Political Glossaries as Exercises of Freedom

Victor Klemperer published his LTI – Lingua Tertii Imperii: Notizbuch eines Philologen (The Language of the Third Reich: A Philologist’s Notebook) in 1947, but he had been taking notes on how Nazi propaganda was changing the German language for at least ten years before then, documenting its daily shifts, like an undercover reporter building his case. As part of his contribution to documenta 14, Spanish artist Daniel García Andújar borrowed Klemperer’s title to generate a text-image glossary of the Greek Military Junta (1967-1974), published as part of the Exercises of Freedom events (actually the only publication from these events).

As the page devoted to the artist on the documenta 14 website describes it, this book demonstrates the artist’s continued practice:

to reveal the dominant operating system, expose its flaws, hack it, use it critically, and open up spaces of resistance to the standardizing of language through which the world is created.

Andújar’s use of online images to illustrate the shifts in language also has the effect of expanding the limits of the glossary to the realm of the image. At the same time, these images, starting with that on the book’s cover, locate the work within the structures of Athens, both under the junta and in the present day. I picked up two copies of the book at the Athens Municipality Arts Center at Parko Eleftherias (Freedom Park), where there was a pile of them at the entrance (I took a photo, but I since lost it when I erased the photos of my last day in Athens by mistake). I still to this day don’t know why I took two books and not just one (or three). This building in Parko Eleftetherias was used to house the military police headquarters, while the building behind, which is now the Museum of Anti-dictatorial and Democratic Resistance, was a detention and torture facility (referred to in the glossary by the euphemism Special Interrogation Section. I registered the difference between Athens and Kassel when I saw two copies of the book in Andújar’s installation at the Neue Neue Galerie – on a plinth, but open to reading.

Thinking back to the pile of books in Athens, and these two well-thumbed issues in Kassel, as well as the two copies in my little red suitcase, I am brought to the role of the political glossary as a phenomenon of Trump’s America. There have already been various articles that have, like Klemperer’s and Andújar’s books, been keeping track of the regime’s transformation of the English language. One example is The Nation’s article “Words in the Age of Trump”, which includes both Trump’s vocabulary as well as terms of resistance. Examples include American Carnage, Fake News, The Civilized World, America First, Make America Great Again and Keep America Great (the latter has already been copyrighted for his 2020 campaign). In spite of all of this activity, there has yet, to my knowledge, been published a book as a glossary of Trumpism. We are all part of the process of taking notes, but until we can put the small volume in our jacket pockets as we ride the bus, alongside our copies of the constitution, we will not be able to fully exercise our freedom.

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