Fairy Tales of Resistance: The Danish Culture Canon, Lars von Trier, and the Emperorâs New Clothes
- by Iben Falconer
In January 2006, Brian Mikkelsen, the Danish Minister of Culture, proudly unveiled his ministryâs most recent major initiative: the Danish Culture Canon (Kulturkanon). Touted by the Ministry as an initiative that would reveal the âindispensableâ works that âdefine what is characteristic and distinctive about Danish culture,â the canon brought together works from architecture, the visual arts, design, film, literature, music, drama and childrenâs culture. It includes both works that are well known outside of Denmark (the Lego block) and those that few non-Danes would recognize (the TV miniseries âMatadorâ).1 In his presentation of the final canon, Mikkelsen claimed that the Canon would establish a âcoherent narrative [sammenhĂŚngende fortĂŚlling]â of artistic development in Denmark.2
Despite its claims of inclusivity, the Canon project quickly became controversial within Denmark.3 Criticism in various forms emerged from politicians, lay people and the artists themselves. The response of Lars von Trier, a film director who is well-known as an enfant terrible of film, garnered significant media attention.4 Upon learning that his film, âThe Idiotsâ (1998), had been nominated to the canon, he created a video greeting for Mikkelsen. The film opens with a Danish flag waving in the breeze; in overlaying text, von Trier thanks him for ânationalizing our cultureâ and sends him a âdo-it-yourself guideâ for a project he calls âKultivĂŠr Nationenâ (Cultivating the Nation). Accompanied by the militaristic Danish royal anthem âKong Christian stod ved hĂ¸jen mast,â von Trier carefully cuts the white cross from the Danish flag. The film ends with a shot of the reassembled and cross-less red flag being hoisted up the flagpole to the tune of âThe Internationale.â5
Von Trierâs gesture was clearly intended to be a provocation, equating the Danish governmentâs project with the control and censorship of the arts that was prevalent under Communist regimes.6 Even the film for which he was nominated to the Culture Canon had its share of controversy. Due to its explicit depiction of un-simulated sexual intercourse, âThe Idiots,â was so controversial that it was banned in Ireland and shown as an adult-only film in many other countries.7 The film committee could have easily rejected the films of von Trier as too provocative and âun-Danish.â Yet, when shown the video, Mikkelsen merely called the event âunfortunateâ and insisted, âThe man is an artist, and we live in a free country. He can do what he wants,â thereby defusing von Trierâs righteous stance.8
The goal of this essay is not to enter into the pro or anti-canon debates, but rather to critique von Trierâs strategy of opposition. The inclusion of his film in the canon and Mikkelsenâs response to his outburst exemplify the failure of the conventional oppositional stance taken by artists against governments. Von Trier allowed Mikkelsen to use his protest as evidence of Danish cultural tolerance and openness, thereby not only neutralizing his outrage but turning his act of resistance into one that actually affirms the canon-making project.
It is first worth placing the Culture Canon within a larger political and social context. The Culture Canon was only one manifestation of a governmental obsession with canons that began in the mid-1990s, when the Ministry of Education proposed the creation of a literary canon to address educational quality concerns in the countryâs public schools.9 Released in 2004, the canon consisted of a list of authors whose work is required in schools, including H. C. Andersen and Karen Blixen.10 As a result, Danish students would share a âliterary consciousness through the reading of the classics, gain appreciation for their literary heritage, and develop their understanding of the world around them.â11
The Culture Canon initiative was first publicized in December 2004, when Mikkelsen announced that the project would create âdebate about Danish cultureâs role in globalization.â12 There were six primary goals in creating the canon: to establish a âyardstick for quality;â to stimulate personal involvement in Danish culture through this âeasy introduction;â to assemble material as cultural heritage; to increase self-awareness among Danes as to Danish cultural history; to provide âreference pointsâ as to âwhat is special about Danes and Denmarkâ within the context of globalization; and to âstrengthen the sense of communityâ by demonstrating shared cultural heritage.13 The Ministry of Cultureâs tactics in presenting its own canon indicate its own confusion about the canonâs role in society. Would it be a canon in the authoritative, historical sense (a list of cultural works considered to be permanently established as being of the highest quality) or a mere prompt for discussion? Unlike the literary canon, the Culture Canon was not intended to become part of a set curriculum for schoolchildren. Instead, it would somehow become part of the daily life of citizens, â[having] a broad anchoring among the people [en bred folkelig forankring] and [providing] fuel for pleasure, afterthoughts and discussion.â14
The most enthusiastic response was âunsurprisingly âfrom other politicians.15 While the Ministry of Culture claims to have designed the canon to be exciting and accessible, the public response was lukewarm. For example, the newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported in February 2006 that there was no increased demand for the twelve nominated literary works at libraries around the country.16 A few newspaper editorials questioned the idea of a culture canon entirely, likening it to the actions of the Nazi government in 1930âs Germany. In one noteworthy interview in Jyllands-Posten that predated the Canonâs release, Uffe ĂstergĂĽrd, a historian who specializes in the history of Danish national identity, was asked his opinion of the project. He questioned the notion that the Culture Canon could establish a coherent narrative, wondering how the boundaries of âDanishnessâ would be determined.17 Yet the majority of the editorials and reader letters tacitly accepted its legitimacy, focusing primarily on which worthy works were left out, how little work by women was included, whether or not Donald Duck should be considered âDanish,â or that ever-troublesome problem of setting high- and low-culture side-by-side.18 By limiting themselves to such particularities, these types of criticism never actually questioned the foundation of the Canon project.
