The Anabasis of May and Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi and 27 years without images

Artist: Eric Baudelaire
Curator: Pascal Beausse
October 14 – November 13, 2015

It is hard to imagine a more horrid and absurd act than the terrorist attack of May 30th 1972 at Lod Airport in Israel. Three Japanese ka­mikazes 5,000 miles from home shot blindly into a crowd – mostly made up of Puerto Rican Catholics on a pilgrimage – in the name of the Palestinian cause and of world revolution. One is not quite sure whether to break into laughter or tears, so much does ridiculousness clash here with bloody abjection. So one wavers between Dostoyevskian moral repulsion (“Demons!”) and Monty Pythonesque disbe­lief (the Judean People’s Front in The Life of Brian comes to mind).But one need only spend a little more time thinking about the twenty-six victims of that attack, the vile purges that preceded it within the United Red Army, their fascination with violence, and their total confusion between reality and images, between interna­tionalism and nationalism, between freedom and death, to stop laughing altogether. These tragic excesses – not of a generation but of a few lost Japanese – are not fascinating; they are wicked, lamen­table. A lament that forces us, symmetrically, to abandon any overly moral perspective. Because after all, in their own way these young members of the Japanese Red Army did not lack morality. At least, they lacked none of the courage, selflessness, loyalty to community, solidarity, sense of sacrifice and other virtues that are the stuff of the most common morals. And it is hard not to detect a profound moral regret in the fact that after this attack, none of their “opera­tions” aimed to kill, as they got lost instead in pure terrorist specta­cles. Search as one might, interpretation will always reach a dead end. There will be no “perfect” scumbags nor even “banal” scumbags, in Hannah Arendt’s sense of the word. So these terrorists do not in­spire laughter any more than do their victims, because like them, they do not make good objects of mockery. The situation is a little more serious than that.

Here it is rather Hegel’s words describing revolutionary Terror that ring truer than ever: their liberation and revolution ideal was nothing but an ideal devoid of content, without mediation, a confusion between images and reality, feelings and reason, deprived of all feeling and all dialectical thought, which could only lead to “the most cold-blooded and meaningless death,” in reality as well as in images. In other words, the Lod attack and the whole associated story of the Japanese Red Army are not intolerable for aesthetic or moral rea­sons, but because they stem from a political sensibility and mindset that are essentially impatient. Indeed, as Hegel showed persuasively, beyond all morality, impatient sentimentality is the absolute worst political fault, much worse even than patient, well-considered Machiavellian cruelty. It is a disaster for the mind, taking the apparently highest and most generous thought of universality and reducing it to the most insignificant particularity. And it is also a disaster for the body, reduced at worst to the level of an obstacle without impor­tance, at best to the level of an image without real content.

As true as Hegel’s judgment may seem, it is not necessarily wholly adequate for today’s world. First, because he could only formulate it after the event, from the perspective of a subsequent reconciliation between abstract freedom and concrete moral community, specifically the Empire, then the Hegelian constitutional state. But which subse­quent reconciliation enables us to speak of those terrorist attacks of the 1970s? What have the Palestinian question and the chances for peace in the Israeli-Arab conflict become if not an endless despair? What has terrorism become today if not a sinister profession of the future? And if the revolutionary perspective has been discredited by bloody, loathsome acts, what has become of the thought on its un­derlying causes – oppression, inequality, poverty, exploitation?

Second, and most importantly, because Hegel claims to fully un­derstand the terrorist act. That fury of abstract universality has a de­termined place in his system as a pause in the life of the spirit which must be overcome. Yet who can really claim to understand terror­ism, no longer of the State but by various splinter groups? Claiming to fully understand it amounts to either condemning or excusing it, that is, contenting oneself to judge and therefore not really under­standing anything at all.

Excerpt from
Anabasis of Terror: Trying (Not) to Understand by Pierre Zaoui

French artist born in 1973, Eric Baudelaire explores the narrative possibilities of documentary. Exhibition of the National Fund of Contemporary Art in Paris organized by SPAȚIU INTACT in partnership with the French Institute Cluj-Napoca.