(THIS ARTICLE IS MACHINE TRANSLATED by Google from Norwegian)
With Turid Øveraas (transcribing, assistance)
MODERN TIMES wanted to meet Audun Eng, long-standing debater and anarchist, referred to on Wikipedia as "Norwegian jurist, editor and local activist" (see fact box). He had only a few months left to live due to illness, and this conversation can therefore be considered a summary of important insights from an intellectual life. Engh died this spring, a few months after this conversation took place – aged 74.
Anarchism was important to Engh. In the 70/80s he was a kind of 'editor' for Gateavisa in the 70/80s – or "Gateavisa's glue and mood maker. It was he who held this shaky institution together", as Thomas Hylland Eriksen, who at the time was active in the same environment, describes it to MODERN TIMES. A couple of years ago, Engh also made a magnificent edition with parts of the Gateavis collection he had. He had saved a number of editions of the newspaper's numbers, which I enjoyed myself when I bought 20 different old editions from him. Engh was also behind the commemoration of Jens Bjørneboe's 100th birthday at Club 7 – where MODERN TIMES also contributed with a lecture. A certain inspiration from anarchism has also motivated today's editorial staff of MODERN TIMES, so there was a reason why we wanted to have this conversation.
"In my opinion, anarchism consists of a non-violent, peace-promoting and tolerant belief."
After a few decades in the Norwegian public, one can ask what positions a troubled soul like Audun Engh arrived at. We therefore concentrate the conversation based on our knowledge of him as someone with great thoughtfulness in the areas anarchism, minorities, fear/violence – and love.
The conversation was filmed, but due to the disease ALS, Engh's voice was so weak that we have omitted to make a short film of it this time. Let's start with Engh's afterthoughts on anarchism. For Engh's position, 'mild anarchism' became:
“Well, my definition of mild anarchism is that it is non-violent and must be tolerant. There is, of course, anarchism where bombs are threatened, but in my opinion, anarchism consists of one non-violencefair, peace-promoting and tolerant beliefs. Moreover, the qualities of anarchism should be included in a democracy – so it can become more tolerant towards different people and minorities."
Another question about anarchism is its relationship to communism and Marxism. What was it that you reacted against earlier in the 70s?
"In my opinion, you have two very important dimensions in politics. One is the left-wing and right-wing political movement. The other is the one authoritarian. I compare communismn with fascism. It is the same. It should not have appealed to people. I would rather, even though I am radical and a bit left-wing, support a liberal, tolerant, anti-authoritarian, right-wing or bourgeois government than a communist or Marxist regime. I am also fond of the social democratic movement that opposed the communist idea of controlling the population.”
What are the most memorable and important battles the anarchist magazine Street newspaper stood for?
"Yes, one of them is that we fought against Stalinism, the Marxist-Leninist movement, which had a lot of control at the university [UiO, editor's note] and in many organizations with willing people. Another thing was that we promoted tolerance for minorities, which in the 70s was still not accepted by the even majority of politicians. There was not full freedom for homosexuals, for example, and there were also other ways of life and ideas that were not accepted."
What about it grouphuh? "Yes, then we come to another interest in Gateavisa. Living together in collective living arrangements, and openness to cultures in other countries. Especially with the hippies, and their approach to Buddhism. For example, the American 'white' hippies were very inspired by the Indian culture – but it is important to prioritize one's own culture as well."
Has anything changed since then, become more liberalized? "Well, Norway is mostly a liberal and tolerant society. Also towards immigrants."
The interest in environments around 'anarchists' like Lawrence ferlinghetti and Alan Ginsberg led to meetings with these. The anti-authoritarian within anarchism – which Bjørneboe was also interested in [see articles on nytid.no] – was also the background for Engh and Jan Erik Vold seeking out Ferlinghetti in City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco over 30 years ago. I also talked to Ferlinghetti, and in the 90s I found books in the aforementioned bookstore when I was a philosophy student at Berkeley and lived right around the corner. What was special about this anarchist bookstore?
