- 1.Laibach, Playfulness and Fascism – Part 1
- 2.Laibach, Playfulness and Fascism – Part 2
Playfulness – the feeling of standing unmoved above yet lovingly and joyously embracing what’s below – is the foundation of all authentic art.
We have now thoroughly explained the true essence of art and culture, namely the manifestation of the universal in the particular, and how the retro-gardistic principle of Laibach is a challenging and suggestive experiment to recreate the Absolute in the particularity of our time, thus making it into a great inspiration for those of us who want to create a true culture of the Right and of Tomorrow. But there still remains the great absurdity of Laibach, for when they put this theory in practice, the result is bizarre and almost silly; yet this silliness is a paradoxical artistic quality we must understand, if we truly want to understand their art.
The standard interpretation of this silliness, by our contemporary ‘cultural men’, is that Laibach pacify Fascism by taking it to its aesthetic and theoretical extreme, but then misplacing it in the democratic culture of post-war Europe, thus creating a silliness which lets us see the absurdity of Fascism itself. Alternatively, Laibach expose and warn us of the Fascist potential of mass movement in all popular culture, including our democratic. Either way, this is an interpretation based on fear, as these cultural men fear Fascism, and must tell themselves that every artistic use of Fascism today must either try to overcome or warn against this fearsome movement. But there is not an ounce of fear in the art of Laibach; rather, their peculiar silliness and absurdity arise because they wholeheartedly embrace both their retrogardism inspired by Fascism, and the culture of popular music. If they were only postmodernists fearing Fascism, their art would not be silly, but pathetic. Not to mention that it would be both unnecessary and impossible to develop such a good theory and artistic expression that Laibach has done, if one’s only will was to make a caricature to soothe the scared children of democracy.
Another possible interpretation, from the Right, would be that Laibach, in their silliness and ambiguity, either do not dare to fully present their retrogardistic theory to the world, or do not really believe in it, but rather just use it for an artistic curiosity. But in either case, the silliness and ambiguity diminish their art. This might be true regarding the ambiguity of Laibach, regarding the fact that they have never really taken any outspoken political position; even if Laibach wholly believe in their art, I honestly don’t think that they really know what they want, and they thus choose to remain in an artistic bubble, and not carry their retrogardism into an unambiguous principle of life. Thus their ambiguity is indeed a fault which diminishes their art, but this does not hold true for their silliness. For this silliness is an artistic quality, inseparable from their art, which arises from playfulness, from a great artistic carefreeness which carries through its mad fusion to the end, with total gravity, not caring if the result contradicts everything we expect from the different forms used in the fusion. The forms of art are below the absolute will of the artist, and if the creation of this will turns out to be silly, then this silliness too is a manifestation of the Truth the artist wants to express, and thus is great and important for the artwork as beauty and order.
By playfulness, I do not mean cowardice or escapism; I do not mean to abandon one’s duties and particularity in the world of matter in order to enjoy oneself in an artistic world of universal imagination. A true artist must return from the great universal he has seen, and sacrifice himself to manifest it through his duties and particularity, with the same love that God had for the world when he chose to die as a man; but he will know that it is he who fulfills the world of matter, and not the other way around – that it is he who has the power, the creative will and the value-giving spirit, and not his particularity. By playfulness, I simply mean that a man who has seen as much as a shred of the Eternal, and realized that his core is celestial freedom, will not take the world below him too seriously, that he instead will be as joyous and terrible as the infinity of a blue summer sky. After all, Nietzsche did not think that the lion could symbolize the overman: the lion had to become a child. Thus a true artist is innocently and cruelly playful, being dictated by his work below him as little as a child is dictated by his sandbox.