Von Trier, on the other hand, aimed to do just that. His video response establishes two binaries. The first is between the government and the Danish people, which he asserts by the inclusion of the royal anthem, âKong Christian stod ved hĂ¸jen mastâ (âKing Christian stood by lofty mastâ) in place of the more commonly used national anthem, âDer er et yndigt landâ (âThere is a lovely countryâ).19 Through this choice, von Trier establishes a disjuncture between the governmentâs actions (militantly national and repressive) and a particular view of Denmark and the Danish people (humble, uninterested in canon-making).
The second binary âand more notable for this paper âis the one between the government and the artist-as-outsider. The desecration of the flag (arguably an artistic clichĂŠ), the use of âThe Internationaleâ and the direct criticism of Mikkelsen are used by von Trier to place himself in opposition to the government and its actions. The assertion is that he âunlike Brian Mikkelsen âdoes not nationalize culture; in his hands, culture is kept pure and autonomous. In doing this, von Trier invokes a Greenbergian valorization of the artistic avant-garde. In his seminal essay, âAvant-Garde and Kitschâ (1939), Clement Greenberg posits the artist as an outsider who is detached from a decaying society. The avant-garde artistâs role is to resist the commodification of culture that inevitably occurs under capitalism.20 With his video, von Trierâs assumes this avant-garde mantle.
The influence of Greenberg and other like-minded critics can be found in many scholarly writings on governmental cultural policies. These writings maintain a certain fiction about the relationship between governing bodies and artists: governments have all the power, where artists are merely the recipients of funding and the objects of censorship. One representative text is Milton Cummings and Richard Katzâs book, The Patron State: Government and the Arts in Europe, North America, and Japan (1987). The authors provide three reasons that governments support the arts today: the defense or development of a cultural identity; the economic benefits of the cultural sector and the improvement of a countryâs image. The greatest risk of governmental support, to the authors, is that governmental purchases can âdistort the quality as well as the quantity of supply, as artists are led inexorably to produce more of whatever kind of art the government is buyingâ (emphasis added).21 In short, restrictions and censorship are unavoidable. The bookâs introduction ends with a stern warning that âthe injection of politics into the arts is inevitable.â22 In this world, artists who receive financial support are doomed to be merely recipients. While the tradeoff âthe âfreedom to experimentâ 23 âis cited, the authors deny any further agency to the artists. Both Greenberg and Cummings/Katz, then, describe âseparate spheresâ for art and politics, as the latter can only contaminate the former.
Yet Mikkelsenâs unfazed response exemplifies the more nuanced and far slyer approach taken by the Danish government today. Since the 1950âs, Danish cultural policy has been based on five central values: the arms-length principle; freedom of speech; quality; decentralization and cultural democracy. In this case, the most important principle is the first one, whereby funding is granted to artists through councils and other self-governing institutions who serve as mediators. These measures are in place to âensure freedom of expressionâ and to support artists âwith no political strings attached.â And, we are reassured, âcriticism of âthe establishmentâ [e.g. the government] is permissible.â24 This structure is called the âDanish Model of Cultural Policy,â implying that to have it any other way would be downright un-Danish. Through this policy, Denmark is affirmed as a democratic and open society. The Danish governmentâs public image, then, is not only dependent on its continued support of the arts, but reliant on the fact that the artists it supports are seen as independent and autonomous. âBut I am the avant-garde!â protests von Trier; âYes, yes, but that is allowed and we love you for it,â Mikkelsen responds, thus transforming von Trier from enfant terrible into the caged lion who roars on cue. The resisting artist, then, is not a threat to the cultural policy, but its affirmation.