“Ferlinghetti died a couple of years ago. He lived to be over a hundred years old. From the 1950s he was an important inspiration for new thinking and new attitudes, especially in San Francisco. He established the bookstore in San Francisco and published poetry that also supported the radical movement. He was an inspiration for the great movement of the 60s, with the hippies. There were millions in the United States who challenged the establishment in the United States – and it expanded to Europe and other parts of the world."
Engh explains that he also met Ferlinghetti later, in 2013: "He was in his 90s then, but he was still very eloquent. We talked for two hours.” I follow up with questions about whether there were any reflections on major changes 30 years later: "I think he was quite optimistic, since society was moving in the right direction. We also talked about his friend Allen Ginsberg, whom I mentioned that I interviewed in Oslo in 1993."
When I had seen the video interview with ginsberg [see below] before our meeting with Engh at Frogner in Oslo, I take the theme further, 30 years later – as Ginsberg, for example, talked about both decentralization and anarchism. But also tolerance: "Well, we must have tolerance for different religious movements. But in my opinion, like political movements, you also have authoritarian and anti-authoritarian religious movements. In religious movements there should be freedom. Nor must it be a criminal offense to criticize a religion.”
Ginsberg was already critical of structures with one leader – preferably authoritarian – as we typically see today with the practice of one male 'president'. Ginsberg said that Buddhism is without one God; as the anarchists do not want one leader. Nor did Gateavisa want one editor (see above).
But Ginsberg already spoke in 1993 about digitization, that the new computers lead to the state taking control of the information systems. He didn't like it. So what does Engh think about social surveillance or the rise of the control society. What does that do to anarchist freedom? I ask.
“Because of the computer and access to Internet Today you have much more freedom to express yourself. You can publish your own books. You do not need to be accepted by a publisher, radio or TV station. Everyone can share their opinions. At the same time, you see that some crazy people, authoritarian, intolerant people use the internet to promote their wild ideas. But the most important thing now is that everyone can share their opinions and publish them freely.”
Engh is clearly, like Ferlinghetti, positive about the future. But in the 90s, Ginsberg also talked about the mind with both left-wing and right-wing extremists, or with ordinary people. He pointed out that a peace agreement must be achieved by peaceful means, not with rage. I ask, 30 years later, if Engh feels the same anger with the political fury of our time with Ukraine, and the great militarization. How about mild anarchism?
"It is much easier to be aggressive and violent than to be tolerant and inclusive."
"Yes, it is much easier to be aggressive and violent than to be tolerant and inclusive. It is much easier to kill a person than to love him or her. I react very much to the aggression you see in the political debate in Norway now."
But what about Ukraine? “It is an example. But also the debate in Norway between left and right. I think we should try to get more into dialogue rather than just opposing and promoting yourself by opposing your enemies. Perhaps the debate on immigration should have been a little more peaceful.”
I will not let go of the role model Ginsberg, who felt that society is driven by frykt
- as a kind of hysterical reaction to reality. In order to come closer to reality, he says, we should use sympathy as a means of action – not fear. It is perhaps in line with what Engh says about loving a person and finding more positive sides. Perhaps a wisdom in a conflict-filled time with nuclear weapons that can wipe out half the world's population?
A completely different issue is majority democracy, where the majority can be experienced as seduced, misled or manipulated by the media and powerful interests. Do you want to be tolerant of other people's views – especially in our polarized times (environment, pandemic, Russia, etc.)? A larger part of the majority can also be guided by self-interest or short-termism, where minorities are run over:
“I believe that through elections people get a voice. In the past, we have had people in Norway who could not read or write. But even if people are not highly educated, they have the right to choose the paths they prefer in life, and the government they prefer. Everyone has the right to decide on their own life, or whether they prefer a particular god or government. But it is important that the majority does not take power without respect minorityone. »
One can object that most people are happy to be peaceful as long as they have enough money, as Norway is financed with almost 20 percent of the state budget from the oil we have supplied ourselves with far out in the North Sea. A major contribution to being able to have a welfare state. Does this border on national egoism, as opposed to what certain international anarchists would demand?
