Asger Jorn has oft been credited with inventing our curious version of the beautiful game, but its been a long slog to finally track down the specific text that began it all. With thanks to Teresa Ostergaard Pedersen at the Jorn Museum in Denmark, we can reveal the following application of triolectics (complementarity) to the then current international political situation. From page 38 of his 1962 book Naturens Orden;
“Dialectics is based on a belief in polarisation, or the two way, contradictory, incessant association of syntheses, which in turn set up dualities. That there is some truth in the device of duality cannot be explained away, as long as you have not explained away electricity and magnetic polarity. But when this principle is transferred to politics, and the internal national polarisation between right and left is removed, then a country needs to seek its polarisation beyond its own borders (outside of itself). That such a polarisation between East and West can be of high dynamic value to business development on both sides in a kind of naive competition or cold war, there can be no doubt. It’s just like a football game where both parties are seeking to win.
But let’s imagine a new kind of football where instead of two teams and two goals there are three teams in the game and three goals. What will now happen when the three teams start playing against each other. Firstly you will quickly discover that it is impossible to control the way the two attacking enemies decide to shoot at their opponents’ goals. It therefore becomes necessary to reverse the rules, so victory becomes negative, and it is the team that has defended best, and which has conceded the fewest goals, which becomes the victor. The victory was defensive and not offensive. In this way the game then corrects itself and makes sense. It will not be an exciting football game at all. A third power can in this way serve to neutralize a tension between the two powers. It is thus seen that bilateral opponents are always aggressive or belligerent, while the triangular is defensive. While this in itself represents the transition from the dialectic to complementarity, it should not be left unsaid that, if it is so, Denmark is not particularly complementary in nature to the two great powers. Whether a triangular relationship is static or constant, will depend therefore on whether there is an increasing tension. If so this may just lead to a genuine blowing off steam if possibilities/risks in the bilateral relationship are released by the duel’s ceaseless energy. There is in these considerations absolutely no political advice. The only thing I am looking to find out is what happens.”
Its quite eye opening to discover that Jorn is postulating three sided football as a metaphor for a tripartite opposition to the dilaectical standoff of the Cold War superpower confrontation. However, as Teresa points out “Jorn evades simplistic conclusions. Most often, his idea behind three-sided football is considered very black and white (especially in the light of the Cold War). We like to read it as ‘Two sides equals confrontation, aggression, and is therefore negative, whereas three sides are about alliances, defense, and therefore a more positive force in the universe”’. This is of course true, to a great extent.
But. With this singular sentence, Jorn in fact shakes the faith in the (his own) system’s long term validity, because he also considers the eventuality that the lack of “blowing of steam”, which exists in the dual confrontation, can actually cause a potentially more profound explosion in the three-sided relation, where the energy/tension is allowed to build up. Pure physics, basically…
I am not arguing that Jorn preferred the two-sided confrontation, not at all, but apparently he also felt the need to throw in this modifying sentence to say that all is not necessarily won by the three-sided system. That this system carries its own risks as well.”
The original Danish is as follows:
Dialektikken er baseret på overbevisningen om polarisationens eller den tosidede modsaetnings ustandselige forening i synteser, der så igen giver dualiteter. At der er noget rigtigt i dualitetens enhed kan ikke bortforklares, så laenge man ikke har bortforklaret elektricitetens og magnetismens polaritet. Men bliver dette princip overført på politikken, og den indre nationale polarisation, hojre og venstre, ophaeves, da må et land soge sin polarisation uden for sig selv. At en sådan polarisation mellem ost og vest kan vaere af hoj dynamisk vaerdi for udviklingen af erhvervslivet pa begge sider i en slags naiv konkurrence eller kold krig, kan der ikke herske tvivl om. Det er som en fodboldkamp, hvor begge parter søger at vinde. Men lad os nu forestille os en helt ny slags fodboldbane, hvor der i stedet for to hold og to mål er tre hold i spil og tre mål. Hvad vil der nu ske, når de tre hold begynder at spille mod hinanden. For det forste vil man hurtigt opdage, at det er umuligt at kontrollere, hvem der skyder målet af de to fjender, der angriber. Det bliver nodvendigt at vende reglerne om, så sejren bliver negativ, så det er det hold, der har forsvaret sig bedst, og hvor der er gået faerrest mål ind, der er sejrherren. Sejren er blevet defensiv og ikke offensiv. Spillet vil naturligvis rette sig derefter. Der vil overhovedet ikke blive noget spaendende spil. En tredie magt kan på denne made neutralisere en spaending mellem to magter. Derfor er tosidede modstandere altid aggresive eller krigeriske, mens det tresidede er defensivt. Om dette i sig selv betegner overgangen fra dialektik til komplementaritet, skal jeg lade vaere usagt, men skulle det vaere sådan, ligger danmark ikke saerlig komplementaert til de to stormagter. Er en trekantet forhold statisk eller konstant, så afhaenger dog dette af, om der sker en stigende spaending. I sa fald kan dette måske netop medfore en reel eksplosion, hvis muligheder i det tosidede forhold afreageres ved tvekampens ustandselige energiforbrug. Der ligger i disse betragtninger overhovedet ingen politiske råd. Det eneste, jeg soger at finde ud af, er, hvad der sker.