By Christian Kohlross
So what happened this past summer in Germany? Anything other then the persistent crisis of the Euro and the European Union? Is there something hovering in the shadow of an ongoing economic crisis? Or could the EU crisis also be an expression of something else?
According to a German-American type of sociology known as the system theory (invented by an American and a German sociologist, Talcott Parsons and Niklas Luhmann), modern societies are divided into social subsystems such as politics, economy, law, religion, art, science, etc. Each of these systems establishes a specific way of communication, its own language so to say, and its own values or criteria to create and judge convictions. Thus each of these systems is responsible for and emerging through the usage of a specific distinction. Broadly spoken, the economy deals with the decision to pay or not to pay, the political system with the distinction between power and the absence of power, religion with the difference between immanent and transcendent, art with the distinction of beauty and ugliness, and law with the difference between justice and injustice. Therefore, for instance, it seems to be pure nonsense to expect a decision from the economic system about what could be called ugly or beautiful.
Consequently, what follows from these sociological teachings is that systems might irritate or confound each other but could never communicate; mutual understanding is not possible. Different languages and values that cannot be translated into each other prevent communication. So, resulting from the German-American joint venture in sociological theory is the image of a modern or postmodern Western society, which is divided into a plurality of hermetic social spheres or systems.
Now, looking at what has happened in Germany this summer, we find a prevalent economic crisis and a string of scandals in the cultural scene. The scandals all try to prove the very same, namely that something is wrong with the sociological self portrait that (post)modern Western societies believe in. What exactly could be wrong?
Well, this summer, like every summer, Germany celebrated the famous Richard Wagner festival in Bayreuth, and there was bound to be at least one minor scandal in the happening. This year, it was a major one. The Russian bass baritone Jewgeni Nikitin was supposed to perform the title part in Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. However, some days ahead of the premiere, German TV broadcasted images showing a younger Nikitin as a percussionist of a Russian hard rock band, drumming without a T-shirt on, making clearly visible a Hakenkreuz tattoo on his naked torso. Of course, Nikitin had to resign the day after and was replaced by another singer.
What does this demonstrate? For one, that in Germany one is still capable of celebrating an ingenious composer, despite his having been an Anti-Semite. But celebrating Wagner is only possible by stressing the general distance between the artistic and the political realm (Richard Wagner was without doubt a great composer, but a failure as a political analyst). Yet, Nikitins performance as Flying Dutchman would have undermined this distinction; by his pure existence on stage he would have made it impossible to ignore Wagner’s Anti-Semitism for the sake of his art. Therefore, Nikitin was unbearable and had to resign.