"I believe that all countries should improve their own economy and democracy. And have tolerance. I also believe that a nation has a fundamental right to control its own money. Norway donates a lot of money to poor countries and movements for democracy and tolerance in other parts of the world. But I am skeptical that the Norwegian government donates money to already dead democratic regimes in other parts of the world."
As Engh is known for his fight against modernism, here we have a minority theme, as traditional architecture for many in the architecture industry is viewed with condescending eyes: "What I have tried to highlight is modernismn. For modernist ideology says that modernist art and architecture are now our time. That all traditional architecture and classical art is dead. In my opinion, it is intolerance towards a minority."
"I also believe that a nation has a fundamental right to control its own money."
In the architecture debate, there have been some feuds, where the other party has been criticized for not having a love for architecture. Engh has been in many conflicts: "I am not attacking architects personally, but modernism as an ideology. I encourage architects to oppose this ideology because it is intolerant and authoritarian.”
LoveEngh has lived a long life. Has he practiced it himself? – to love one's neighbor, instead of being unfriended or enemies – I ask directly: "I have tried to do that."
We return in the conversation to Ginsberg's thoughts – from Eng's video interview with him – about love and fear. Or Engh's answer that it can be easier to 'eliminate' a person than to love them. Ginsberg spoke of sympathy instead of fear, and he also said that poetry can liberate man.
As Engh is ill and does not have long to live, this topic becomes an important part of the conversation As a counterpoint to fear and anger, what does love and friendship mean?
"Being able to prioritize good relationships with family and friends. And prefer art and culture that express love and positivity to other people. I am very surprised that so many people watch movies about war and criminals. Why crime? Why not instead watch a film that promotes good attitudes?”
Does he miss the 60s and 70s, where Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti were particularly alive? More anarchism and more hippie culture – or is there something similar today? "These ideas are still there, but they face competition from the opposite."We round off the future. Is Engh still an optimist – perhaps due to globalization's internet?
“Yes, I am an optimist. But there are certain exceptions. Authoritarian religious movements, for example. And some extremist political groups. In my opinion, we must insist on maintaining tolerance and liberal attitudes. Religious movements must never gain control over society.”
And to the more personal, what is he thinking about deathone – is there a dimension or an afterlife, or was this earthly all?
“I have never been religious. The most important thing is, as you know, to give back to society. And stand for good democratic ideas. At the same time as having good contact with friends, family and colleagues."
Engh only has months left to live, so how will he spend that time? "I do not quite know. I kind of forgot it here as I sat and talked now.”
At the end, can you talk about the most meaningful thing he has experienced from a lived life, I ask him, and get the answer: "Good partners and having children. The children are the most important.”Audun Engh died this spring after being affected by ALS. He lived to be 74 years old. In the early 90s, he decided to promote tradition-based architecture and became known as a fearless activist. In 2001, he established the Norwegian branch of INTBAU (International Network of Traditional Architecture) together with Petter Olsen, among others. Based on the English charette, he also launched the Norwegian concept of planning, which is a direct democratic way of working for local development. He was a stable element in Gateavisa for a long time, was characterized as its 'grey eminence' and used the alias Josef S as a writer. For many years he wrote about film in Klassekampen. As a young lawyer, he worked for Oslo City Renewal from 1979 to the mid-1980s. He worked to preserve and rehabilitate the old urban environments on the eastern edge of Oslo. In 2016, Engh was one of the founders of and a leading figure in the movement The architectural revolt Norway, which emphasizes classical architecture. And in 2020, together with lawyer Ulrik Hegnar, he created the book Alt molig fra Gateavisa 1970-1986.
See also 80 min. interview with Ginsberg from 1993 here (cut by Hans Haga): https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wPtj_P1y1Uc&feature=youtu.be
The event about Jens Bjørneboe's 100 years can be found here (2021, edited by Hans Haga):