Unbeknownst to either Karlheinz Stockhausen or the rioters in France, there were seven days of coincidence in May 1968 whose reverberations are still felt today.
From May 7-13, Stockhausen was holed up in his house in Germany writing Aus den Sieben Tagen. A pouring forth of highly personal and raw expression of emotional matters at hand through supreme abstraction, Aus den Sieben Tagen was landmark. The score was a set of written instructions. Both the traditional musical score and the construction drawing have a spatial expression inherent that implies the physical process of making – building or music. But Stockhausen’s were heretofore unseen textual instructions on how to build music – not dependent on some “assumably neutral” notation but introducing the idea that music can be an improvisational succession of emotional responses and affects. So, removed by an extra step from the physical act of making music in the same way as a textual “construction document” is yet more abstract than a “construction drawing,” Stockhausen was attempting to transcend the limitations of notation.
Simultaneously – beginning on the 6th of May – students took to the streets and rioted. Impressively, they fomented a general strike that ended as such things always end… Order restored, the resistance holding their heads high, romanticised and proud of their defeat. Cynicism aside – ask anyone who was there (or at Woodstock) and they will tell you that there was a time; to echo Hunter Thompson, there was a moment, there was a high-water mark – at which everything made sense and the right side was winning. The future held promise, things were changing for the better. But of course, like the hippie movement’s death at Kent State in America, the tide washed back out with it the ideals of the new generation that had been crushed under the boot heel of state authority.
Even though they are well trod ground for most intellectuals aspiring to fashion themselves a challenger or a rebel (myself included), the student riots of the late ’60’s – and the French General Strike in particular are still important. As a collective, the uprising was aware of its spectacular nature. They were important because they posited that building can be a more revolutionary act than destroying.
One cannot make a construction drawing of resistance: but you can write manuals and manifestos and slogans as “construction documents” instructing the revolutionary how to build a barricade, how to subvert power. You can, as a subversive act, conceptualize a city as an improvisational succession of emotional responses and affects, rather than an “assumably neutral” set of coordinates or directions. You can revolt – not through storming the Bastille, but through building barricades and ad-hoc structures. Revolt through detourning the presence of the news camera by treating it not as a mechanism of control but as a vehicle for dissemination of your ideas. By removing an extra step from the physical act of revolt in these ways, the rioters of those seven May days in 1968 and beyond have taught us to transcend the limitations of dissent.
They and Stockhausen both, without realizing, were exploring construction by means other than spatial abstraction. They were projecting a new and robust world view that had it been able to take root could have overturned the rigid framework of notational and coordinate based world views. And for the loss of that alternate way through the intellectual and political territory we can still navigate, we are the lesser.