In 1970 Otto Mühl founded a commune in Vienna. The experiment was an offshoot of the ‘Aktionismus’, a Viennese version of the happenings in New York, lead by meanwhile legendary artists such as Nitsch, Schwarzkogler, and Brus. The happenings – in German ‘Aktionen’ – were an effort to lift all kinds of taboo in art. Many an artist proceeded to complement the revolution in art with a revolution in life itself. Life as the ultimate work of art, so to speak.
The revolution intended was not a mere political and economical one. Already in Kommune I and II in Berlin, the focus was shifting towards a revolution in personal life. Source of inspiration was Wilhelm Reich, who tried to make a synthesis of Marx and Freud. But Mühl also borrowed from softer an hipper authorities like Janov and his scream therapy*. Whoever wanted to enter the commune, had to submit to a kind of initiation rite. During a ‘Selbstdarstellung’ before the whole community, he had to lay off his (character-)armour: the repressive structure of patriarchal society deeply rooted in the inmost structure of personality. The shift from artistic to ‘psychoanalytic’ revolution is expressed in the name: Otto Mühl replaces ‘psychoanalysis’ with ‘Aktion-analyse’. The concomitant AAO (Aktions-analytische Organisation) was supposed to develop into a world-encompassing ‘Weltbewegung’ that would eventually realise a free society.
Granted: even if it never encompassed the whole world, the movement was extremely successful. To the extent that, in 1972, it had to move to Friedrichshof, where eventually some six hundred converts joined the ranks. On top of that, new sections had to be founded in Berlin, Krefeld, Heidelberg, Hamburg, Munich and Geneva, as well as in Amsterdam (the commune ‘Vol Sap’). The communards came flocking from every corner of the former ‘free Europe’.
Declared enemy of the commune was: monogamy. Private property of women was considered to be the condition of private property of the means of production. Furthermore, marriage was the place where social repression was deeply anchored in personality. By limiting oneself to only one partner, sexuality was severely muzzled. The mobilisation of a revolutionary potential thus had to begin with releasing sexuality from such fetters.
The ideal of life-long fidelity was replaced by the ideal of absolute promiscuity. It was forbidden to make love with the same partner more than once a week. And also the frequency had to be reconsidered accordingly. With ‘bourgeois couples’ the frequency of copulation, grown to daily drudge, dropped to an alarming 2,57 times a week, at least according to the then widely known statistics of Kinsey. In Friedrichshof one was supposed to make love as often as a Muslim bows to Mecca. Whoever would like quality to prevail over quantity was reminded of the fact that ‘sex’ had to be unlinked from mere bourgeois ‘love’: foreplay and similar ‘romantic nonsense’ were unacceptable. Ideally, the job had to be done in a few minutes. To protect the communards from the dangers of bourgeois inertia, a rather efficient measure was introduced: men were not allowed their own bed. So they had to look for a shelter every night. Thus, even a slowly moving wheel had to turn at least one round a day.
At once we understand why the commune was so big: when you have to roll out your carpet for every time another god or goddess five times a day, then you are up to number 150 after one month and after two months you have had the whole commune. Even when the sister communes were a way out, in the end only a world encompassing chain of communes would suffice. Also promiscuous ones of the size of the imaginary Don Juan or the real Casanova – the present-day Cathérine Millet is another case, with which we will deal on another occasion – did not linger around in a ‘village’ of some poor 600 souls. They endlessly prolonged the chain of their conquests by travelling quite a lot, preferably between densely populated metropolises and much-frequented courts.
But the idea of a commune turned out to be rather incompatible with the prescription of absolute promiscuity. Whereas in Friedrichshof one had to find another partner every four hours, it took months before one was ready to enter the commune and lay off his armours. Mühl’s capacity to convert did not keep pace with the need for fresh meat. Don Juan and Casanova knew no such problem: they lived on the immeasurable pool of married candidates. It sufficed to release them from the fetters of monogamy for one single night. After which they were left on the doors of their prisons. Mühl, on the other hand, was out not at forsaking, but at redeeming – to welcome another lost sheep in the collective. Hard luck that the number of converts was not large enough to let the chain of conquest grow emulously. At a pace of five a day one needs 1825 new conquests on a yearly base! During a life of say 77 sexually active years one has to chain some 140.525 links! And since there happen to be two sexes – bearing Reich in mind, they were heterosexual in Friedrichshof – the commune had to consist of at least 281.500 members! And even then we have not reckoned with the coming and the going generation… So, inevitably, the ends of the chain had to be joined to a rosary. Chain promiscuity had to transform itself into circular promiscuity. Repetition had to be allowed, but not before the week had passed. So, fidelity banned came back by the back door: every repetition threatens to mark the beginning of precisely the so scorned enduring relations. If the commune consists of 300 men and 300 women, and every member sleeps time and again with another partner at a rate of five a day, then one has had all the available partners after two months, and before the end of the year one has already finished six rounds! And something like collective fidelity is growing within a super-marriage of 600 members.