These observations are not intended to convince the reader that the artist is necessarily relegated, by this cultural policy, to a position of dependence. On the contrary, serving to represent a governmentâs attitude of openness and tolerance gives the artist a peculiar type of agency. While there is indubitably a power structure at work here, it is unhelpful and inaccurate to describe the power as unidirectional. If the âindependent artistâ is an essential component of Danish cultural policy, then the artist is hardly helpless.
After this critique of von Trier, it would only be appropriate to recommend an alternative to his stance of artistic piousness. Instead of relying on a Greenbergian strategy of resistance-from-the-outside, the writings of Jacques RanciĂ¨re, and Simon Critchley provide an opening into other, potentially more potent forms. The two writers share a rejection of the traditional oppositional stance and propose a sneakier resistance through engagement.25
Most useful for this argument are the ideas on anarchy and dissensus put forth by Critchley and RanciĂ¨re. In his book, Infinitely Demanding (2007), Critchley challenges the idea that opposition can only be expressed through an outsider position.26 Instead, he argues that the resistance is most effective if it comes from âwithin the state territory.â He calls this resistance the creation of an âinterstitial distanceâ and declares it the ultimate democratic act.27 To establish this distance, he offers a new definition of anarchy, one that differs from the traditional understanding of the word, calling it âan anarchism of infinite responsibility rather than unlimited freedom [âŚ].â28 Unlike the revolutionary crowds of earlier decades, this new form is no longer dependent on overwhelming numbers:
[âŚ] resistance begins by occupying and controlling the terrain upon which one stands, where one lives, works, acts and thinks. This neednât involve millions of people. It neednât even involve thousands. It could involve just a few at first. Resistance can be intimate and can begin in small affinity groups.29
Basing his definition in the work of Emmanuel Levinas, he defines anarchy as a force that prevents the state from â[setting] up or [erecting] itself into a whole (sâĂŠriger en Tout).â30 The act of creating a canon âof establishing a complete list of the best works of Danish culture âis nothing more than the establishment of a Whole. Von Trierâs response would have been more successful if he had attempted to undermine this establishment of the Whole.
For Critchley, the undermining emerges from the establishment of a âspace of dissensusâ31 which âworks against the consensual horizon of the state.â32 Here, his writings rub up against those of RanciĂ¨re, who argues that consensus âdefined as âinscription within given roles, possibilities and competencesâ âis the âmain enemy of artistic creativity as well as of political creativity.â33 RanciĂ¨re also uses the term dissensus, which he defines as âa modification of the coordinates of the sensible, a spectacle or a tonality that replaces another.â34 He encourages artists and activists to avoid the âshopworn affect of indignationâ and to instead â[explore] the political resources of a more discreet affect âcuriosity.â He argues that the goal of art should be emancipation, which only occurs when the art piece does not dictate the reaction of the spectator but engages the spectatorâs âinterpretive and emotional capability.â35 Dissensus, then, is the presentation of information that does not imitate what is currently being presented, nor does it actively oppose it; instead it presents opportunities for an alternate reading.
