Tanz mit Laibach
Laibach and NSK
By Alexei Monroe
MIT Press, 400 pages
Central Europe’s most notorious musical agents provocateurs are the subject of an intriguing new study by cultural theorist Alexei Monroe. Founded in the early ’80s, industrial mavericks Laibach have been controversial from the get-go for adopting the German name of their hometown, Ljubljana, not to mention their appropriation of Nazi and totalitarian aesthetics in their albums, concerts and statements. At home in Slovenia, veterans of the World War II partisan movement succeeded in banning public use of the name “Laibach” from 1983 to 1987; the band continued to perform and release music anonymously at home while touring under the name abroad.
Laibach is but one branch of the Gesamtkunstwerk known as Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK), a complex network consisting of the art group Irwin, the Department of Applied and Pure Philosophy, the theater group Noordung, and the design collaborative Novi Kolektivizem. While Interrogation Machine examines the activities of all segments of NSK, Monroe focuses mainly on the increasingly popular Laibach, which is credited with introducing Slovenia to the rest of the world.
NSK works often refer simultaneously to the two most intense poles of Slovene identity: Germanic self-assimilation and “Slovenist” self-assertion. Indeed, the two have been intertwined throughout history, most unfortunately in the 20th century. Parts of Slovenia were the only Slav-inhabited areas to be incorporated into the Third Reich proper, and the Slovenes the only people the Nazis systematically attempted to assimilate rather than subordinate or liquidate.
No wonder, then, that the emergence of a Germanized youth counterculture in the ’80s proved so disturbing to Slovene nationalists. Laibach presented itself as a collection of über-nationalist nationalists; in the words of Slovene philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek, the band “over-embodied” the archetypes of romantic national aesthetics, telling critics that to reject them was to reject the entire Slovene nation. The most subversive aspect of Laibach was, of course, that no one was quite sure whether they were parodists or actual fascists. (Their use of anti-Nazi artist John Heartfield’s images on album covers offers a clue.) Blurring the line between the two extremes, they effectively introduced postmodernism into Slovenian discourse by forcing people to confront troubling aspects of national identity.
Interrogation Machines is simultaneously a history of the Slovene nation that produced Laibach. To fully comprehend the subtle dynamics elicited by NSK’s highly duplicitous stance, one must understand Slovenia’s stance in relation to the former kingdom and republic of Yugoslavia as well as to the rest of Europe. Monroe makes a valiant effort in this most definitive work on NSK to date. Interrogation Machines is a book for fans and academics alike. And while the book won’t be published in Europe until September, die-hard Laibach and NSK fanatics can import copies from the United States starting next week.