It must have been no sinecure: so to have to care time and again to string the required beads from ever different boxes to your rosary. No wonder that the informal agenda was soon replaced with the infallible computer composing ‘Flicklisten’ (free translation in the required jargon: fuck-lists) for the whole community.
THE ELIMINATION RACE
All those sums and multiplications lay bare a second contradiction. Only through resisting the temptation to limit oneself to the most juicy candidates or to continue biting in an apple that happened to taste well, could the number of repetitions be reduced to six.
Because it is obvious that not all the candidates are equally desirable. And the differences are the more pronounced, the more it is forbidden to form a bond. In the real world the most desirable lovers soon retire themselves in their love nest. So that another couple can be formed in the amphitheatre, where the partners are exhibiting themselves. It equally disappears in the dark. And so on, until all the candidates, also the least desirable ones, have found a partner.** But when it is forbidden to bond, all candidates continue to present themselves on the scene. There, the whole supply of sexual partners can be compared, and no longer the far more limited supply of still available candidates. To the effect that all partners desire one and the same partner: the most desirable. That is why, in Friedrichshof, all the woman wanted the same man: Otto Mühl. Even though there were always some alternative candidates circling around the top due to their special sexual competences. To the majority of women, the remaining men were only a second choice. But hey had nevertheless to wait for two long months before being allowed to sleep with their first choice – at least if they wanted to play according to the rules.
A solution might have been that Mühl would take all the women every night. Lest he would be able to. Granted: 300 a day is more than even a god could take! Apart from the question as to whether he would like to do so. For if the women were allowed to choose according to their preference, why should this favour not be granted to Mühl? Even when all the women desired Mühl, Mühl did certainly not desire all the women: only the most desirable ones would have sufficed. And, since he was the most desirable men, he could afford himself to choose the most desirable women. Why should he bother about the Cinderellas? And since, on the top, only the most desirable were a match to the most desirable, the chosen few would limit themselves to the chosen few.
And that is precisely what happened in the real world. In the beginning, the prescription to look for ever new partners was supplemented with the concomitant prohibition to reject less desirable ones: the marital duty of the bourgeois couple is nothing compared to such compulsive sex. But precisely because the differences were so apparent and remained so because of the maintenance of the free market, and precisely because the happy few precisely therefore preferred the happy few, they were no longer prepared to descend to the lower regions of the pyramid. That is how emerged the so-called ‘inner circle’, where the chosen ones could occupy themselves with the chosen few. To the utter dissatisfaction of the wretched on the base, who so dearly wanted to gain access to the top of the pyramid. The call for collective property has always originated in the excluded ones*** In 1985 the conflict was settled in that the privileged closed the ranks, so that the excluded ones had to rely upon themselves.
The ideology had to be polished up accordingly. The idea of a world encompassing network of communes was replaced by the concept of a ‘Kleinfamiliengesellschaft’. And the falling apart of the commune in the ‘Kleinfamilie’ went hand in hand with the instalment of a hierarchy: in 1987, with the consent of 360 out of the 400 communards, the ‘monarchy’ was proclaimed. In 1988 Mühl married (!) Claudia Weissensteiner. Heir to the throne was their son Attila, born in 1985. The repressed patriarchy resurges in full regalia, of all places in precisely the commune that was set up to eradicate it once and for all! Similar phenomena can be observed in the other sex-factories of those times; think of the Bhagwan in Poonah.
Because people are not equal and love happens to be selective, in real life the most desirable partners choose the most desirable candidates, as described above. And in that same real life they also come back to each other, again and again. Thus, selectivity engenders fidelity (as Reich already knew). Even if the proclivity to cast a sneaky glance over one’s partner’s shoulder makes that spontaneous fidelity has to be safeguarded through mutual agreement or legal prescriptions. More of than not sanctioned through penalty – especially when children are at stake. Then, extra guarantees are wanted, especially by men. All those more or less serious forms of compulsion may not induce us to forget that monogamy is in the first place the effect of a natural proclivity to restrict oneself to the most desirable. In other words: the reluctance to throw oneself away. Only when things go wrong are the signs reverted. Marriage is now experienced as the compulsion to remain with the same partner and as an obstacle to finding release with strangers – to present oneself in the amphitheatre again. To regard monogamy as a straitjacket is merely the one-sided view of those whose relation is on the rocks. Or of those who could not get what they wanted, and who are all too eager to lay hands on the ‘property’ of other people.
No historically or geographically restricted phenomena such as patriarchal society or capitalism lie at the roots of monogamy – taking the beloved one in ‘private property’ – but the nature of love itself. Compulsory non-selectivity and the obligation to search ever new partners, will strike these rocks. Only the promiscuity of those who are only out at conquering – such as Casanova’s – can escape such fate: whoever wants to conquer again and again has also to forsake again and again. And he has no difficulty in doing so: he is not interested in the sexual qualities of his partner, but only is the obstacles to its conquest.
Unlike the countless mayflies of those times, Mühl’s commune was granted a long life. Long enough to live to see her children come of age. Which immediately raises the question as to whether the children would join the ranks of the veterans.