The question then remains, what is the best tactic for dissensus? What models could von Trier have followed? Critchley proposes humor as the best strategy, as it âuses its position of weakness to expose those in power through forms of self-aware ridicule.â36 He describes the latent opportunities for activism inherent in humor: humor as âa form of liberation or elevationâ that has the potential to â[change] the situation.â37 It cannot be said that von Trierâs response does not already contain an element of humor; the sight of this director, seated on a table, hand-stitching the Danish flag so as to create an all-red flag is, in many ways, humorous. Yet it is so because it asserts separate spheres for the artist and the politician âan act, I have argued, that, in the end, reified the canon-making project. A more constructive use of humor would be to appropriate humorâs ability to present the incongruous: âhow those practices might be transformed or perfected, how things might be otherwise.â38
The Danish government provided ample opportunity for a humorous response: between 2005 and 2008, the government proposed or created a canon practically every six months. In December 2005, the Ministry of Culture announced the presentation of the âElite Sports Canon,â which highlighted twelve significant moments or people in Danish sports, including the Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis and the ânew Daneâ Kenya-born runner Wilson Kipketer.39 A half a year later, the Ministry of Education proposed the idea of a âhistory canonâ to ensure all students were exposed to the major events in Danish and world history. The report then recommended 29 events, ranging from Caesar Augustus and the Reformation to 9/11 and globalization.40 In November 2006, the Ministry released the âHandicapped Culture Canon,â which featured artistic works that â[express] how it is to live with a physical or mental handicap in a nuanced and interesting way.â41 In July of the following year, a member of the Liberal Party (Venstre) proposed a âNature Canon,â42 and two months later, the Ministry of Culture also released its âIndustry Canon,â which listed the 25 most important moments in the history of Danish industry.43 In the spring of 2008, the government released its âDemocracy Canon,â which featured 35 defining moments, agreements or personalities who have figured prominently in the history of democracy. Included on the list were the Magna Carta, John Locke, the American Constitution, N. F. S. Grundtvig, the Danish Constitution, the feminist movement, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the national referendums on the European Union.44 The haphazard and uneven nature of these canons âthe placement of the domestically noteworthy next to the internationally significant âmakes them unintentionally quite humorous. Can one really argue that SĂ¸ren Kragh-Jacobsenâs film, Mifune (1999), while critically well-received, had the same impact on the lives of the handicapped as the development of sign language? Or that the Trondholm Sun Chariot (Solvognen), a Bronze Age artifact, is as historically significant as the Peace of Westphalia, the abolition of the slave trade or globalization?
Von Trier had the perfect opportunity to point out the canon-happy nature of this administration.45 His critique neednât have been a grand gesture either; the publication of a straightforward list of all the governmental canons (a Canon of Danish Canons?) would have been enough. On their own, each canon might not be funny, but as a group, they border on the absurd. Von Trierâs film was almost off-putting in its pomposity and self-righteousness. Rather than drawing the viewer into the fold, von Trier comes across as an elitist artist, separate from the layperson.
In fact, perhaps the best example of what von Trier could have done was already in the canons. One of the most famous stories of the 2004 Literature Canon nominee, Hans Christian Andersen, is âThe Emperorâs New Clothesâ (1837). In the story, it is a small child who innocently points out that, in fact, the emperor is naked and has been swindled by the false tailors. The child is immediately whisked away by his father, but the damage has already been done. While the childâs comment was not an intentionally righteous statement, its truth was multiplied throughout the crowd, establishing dissensus. The childâs words released the crowd from the imperial demand that they affirm the power of the emperor by ignoring his nakedness.46 The key to a more effective critique was right there in front of von Trier âright under his nose! âif only he had cared to look.
1 The full Culture Canon can be viewed at its website: www.kulturkanon.kum.dk/.
2 Brian Mikkelsen, quoted in Jyllands-Posten, âKulturkanon â fra Blixen til Barks,â 24 January 2006, authorâs translation.
3 The project became particularly controversial in September 2005 when Mikkelsen made a contentious statement at a party congress. âIn the middle of our country,â he said to the audience, âa parallel society is developing in which minorities practice their Middle Age norms and undemocratic mindset. We cannot and will not accept thisâ (Copenhagen Post, âCream of culture for some is sour milk for others,â 2 February 2006). In a later interview, Mikkelsen continued: âWe hope that immigrants will take the culture canon for themselves, because it is intended to show, among other things, that we have values to offer. Not all values are equally goodâ (Brian Mikkelsen quoted in Stephanie Surruge, Camilla HĂ¸y-Jensen, and Jens Lenler, âEksperter fĂ¸ler sig misbrugt af kulturministeren,â Politiken, 26 September 2005, authorâs translation). These overt references to the Muslim minority within Denmark shocked the public and many of the committee members, and several members of the committees threatened to leave the project. Mikkelsen later said that the statement had been taken out of context; in his opinion, the âculture canon project is not a political project,â and that âthe canon is a gift that all can enjoy, including immigrantsâ (Brian Mikkelsen quoted in Carsten Andersen, âKanon-medlemmer truer med at gĂĽ,â Politiken, 28 September 2005, authorâs translation). After a series of tense meetings and a written apology from the Minister, the project continued. This story, while fascinating, is beyond the scope of this essay.
