Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot’s Prison Letters to Slavoj Žižek

nadezhda-tolokonnikova-profileDissident musician Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek exchange letters:

Via the Guardian:

2 January 2013

Dear Nadezhda,

I hope you have been able to organise your life in prison around small rituals that make it tolerable, and that you have time to read. Here are my thoughts on your predicament.

John Jay Chapman, an American political essayist, wrote this about radicals in 1900: “They are really always saying the same thing. They don’t change; everybody else changes. They are accused of the most incompatible crimes, of egoism and a mania for power, indifference to the fate of their cause, fanaticism, triviality, lack of humour, buffoonery and irreverence. But they sound a certain note. Hence the great practical power of persistent radicals. To all appearance, nobody follows them, yet everyone believes them. They hold a tuning-fork and sound A, and everybody knows it really is A, though the time-honoured pitch is G flat.” Isn’t this a good description of the effect of Pussy Riot performances? In spite of all accusations, you sound a certain note. It may appear that people do not follow you, but secretly, they believe you, they know you are telling the truth, or, even more, you are standing for truth.

But what is this truth? Why are the reactions to Pussy Riot performances so violent, not only in Russia? All hearts were beating for you as long as you were perceived as just another version of the liberal-democratic protest against the authoritarian state. The moment it became clear that you rejected global capitalism, reporting on Pussy Riot became much more ambiguous. What is so disturbing about Pussy Riot to the liberal gaze is that you make visible the hidden continuity between Stalinism and contemporary global capitalism.

[Žižek then explores what he sees as a global trend towards limiting democracy.] Since the 2008 crisis, this distrust of democracy, once limited to third-world or post-Communist developing economies, is gaining ground in western countries. But what if this distrust is justified? What if only experts can save us?

But the crisis provided proof that it is these experts who don’t know what they are doing, rather than the people. In western Europe, we are seeing that the ruling elite know less and less how to rule. Look at how Europe is dealing with Greece.

No wonder, then, that Pussy Riot make us all uneasy – you know very well what you don’t know, and you don’t pretend to have any quick or easy answers, but you are telling us that those in power don’t know either. Your message is that in Europe today the blind are leading the blind. This is why it is so important that you persist. In the same way that Hegel, after seeing Napoleon riding through Jena, wrote that it was as if he saw the World Spirit riding on a horse, you are nothing less than the critical awareness of us all, sitting in prison.

Comradely greetings, Slavoj

23 February 2013

Dear Slavoj,

Once, in the autumn of 2012, when I was still in the pre-trial prison in Moscow with other Pussy Riot activists, I visited you. In a dream, of course.

I see your argument about horses, the World Spirit, and about tomfoolery and disrespect, as well as why and how all these elements are so connected to each other.

Pussy Riot did turn out be a part of this force, the purpose of which is criticism, creativity and co-creation, experimentation and constantly provocative events. Borrowing Nietzsche’s definition, we are the children of Dionysus, sailing in a barrel and not recognising any authority.

We are a part of this force that has no final answers or absolute truths, for our mission is to question. There are architects of apollonian statics and there are (punk) singers of dynamics and transformation. One is not better than the other. But it is only together that we can ensure the world functions in the way Heraclitus defined it: “This world has been and will eternally be living on the rhythm of fire, inflaming according to the measure, and dying away according to the measure. This is the functioning of the eternal world breath.”

We are the rebels asking for the storm, and believing that truth is only to be found in an endless search. If the “World Spirit” touches you, do not expect that it will be painless.

Laurie Anderson sang: “Only an expert can deal with the problem.” It would have been nice if Laurie and I could cut these experts down to size and take care of our own problems. Because expert status by no means grants access to the kingdom of absolute truth.

Two years of prison for Pussy Riot is our tribute to a destiny that gave us sharp ears, allowing us to sound the note A when everyone else is used to hearing G flat.

At the right moment, there will always come a miracle in the lives of those who childishly believe in the triumph of truth over lies, of mutual assistance, of those who live according to the economics of the gift.

Nadia

Read more here.

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  • Juan

    I love it. “Borrowing Nietzsche’s definition, we are the children of Dionysus, sailing in a barrel and not recognising any authority.” Yes!
    -Nadia
    Thank you for posting this.

