Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Economic globalization has undermined the legitimacy of western democracies

Žižek on the future of the Occupy movement
Economic globalization is gradually but inexorably undermining the legitimacy of western democracies. Due to their international character, large economic processes cannot be controlled by democratic mechanisms which are, by definition, limited to nation states. In this way, people more and more experience institutional democratic forms as unable to capture their vital interests.

It is here that Marx’s key insight remains valid, today perhaps more than ever: for Marx, the question of freedom should not be located primarily into the political sphere proper. The key to actual freedom rather resides in the “apolitical” network of social relations, from the market to the family, where the change needed if we want an actual improvement is not a political reform, but a change in the “apolitical” social relations of production. We do not vote about who owns what, about relations in a factory, etc – all this is left to processes outside the sphere of the political. It is illusory to expect that one can effectively change things by “extending” democracy into this sphere, say, by organizing “democratic” banks under people’s control. In such “democratic” procedures (which, of course, can have a positive role to play), no matter how radical our anti-capitalism is, the solution is sought in applying the democratic mechanisms – which, one should never forget, are part of the state apparatuses of the “bourgeois” state that guarantees undisturbed functioning of the capitalist reproduction.

The emergence of an international protest movement without a coherent program is therefore not an accident: it reflects a deeper crisis, one without an obvious solution. The situation is like that of psychoanalysis, where the patient knows the answer (his symptoms are such answers) but doesn’t know to what they are answers, and the analyst has to formulate a question. Only through such a patient work a program will emerge.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Slavoj Žižek - Public Lecture - A reply to my critics

Starts Feb 28, 2013 02:30 PM
Finishes Feb 28, 2013 05:00 PM
Venue Room B01, Clore Management Centre and B34, Main Building
Booking details
Free entry; booking required
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Event description
Public Lecture. - Slavoj Žižek - A reply to my critics
Although most of the critiques to which my work was exposed in the last years are “so-called,” fast denunciations not worthy of a serious reply, some of them do at least raise pertinent questions : which, exactly, is the status of violence in social life, and how can one justify resort to it? Is in our societies a radical social change – not just a revolt but the imposition of a new order - objectively possible?   What is materialism today, beyond the usual versions of deconstructionist discursive materialism, Deleuzian “new materialism,” and scientific naturalism? And, last but not least, what immanent role do jokes play in theory?
This event is now fully booked with a long waiting list

White Power to the Rescue

Posted on Jan 28, 2013

By Chris Hedges

On a windy afternoon a few days ago I went to a depressed section of North Memphis to visit an old clapboard house that was once owned by a German immigrant named Jacob Burkle. Oral history—and oral history is all anyone has in this case since no written documents survive—holds that Burkle used his house as a stop on the underground railroad for escaped slaves in the decade before the Civil War. The house is now a small museum called Slave Haven. It has artifacts such as leg irons, iron collars and broadsheets advertising the sale of men, women and children. In the gray floor of the porch there is a trapdoor that leads to a long crawl space and a jagged hole in a brick cellar wall where fugitives could have pushed themselves down into the basement. Escaped slaves were purportedly guided by Burkle at night down a tunnel or trench toward the nearby Mississippi River and turned over to sympathetic river traders who took them north to Cairo, Ill., and on to freedom in Canada.

Burkle and his descendants had good reason to avoid written records and to keep their activities secret. Memphis, on the eve of the Civil War, was one of the biggest slave markets in the South. After the war the city was an epicenter for Ku Klux Klan terror that included lynching, the nighttime burning of black churches and schools and the killing of black leaders and their white supporters, atrocities that continued into the 20th century. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis in 1968. If word had gotten out that Burkle used his home to help slaves escape, the structure would almost certainly have been burned and Burkle or his descendants, at the very least, driven out of the city. The story of Burkle’s aid to slaves fleeing bondage became public knowledge only a couple of decades ago.