4 Most famously, von Trier broke with the film industry by proposing the principles of Dogme95. For more information on the movement, see Peter Schepelern, âFilm according to Dogma: Ground Rules, Obstacles, and Liberations,â in Transnational Cinema in a Global North, ed. Andrew Nestingen and Trevor G. Elkington (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005) 73-107.
5 The film was originally posted on the website of Lars von Trierâs film production company, Zentropa: www.zentropa.dk/videohilsen/. It can now be seen on YouTube in an almost complete form: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3Ujl3FEDdc
6 It should be noted that by âgovernmentâ here, I mean this particular Center-Right administration under Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (2001-2009).
7 A. O. Scott, âColloquies on the Finer Points of Drooling,â The New York Times, 28 April 2000.
8 Copenhagen Post, âCream of culture for some is sour milk for others,â 2006.
9 While teachers are allowed to choose which works to assign, the Ministry provides a list, however, of which works it specifically recommends.
10 The Danish governmentâs interest in canons may have been stimulated by the fierce debates about canons and the American educational system in the United States during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Books such as Allen Bloomâs The Closing of the American Mind (1987), Alvin Kernanâs The Death of Literature (1990), Dinesh DâSouzaâs Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus (1991), and Harold Bloomâs The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (1994).
11 Kanonudvalget (Canon Committee), âDansk Litteraturs Kanonâ (Danish Ministry of Education: Copenhagen, 2004) 9, 12 and 13, authorâs translation.
12 Copenhagen Post, âCream of culture for some is sour milk for others,â 2006.
13 Danish Ministry of Culture, âAn Easy Introduction to the Danish Cultural Canon,â http://www.kum.dk/sw37439.asp, accessed 1 April 2008.
14 Brian Mikkelsen, quoted in âKulturkanon bliver interaktiv,â Politiken, 24 August 2006, authorâs translation.
15 In the city of Ă rhus, for example, local politicians recommended that the city government somehow take advantage of the links between the canon and their city (Marc Perera Christensen, âKulturkanon bĂ¸r udnyttes,â Jyllands-Posten, 11 February 2006).
16 âIf one thinks that the canon means that loan demands are streaming in, one is mistaken,â reported one librarian (Jyllands-Posten, âKanon-bĂ¸ger ikke mere efterspurgte,â 24 February 2006, authorâs translation).
17 He stated âOne will run into enormous problems trying to delimit who can be considered. Should one, for example, have a Danish passport? Should the artwork be located in Denmark? Should the artist be dead?â (Uffe ĂstergĂĽrd quoted in Torben Jakobsen, âHumor kan kvĂŚle kulturkanon,â Jyllands-Posten, 5 January 2005, authorâs translation). ĂstergĂĽrd then pointed out how many artists and artworks that are considered to be typically Danish offer more complicated stories than expected: Ludvig Holberg, for example, wrote in Latin and was born in present-day Norway and Utzonâs Opera House lies halfway around the world in Australia. The painter Emil Nolde was born in what is now Denmark but his museum is inside German borders. The Neoclassical sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen was born in Copenhagen to an Icelandic father, but lived in Rome from 1797 until 1838, just six years before his death. But ĂstergĂĽrdâs critique of the canon project is surprisingly circular, stating âThe Culture Canon is a new departure and is un-Danish, because one wants to make a list of what is best and what one understands as Danish. This is something that Danes do not like. We do not want someone to come and tell us what is good. We want to be allowed to have our own opinions. That is part of Danish populism [folkelighed]â (ibid.).By arguing that canon-making is an un-Danish activity, he seems paradoxically confident that âDanishnessâ exists in the first place.
18 See Maria Schottenius, âKulturkanon skuffer,â Politiken, 19 August 2006; Peter Kronsted, âY-stolen burde med i kanonen,â Jyllands-Posten, 31 January 2006; and Jakob Levinsen, âKulturkanon: Politikkens forlag,â Jyllands-Posten, 14 August 2006. One particularly misguided complaint was from a man who was offended by the committeeâs choice to honor only the eastern portion of the Great Belt Bridge (Jyllands-Posten, âLĂŚsernes kommentarer til den danske kulturkanon,â 24 January 2006).
