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[ox-en] Interview with Christoph Spehr

Science Fiction for the Multitudes
Interview with Christoph Spehr

By Geert Lovink

Much like Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zones and P.M. Bolo'Bolo,
Christoph Spehr's The Aliens are Amongst Us! is a classic in politcal
underground literature. None of the work of this German writer has yet been
translated into English. Spehr's writing is a mixture of utopian subversive
science fiction and a radical social analysis of today's global capitalism.
Aliens are Amongst Us is a story for the post-deconstruction age where the
question What is to be done? opens up new spaces for the collective
imagination and action.

What makes Spehr, a historian and political scientist, unique is his free,
non-academic style of writing. As a theorist, Spehr brings together
contemporary social science, practicalities of everyday life with strategies
for autonomous movements. Spehr has the ability to load up concepts with new
meaning. In The Aliens are Amongst Us! Spehr makes a distinction between
three social categories: aliens, maquis and civilians. Much like in a
science fiction novel, all three have their own civilizations. It would be
too easy to describe 'aliens' as evil capitalists. Aliens, in Spehr's view,
are first and foremost friendly parasites, post-1945 creatures that are
interested in any type of surplus value they can extract from humans. Aliens
don't do this in an old manner by attacking or surpressing people but by
'assisting' them. Power is no longer personal but abstract and can no longer
be reduced to characteristics of individuals. Alien power is free, open and
most of all: on the search for creative, new ideas. Typical aliens would be
intermediates such as cultural enterpreneurs, social democratic welfare
state officials, NGOs or (ruling) green party members that all live of
movements, events, ideas and expressions of others. What these aliens have
in common is their good intentions. Alien hegemony is politically correct,
multi-cultural, feminist, ecological and almost impossible to defeat on a
discoursive level. In Spehr's 'science friction' the antagonists of the
aliens are the 'maquis', French for bush, a term used by the French
resistance to describe zones not occupied by the Nazis). I would suggest
that maquis can be read as a synonym for 'multitudes'. It is the maquis that
experiment with post-economic models of 'free cooperation'-a topic that
Spehr further explored after finishing his political novel and brought him
in contact with the free software movement in Germany that discusses ways to
establish a 'GPL-society.'

Christoph Spehr was the first scientist receiving the "Rosa-Luxemburg-prize"
in the year 2000 for his essay "Gleicher als Andere-Eine Grundlegung der
freien Kooperation", trying to answer the question, how social justice and
political freedom can be connected. Spehr has been shaped by the 1980s
autonomous movements in West Germany such as squatting and radical
anti-nuclear actions. In his writing you get a sense of the openness towards
to the (Anglo-Saxon) outside world one can find in the Northern port of
Bremen, Spehr's hometown. Bremen is a prosperous city, ruled by old school
social democrats and babyboomers that embody new age, green and 'alternative
' desires and anxieties. It is in the shadow of this milieu, not bothered by
Germany's dark elitist cultural heritage, that Spehr and friends went on a
search for a life beyond work and alienation. Spehr does not return to a
romantic notion of a 'real' and unmediated life. Instead he embraces pop
culture, postmodernism and new technologies, while keeping open a dialogue
with the 'left'.  He has an active online presence and his work is widely
discussed on German-speaking websites. Besides writing, he is also involved
in Not of this World, a series of conferences on utopia, science fiction and
politics, which will be held for the third time in Bremen from June 27-29,
2003. I first heard of Spehr on the Oekonux mailinglist, a debating forum on
free software that very much operates within the spirit of Spehr's work. It
was a delight for me to invite this highly original political thinker to
Public Netbase's Dark Markets conference in Vienna (October 2002) where we
decided to do an online interview.

GL: Authors like Kodwo Eshun, Dietmar Dath and you, amongst others, have
inserted science fiction into 'pop' political theory. The mainstream reading
of science fiction would be an anthropological view of a subculture. What
makes science fiction so attractive to you as a vehicle for social analysis?

