Is it a pity for America?

GREAT POWER MADNESS? / America's shadowy sides have for many made fatal love and the relationship destructive. Bjørneboe's indignation towards America was of the solidarity type.


When the text and title We who loved America [see the article from Orientering] is still remembered today, it is hardly because it is written by Bjørneboe, nor because it is among his best, so what happens here that catches our attention? This essayist book review was far from unique in its message when it was written in 1966, although it did help trigger a landslide of criticism of US world hegemony. The title is rather remembered because it captures the essentials: a feeling of disappointment, a wounded love.

When Bjørneboe talks about his own love affair with America, about how love can turn into bitterness, he talks on behalf of many. Maybe we should not look at this as pictorial twists, but rather try to understand what happens when we fall in love with an entire country – or what lies in the love and essence of love at all.

In his book on love, Stendhal points out that we fall in love with a face because it arouses both admiration and pity. Being in love is also a moral project, it means seeing a potential, seeing something that needs help to be oneself at its best, something that both needs and deserves to be loved. We loved America because this country seemed to carry a promise of happiness in itself, as if it were the future itself, despite all the deep wounds and internal conflicts. It turns out, however, that for many, America's shadowy sides have made infatuation fatal and the relationship destructive: the beloved is in fact a power-hungry tyrant, a troubled partner with addiction problems and personality disorders.

Today's USA is a faded idol, a world power of luck, suffering from petroleum addiction and overconsumption and having chosen an infantile, corrupt and conflict-oriented leadership. Is it then possible to save what is left of Americanophilia?

Marx: a character mask

A few years ago, I surprised myself by moving to Los Angeles, California, after long repeating to myself that there was more than enough America at home in Europe. What I discovered was that the feeling of freedom and open opportunities, of mutual encouragement and infectious optimism still exists in abundance: Even in a dark time, the best in America is saved by the people and by everyone who comes here with a dream of what this the country should be. In May, reports of corona quarantine were supplemented with reports of curfews and protests. Although disturbing images of burning cars appeared on the news screens, hardly anyone has compared the Floyd protests to the Rodney King riots of the XNUMXs: there is hope and unity in this, and people do not seem scared. Still, the shadows in the sunshine seem more striking: In Hollywood, many facades and shop windows are still covered with wooden boards to secure them against stone and graffiti. Other shops and restaurants are closed forever, broken by a half-hearted and therefore prolonged quarantine. Most people in this country have so much debt that many can not afford to stay closed. Everything points to a new economic depression, and no one knows what it will mean.

If we are entering a century of Eastern domination and new authoritarian regimes, it is not out of the question that we will long to return to America.

Trump has, in part through digital media and propaganda, presented us with a caricature of American optimism. Charismatic self-confidence solidifies into what Marx would call a character mask: pure role, a position of power, the attitude of the one who takes the recognition of others and his exalted position for granted.

Should we then feel sorry for America? Being anti-American has become a matter of course in large parts of the world, especially in the last four years – and so are the accusations made, as in a sour love affair. Can we imagine another America? After all, a human being has many other qualities than the role he plays, such a boss is something more and something other than a boss, a boyfriend is more than a boyfriend, and a victim is something more than a victim. What will happen to the United States if the country is liberated from the role of world hegemon? What will happen to American culture if we do not see it as an object of love with which we identify – not the future and trendsetter of the world itself, but a local, local culture? What will happen to the countries that have suffered under US political and cultural hegemony when and if they are given the opportunity to define themselves not as victims, but as equal and relevant parties? Europe has already undergone a post-colonial and post-imperial self-examination, a humiliating but important maturation. The United States has this to its advantage, and is thus behind in history rather than in front.

The indignation

In his anti-imperialist reading of Spinoza points out the Italian philosopher Antonio Negri that hatred can never be a good thing, not even as a political affect. Hatred is what we feel towards the one who prevents us from feeling joy, from unfolding, but hatred breeds hatred and can only be overcome by love or laughter. Indignation, on the other hand, means hating those who harm others, especially the one or what we love and care about. If we should not hate America, perhaps we should be indignant, as more and more Americans are during the Black Lives Matter protests. The indignation carries with it an unconditional demand that the injured parties be taken into account, and in the convulsions of climate denial, the earth must be taken into account among the victims. Bjørneboe's indignation towards America is of this type of solidarity.

I The silence the last volume of "The History of Bestiality", Bjørneboe wrote about the dark legacy of the wars against Native Americans. Long before postcolonialism became a natural course offering in literature studies and courses in critical theory, he dived into all that has been concealed, and still concealed, in the West's freedom project. America's own worship of freedom was marked by the Declaration of Independence and the secession from England's sovereignty, but the country itself has ended up in what Bjørneboe liked to call "great power madness".

If we are heading into a century of Eastern domination and new authoritarian regimes, it is not out of the question that we will long to return to America. Not the land of impossibilities, Trump's cramped America, but the land of possibilities that we loved as an idea, a place where freedom is a sense of life, and where the full potential of life can unfold. The problem is that those who unfold their own possibilities at the expense of others, can thus be said to abuse their freedom. Self-expression can become a form of greed. Simplified and dangerous notions of freedom have always been America's problem. As obvious as it sounds that the colored, yes, that all Americans' lives should "count", it should be that all countries and peoples must be allowed to unfold – not as copies of America or America's vassals, but as their own land of opportunity.

Also read: We who loved America by Jens Bjørneboe.

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