Festivals -present situation and demands
Harald Kaufmann/Svend Åaquist Johansen
present situation and demands
is the approximate English title of an essay by the late German musicologist Harald Kaufmann (1928-1970), published in his last book "Fingerübungen" (Elisabeth Lafite, Vienna). This essay presents an acute analysis of the faults and failings of modern festival ideology, and we have found it appropriate to include a summary of Kaufmann's ideas in this issue.
Kaufmann's point of departure is a short quotation from Nietzsche's "Menschliches Allzumenschliches II": "The falsification of pleasure. - Not to approve of anything a moment longer, and especially not a moment earlier, than it seems right to you - that is the only way to preserve the genuineness of your pleasure, the taste of which will otherwise grow flat and insipid."
In this passage, says Kaufmann, Nietzsche has captured the essential weaknesses of modern festival-making in its mendacity, and in order to be able to analyze and argue for this postulate, he proceeds to define two terms, which we shall keep in their German forms: Feier (celebration, refers to the physical activities and external ceremonies) and Fest (feast, gaiety, refers to the mental atmosphere, the mood that one may develop from the Feier). In other words Feier stands for the date, Fest for the mental event.
Feier and Fest are phenomena of valuation: their origin is the selection from (and exceptionality from) everyday routine of certain dates and events, which are pointed out as something extraordinary that should be emphasized by celebration. So - sociologically speaking - these phenomena belong to the field of mentality and ideology, rather than to that of knowledge and science:
"Mentalities are relatively un reflected complexes of opinions and ideas, whereas ideologies are relatively highly reflected complexes of the same. As long as the Feier belongs to the unreflected circle of mentalities, it is a cultic attribute. The Fest results from the belief in the Tightness of the Feier. This rightness is defined as the identity of the desired state of exception with the situation and demeanour of society."
At this point it becomes obvious that - in the light of their origin - one otherwise weighty objection to modern festivals must be admitted to be rather unimportant: The fact that modern festivals are a matter of business and routine. This is quite in accordance with history. Most Feiers have always been predictable dates in the calendar, and business and trade have always been inseparable from religious and secular popular celebration. The decisive difference from the present situation is that everybody used to believe in these celebrations, so the Feier possessed the right-ness that makes it Fest.
What, then, has brought about the industrialization of the wonder? To understand this we must realize that Fest implies a transition from everyday routine to either mythos or art. Examples of this throughout history are innumerable, and they often reveal that the borderline between mythos and art must have been extremely blurred so that mythos and art used to be mutually substitutive within the framework of Feier.
This substitution works beautifully as long as mythos and art are one in their rightness. But when the social order, along with the complex of myths that encompasses it, crumbles away and leaves society uncertain of the infallibility of conventional social structures, it does make a difference: Since Feier is no longer recognized as being unquestionably right, its natural emotional consequence is no longer Fest. So Feiers have to be stimulated artificially by means of premeditation and reflection.
This is the step from mentality to ideology. Ideologies distort reality deliberately or through ignorance. Value (Fest) and norm (everyday life) have ceased to accord, but their discord is kept secret, and the idealized facts are featured as Fest.
At this juncture - according to Kaufmann - the idea of modern festival was conceived, no longer originating from "a common social mythos, but from an artificial mythology, which was a result of reflections and visions, and which was opposed to the still more questionable social order and to society's inability to Fest"
Kaufmann produces substantial evidence for his interpretation. He quotes statements by two famous founders of two famous festivals, Richard Wagner (Das Bühnenweihfestspiel in Bayreuth, 1882) and Max Reinhardt (Salzburger Festspiele). - Both of these quotations make it clear that modern festival ideology professes the social disintegration of value and norm, indeed considers this disintegration to be prerequisite to the very dream of values. Modern society is recognized as being anti-festive and chaotic, and modern festivals are intended to provide temporarily the desired relief and diversion from society. The proclaimed purpose, then, is to create detachment or escape from realities.
But there is a different and more complex interpretation of Feier, which does not confine festivity to beauty, nobility and solemnity. In Hegel's "Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik" it is said of the ancient greek mysteries that they do not seem to bury high wisdom or profound realization. On the contrary, they seem to have furnished an outlet for the lowest instincts and inclinations of man. But still they were Fest.
This is an interesting theory, says Kaufmann, because it tells us that more than fifty years before the first festivals in Bayreuth, "the sharpest philosopher in Germany refused to accept festivity as a result of detachment from reality." Instead, Hegel asserted that festivity was conditional on a total acceptance of and unity with reality: "The general law ... is that man should feel at home and well at ease in his natural environments, that the individual should be well adapted to nature and all external conditions and thus appear free ..."
Nietzsche interprets the ancient greek conception of Fest in surprising agreement with Hegel: "Indeed, everything that is powerful in man was considered divine and written on the walls of Heaven. They did not deny natural instincts that manifest themselves in evil human qualities. They adjusted their instincts and confined them to certain fixed cults and dates with sufficient precautionary measures to make sure that the turbulent torrents could be given a harmless outlet. This is the root of all moral liberalism in Antiquity..."