CS: Science fiction is not about the future. The future we do not know, so
there's not much to be said about it. Science fiction is a language, a
language that dismisses some things and focuses on others-like scientific
articles, political protest or prayer. They are all languages. A prayer
focuses on hope, on the psychological integration of experiences, on mental
health and preparedness, while it dismisses questions of causality or
probability. And-in my view-it's not about God, because I'm not a believer.
Likewise, a scientific article focuses on the webbing and integrating of a
scientific community, and one's own positioning within that community, while
it dismisses the question of what to do and the fact that we are human
beings, and-in my view-it's not about reality, because I'm not a believer in
a reality that lies outside waiting for a single (male, white, academic
mostly) explorer to be recognized. Political protest-as a language-
focuses on rage, on injustice, on delegitimisation, while it tends to
dismiss our own past involvement in the developing of the current situation,
and the details of possible future solutions. Every language-and there's an
infinite number of spoken languages in that sense-gets its strength and its
weaknesses from what it is focused on and from what is dismissed by it.

Science fiction is focused on possibilities, on desires, and on the social.
It is a very powerful language. By changing and shifting the face of reality
as we know it, it highlights the underlying structures of this reality, so
you can say very rude things in that language. While changing the
circumstances of "normality," it still pictures us as real human beings, as
interacting with others, as collectively acting people; so when you run a
political utopia through science fiction, it shows all the problems and
conflicts that come from the fact that you're dealing with real people. By
treating our reality as a past, it looks to that reality from a distance
shows it as something that can be changed, and changes constantly anyway. It
is quite subjective, but not to that extent like other pop languages. When I
tell you about a woman in some orbit colony around alpha centauri who tries
to crash a selling-machine because eggs have increased 1000 oozes since
yesterday, you can say "yes, that's exactly how it felt like when I was in
the supermarket yesterday," but you can also argue about it: "Why are eggs
that expensive in the alpha centauri system? What happened to the market? If
it is like that, how do people manage "to come along" and so on. You could
not say that about a pop song or a poem. But science fiction is very open
for dialogue, for collective arguments, and it is relatively non-restrictive
in its access, it does not exclude all that many people (like, e.g., Marxist
language does).

I like science fiction because it is very powerful in those aspects where
traditional political theory is weak-possibilities, desires, the social. I
like it as a weapon against the current systems of power and hegemony, which
are extremely poor in exactly those points: possibilities, desires, the
social. And I'm interested in it because people speak that language.
Worldwide, every day. When you address people in the current hegemonic
political language, like it is used in talk shows, in the "Bild" and the
"Sun", in political election campaigns, you will find many of them repeating
the lies this language is designed for-that nothing can be changed, that
there is no better system to be imagined, that today's life is all we want
and need. But five minutes later, they slip into the language of science
fiction-going to the movies, reading stuff, dreaming themselves into
alternative realities-and in that language they will as easily say or affirm
completely different things: that this is a stupid system, that we are
treated with no respect, that we should be more powerful, live more
interesting lives, that we should dare to be different. So when you're
interested in emancipation and change, you have to speak that language.

GL: The main thesis of your book deals with the transformation of hegemony.
You introduce the figure of the 'alien' as a class in contemporary
postfacist society. Anti-racist groups are doing their best to portray a
positive image of the 'alien' Other (the migrant, the refugee, etc.). You go
into an opposite direction and re-introduce a paranoid view on the alien as
a parasite capitalist outsider. Why? At first glance your reading of the
alien seems a setback.

CS: There are different traditions of "reading the alien". You could call it
sub-languages or dialects, if you like. There is a strong tradition in black
popular culture where the alien is a metaphor for one's own experience of
being strange, being other, being different, excluded, but at the same time,
being powerful, belonging to another species, being someone. Being an object
of fear, prejudice, hate, exclusion, but at the same time, being an object
of desire, of fantasies. And having to find out who you really are, or how
you get along if you are unable to find out that.