As it appears, the ‘aktions-analytische’ therapy was not efficient enough to warrant a smooth succession of the generations. Especially the young girls happened to adopt a rather reticent stance on the sexual behaviour of their parents. No problem: according to the theory these were merely the last remnants of patriarchy that should be shaken off. If necessary with a little help: just like their parents, the girls had to be taken in hands by Mühl. Meanwhile, they were forbidden any contact with the boys. And – you have guessed it – in 1987 Mühl is bestowed the feudal right of the first night! Question of having the younger generation initiated in the secrets of sex by the appropriate person. Another natural proclivity is countered here: the preference for one’s own generation. Mühl did not even consider the possibility that he might as well initiate his own children: the women of Friedrichshof preferred Mühl not only as a lover, but also as a begetter. After the collective property of the commune had been transformed into the harem of a monarch, the monarch himself turns out to be to the very embodiment of Freud’s primeval father, incestuously swallowing up the next generation.
In an unholy combination with the increasing discontent of all who felt excluded as Mûhl’s sexual partner, or of those who could not become a mother to his children, that inexorably had to result in judicial complaints. In 1991, the 65-years-old Mühl was sentenced to seven years in jail.
Where seven meagre years awaited him…
NEVER GIVING UP
This sentence is only the outward crown on the increasing internal protest against this double unnatural state of affairs, under the direction of Altenberg. Eventually, the commune was dismantled. Many replace the commune with the techno-scene: they exchange the liberating orgasm in bed for the performance on and beside the dance floor in the techno-temples, and the computerised straitjacket of the commune for an informal network of parties: ‘Joined’ by Altenberg. Where the ‘collective property of women’ happened to be realised alongside more unconstrained paths.
Which did not prevent the 72-year-old Mühl from continuing to recite his rosary after his release. He takes up his old habits in the Algarve, Portugal, albeit on a more modest scale and with the supply of young flesh, about the spontaneity of which one might ask some questions. Even Parkinson could not prevent him from consuming his daily ration of young girls.
Not only Mühl persevered in his conviction of being right. Also the women from the former ‘Inner circle’ continued dreaming of a repetition of the experiment in better times, when Mühl’s progeny might start a new commune and realise their father’s dream. Who knows…
Also the countless examples of failed communes during the past millennia - let alone this article - will not prevent that idea of the collective property of women from popping up again and again. Even when the ideal is realised under a mitigated form in the realm of the image.
In the Channel 4 report, which caused us to write this article, the interviewer asks Mühl how many times he has copulated. Whereupon the master, condescendingly looking down upon the poor reporter, who had to screw up his courage to dare to ask such humiliating question, answers: ‘Many times, many times! Most man can only dream of it!
The exorbitant number of Mühl’s copulations raises the question what else the master has done throughout his life – even when, with Mühl, it takes only ten minutes to get the job done - the maintenance of the whole machinery set up to make it all run smoothly, might have taken somewhat longer… One out the many enjoyable things in life seems to have usurped the place of all the others. The chain copulator reminds of the gourmet whose spends his life at the table rather than in bed. Or of the drinker in the bar. Their passions have something of an obsession. And what makes it obsessive is not so much the aspect of addiction – that would come down to reducing the problem to that of the chain smoker or a junkie. Rather is it the one-sidedness, the ‘monomania’ of their occupation that bothers us. In other words: the inability to do justice to the multiplicity of the mutually related human possibilities – and enjoyments.
Precisely creativity is one of those manifold sources of pleasure, which we might expect an artist to tap – Mühl was a painter after all. But we cannot escape the impression that Mühl’s obsession with ’life’ as an artwork had to mask his failure as a painter. For far less impressive than his rosary is the ‘oeuvre’ left by this former iconoclast. Even when nowadays huge sums are paid for it, it suffices to visit his website to persuade oneself of the poor quality of his paintings. It looks as if he has replaced boasting with masterpieces with strutting as a fucker. That is probably why he is out at making impression rather than at the pleasure of lovemaking – and what happens to result from it. That he so dearly wanted to turn his life into a work of art probably had much to do with his failure on the canvas. The shift from art to life tends to reinforce itself: whoever has constantly to care to hit the required daily ration of targets, might have no one shot left when it comes to the crunch. And that leaves its marks. Even when he was made dry in prison, he did not amount to more than messing about some cartoon-like insults on the ‘hypocrisy’ of capitalistic society - burps that of all places in Haider’s Austria could count on the required sympathy. Unjustifiably so.
Wherewith something is also said about ‘the jump from art to life’, where there was question of an artwork neither…
© Stefan Beyst, August 2002
*About Janov via Solter
**These dynamics are dealt with in chapter III and IV of ‘The ecstasies of Eros’
**These dynamics are dealt with in chapter V of 'The ecstasies of Eros'
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Background to this text: stefan beyst: theory on art
More texts on the Wiener Aktionismus: Hermann Nitsch: the artist as a high priest?