This playfulness is evident in the noble artistic root of Fascism, in the futurists and in Gabriele D’Annunzio. For example, when the rest of the Right could only condemn the new experimentalism of cubism, call it degenerate and spit on it for destroying natural beauty, the futurists could feel its hidden bravery and power, and they could love and devour it wholly, carrying it upwards into their noble warrior-spirit, destroying everything that was broken in it, and ennobling the rest. The cubists broke every natural shape, and rebuilt it in broken geometric forms to catch a subtle feeling of space, and the futurists saw the possibility to instead playfully capture the violent act, to show how it dynamically sweeps through space, destroying and creating anew in a both Dionysian and Apollonian multitude of sharp shapes. The futurists were not afraid of being silly, of carrying their artistic impulse to its extreme; and not only did this playfulness reveal the mystery of the heroic act in a whole new light, but it recreated it, made that which so proudly had lived in the long-since dead Roman Empire resurface, in the powers and beauty of modernity, reborn, brave, heavenly playful, and ready to become the foundation of a new Empire.
And Gabriele D’Annunzio could make his art into a conquest, and conquest into art, capturing the city of Fiume, and playfully creating a state in the image of the sky above, founded on the joyous and celestial beauty of music. D’Annunzio was not afraid of his extravagance, of his maddening passions, and when he reached out towards his people, he did not seek to be their servant, nor to carry out specific fixed ideas, but to turn them into his flaming vision of beauty, into the tones of his great composition. In an age of the mere people, he reminisced on the truth that true order and value comes from above, yet he did not try to fall back onto some old system or faith, but wholly expressed it through the modern cult of the artist, of the scandalous and the famous, lovingly embracing this degenerate fascination of himself, but through his power and playfulness turning it into the first seed of a new, absolute Imperative.
And while it would be farfetched to say that Mussolini had any greater artistic or spiritual insight, he at least saw himself as standing above all ideals and politics, using them as he pleased and as he deemed necessary in a ridiculous pragmatism, to make real his vision of a great Empire. There is a sort of heavenly playfulness in this too, a sense of feeling that one’s will to power is a sufficient Order in and of itself, and carrying it out with the greatest determination, yet not taking the world and ideas below it too seriously.
The spirit of Fascism was born from the overhuman playfulness of a few great men, and there is an airy joy hidden in its strict warrior cult, shining through the people with the noble blue of the sky. And this playfulness is one of the great differences between Fascism and National Socialism, as Nazism was solely born from the dark, damp and völkisch womb of Mother Germany, seeing her as its only origin and goal, condemning and seeking to destroy every beauty which did not flatter or serve her womb. The warrior cult of Nazism did not come from the sky above, but from the blood and soil below, aiming only to provide servants who could win much food and spawn many children for the great Mother. And thus its order and morality were not the manifestation of a heavenly truth in the world below, but only an organization, an effectivization to secure as much food as possible. It says a lot about Nazism that Hitler condemned futurism and cubism in the same sentence, that the celestial playfulness and beauty of futurism remained alien to him; and it is ironic that when Hitler in his strict condemnation wanted the rebirth of the heroic art of the ancients, all that Nazi art could produce was a dead and tasteless pastiche, while in the playfulness of futurism, it was truly reborn, alive and breathing through the power and beauty hidden in modernity.
This playfulness of Fascism is what makes Laibach’s mad fusion of order and postmodernity work, and it is also what their art ultimately manages to depict. For the power and beauty of popular music is its joy and seductiveness, as its goal is to pleasure the masses, and when Laibach embrace this in their creative playfulness, when they manifest the order of Fascism through it, they transform what was previously a dulling opium into the clear joy of creating order and beauty from above, and the seductive pleasure of power. They conquer the silliness of popular music, and transform it into the playfulness of Fascism, in an expression which is alive, resonating through the postmodern culture of our time.
Laibach shows us that if one wants to undertake the mad task of recreating the ideas of Fascism and Tradition in a medium of our broken culture, one needs to playfully stand above them both, and in order to do that, one needs to contradictingly wholly love them both. For if one only loves the contemporary culture, one will of course not recreate any high order, but if one only loves the old ideas, if one only wants to present them as a programme in our time, one cannot truly recreate them through a contemporary force. That this is the case can be seen from viewing an aesthetic phenomenon which on the surface holds many similarities to futurism or the retro-gardism of Laibach, but which fail in its execution, namely Fashwave.