  • alizardx

    “you don’t pretend to have any quick or easy answers, but you are telling us that those in power don’t know either”

    An important message.

    What’s interesting is this was recently printed in Bloomberg: “Blame rich overeducated elites as our society frays” – http://mobile.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-20/blame-rich-overeducated-elites-as-our-society-frays.html

    Hardly a radical or even liberal publication.

    Perhaps even the elites are starting to wonder. That article doesn’t take into account all the bad news even an ordinary well-informed citizen should know.

    • emperorreagan

      I wonder if Louis XVI started to wonder before they came for him.

      I also wonder if American elites realize how short the time is for them, or if they operate under the delusion that “transnational elite” includes elites from empires after they fall.

      • alizardx

        The problem with an elite “loot and run” strategy is that the elites have to know when to pack it in and run and they need somewhere to run to. WIN means bugging out in time with the loot.

        American elites who WIN will find a welcome among other transnational elites. The ones who don’t get their money out will be just more poverty-stricken refugees.

        Problem here is that the US and UK are the default bugout spots for the rest of the elite, that’s a factor driving up high-end property prices in both places. This could be why both nations are leading the world in domestic surveillance states. One would think that elites would have learned the East German lesson – that universal surveillance guarantees the signal one needs will get lost in the noise. It’s my understanding that NSA hired STASI experts.

        A transnational elite strategy that says “we can shit in our nests and escape” consequences has inherent problems. Like not having anywhere to go when everybody’s doing it.

        • http://pneumerology.com/ pneumerology

          I have ceased to be surprised by the stupidity of the “elite”. They seem to assume that once they (as a group) have eaten the world, they will not simply turn to eating each other.

  • Rhoid Rager

    Best line of her letter: “One is not better than the other.”
    Activism is about sacrifice–those who realize this go all in; those who don’t realize this aspire to the avant garde and diminish the effort of all. This is anarchism.

    In the depths of misery and despair ye shall find solace.

  • http://skadhiblog.wordpress.com/ skadhithjassisdottir

    What exactly does Pussy Riot believe?

    I tend to see them negatively but this attitude is based on the sort of people cheerleading for ‘em over here, mind. I appreciate this isn’t the same thing.

    From here they seem like all them queers protesting against Putin.

  • AnonymousGuitarist

    The analogy between A and G flat is more than metaphorical, it’s how they’ve trained people to listen to music. Naturally (as in, based off the Fibonacci sequence which is found in all of nature), A occurs at Frequency 432 Hz, that’s what most of the greats’ (Mozart & Bach, I’m referring to in particular)’s reference tuning to A was. In the early 20th century, the Rockefeller foundation decided that international concert tuning pitch should be A=440, slightly sharper (less soothing, more sharp). So, those who are hearing what music naturally sounds like when produced by a natural being (humming, bird’s singing) are hearing a note slightly flatter than the note that those raised in the last 100 years are conditioned, taught, and reinforced into believing is actually A, and those accustomed to concert pitch (Rockefeller tuning) of 440 would hear the natural note A=432 as G flat.
    Try listening to some of your favorite music tuned 8 Hz lower and you can tell the difference. It’s certainly an audible difference and the arbitrary pitch of 440 is set that way for more reasons than mere arbitrarity. It makes music more abrasive to the ear. Ever wondered why music has gone from it’s classical roots to the modern pop abomination being let loose on us by ‘artists’ like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber? It’s because intervals other than the third, fourth, and fifth, sound slightly off, and even those sound off. At A=440, D, the fourth note, is 293.33(repeating of course) Hz. At A=432, it’s 288. When the sequence is musically sectioned, the arbitrary concert pitch goes into Hz values with repeating digits or irrational numbers, whereas Fibonacci pitch goes into Hz values with rational numbers. The difference is audible.

  • anyone who is wise

    Thank god someone knows about this!! Could you give your advice on how or what are your best recommended means with which one could to listen to music 8hz lower? Thank You

    • AnonymousGuitarist

      The best method I know of is to find a tuner that can do so by the Hz range, tune your instrument and play it yourself. I’m not savvy on any way to try to replicate the effect digitally, however there are many artists whose recordings you can find at 432 if you search YouTube.

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