19 âKong Christianâ was composed prior to 1814, when the Danish composite state lost Norway to Sweden as a result of its alliance with France in the Napoleonic Wars. The was written by the poet Johannes Ewald and the melody by D. F. R. Kulau. âDer er et yndigt landâ was written after the 1814 loss with the text written by the poet Adam OehlenschlĂ¤ger and the melody by Hans Ernst KrĂ¸yer. The latter, on the other hand, describes Denmark as calm and peace-loving. The natural landscapeâbeech trees, sandy beaches, and blue seasâfeature prominently; instead of being a place of war, Denmark is the place where âthe armored warriors rested / between their bloody fraysâ (âde harniskklĂŚdte kĂŚmper / udhvilede fra strid,â authorâs translation). The historian Tim Knudsen argues that âKong Christianâ is âfelt to be too martial, too self-assertiveâ within populist Denmark, while âDer er et yndigt landâ âhas too much humility, too little pride and power.â Both anthems are used today, but international settingsâthe Olympics, for exampleââDer er et yndigt landâ is most frequently heard (Tim Knudsen, âA Portrait of Danish State-Culture: Why Denmark Needs Two National Anthems,â in European Integration and Denmarkâs Participation, edited by Morten Kelstrup [Copenhagen: Copenhagen Political Studies Press, 1992] 293).
20 Clement Greenberg, âAvant-Garde and Kitsch,â in Art and Culture: Critical Essays (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1961) 3.
21 Milton C. Cummings and Richard S. Katz, âGovernment and the Arts: An Overview,â in
The Patron State: Government and the Arts in Europe, North America, and Japan,edited Cummings and Katz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 9-10.
22 Ibid., 16.
23 Ibid., 4.
24 Denmark, Ministry of Culture, Danish Cultural Policy, 3rd ed., trans. Russell Dees, July 2002, 5.
25 In James Scottâs seminal work, Domination and the Arts of Resistance (1990), he argues that âmost of the political life of subordinate groups is to be found neither in overt collective defiance of powerholders nor in complete hegemonic compliances, but in the vast territory between these two polar oppositesâ (James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990] 136). Translated into the scenario at hand, artists are not limited in their response to governmental policies just to acts of direct confrontation (like von Trierâs) or the obsequious acceptance of restrictions. Responses are not necessarily black or white; there is a far more interesting and nuanced gray zone.
26 He writes, âAnarchic political resistance should not seek to mimic and mirror the archic violent sovereignty it opposesâ (Simon Critchley, Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance [New York: Verso, 2007] 124).
27 Ibid. 92.
28 Ibid. 93.
29 Ibid. 114.
30 Ibid. 122. Levinas wrote âAnarchy [âŚ] cannot be sovereign. It can only disturb, albeit in a radial way, the State, prompting isolated moments of negation without any affirmation. The State, then, cannot set itself up as a Wholeâ (Levinas, quoted in Critchley, Infinitely Demanding, 122).
31 Critchley and RanciĂ¨reâs spatial description of resistance echoes earlier writings of Louis Althusser. In Reading Capital (1968), he provides a description of knowledge as âa closed spaceâ that defies the inside/outside binary: âIt is impossible to leave a closed space simply by taking up a position merely outside it, either in its exterior or its profundity: so long as this outside or profundity remain its outside or profundity, they still belong to that circle, to that closed space, as its ârepetitionâ in its other-than-itselfâ (Louis Althusser, âFrom âCapitalâ to Marxâs Philosophy,â Reading Capital, ed. Louis Althusser and Ătienne Balibar, trans. Ben Brewster, [London: Verso, 1979] 53). Althusser might as well be commenting on the Danish cultural policy, where the outsider stance merely re-affirms the strength of the policy in its entirety. The only response he proposes, then, is ânot a flight, which is always committed to what it is fleeing from, but the radical foundation of a new space [âŚ]â (ibid.) Althusserâs suggestion of non-mimesis (âthe non-repetition of this spaceâ [ibid.]) and the rejection of the traditional binaries of opposition hints at a new direction for oppositional behavior .
32 Ibid. 110 and 119. The idea of dissensus is particularly significant within the context of Denmark, whose modern political system is based on the idea of consensus. According to Uffe ĂstergĂĽrd, a scholar of Danish history, this consensus emerged from what he calls the âpeasant ideological hegemonyâ of the 19th century (Uffe ĂstergĂĽrd, âThe Danish Path to Modernity,â Thesis Eleven, no. 77 (May 2004): 25). When Denmark was significantly reduced in size in 1814 (loss of Norway) and 1864 (loss of Schleswig-Holstein), the population of the former composite state was also significantly reduced. As a result, the peasant-farmer class was able to gain political power. The peasant-farmers âunderstood themselves to be the real backbone of societyâ (ĂstergĂĽrd, 36). ĂstergĂĽrd traces the connections between these peasant-farmers, the Danish concept of folkelighed (populism) as defined by N. F. S. Grundtvig, the agrarian cooperative movement, and the rise of the Social Democratic Party in the 20th century.