The idea of Fashwave is to synthesize Fascist (in reality, often just National) ideas with a postmodern musical and visual aesthetic called Synthwave, thus aiming to manifest these ideas in postmodernity. Synthwave can be described as a semi-ironic nostalgia for the 80s and 90s and the carefree consumerism of those decades. Its aesthetic usually consists of remixed loops of popular music, simple computer graphics, distorted image-editing and neon lights, remembering that naive dream of a future presented in these old movies and videogames, but which never came. But these tacky visuals are not the essence or goal of Synthwave, for it does not lament the loss of the aesthetics of the 80s and 90s, but the loss of an age innocent and unknowing enough, to create these dreams. The artistic qualities of Synthwave are disappointment, loss and absurdity, and it reflects the feeling of a civilization which has fallen more quickly and harder than anyone could have imagined back then. The beauty of Synthwave is the terrible yet solemn beauty of falling through empty space, and the absurdity of all dreams in the face of inevitable death. This sensation reaches its peak in the related genre of Vaporwave, which makes the music slow and echoing, trading the strong neon for more airy pastels, and absurdly uniting ancient sculptures with corporate brands and anime in a jarring kitsch, which somehow manages to carry the eerie feeling of a great elegy.
But Fashwave misses this true beauty and power of Synthwave, for it does not truly love and want to redeem the medium it uses, but only uses it to present a set of ideas. And when one wishes to present a system of ideas, one cannot do it with the feeling of falling and dying; it has to be motivational and triumphal. Thus Fashwave does not embrace the actual essence of Synthwave, but only its tacky surface, and as such it can not take part of its creative energies, can not transmute it into something greater, but only re-use the dead and meaningless residues of someone else’s creation. The ‘wave’ part of Fashwave only becomes a ‘cool’ neon aesthetic, plastered onto pictures of ancient sculptures, Hitler and marching soldiers, accompanied by some manly quote. It removes the ironic nostalgia of the 80s and 90s from its purpose, and mismatching it with triumphal pictures from the 30s to create an even greater and more meaningless kitsch. And this kitsch is surely not a rebirth of the ancient or Fascist beauty in our time, but just a tasteless and demeaning masquerade of its dead body. But the mistake continues, for Fashwave starts to believe that the triumphal is not a wish but an actual quality of its wave-aesthetic, and people begin to use this tacky aesthetic on their own National movements and politicians, as if it would make them seem as great and triumphal as the men in the Fashwave pictures. They believe that the ‘wave’ has bridged and manifested the old values into the National movements of today, when in reality it has only shown their inability to create any true values or art.
Playfulness might be a word that comes to mind when one reflects over the contemporary Alt Right and its meddling in internet culture; yet as evidenced by the artistic failure of its Fashwave, it has nothing in common with the great power and nobility of the Fascistic playfulness previously described. Its foundation is not the sky above, but almost always a set of fixed, National ideas meant to benefit the white womb, and thus it does not devour and transform its contemporary trends, but leeches onto their creative residues as a springboard which might give more spread to its ideas. And if there is any joy in this cultural movement, it is not the innocent and cruel joy of the overman, but the excitement of the mischievous child, who giggles when he disobeys his parents and says what he’s not ‘supposed’ to. Yes, the Alt Right’s playfulness is merely a consequence of its powerlessness, and if it gained real power, I hardly believe it would keep the playfulness; not only because the playfulness has no inner quality and would have no more attraction when it has no more use, but mostly because it is inherently destructive, and in its silliness would contradict any attempt to create authority. But the overhuman playfulness described previously does not contradict or undermine power and authority; rather it is complemented by power, and it heightens authority into art and beauty. Yes, the playfulness of a man like D’Annunzio reached its absolute peak through power, where it made its music into reality, and reality into music.
