In the last couple of months I’ve come across the issue of paedophilia for different reasons, all related to my research on art theory and artists’ work. It’s not an easy issue and I’ve found it very difficult to discuss with friends. This post comes about after watching the latest Vinterberg‘s movie The Hunt and feeling that I should try to bring together all those threads that have been on my mind for the last couple of days. There are no answers here, just loose thoughts.
It all started with an article about Hakim Bey (aka Peter Lamborn Wilson) and his alleged use of anarchist philosophy to cover his love for kids and so to justify adults sexually taking advantage of children. The article, “Leaving out the ugly part” at Libcom.org, meant to be an exposé by researcher Robert P. Helms. I’m not even going to go there because it is impossible to have anything objective to say about the accusations stated without access to those “alleged facts”. Furthermost, I am one of his readers, very fond of TAZ and his thoughts on new technology and immediacy. For me, the only thing this controversial article does is to highlight the questions of Authority and Autonomy, in all their complexity, and bring forth the unclear lines separating paedophilia, incest, child abuse and the classic homosexual adoration and sexual attraction for boys. Somehow, everyone seems to have amazingly high moral standards and a lot of judgements to make about all this, though it’s clear a lot of people just repeat things they’ve heard throughout their life, without second guessing.
“It is clearly farfetched to suggest that Bey/Wilson is advocating sex with pre-pubescent children, as there is nothing in the texts to suggest this. Regarding pederasty, and regardless of one’s own views on the moral legitimacy of such sexual desire, it should also be recognized that Bey is not the first high-profile writer to admit to a sexual attraction towards adolescent boys. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg made no secret of it, yet by and large their readers do not seem to be able to have trouble separating this from their consumption of the work. Instead, the question of sexuality within Bey’s work should be analyzed within the framework of the academic writing Wilson has published under his real name, such as his non-TAZ overview of early pirate utopias.“
The next episode happened while researching about the Vienna Action Group, particularly because of Otto Mühl’s history: his beliefs and his practice, following the principles of free sexuality and liberation of the drives, got him arrested several times. In 1991, the Friedrichshof Commune broke up and Otto was sentenced to seven years in prison for “criminal acts against morality” and offenses against the illegal drugs act. He rejects the verdict. Six and a half years later, suffering from Parkinson, Otto was released and moved to the south of Portugal, where he still lives, in a small community.
There’s a curious article about Otto in Frieze, written by Theo Altenberg, that ends up like this: “As a person, Mühl failed spectacularly. But as an artist and visionary, he made an important contribution to widening our concept of freedom.” It makes me smile, for these words are so contradictory. Otto, as Nitsch, Schwarzkogler and Brus, rejected the idea that life and art were separated acts of life, so how come could one fail at one and succeed at another if not because of our narrow judgmental views of what one is or should be and how one should behave. We tend to put ourselves in the place of normality and because the gaze of a defiant countenance confronts us with our fragility, we tend to reject it and find ways to condemn its attitudes. In Otto’s case, his “moral infringements” consisted of unusual sexual behaviors, that is, fucking a lot. He was very successful at challenging notions of art and its commodities, and trying to stage cathartic moments, almost psychoanalytic live acts, questioning liberty, sexual desire, moral beliefs, etc. In his own life, he seemed to do the same. Challenging oneself means you will never be successful. Who would want that anyway, if it’s just a pure aesthetic argument for a superficial lifestyle.
We now come to Vinterber’s movie about a man who is accused of harassing his best friend’s young daughter. It’s the kid’s lie and soon after she claims she made it up, but it’s too late. The adults are already caught up it the drama. The movie is called The Hunt, which is a pretty explicit definition of what the main character goes through but is also a metaphor, since it refers to the portrayed ritual of haunting that is “offered” to a boy once he reaches adulthood. In this case, Deers are the preys and their “image” appears both at the beginning and at the end of the movie. I believe this appearance is quite symbolic. Amidst some indigenous cultures, such as the Apange and some Amerindians, the deer is a sacred animal, a sort of primordial element of life. They believe once dead, the human soul passes through them, as if to regenerate itself.
Vinterberg, who lived in a community and is used to having a mind of his own “explains that the idea had been seeded years before by some notes handed to him by a child psychiatrist and that the film’s central interrogation scene (which initially struck me as over-egged and unconvincing) is actually a cleaned-up version of a real transcript. The result, he says, is a film about a witch-hunt and its victims; a story that identifies a new strain of wickedness. Of course abuse happens – I made a film about that already. But I think that there’s this other danger and it demands new sacrifices, new victims. These victims are not only the men – and sometimes women – who are accused of something they haven’t done. But they are also the children who grow up believing they are victims. Those children operate under the grand illusion that something bad has happened to them; they grow up with similar experiences to the children who really did experience it. He draws a breath. It’s rotten, rotten territory.“
Morality, is not only subjective as it is abstract. And rightly so. If that wasn’t the case we would go through life overwhelmed by guilt and with zero chance of being free…