33 RanciĂ¨re quoted in Fulvia Carnevale and John Kelsey, âArt of the possible: Fulvia Carnevale and John Kelsey in conversation with Jacques Ranciere,â Artforum International (March 2007): 263.
34 Ibid. 259. Like Critchley and Althusser, dissensus for RanciĂ¨re has a spatial definition: âbreathing roomâ (Ibid. 261).
35 Ibid. 263. He writes: âAn art is emancipated and emancipating when it renounces the authority of the imposed message, the target audience, and the univocal mode of explicating the world, when, in other words, it stops want to emancipate usâ (Ibid., 258).
36 Critchley, Infinitely Demanding, 124.
37 Simon Critchley, On Humour (Thinking in Action) (New York: Routledge, 2002) 9. Critchley derides the âpious humorlessness [âŚ] of some forms of contemporary protestâ (Infinitely Demanding, 124) and instead looks with admiration at a number of contemporary anarchist groups that use âcarnivalesque humor [âŚ] as a political strategy,â such as Ya Basta!, the Rebel Clown Army, and Billionaires for Bush (ibid. 123).
38 Critchley, On Humour, 90. Critchley uses John Morreallâs definitions of the three categories of humor: the superiority theory; the relief theory; and the incongruity theory.
39 Team Denmark and the Danish Ministry of Culture, âEliteidrĂŚttens Kanon,â 2005, http://www.teamdanmark.dk/cms/cmsresources.nsf/filenames/Kanon%20booklet%20www__Endeligeverdion_Til%20hjemmesiden.pdf/$file/Kanon%20booklet%20www__Endeligeverdion_Til%20hjemmesiden.pdf, accessed 7 July 2010.
40 Danish Ministry of Education, âRapport fra Udvalget til styrkelse af historie i folkeskolen,â June 2006, 18-19, authorâs translation.
41 Social Development Center, âNo. 13: Handicapped Culture Canon,â 2006, 3, authorâs translation.
42 Jyllands-Posten, âVenstre vil have kanon til naturperler,â 14 July 2007.
43 In the press release, Mikkelsen says: âIndustry is decisive part of our culture. In the same way, our culture is crucial for industry and not least for our ability to change and renewâ (Politiken, âKulturminister udpeger Danmarks vigtiste industri,â 20 September 2007, authorâs translation).
44 The canon was limited to pre-2000 events, therefore it could not have included the Mohammad cartoon crisisâcertainly a significant moment in Denmark. In what can hardly be interpreted as anything but a gesture in that direction, however, the Salman Rushdie affair was included (Politiken, âHĂ¸jdepunkter i demokratiets historie,â 12 March 2008). Responding to the release of the âDemocracy Canon,â a member of the Socialist Peopleâs Party announced her discontent in a press release. âDemocracy is something that is to be practiced, not canonized,â she said (Pernille VigsĂ¸ Bagge, quoted in Marie Hjortdal, âOpposition undrer sig over demokratikanon,â Politiken, 12 March 2008, authorâs translation).
45 In fact, when asked his opinions of the Culture Canon project, the historian Uffe ĂstergĂĽrd said that he had âfull confidence that the Danes would bury the project with their humorâ (quoted in Torben Jakobsen, âHumor kan kvĂŚle kulturkanon,â Jyllands-Posten, 5 January 2005, authorâs translation).
46 As Critchley writes of the same story, âBy laughing at power, we expose its contingency, we realized that what appeared to be fixed and oppressive is in fact the emperorâs new clothes, and just the sort of thing that should be mocked and ridiculedâ (Critchley, On Humour, 11).
Figure 1: ââŚthat nationalized the culture.â (Source: Zentropa)
Figure 2: âCultivating the Nationâ (Source: Zentropa)
Figure 3: Von Trier sewing together the new red flag (Source: Zentropa)
Figure 4: âSincerely, Larsâ (Source: Zentropa)