If the movement of Fashwave were truly playful, if it truly loved the postmodernity it used, and wanted to turn it into a rebirth of the beauty of Fascism, it would have chosen motifs which aligned with the peculiar beauty of Synthwave, motifs which instead of contradicting it could ennoble it, and transform it into an eternal Truth in the midst of Chaos. The inevitable death that destroys everything, the inescapable demise of the hero and the tragic futility of all struggle – that is a great and noble theme which runs through all of European tradition, both Pagan and Christian, and which lies closely to that beauty of falling which is the core of the postmodern Synthwave. But these themes are not defeatist and passive as in Synthwave, but affirmative and heroic, for in wholly embracing and loving his inescapable fate, the hero commits his greatest act of freedom, and turns the end of all things into an affirmation of the eternal will of heaven. And Fashwave could have used this in order to embrace a living beauty of our time, transforming it into a heroic spirit and Truth.
Yes, Fashwave should not have shown us pictures that pretended that Fascism was a triumphal movement which lives on today; it should have wholly and lovingly embraced the fruitlessness of its struggle and its unworthy demise. It should not have ignored the irreversible death of Fascism, but turned it into a noble tragedy, to show how the Fascist chose to meet his fate with the greatest pride and freedom. It should have shown the futility and absurdity of every dream in the face of all-encompassing death, shown that all heroes, all movements, all ideologies, all empires and all peoples will die. But it should not have done so with the sadness of Synthwave, but with the clarity of the samurai, who by dying like a dog awakened from all dreams. Yes, Synthwave is an eerie aesthetic of the underworld, and it should have portrayed Fascism as the sad ghost of Achilles; but it should have done so with the strength of Odysseus, who still chose to abandon eternal life and pleasure on the island of Kalypso in order to journey home to his wife, who knew that he, his wife and all his descendents would join Achilles, but who still chose to struggle, who still struck the treacherous suitors with his wrathful arrows.
And amidst all the jarring National neon, I remember seeing a few pictures which truly and intuitively managed to capture and transform the qualities of Synthwave like this, giving hope that it exists some true, artistic spirit even in the Right of our days. I recall a cold and gray picture, disgracefully showing Mussolini’s naked and mangled body upon the mortuary slab, with no obnoxious aesthetic trying to be ‘motivational’ or ‘triumphal’, but only with a slight VHS-distortion, and a subtitle saying something along the lines of ‘Death is temporary, but the Fascist is eternal’. This is the sublime beauty and rebirth Fashwave could have turned the falling beauty of Synthwave into, yet it chose the tackiness of a neon swastika.
So in conclusion, Laibach presents an interesting artistic experiment, which to a large extent manages the challenging fusion of Fascistic and Traditional aesthetics with modern popular music. Furthermore, what makes this fusion possible is a sort of noble playfulness, tracing back to the roots of Fascism and art itself, and it is also this feeling of playfulness that their art manages to depict. Laibach, by their wavering ambiguity, can absolutely not serve as an art of the Right, yet they can serve as a great inspiration. For playfulness – the feeling of standing unmoved above yet lovingly and joyously embracing what’s below – is the foundation of all authentic art, and is of even greater importance in our time, as the powers, expressions and beauty which are alive today stand so far from the Eternity that the true artist wants to show.
I do not mean that the art of the Right should aim to be silly like that of Laibach, as the silliness of Laibach is just the unique consequence of their peculiar experimentalism, and not a quality in of itself. Neither do I think of playfulness or the use of postmodern culture as a form or fixed idea that all works of art should emulate and depict, but rather the spirit that must be behind every artwork, whatever it tries to depict. Yes, judging art by a form or fixed idea would be the opposite of playfulness. I simply mean that if an artist recognizes a power in his time, if he somewhere in the dark depths of postmodernity and consumerism senses a beauty which resonates with his own noble core, then he should not condemn and ignore this impulse due to some fixed idea. Neither should he merely exploit this impulse to be a dead messenger of the same idea. Rather he should wholly and lovingly embrace it, and in the unmoving depths of his own celestial soul transmute it into a living manifestation of Truth. For if Eternity has chosen to live through the temporary, if God out of love has chosen to redeem the world by treading down as a man, and if the artist – like a true man – yearns to be like his Father above, then he should at least be able to tread down and live through the culture and forces below him, lovingly redeeming what beauty he has seen.