Interview with Christoph Spehr

Science Fiction for the Multitudes

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 tale.

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 thinking.

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 Matrix.

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 West?

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 from?

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 yourself.

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 for the Out of This World conference: