Art makes a way where politics fail. I don’t mean that in any mawkish sense. Sure, art brings people together, encourages empathy and common values. Those can be wonderful things. But they are not always necessarily social goods. Violent nationalism brings people together around common values. Psychopaths can feel empathy if they want to.
When faced with fascism, or neo-fascism, or whatever we want to call the 21st century equivalent of fascism, those who presume good faith in their opponents presume too much. Values like respect for human rights or rules of logical debate or use of force, for example, are not in play. Direct confrontation usually provokes more violence, and corresponding state repression against anti-fascists.
Creative thinkers have devised other kinds of tactics—methods for meeting spectacle with spectacle, disrupting and scattering concentrated fear and hate by use of what William S. Burroughs called “magical weapons.” Burroughs meant the phrase literally when he aimed his occult audio/visual magic at a gentrifying London coffee bar. But he used the very same ideas in his novels and manuals for overthrowing corrupt governments.
One might say something similar about the pioneers of free jazz, a product of Black Power politics expressed in music. Coltrane drew on Malcolm X when he divested himself of western musical constraints; Ornette Coleman established “harmolodic democracy” in place of Eurocentric structures. These were inherently revolutionary forms, responding to repressive times in new languages. They were not, as many people thought then, just jazz played badly.
But, as it turns out… free jazz deliberately played badly makes quite an effective rejoinder to fascism, too. So a group of Danish jazz musicians discovered when they began crashing the staged events of far-right politician Rasmus Paludan, founder of the Stram Kurs (Hard Line) party. As Vice reports:
[Paludan] is notorious for organising “demonstrations” in neighbourhoods with large immigrant populations, where he burns, throws, and stomps on Qurans behind walls of police officers. A self-proclaimed “guardian of freedom” and “light of the Danes,” Paludan considers immigrants and Islam enemies of the Danish people, as well as the country’s values, traditions and general way of life.
Does one respectfully argue with such a person? Try to breach the line of cops and knock them out? Hear out their point of view as they inspire acts of violence? Or show up “armed with trumpets, bongo drums and saxophones” and play right in his face, or at least “loudly enough to drown out his voice or draw attention away from him”?
The collective “Free Jazz Against Paludan” takes the magical weapon of Situationist free jazz public and radicalizes harmolodic democracy (done very, very obnoxiously badly on purpose, we must emphasize) for street action. “We’re fighting noise with noise,” one saxophonist and self-described “old man turned activist” says. “I’m of the opinion that rhetoric like his should not be ignored. You have to protest against it, but in a way that is not destructive and violent.” Except that it is destructive—to Paludan’s weaponized ignorance. [Paludan was recently sentenced to jail on racism and defamation.] The revolving collective of activist musicians makes this plain, stating on their Facebook page, “Anyone can join, with the exception of just him. He cannot.”
What gives them the right to exclude him! one might cry indignantly. That’s the game Paludan wants to play. “What he wants is to get beaten up by some immigrants, get some close-ups of a soap eye or a broken arm—that’d be great for him,” says protestor Jørn Tolstrup. “So this is great, because here we have an idiot who won’t shut up, and now we’ve found a way to take his foot off the pedal.” It’s creative de-escalation and redirection. And, we might say, not so much a public “cancelling” as the free expression of opposing ideas.