“More interesting phenomena probably always have this double face of past and future, probably are always progressive and regressive in one. They display the equivocalness of life itself” – Thomas Mann wrote in Doctor Faustus. Adrian Leverkühn is a composer reaching to the roots of European culture, but oriented on experimenting and searching which are to determine the future of music. The Magic Mountain, on the other hand, depicts a vanishing world in which everything is, at the same time, rushing forward – fashionable inventions, “the newest models”, “the latest developments” in technology are to be seen everywhere. Mann’s reflection on the development of the world is not limited to aesthetic or pragmatic matters. His works present an insightful analysis of the state of mind of his contemporaries as well as historical, social and cultural determinants of the world he lived in. Of the world undergoing a turbulent transformation.
It is not without reason that Thomas Mann’s works appear at Malta in the year when the festival’s main thematic section – the Idiom – is entitled the “New World Order”. The programme devoted to Mann is a separate section of the programme of Malta Festival Poznań 2015 (we ask how the legacy of the German writer affects culture and contemporary artists today, what historical and aesthetic parallels it opens, why artists still return to his work), but it remains ideologically connected to the Idiom. In Mann’s novels, looking back to the past is a precondition for opening to the future – redefining the existing paradigm, going towards that which is new, and the programme “New World Order” poses questions about the possible versions of the future. We ask what new objectives and promises can we expect the world to fulfil in the coming decades? What is ahead of us – is it a glowing future of a breakthrough resulting from an awareness of the consequences of the development and overcoming our own weaknesses and limitations, or is it (self)destruction of the reality we live in? Precisely such a philosophical reflection about the possibility of a new order is one of the main axes of The Magic Mountain. Naphta and Settembrini constantly argue over a better organisation of the reality we live in. Each of them suggests a different vision of a united world, under a different rule, different political and ideological order organising it as a whole. Settembrini, being a humanist, believes in people and in the advancement of civilisation, Naphta, as a Jesuit, in a strict church discipline and building the Kingdom of God here on earth.
Not only in the context of socio-political events, but also the existential anxiety underpinning everyday life, this argument seems surprisingly current. Like in The Magic Mountain, the ambitions to create a utopia are today clashed with the pessimism of anti-utopia, the faith in the power of the mind and the effectiveness of human efforts with the belief in the primacy of the “natural” order. Today, we are facing religious radicalisation of Europe, military conflicts, a new ethnic and cultural make-up of societies. The argument is also spreading onto new fields and concerns global economic problems, environmental threats and global resources which are to allow people to survive. This year it has been 15 years since the UN, with the votes of 189 representatives of the countries of the world, passed eight Millennium Development Goals (such as: eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, eradication of AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, developing and strengthening global partnership for development). Today we know that the majority of them have not been achieved; they remained empty postulates. We live in the face of fluid changes, decade after decade, year after year, following the pace in which new inventions, technological breakthroughs and new geopolitical arrangements appear, at a pace that was unthinkable in Mann’s times. This dynamic development does not mean, however, that people are solving their problems faster.
At Malta Festival Poznań 2015 we would like to explore not only the general changes that occur in the world, but also those which are hidden and hard to notice. Indubitably, technology makes the future appear in our lives in a less spectacular, although more realistic, manner. It is introduced (as a pilot, experiment or in an overt manner) into the life of individuals which becomes longer, more comfortable and dynamic, but not free from absurdities and the sense of being lost in the world order. Busy interacting with devices, be it intelligent machines or apparatuses of power, we don’t think how they affect us. Today, machines determine the character of interpersonal relations, shape our behaviours, control desires, perception and imagination. We are part of a huge nervous system called the web. Paradoxically, freedom which it offers becomes ever more often an area of strict control. Technological advancement has reached a level where it not only helps people, but also starts to co-create their needs and, more and more often, takes up their roles in the next areas of management. Thus, the vision of the new order is for some, like in The Magic Mountain, a utopia – a perfectly self-controllable, universal system, and for others a dystopia – a prison in which human freedom is reduced in the name of a postulated unity and the common good.
The question about the role of art in the argument on the vision of the new world and triggering a critical approach in the spectator towards the imposed order are one of the key goals of this year’s Malta Festival Poznań. To Mann, art was a privileged way of reconciling the new with the old in order to understand the present. What information about the present and the possible future are we looking for in culture today? Can art still express the dream for a better future? Does it give meaning to the chaos of the world and the excesses of the mind, or does it surrender to the catastrophic vision of the future? The subject of new orders will be taken up in performing arts projects, films and discussions – serious ones, ironic, amusing, speaking of global and personal matters, of history and fiction, of conditions in which new visions of the world are born and fall. One of the neon lights by Tim Etchells, this year’s curator of Malta, says: The future will be confusing. This sentence can be interpreted as a statement about the present state of affairs, a warning or a call for vigilance towards that which is unknown.