My book Aliens are Amongst Us uses another tradition, one which is strong in
white science fiction cinema, in particular John Carpenter, to be found in
mainstream movie productions, but also in the "X-files"-series. Here the
alien is a metaphor for the experience of a ruling other that is able to
shape its form and uses the power of looking just like normal human beings
to extend its domination; it's a metaphor for a very sophisticated cruelty
and domination, and for governance in the democratic era. And that was what
the book was to be about, so I chose that tradition of "reading the alien",
to bring it close to common experiences and popular concepts that were
related to what I wanted to say. In my plans for a second "Alien"-book, I'm
going to use the other tradition of "reading the alien", because it's more
related to what I'm trying to do in that book.

We should add that there is at least a third very important tradition of
"reading the alien"- the tradition of female or feminist science fiction.
Here the alien is a metaphor for the transformed self; for the blurred
borders between me and not-me we experience in sexuality, child-care,
empathy; for the desire for identity while at the same time being subject to
transforming processes you cannot control; for the social experience of
"half-belonging": belonging to hegemonic society with one half, and
belonging to a completely different world with the other. You find this
tradition in Octavia Butler's "Xenogenesis", but it goes back to Mary
Shelley's "Frankenstein", it touches Donna Haraway's cyborgs, it's borrowed
in some popular science fiction movies, too, like "Alien 4". It's a very
intense, very complex, very bodily concept of "reading the alien". So I see
no setback in choosing between these traditions. You use what is best for
what you plan to do; or maybe you start with what's next to you, what you
watched and read and are best acquainted with.

GL: Aliens Are Amongst Us appeared in 1999. Since then the so-called
antiglobalization movement appeared on the world stage. A lot of their
'Empire' ideas are to be found in your book. Nonetheless, what aspects of
your theory would you like to change after Seattle, Porto Alegre and 911?

CS: Responding to the anti-globalization movement-better call it the
anti-corporate movement-and to "Empire," I would even strengthen two central
aspects of the 'Aliens' book. First, that aliens are everywhere; that you
have to recognize and fight them in your own groups, movements, institutions
and organisations as well, that you cannot successfully fight the corporate
aliens if you do not consider how they cooperate with all the other aliens
among and amidst us. Second, that you have to articulate an alternative
social logic, to follow in your own groups and localities and to apply as a
new hegemonic logic for production, for the state, for the world-order as
well, and that you have to show and describe and discuss this alternative
logic, so that it will be shaped by all the different groups and experiences
that have to come together if you really want to change the existing system.
I think "Empire" and the anti-corporate movement are weak in these aspects.
The multitude is not just okay, it can be wrong as well; and if we want an
alternative to capitalist corporate rule, but to state-socialist political
rule also, we have to sketch and describe it and start to implement it on
all levels of the social. Protest is okay, but you can't win without that.

After Alien are Amongst Us I wrote a long essay called "More Equal than
Others" and worked on a the "theory of free cooperation", to give a more
detailed blueprint of such an alternative social logic and how to fight for
it. But next I would like to focus on some new aspects, especially after 911
and all these blocked conflicts, world-wide, where fights and wars extend
and become never-ending, are not crises and coups, but become the state of
the world. Of course this is all alien work, a way for all aliens to stay
dominant, because these blocked conflicts nurture the hegemony of the
aliens-in all its authoritarian, patriarchal, subduing aspects-on both
sides. But it's also a result of what I call "terraneous thinking": a
thinking in good guys and bad guys, right cause or wrong cause. A thinking
in terms of absolute truth, holy wars, "real solutions". Fear of
in-betweens, fear of conflict, fear of change. In terms of the
"civilizations" described in the "Aliens", alienism gets into more distance
to the "civilians" and closer to fascist aspects. But in terms of the theory
of free cooperation, it is a disdain for negotiations, for bargaining, for
solidarity, for open solutions. And the problem is, that you have that
tendency inside the left as well, very strong. It's a fear of change, of
altering oneself, that creates violence, like Butler describes it in
"Xenogenesis". And it's arrogance, an elitism that blocks the development of
a so much needed new kind of left, a broader, including, popular left, a
negotiated and negotiating left.

