The Ethics of Pirating
Photograph: Pola Sieverding
Galerie EIGEN + ART, Berlin
One of the remarkable trends of the last several years has been the spectacular resurgence of piracy. In the Indian Ocean, Somalis seize oil tankers; in the grey zones of cyberspace, users swap ripped-off media. Theorists speculate that the situation derives from the contemporary logic of capitalism: the dispersal of sovereignty, the proliferation of wild zones, the invisible hook and related developments.
‘Pirates are shadow-figures,’ notes US urbanist Keller Easterling, ‘a continuum of characters from the privateer as military entrepreneur to the social bandit as revolutionary and the terrorist as murderer.’ Two weeks ago in Berlin, Adina Popescu’s experimental one-act play The Ethics of Pirating (2009) presented a line-up of these privateers. Read with spare staging at Galerie EIGEN + ART in Berlin on the closing night of a group exhibition called ‘Labor’, (a showcase of ‘seven young artistic positions’ in a gallery previously most closely associated with Neo Rauch), the play was made up of a series of monologues delivered by various fictionalized personages.
E.T.A. Hoffman’s mechanical doll-whore Olympia (moonlighting as ‘a disembodied viral image speaking as the voice of capital’) contributed the opening statement: ‘I have no soul therefore I am free [...] Everything that you think [...] is a serially produced vision.’ Capital’s team would be later augmented by suavely demonic McKinsey consultant, singing the global electric in Deleuzian ritornellos. Famed writer and neo-fascist Eduard Limonov delivered a more critical speech, performing a self-pitying litany about his literary dreams shattering on Western exposure. Other dramatis personae included ‘terror’s advocate’ Jacques Verges, a computer hacker named Jeremiah and an exploited worker figure called Pedro.
The supervening structure was a kind of trial, in which assorted fixations of contemporary leftist theory attacked each other. Verges channelled Jacques Rancière, musing on ‘the rights of those who have the right to have right’ while his former lover ‘Leila Khalid’ (substiting for Djamila Bouhired) demanded of (an absent) Michael Ignatieff: ‘You believe in the politics of the lesser evil?’ The chief inspiration seems to have been Bertolt Brecht; and especially the Lehrstücke, or ‘teaching plays’ such as Lindbergh’s Flight (1929) or The Decision (1930). As with the Lehrstücke, the dominant tone is didactic: one exception apart, there is no dialogue between characters; each appears sealed within their own pseudo-world. In the words of theorist Marc Augé, the situation is, ‘neither singular identity nor relations; only solitude and similitude in a silent dialogue [...] with the landscape-text addressed to him along with other [...] The only face to be seen, the only voice to be heard [...] are his own: the face and voice of solitude made all the more baffling by the fact it echoes millions of others.’
Brecht anchored his vision in Marxist dialectics, terminating (hypothetically) in general salvation. This virile heroism no longer seems widely compelling. Near the end of the play, Verges tells the audience: ‘Contemporary piracy is stealing identities, a guerrilla war, or simply a struggle of the individual to survive in within a system. Many might find playing with illegality or flirting with symbolic or real violence to be false. But fundamentally Leila – and all of us – was NOT seeking the implementation of a (better) political system. Besides, what shape was this to take? The goal was simply and purely the possibility of self-determination within a semilegal space.’ The aim was self-determination, achieved through adventure. Militant theoretical spokespersons are advised to take note. The Ethics of Pirating ends with a group declaration: ‘We are the impossibility in the dream of revolution.’