The repudiation of routine and reality led to the renunciation of genuine Fest. Which we have now realized. Which enables us to discern three stages in the total development of human festivity:
1°. The mental phase: Routine and Feier are in perfect harmony. Fest is an unreflected sublimation of the moment, which does not clash with everyday life.
2°. The ideo Eogical phase: Feier is turned into a flight from reality, which the Fest-ready started to loathe as he grew able to reflect over it and realized that his environmental routine did not form an acceptable basis of festivities. The illusion of Fest is still possible if he succeeds in escaping from this routine.
3°. The phase of disillusionment: The artificially preserved enclaves of unification are overthrown and trampled down. They never managed to get the better of reality, because they made the mistake of excluding it. So now totality triumphs over dream-entangled ideological extracts. There is no more Fest, there is chaos.
Acording to Hermann Broch (Essays I, Zürich 1955), this tendency to exclude basic human realities and primary instincts is typical of Hugo von Hofmannsthal's literary works as well as of his modern festival ideology. (The Austrian writer was also one of the founders of Salzburger Festspiele!). Broch points out that in Hofmannsthal's works man is but an accessory in beautiful, enchanted landscapes, an optical figure "whose shadowy existence follows an abstractly moralizing, idealistically romanticizing convention and knows no truly human inclinations, in Freudian words - he is entirely Super-ego, never influenced by Id." - One of Broch's conclusions is that "the Life Totality that we normally exact from great universal literature can never be attained by moralizing aestheticism."
In order to exemplify Broch's analysis, Kaufmann compares Mozart's music with Hofmannstha Ps play "Jedermann" (Everybody), which is performed every year at the Salzburg Festival. Mozart represents everything that is human, his music is all-comprehending, and therefore all-absorbing. What fascinates us about "Jedermann" is the staged city, not Jedermann's fate or the simplified moral of it, which presents no truths.
An attempt to analyze critically the problems of modern festival-making has been made by Denis de Rougemot (Genfer Festspiele) in 1957. Rougemont published a bulletin about a kind of symposium with 43 participants from international musical life. Unfortunately, the questions and discussions were based on the tacitly assumed illusion that something commonly festive does exist in our time, something that we merely have to deliver. But obviously, we haven't succeeded yet, and the only reason these festival experts can think of is that somehow the carrying out of the arrangements must have been defective so far.
But insisting on something recognized as an illusion is dishonest. It is no use repairing some practical or aesthetical omissions and mistakes as long as the ethical damages are trifled or ignored.
The proportions of effort and result should be tested critically. The term Fest should be applied only when it seems justified, not depending on the artistic qualities - that would exclude e.g. most of the baroque ballet performances - but depending on the degree of congru ity between mythos and art, on the commonly accepted rightness of the Feier in question.
An arrangement featuring clichés (anti-reality) presents no exception to routine and - consequently -should not be termed "festival". The present situation is a mixture of hope and disillusion. Some resort to the untruth that makes living tolerable, others seek the truth, which they hope to find undamaged. But we have to face it: undamaged truth cannot exist - or at least cannot be communicated - any more.
If the ethical and aesthetical integrity is to be restored to Fest in our time, the only acceptable criterion is the perfect accordance of norm (routine) and value (Fest). But history cannot be turned backwards. The present deplorable situation is part of the reality that we cannot escape. There is only one way to guarantee the rightness of the exceptionality that allows Fest: We must reconquer reality.
The personal possibility of testing the sincerity of the experienced community and thus possibly arriving at Fest, is still open to the individual.
So, in a way the problem is to find the true mythos - or anti-mythos - of our time. (Mythos should not be confounded with mythology!) Hermann Broch is pessimistic. It is the very essence of mythos that it describes in symbols the primeval forces that threaten to destroy man, and confront these forces with Promethean hero symbols, by which - eventually - they are overthrown. These primeval forces used to be the principal menace to mankind, but that has changed: "... almost imperceptibly, the menace has been displaced. Oddly enough, it is no longer in the original forces. The real menace now is in nature pinioned by civilization, in the work of man... The jungle of machines, concrete, civilization ... It is a situation of extreme hopelessness."
Kaufmann, however, sees a chance if we can shape our hopelessness and consternation artistically. Any content of an artistic shape (= Gestalt) may be worthy of Fest if the content is true. The examples of this throughout our history are innumerable, from Aeschylus' 'The Persians" to numerous works of contemporary art. In such works the state of exception, so indispensable to Fest, is attained through catharsis.
Broch's pessimistic description of our society is possibly not altogether complete. Kaufmann seems to think it isn't: "... Maybe it's really still there, that ludicrous, shamefully dissipated, kindly mixed-up, ineradicable, invertebrate original urge to comedy... The indispensable condition is that the laughter should be true. What is true favours Fest The conformity that idolizes Fest does not."
Svend Aaquist Johansen