform the job of defense minister, which was tailored to his body like any other scientifically demanding job, makes him a hero and a martyr of the postmodern idealistic overall state of mind. As the deconstructivist left marches at the forefront of digital progress, it should recognize the kindred copy-soul in the Upper Franconian minor nobility. It seems all the more strange when some representatives of the free software and free culture movement try to distance themselves. They would not have meant it that way. It is only surprising that there was never such an objection, when in the alternative leaf forest of their own milieu the “lustful copying” was declared to be an emancipatory act. At least the “Gegenstandpunkt” appreciates that the Baron has behaved in a pleasingly non-proprietary manner. This statement cannot have been copied from a Marxian text. But perhaps diversity has finally arrived even among the oldest new leftists.
In general, the left-wing postmodern scene can study the secret of the state it has always longed for but never achieved: namely, to be popular and to be loved by the people. The Baron was considered by the people of the country to be swell; not because, but in spite of the fact that he presented himself as a conceptual thinking being. The heroes of the everyday mind, however, have a keen sense of when there is a good core hidden behind a deviant shell. Thus, the supposed unmasking only washed away one last blemish by proving what was always to be suspected: He is not an intellectual at all! He has merely copied all the outlandish stuff without thinking much about it. Since then, he has been doubly and triply loved for this very reason, no matter what else he may publish, be it the “Grundrisse” or “Finnegans Wake.” The postmodern regulars may say to themselves: nevertheless, he is one of us. The fact that he can write his name is not in itself a matter of honor. After all, we as normal people can do that, too, if we make a little effort. The Post-Left should appoint the Baron as its honorary member not only for factual reasons, but also for propaganda reasons; perhaps then a little of his charisma will fall on them.
Originally published on the exit! website in 2011.