I call it "terraneous thinking" because we act not so much different from
certain mammals and insects in that way. It's really a lack of social
brains, a thinking in tribes and "states" and alpha-males. And it's
terranian, because you need a strong sense of home, of tradition, of
having-been-here-for-generations, having-known-this-for-eons, of
being-the-ones, to develop and sustain it. People who come from other
planets to live here among us find it difficult to understand and develop
such a kind of thinking...

GL: Your style is open, somewhere in between the literary essay, cultural
studies criticism and reports from the every day life. Which writers or
currents influenced you? Your way of writing is rather unusual. Most
political writing in West Germany seems so hermetic and moralistic.

CS: Yes, German political writing is especially terranian, whatever wing it
belongs to. It's that sort of elite, arrogant scholasticism, an especially
hollow and shabby form of academism. A kind of writing that reads as if the
author suffers from obstinate behaviour all the time. In the Anglo-American
tradition it is no shame for an article if it's written with in particular
style, with elegance, if it contains metaphors that you can enjoy reading.
In Germany, people would not dare to write like that because if you do, it
is seen as "unscientific". And this drops your value on the academic market

dramatically, as well as your value in a lot of left circles. So reading
English texts, of course influenced me, enjoying the difference. Or French
authors, where is no such sharp separation between the political and
literature, where a tradition of the essay is prevalent that blurs the line
between the academic and the popular and where authors simply tell their

When you ask for a single author that influenced my style of writing (and
thinking) most, it would be Klaus Theweleit, in particular his first book
"Männerphantasien" (Male Fantasies). Theweleit taught me to read the
popular, and to read the academic and the "elaborated culture" as well.
Between the lines and into the phrases, in order to explore its real shape
and function, as a defence against the world, against the social, against
the Others, as an attempt to hold up the borders that encompass an
anachronistic identity, social role, personal privilege: male, white,
intellectual, "Arian". Theweleit taught me the sense of the similarity
between many "left" and "right" authors in that way, the reasons for it, and
the reasons to reject this tradition. After Theweleit, I couldn't write any
longer like this.

GL: Tell us about your affiliation with the East-German former rulers, the
communist PDS party. Is it a classic case of 'fatal attraction' to the Evil
Forces? You received a price of the PDS Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. Also, you
recently signed a petition to vote PDS at the parliamentary elections. Is it
the element of strange otherness of these totalitarian East Germans that
appeals to you? In the eighties you wouldn't have even considered them a
political force to even look at. Is that right?

CS: Well, I could cite Red Butler in "Gone With the Wind", "I have a liking
for lost cases", but that wouldn't be true. In fact, I did consider some of
the people that today work in the PDS also in the late eighties, and I did
read their texts. I was a member of a socialist students' organization then,
Marxist wing of the Social Democrats, and there was a young generation of
political thinkers in the GDR that really tried to change the GDR, Marxism,
socialist theory and practise. And they were a lot sharper in their critique
of real-existing socialism than we were, and more daring in their quest for
a renewed socialist theory, than we were, because they had a personal
experience of what was wrong with the system. But nevertheless they
considered themselves socialists and many of them were members of the SED.
After the fall of the Berlin wall and the crash of the socialist system in
1989, it was mainly that "generation in second line" that formed the PDS and
drove their ideological and political development.

Today the PDS is on its way to a left-socialist party like many other
countries have, in Europa and elsewhere, and I think we should have one,
too. That's why I initiated that petition (which was titled "You can just
vote for this party. You do not have to marry it.") I'm not sure whether the
PDS will manage to avoid the traps of either becoming a new social
democratic party or fall into self-confident radicalism and
self-marginalisation; the future's open. But that's not the point. To me,
parts of the PDS and especially the Rosa-Luxemburg-foundation are a place
where some discussions take place that I consider important, where some
people work that I like to cooperate with, where I can do some things I like
to do, and that are not too exclusive for others. I think more in places and
spaces today, which I like as long as some discussions and events take place
and as long as some people and ideas have a space there. I do not think in
eternal political forces that are completely okay, have an historical
mission, have to be "married." I guess that would be too terranious a

