Michael Erlhoff





von Michael Erlhoff

(Übersetzung Heidrun Meyer-Veden)


1. Rodeo or Order

Evidently, phrasing fundamental laws or at least pretending to do so always pertains to the academic capital of imagination or just the bare gesture of science or scholarliness in the western - Christian cultural context. In the same way obviously such speculations fulfil a desire for fundamentalist "terra firma" in all social and categorical views and behaviours: There always has to be a fundamental law, as it asserts the alliance of economics, politics, and an intentional and future-orientated discourse.

This is so because banishment out of paradise as a metaphor depicting the calamity and felicity of recognition still drifts through western intellectual history and marks a base-oriented eschatology and repetitions of cognitive power. Links to a thinking self as a display of uniqueness effuse everything into a private and ­ at the same time for this reason inevitable ­ public feast for the eyes, climbing up ladders, ever changing for the better, leaving behind the overcome, progressing, not losing one's way in an anyway barely lurching circle, instead of this finding a way ahead, being a scout, saturated by the basics (this was called "Sättigungsbeilage" in the Stalinist, future-orientated GDR), continually sipping on the things to come.

Let us now come to design. For it is especially design that has ­ particularly in Germany ­ developed a passion of constantly absconding from vexatious reality and ­ this is very popular ­ stylising itself as a science. This inevitably seeps ­ misunderstanding the ways of living and thinking ­ into what is nowadays called "philosophy" by companies and also design-studios, for example in the ruin of such phrases as: "It is our philosophy, that we love our partners and are able to do everything and like many things, that we paint everything red or yellow or take bows all the time."


2. Life ­ File

Let us now put ­ despite a number of permanently sprouting resistances ­ aside the theorems of the philosopher Hegel, which are largely unknown to those who cavort about in German design. This does not stop them from constantly hinting at them. As a matter of fact, one has to be under the impression that ­ in the face of the "Ulmer Hochschule" or many other theses originating from German design ­ that all of them feel themselves to be the incarnation of the "Phänomenologie des Geistes", as executive agents of some essential entity. In passing, let us take a look at all apologists of a bracing climate of enduring anticipation, prejudices, advantages and fossil procedures within the scope of a felicity of linear huddle (and all of this holds its ground excellently against a background of Hegel), who blindly trust in structure: doing this, one would once again have to discuss Immanuel Kant. Again, that Immanuel Kant would lend himself to the discussion, although he admittedly thought of design as being exceedingly curious. But he was only confronted with all those spiritualizations of handicraft, which really are of no interest to us anymore in this matter.

For after handling the disciplined rules of science in "Streit der Fakultäten" and his hammering criticisms of the pure and the applied rationality, he had the impertinence of introducing "genius" in his "Kritik der Urteilskraft" after a number of very categorical disputes. Thus the assumed rationality bursts heavenly into the dark worlds of an advanced, totally nonlinear way of thinking. Honest enough (a quality many people lack in the current longing for science) not only to comprehend the internal inconsistency of its designed system but rather publish it as well and to reveal it to public discussion, Kant, who was just explaining his own excitement in the face of the beauty of nature, tries to understand the totally different, the arts together with architecture and design. This is because he has to concede that they thrive on deviance, create from peculiarities, strike different paths of cognition, or even presume a different dimension of cognition, confusingly interweaving everything that would be untenable categorically. Kant sets out to describe that which was at his time barely describable and which even today is just phrased in flowery phrases: The genie in the bottle, the competence of the impulse, or intuition (which are undoubtedly quite impotent categories) or just the empirically apparent quality of gaining understanding and immanent visions from misconceptions, attentive mistakes and alleged abuse or from a breach of rules.

All of this has nothing to do with a methodical approach in the traditional sense. And a method ­ Kant understands this always ­ wears off anyway, it narrows the view, it clouds the experience and always ends in self-affirmation. At best, it is good for purposefully and tentatively setting something in motion. Otherwise, it merely fits as a window-dressing for envisioning facts in the mostly self-referential affirmation of hypotheses, feeling good in this environment and earning money with it. (Money itself, Marx e.g. taught, is a method used as a fetish.)

Let us simplify by discussing the simple act of climbing down a staircase (remembering Duchamp): In the face of a staircase leading downwards, probably everyone gets (from experience) an image of this staircase, with the subliminal knowledge that one has to make single steps of a measured kind, heading downwards, but that eventually this pacing will be completed. This image and therein above all the visualization of the regularity given by the staircase is important, not only for coping with this staircase, but normally and very convincingly rather for the fact that the person climbing down automatically knows how to react to the staircase. Thus the "down" and the regularity are important, whose internal systematic one has to grasp swiftly: the particular difference in elevation between the steps, the breadth of the steps, the knowledge about gravity, so that accordingly one foot has to be placed in front of the other. That this climbing down is (after a time) becoming an automatic process as a result of the realised regularity is noticeable from the outside, as most of the people look at the ground while descending the first few steps. Suddenly, after a few steps, they lift their heads and start looking at greater distances again (an empiric examination would be of interest, testing after how many steps this event happens on the average). If you believe to have recognised the measure of the staircase, you feel safe, salvaged enough to grasp perspectives again ­ an act, which is impossible in nature, as it displays a far too great degree of chaos and hence appears thrilling as well as horrifying to us. - So far, so good. Now one merely has to realize the end of the staircase or the landing, but experiences exist for this, too. And all of this could now be formalised and categorised methodically as normality.

