REPRESENTATIONS OF HEROISM IN FAR-RIGHT INTERNET MEMES

Since Oct 2018, I am working on my PhD thesis as part of the graduate school "Rightwing Populism - Authoritarian Developments, Far-Right Discourses, and Democratic Responses", which is based at the University of Leipzig and the University of Cologne, https://graduiertenkolleg-rechtspopulismus.de/.

While the traditional far-right can be associated with an actively practiced hero and martyr worship, the relationship of new rightwing movements to the Heroic remains undertheorized. In my dissertation, I seek to fill this void arguing that far-right online internet meme culture is marked by an ambivalent relationship to heroism, which stands in contrast to the serious, unambiguous take on heroism in “traditional” Nazi and neo-Nazi propaganda: In the context of the Great Meme War, a (partly) self-ironic approach to the desire for heroism can be observed in so called post-heroic societies, which, as I argue, serves to immunise the Heroic in view of its feared loss/absence in the online sphere. 

In my analysis, I focus on heroic representations of new types of self-proclaimed “meme warriors” that are emerging on image boards such as Reddit, 4chan, and 8kun. I am particularly interested in the internal contradictions of such heroic imagery that uses references to historical physical combat in order to honour contemporary online “warriors”. In order to define this changing, often self-ironic approach to heroism, I am conducting a visual analysis of far-right memes, which were circulated during the “Great Meme War”, by combining Roswitha Breckner's visual segment analysis with Alfred Lorenzer's psychoanalytic depth-hermeneutics.

Working Paper available for download: "Saving Heroism in the Online Sphere – The Heroic in Far-Right Internet Memes", In: Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies Working Paper Series, https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3zd6f7g9#main

 

A brief analysis of far-right memetic reactions to the Russian war on Ukraine can be downloaded as part of the 1st Digital Report of the Else-Frenkel-Brunswik-Institute for the Study of Democracy in Saxony here: https://efbi.de/files/efbi/pdfs/2022-1-EFBI%20Digital%20Report_final.pdf.

Despite the fact that the reproduction of far-right content can be problematic in certain contexts, I believe that it is necessary to study far-right memes carefully in order to better understand why they are so successful.

war war never changes.png
Meme "War War never changes" 
Online: https://knowyourmeme.com/photos/1191391-meme-wars (accessed 3 May 2022).

THE PLURAL TEMPORALITY OF THE PRIMITIVE

 

The Plural Temporality of the Primitive is a Lecture Performance based on my MA thesis I realised in collaboration with Katie Pickerell. It was shown at the Fine Art department of Goldsmiths University of London and at a Conference on Comparative Political Thought at SOAS, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, in 2016.

 

Starting from “Santhal Family”, the first modernist sculpture in India and the specific relationship to primitivism characteristic of the Contextual Modernism at Santiniketan where it emerged, the paper moves on to ask what the notion of the Primitive might mean in the context of globalisation. The outdated notion of “the Primitive” might remind us of the unevenness that only seems to be erased on the surface of the globalised world. Further, it raises the question if the Other of a global self might refer to epistemological alterity (different ways of knowing), rather than to real people(s) – as the notion of “the Primitive” suggested. The text can be accessed here: The Plural Temporality of the Primitive

 

The lecture was accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation, which started off in a formal way, summarizing the text, then began to move further away from the content, and finally turned into image-based metaphors, disrupting the lecture poetically.

Santhal Family by Ramkinkar Baij, Image: frieze

WORLDING HERITAGE – THE POLITICS OF OBJECTS

I presented this paper at the Oxford Graduate Political Theory Conference 2015 “Political Theory at the Margins” (Podcast of the panel available here: https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/political-theory-margins-panel-2-contested-conceptions-objects-and-property) and at the Annual Conference of the Society for Intercultural Philosophy 2016 “The Strength, Power, and Force of Images from an Intercultural Perspective”. A German version of it was published in Polylog (#38), Zeitschrift für interkulturelles Philosophieren and can be accessed here: https://www.polylog.net/fileadmin/docs/polylog/38/38_forum_Schmidt.pdf.

Set in the context of the deliberate destruction of so called world heritage by IS and the international outcry that such actions provoke, this paper seeks to get to the core of the different registers of rage that are at stake: Why and by whom is the destruction of these objects condemned? And why does IS see the destruction of these “idols” as a necessity? In order to point out the prior assumptions that underlie the claim for the protection of the artefacts on the one hand and the will to destroy them on the other hand, I confront the debate around Iraq's world heritage with Saba Mahmood's perspective on the Danish cartoon controversy. Drawing on Mahmood's analysis, I argue that IS' religious justification for the destruction of the artefacts remains incomprehensible to every one following the semiotic ideology, according to which signifier and signified are only arbitrarily linked. Hence, IS' iconoclastic acts tend to be read as a political show of hyper-piety. I claim that this view on IS' destruction of the ancient artefacts fails to recognize that those acts are – at least to some extent – motivated by the conviction that the objects actually exercise a misleading force, corrupting the relationship to God. – The demand for the protection of “world heritage”, on the other side, is rooted in a particular way of relating to the past, based on historiography and on the need for a narrative of identity, which gained ground with the emergence of the national imaginary. Given the fact that the outcry for the protection of the Iraqi artefacts exceeds the national level, I raise the question in how far those objects become the fetishes of a “global self”, which is, in fact, torn between the supposedly universal value of heritage and the valorisation of cultural patrimony. As I will demonstrate, the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage by IS in Iraq complicates the question of ownership as it puts into question the legal prioritization of cultural patrimony by the international community. Thus, it points to the blind spot of the debate: what does the “world-ness” in “world heritage” actually imply?

Members of IS destroying world heritage in Mosul, 2015. Image: Youtube