GL: I have another opinion here. To me SED members are somehow suspicious. I
would hold them personally responsible for the misery their system caused.
Anyway. In my reading of your work you refer anyway much more to autonomous
social movements of the eighties and nineties, not to official political
parties such as the Greens or the PDS. You use the term 'maquis' to describe
a fuzzy and dark yet utopian sphere of rebellion, perhaps comparable to
Hakim Bey's temporary autonomous zone. You describe the maquis in a mix of
melancholia of lost struggles and authentic anger about inequality and
everyday repression. What's going in the maquis at the moment?

CS: Three interventions, please, before I answer your question. The first is
about responsibility. I think everybody is responsible for the misery his or
her system causes. I feel responsible for the people my system kills,
tortures, starves every day somewhere in the world, directly or indirectly;
I feel responsible for the pain, the despair, the self-hatred and the
violence it causes. Because I'm a member of this system. You try to balance
this very fact by what you do; you have to answer every day to the question:
Is what I do, what I am, taken all together, more of an affirmative force
for what this system does, or is it more of an alternative force, a force
that moves it towards change, that works against this system. It's an almost
biblical question, a difficult one, and you cannot get rid of it by tokens
or symbols. I can accept when you say, driving the criminals and main
perpetrators for GDR crimes out of the PDS (most of them didn't even try and
become a member of it) is not enough for you to trust that party. But I don'
t see the big difference between me, who entered the SPD in the West in 1981
when I was 18, and somebody who entered the SED in the East. It depends on
what you do. And I think it is a dangerous habit when people think they are
not responsible for their system because they don't do anything. They feel
safe-in terms of responsibility-when they are not a member of any "official"
organisation, just earn their money and try to have a good life. But there
is no such safety. It's a symbol, like people saying: Okay, I've adjusted a
little to the system, work for Daimler or GM and have a leather couch and
don't go to demonstrations any more, but at least I still listen to the
Rolling Stones so I can't be corrupted totally. Sounds pretty much like a

What takes my to my second intervention, about movements and parties. It
would be a misreading of the Aliens to take it for a simple plead for
autonomous movements instead of political parties. I do not refer
automatically to autonomous movements. Basically I refer to people. People
form movements, which is necessary to change the world, because formal
democracy doesn't change it, it only mirrors it. At the same time, some of
these people in movements are members of other organisations such as
parties, unions and churches, and have special ideological beliefs,
religious, political and moral beliefs. Some do, some do not. And you have
to respect that. You can't form movements if you don't. Movements have to be
independent from these organisations and ideological beliefs exactly for
that reason, because it would exclude people and strip these movements down,
because movements are a multitude. It's important what these movements do,
how they act, internally and externally, how people cooperate there and how
they influence society and change the world. But again, this is not obtained
simply by tokens and symbols, like "we do not accept any party members here"
and so on. It's wearing a cap instead of doing some work.

The third intervention is about the 'maquis'-and, again, the maquis has no
strict borders according to movements, unions, projects, parties; there are
aliens to be found in all of them, but the maquis is stronger in some of
them as in others. The maquis is not only about melancholia of lost
struggles and authentic anger about inequality and repression. The maquis is
also about learning. Learning change, learning an alternative social logic,
unlearning the system. And learning and developing is the same here, because
this knowledge has to be created. It's also a place for fun, but not all the
time; for healing, but for a healing that includes conflict and fighting.
But most of all, the maquis is for people who really wanna know. That's what
I tried to show in the chapter about the difference between feminist and
"civilians". Maquis people do not just "act like" or "behave like". They
want change. They want to know why it didn't work out and what could be done
next. And they are open to do it. That's why you can't really hold them
down. You can put them into hell, and some months later, they'll have
founded a trade union and a Committee Against Burning, and they are serious
about it. I like that part early in Paradise Lost, where Lucifer, the Fallen
Angel, speaks to his comrade. "All is not lost! The unconquerable will, and
study of revenge, immortal hate, and courage never to submit or yield: And
what else is not to be overcome?" And Milton knew about defeats. He saw the
Glorious Revolution shattered by the restoration of the Stuarts, like time
had come to a still stand again. But he pictured his Lucifer as someone who
refuses to take the mental impact of defeat - someone who doesn't bow.

