March 28th, 2008


Being right, and being interesting

On Wednesday I took the train to Schloss Wiesenburg, a 12th century castle about 90 minutes down the tracks from Berlin. The composer David Woodard is currently enjoying a residency there, writing a book about the failed utopia of Nueva Germania.

The schloss towers, literally, over a hamlet of 500 people -- quite the smallest community I've visited in some time. There are only two hostelries in town, and no taxi -- a fact which hit home when David and I managed to miss one, two, then three Berlin-bound trains from the tiny station. We ended up tramping up and down the muddy forest track that links the station to the castle most of the evening -- under shockingly bright stars sometimes, in snow blizzards the rest.

Finally, there was nothing for it: I spent the night in the Presidential Suite, overlooking the schloss' impressive gardens.

Conversation ranged from Demeter (Greek goddess of fertility) to the "sex guru" Osho. I managed to get back to Berlin on Thursday in time for a meeting with writer Ingo Niermann and his friend, the artist David Lieske. In Wohnzimmer we talked about people who want to be right, and people who want to be interesting, and how they're often at cross purposes. Ingo shocked me by saying he wanted to be both!

People who want to be right: Responsible, logical, consistent, Anglo-Saxon in their fear of contradiction and paradox and vagueness, people who want to be right will argue and fight, because what's right must win, of course. They're likely to claim that "objectivity" is on their side. They're unlikely to be relativists. They're interested in power. They think the ethical is more important than the aesthetic. They believe in justice, order, consensus, unity. While uninterested in statistics and methodologies, they remain convinced that things can be proven and quantified, and believe that this is important. Theirs is the realm of non-fiction.

People who want to be interesting: Irresponsible provocateurs, flamboyant intellectual dandies, artists, dreamers. For them, truth is strategic, contextual, conditional. For instance, if everyone believes one thing, it becomes important to challenge that belief and to assert the suppressed truth of the opposite point of view. The suppressed truth will have a temporary power precisely because it's been hidden from view. There will be a rushing "return of the repressed". But soon afterwards the status quo, the doxa, will reassert itself, and the people who want to be interesting will have to move on to new terrain, and look for new suppressed truths to express. Life, for them, is a constant quest to stave off boredom. They don't care whether they're right in any enduring sense (they don't even believe that's possible). What matters is to challenge, to arouse, to provoke, to entertain, to stimulate, to open up new vistas, new avenues of consideration -- even forbidden ones. Theirs is the realm of speculation, of fiction.

What's so interesting about Ingo -- co-founder of Redesigndeutschland, author of books like Umbauland: Ten German Visions, and a leading campaigner for the Great Necro-Pyramid -- is that his genre is speculative non-fiction, which combines an interest in the interesting with a quest for actuality, for rightness, for the making of fact. Perhaps nothing can be truly interesting unless it -- at the very least -- aspires to become right, real and true.