Recently I re-read Milan Kundera’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. (Apologetically, I sometimes tear myself away from the climate change issues.) Within the context of the book Kundera presents an interesting discourse on what he calls The Grand March and an interesting discourse on the concept of kitsch. Borrowing heavily on Kundra this brief discussion looks at the role of kitch in the global warming issue.
To begin I would like to present Kundra’s concept of The Grand March. In Europe The Grand March has sympathized with Cuba, Tibet, Palestine, Czechoslovakia, etc., etc. and has traditionally been a march against imperialism or capitalism or dictatorship or ... . Kundra tells us it is a march from’ revolution to revolution, from struggle to struggle, ... replete with demonstrations that consist of carnival and theatre.’ The Grand March, he says, is the ‘splendid march on the road to brotherhood, equality, justice, happiness … [and] the glory of The Grand March is equal to the comic vanity of its marchers.’ I must admit however, I have yet to see a Hugo Chaves tee shirt so maybe the focus of The Grand March is changing.
Undoubtedly the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the independence of imperial colonies, the end of South African apartheid, and the removal of some of the worlds dictators left somewhat a void in the repertoire of Causes. Enter the anti-globalization and environmental movements in their modern form.
I think this brief introduction should suffice to provide an elementary feeling for what is meant by The Grand March. It persists throughout modern history in various guises and I am sure everyone is familiar with at least some aspects.
Now on to kitsch. Kitch is a German word that came into being in the middle of the sentimental 19th century. The word has subsequently been adopted in a number of languages and its repeated use has obliterated its original metaphysical meaning. The essence of kitsch was that it excluded everything from its purview which was unacceptable in human existence. According to Kundera, ‘The aesthetic ideal of the categorical agreement with being is the world in which the unaesthetic is denied and everyone acts as though it does not exist. This aesthetic ideal is called kitsch.’ … ‘ All demonstrations are merely expressing agreement with [one or another version] of the categorical agreement with being.’ Here I would go as far as to say this now includes the demonstrations against global warming. Not that global warming is denied, just many aspects of the issue.
According to Kundera, ‘The feeling induced by kitsch must be the kind the multitudes share. Kitsch may not, therefore depend on an unusual situation; it must derive from the basic images people have engraved in their memories.’ When it comes to basic images of global warming kitsch, what images are engraved in memory: in Germany at least, the Cologne Cathedral submersed in flood waters, and on the grander scale, polar bears treading water and the falling price of shore-line property in the Maldives. The other side of the coin is denied. As Kundera goes on to say, ‘Political movements rest not so much on rational attitudes as on fantasies [Al Gore], images [polar bears], words [global warming] and archetypes [Maldives] that come together to make up the political kitsch [of global warming].’ So, the identity of kitsch comes not from some political strategy but from images, metaphors and vocabulary. Here is where the Anti-Warmistas tend to be lacking, perhaps resulting from a lack of a decent PR budget, or then again, how can one visage day to day normality in a sexy manner? This is not to say they don’t try. There is the vocabulary consisting of ‘higher unemployment’, ‘higher taxes’ etc. but it does not capture the imagination as does an image. Lengthy explanation are not conducive to the formation of kitsch.
Whenever a single movement corners power we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch. According to Kundera, ‘When we reach the world of totalitarian kitsch, all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions [Copenhagen?]. Both the Warmista and the Anti-Warmista might be guilty of this. It follows then that the true opponent of totalitarian kitsch is the person who asks questions [likely of both Warmistas and Anti-Warmistas (antis have always antied to any Grand March ]. Under a regime of totalitarian kitsch ‘everything that infringes on kitsch must be banished from life: every display of individualism; every doubt; all irony (because in the world of kitch everything must be taken quite seriously’ - the enforced May Day parades were demonstrations of plentifulness, and no laughing matter; calling someone who questioned the Warmista as equal to a Holocaust Denier was no laughing matter).’ The gulag was a septic tank for the opponents of Soviet kitsch and I do believe similar suggestion were jousted about by the Warmistas for resolving the Anti-Warmista problem, but unfortunately I can’t remember the details.
Anyway, what makes a Warmista a Warmista, or an Anti-Warmista an Anti-Wartmista, is not this or that theory, but the ability to integrate any theory into the kitsch called The Grand March. Luckily, Kundera also gives us hope: ‘As soon as kitsch is recognized for the lie it is, it moves into the context of non-kitsch, thus losing its authoritative power.’ Amen to that.