So, finally, what is going on in the maquis today? I think the maquis today
is in some crisis, because it's not clear what to do next. The power system
is changing dramatically since 1989, in the way Negri and Hardt (and before
them, Deleuze) show it: extreme privatisation, new forms of control, deep
restructuring of the spheres of work and of reproduction. And the system
proves totally unimpressed either by mass protests or - the old
controversy - "everyday resistance". We need movements like we ever need
them, but we do not know exactly what these movements should do or what they
should be like. Trade unions don't work, and Committees Against Burning don'
t work, either. Because accumulation is done not so much by exploitation of
working majorities today, and control is done not so much through hegemony
today. They do it just by claiming the earth as theirs. They shut the door
against protests, with the arrogance of Absolutism. Many people know that
the power elites are dudes and the system is a crap, but they don't see a
perspective. So the maquis has to change, again. It has to become more of a
complete society, taking up more social functions that the system does no
more fulfil; and on the other hand, I think we need a new step on the
political stage. We have to challenge the rules, and because we cannot reach
the power elites, we have to challenge the laws and constitutions that
protect them. I think the cul-de-sac of the global movements today is that
they don't have a political arm. And they don't have a real program of
change yet; they don't have an agenda that aims at the heart of the
structures, of the basic rules. Feeling anti-capitalist is not enough.
Because it's not so clear that this is straight capitalism any more what we'
re facing.

GL: You work found an unexpected resonance in free software circles such as
Oekonux. How do look at Richard Stallman's call for freedom in software
production? Should we read such struggles of hackers and geeks as a
metaphor, an example of what is going in society at large? This engineering
culture seems so radically different from the politically correct autonomous
fighters. Do you think that initiatives such as Oekonux can build bridges
between the technophobic activists and the computer nerds?

CS: Free software is real. It is not a metaphor. It's collective cooperation
without corporate ownership or central command. It's not singular - people
do similar things when they run collective projects, cooperate in
reproduction, or (what's still rare) claim collective-cooperative rule in
their production units. But free software is highly needed because when the
maquis has to become more and more of a complete society, it needs
sophisticated IT, too, and the idea of free use is a very intelligent model
of collective ownership. My work inspired some very interesting
controversies in Oekonux between the GPL-model that everything should just
be free and the free-cooperation-model that everything should be a balance
between powerful groups or individuals. I'd like to take that discussion
further. But to build bridges between activists and nerds, the nerds should
be more open to produce things the activists and their groups need. There
should be more bargaining and cooperation between these two groups. In
Marcus Hammerschmitt's novel "The Censor", the specialists inside the
revolutionary movement are referred to simply as "the Technique". Oekonux
members, however, would strictly reject any role like that. The truth, I
guess, is somewhere in between.

GL: It's a question perhaps everyone will be asked: did 911 have an effect
on your theories and opinions? Where are your priorities right now? Do you
for instance think that multi-culturalism still is a viable strategy against
racism, anti-migration policies and the general anti-Islam feeling in the

CS: I don't think 911 did make so much of a difference. After the assault, I
wondered why there were no position papers posted through the net, no left
discussion about it. So I wrote a short text, "Seven theses about the
situation", stating just the obvious: that this is not war, but terrorism;
that this is no assault against liberty and no act of liberation, either,
but a kind of fascist act that aims cynically at a maximum of casual deaths;
that this is the result of a total fault of Western politics against the
Arab countries and their people; that war is not the answer. The text was
very frequently posted through the net. And I think that was precisely
because 911 was some kind of optical illusion: everybody thought something
completely new had to have started because it was so "big", but actually
there was nothing new about it at all. It just showed the dead end of
terranian thinking, on both sides. There was a big chance for the United
States to get real hegemony in the world and to get something they had never
had among most people of the world, especially in the South: respect. There
was hope among people worldwide that the vulnerability of the USA, of the
world's leading super-power, the pain, grief and loss their people had to
suffer from the assaults of 911, that this would lead them to a new
understanding of the Others. A new understanding of the pain, grief and loss
that were suffered by others. Much of the solidarity with the people in the
USA really came from the heart. In a way, the world offered the U.S. nation
a hand, despite all that they had done so far. But it was an illusion, of
course. The government of the U.S. pushed it away, setting up an iron course
of bloodily crushing down everything that didn't look like they do and didn'
t act like they want. There was no space for mutual recognition, no space
for respect. No space for a new possibility. And among the present global
command, there cannot be a space for such a possibility.