But what if ­ and this can happen ­ for instance the third or fifth last step is a little higher or lower than all of the others, maybe because of technical sloppiness or for other reasons? The categorical believer would ­ with all of his enthusiastically shining certainty ­ simply tumble down and fall onto his so well-kept head.

Briefly illustrating some of Kant's thoughts, the genius would not fall flat on his face, as we or he would, amidst the brouhaha of measures, always be aware that there just might be another logic, perhaps as an amalgamation of confusion, hoax, chaos, force of nature and suchlike. That does not mean that such geniuses do not descend a stairway dreamily looking into the distance. In fact, they dream differently, maybe in terms of the daydreaming Ernst Bloch. Always, they are sure of or even feel a desire for qualitative faultiness. This way of thinking permanently prepares them for such complex and always virulent breaches of the rules. And: Should they stumble once, they are more inclined to laugh about it, even delighting in it, as the rage "regular" people feel while falling does not so much apply to the attached pains, but rather to the affront of empiricism balefully disarranging their system. They feel robbed of their sureness as a matter of principles, repulsed back into their encapsulated fears, and they and their measures are revealed to public mockery.

Indeed this "genial" is an obstinate interweavement of interned theory, a cognition to experience processed sensations, and confidence in the possibility that the mind may be smarter than one gives it credit for. With that, all those ideotypes about the scientific validity of ways and methods go up in smoke and appear as a mere illusion.


3. Lousy Jealousy

Rather intelligibly the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once described that each set of ethics is more suited for complacent ideologies than for changing the world (by the way this appears to be quite plausible in the face of the plethora of monologues delivered by many politicians and scientists e.g. in the context of current debates on unemployment, globalisation of capital or of the handling of genes or even in the view of social gestures especially in German design, whose deputies always carry social and ecologic pretensions in front of them like a shield, just to keep anyone from asking them what they are really doing to earn their money). Instead of this Wittgenstein simply suggested to behave like this: He referred to the empiricism of actions, to the powers of acting ­ which admittedly cannot be measured by mathematical methods, but could nevertheless be more effective and always more honest.

Or even easier: Not long ago, a design professor accused one of his colleagues of being "dadaistic", just because the latter had written something about Dada and maybe likes to render homage to subversion. This professor did not overlook the connection between constructivism and Dada, their merely differently equipped desire for orderliness, which makes some people create based on known systems and computable things, while it makes others frantically search for irregular regularity. In fact, the reproach of the one professor to the other just articulated the insecurity of the attacker about not being able to cope with subversive things, playing and cheerful handling of the chaotic itself.

In fact, it is in blindly believing in authority, fearing chaos, lacking self-esteem of the research field as well as of the people involved in it, and in an uptight dreariness that the present addiction to make up authoritarian rules to limit thought and action and settle oneself in mediocrity with plump "science-cheeks". This addiction can only be termed behaviouristic / Stalinist.

It's the same calamity with those blind believers in knowledge as well as with the profit hungry, which only have to take note of the one or the other side of life and the broad field of things conceivable. For, being this greedy for measures and traditional reputations as they are now, they ruin design and those who have to live and work and thus have to cope with all the products and services and world-views / "Weltanschauungen" of such design.

Hopefully, this text will be understood as a pleading for the endless jumble, for the competence in playing, for the creative power of practise, for the frankness of thought and action, for dreams, for situational competence and for the dialogue. It was never meant to be more, anyway.


Five amendments for current reasons:

a) "In paradise there was no love."

b) "Wo finde ich die Tiefe? - An der Oberfläche." "Where do I find the depth? At the surface." (Hugo von Hofmannsthal)

c) Downright fatefully design ­ at least in the way it is usually accepted today ­ is linked very much to what can be called a foundation to the tragedy of the twentieth century: the addiction to the authentic, to the illusion of reality of the belated modernity of expressionism, Bauhaus and suchlike and with the continuous imagination of some "self", the mass-scale individuation. For design, which does not clarify itself as designing and thus artefact, stabilises, and promotes beyond the principle of delight the repressive de-sublimation, thus to some extend the negation of the principle of delight in favour of rigid "reality tv's" and the putative appearance of an assumed continual true. The followers of methods in design can be blamed for this.

d) "Ach, hätte ich doch nie gehandelt ­ ich wäre reicher geworden." / ("Oh, had I never acted ­ I would have become richer." (Friedrich Hölderlin) and "Just do it" (Nike): somewhere in between these two, design thinks and acts and is therefore a priori the criticism of traditional science, of believing in "knowledge", of the vows of academic circles as well as on the boredom of physical exegesis and the desolation of the capital terrain of constant consumption.

e) Beyond doubts ­ one of the most important tasks especially for design should be to resolve cleverly what is generally called "intuitive". It is a question as to the space between thought and action, between concepts and empiricism and therefore also of "volonté de tous" and "volonté générale". But there is still a long road ahead of us.