So, yes, I think 911 strengthened my attention on the Terranian. And, when
you ask about multi-culturalism, I think multi-culturalism is the very
terranian version, and counterpart, to what I tried to sketch above: mutual
recognition, mutual respect, and cooperative change. I believe in
affirmative action, I believe in open borders, I believe in politics of
social safety, I believe in the force it has on the minds when the formerly
Subdued enter top positions in the political and economic hierarchies - in
vast numbers and re-adjusting the rules according to their needs and
necessities. I do not believe in "Folk" politics. And, yes, as long as we
have big institutions for the Christian religions, we have to have big
institutions for the Islamic religion as well, in Western countries. But I
think what is most needed to fight the general anti-Islam feeling in the
West is to stop the quite special anti-Islam bombing the West does in the
East. You can't teach people respect for something you usually refer to as
collateral damage. The same is true for the Left. For decades, we didn't
talk and we didn't listen to movements, people, and intellectuals from Arab
countries. That makes countries and regions vulnerable in the world of
globalisation and new High-Tech wars. We should quickly change that habit.

GL: Tell us something about "Out of this world". You're organizing this
conference for the third year in a row. It is an event that deals with
"science fiction, politics, utopian thinking". Where did that idea come

CS: After the Alien book, I had a lot of readings and lectures about it, and
I got the feeling that this was a good thing to do-addressing questions of
oppression and emancipation in a different language, the language of science
fiction. A language that seemed able to jump over the gaps between everyday
experience and political theory, between political insights and dark
desires, also between the experiences under democratic capitalism and state
socialism, and between state politics and the problems of dominance in
smaller units of the social. One day in Berlin I was sitting with Rainer
Rilling from the Luxemburg foundation. We talked about some boring political
conferences we had attended, and he said: "Hey, why don't we do a conference
about aliens? Something we can have fun doing it?" And I said, yes. So I
made a concept and we raised some money and we did it. I contacted people
who were doing similar things, working both on science fiction and political
theory. We combined people writing science fiction and political activists.
Many of the latter were found to be ardent readers of science fiction. We
worked with Petra Mayerhofer and, later, with Alexandra Rainer who brought
in the experience of feminist science-fiction, which has a much more clear
history of political dialogue and utopian thinking, and the feminist reading
of popular culture. When we did the conference, most of the participants
liked it. We were all more equal than at normal conferences, sharing the
thrill of sf and talking a language not so academically hierarchical. We
also used different media: lectures included video scenes from movies, and
for the second conference, we produced two short videos, "Time is on my
 side" and "Go on, you free pigs", cut-ups from sf movies and cartoon movies
for kids, with a new background voice bringing the scenes in a context of
problems with the Utopian and of fighting power. It was big fun. After the
conference many groups asked us for copies because it was a different way to
address audiences. I still like the end of "Time is on my side", the scene
taken from Matrix. It's very funny. But, of course, you have to see it for

Christoph Spehr, Die Aliens sind unter uns! - Herrschaft und Befreiung im
Demokratischen Zeitalter, Goldmann Verlag, 1999.

(URLs below all refer to material in German)

Christoph Spehr's homepage:
Review of The Aliens are Amongst Us:
PDF version of Gleicher als Andere - Foundation of Free Cooperation:
Open for comments version of the same text:
Website of the Out of This World conference:


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