The modest public profile of the Burkle house stands in stunning contrast with the monument in the center of Memphis to native son Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest, who is buried in Forrest Park under a statue of himself in his Confederate general’s uniform and mounted on a horse, is one of the most odious figures in American history. A moody, barely literate, violent man—he was not averse to shooting his own troops if he deemed them to be cowards—he became a millionaire before the war as a slave trader. As a Confederate general he was noted for moronic aphorisms such as “War means fighting and fighting means killing.” He was, even by the accounts of those who served under him, a butcher. He led a massacre at Fort Pillow in Henning, Tenn., of some 300 black Union troops—who had surrendered and put down their weapons—as well as women and children who had sheltered in the fort. Forrest was, after the war, the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He used his skills as a former cavalry commander to lead armed night raids to terrorize blacks.

Forrest, like many other white racists of the antebellum South, is enjoying a disquieting renaissance. The Sons of Confederate Veterans and the West Tennessee Historical Commission last summer put up a 1,000-pound granite marker at the entrance to the park that read “Forrest Park.” The city, saying the groups had not obtained a permit, removed it with a crane. A dispute over the park name, now raging in the Memphis City Council, exposes the deep divide in Memphis and throughout much of the South between those who laud the Confederacy and those who detest it, a split that runs like a wide fault down racial lines.

A call last week by Memphis City Councilwoman Janis Fullilove, who is African-American, to strip Forrest’s name from the park and rename it after the crusading black journalist Ida B. Wells set off such an acrimonious debate between her and some white council members that Fullilove left a meeting in tears.

Wells was one of the nation’s most courageous and important journalists. She moved to Memphis as a young woman to live with her aunt. Her investigations revealed that lynching was fundamentally a mechanism to rid white businessmen of black competitors. When Thomas Moss of Memphis, a black man who ran the People’s Grocery Co., was murdered with his partners by a mob of whites and his store was looted and destroyed, Wells was incensed. “This is what opened my eyes to what lynching really was,” she wrote. She noted “that the Southerner had never gotten over this resentment that the Negro was no longer his plaything, his servant, and his source of income” and was using charges of rape against black business owners to mask this resentment. The lynching of Moss, she wrote, was “[a]n excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property and thus keep the race terrorized and ‘keep the nigger down.’ ”

Her newspaper, Free Speech, which railed against white mob violence, the inadequate black schools, segregation, discrimination and a corrupt legal system that denied justice to blacks, was destroyed by whites. Wells was forced to flee the city, becoming, as she wrote, “an exile from home for hinting at the truth.”

The split between those in Memphis who hold up authentic heroes—those who fought to protect, defend and preserve life, such as Wells and Burkle—and those who memorialize slave traders and bigots such as Forrest points up a disturbing rise of a neo-Confederate ideology in the South. Honoring figures like Forrest in Memphis while ignoring Wells would be like erecting a statue to the Nazi death camp commander Amon Goeth in the Czech Republic town of Svitavy, the birthplace of Oskar Schindler, who rescued 1,200 Jews.

The rewriting of history in the South is a retreat by beleaguered whites into a mythical self-glorification. I witnessed a similar retreat during the war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. As Yugoslavia’s economy deteriorated, ethnic groups built fantasies of a glorious past that became a substitute for history. They sought to remove, through exclusion and finally violence, competing ethnicities to restore this mythological past. The embrace by nationalist groups of a nonreality-based belief system made communication with other ethnic groups impossible. They no longer spoke the same cultural language. There was no common historical narrative built around verifiable truth. A similar disconnect was illustrated last week in Memphis when the chairman of the city’s parks committee, William Boyd, informed the council that Forrest “promoted progress for black people in this country after the war.” Boyd argued that the KKK was “more of a social club” at its inception and didn’t begin carrying out “bad and horrific things” until it reconstituted itself with the rise of the modern civil rights movement.

“Lord, have mercy,” Fullilove muttered as she listened.

But Forrest is only one of numerous flashpoints. Fliers reading “Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Wants You to Join” appeared in the mailboxes of white families in Memphis in early January. The Ku Klux Klan also distributed pamphlets a few days ago in an Atlanta suburb. The Tennessee Legislature last year officially declared July 13 as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day to honor his birthday. There are 32 historical markers honoring Forrest in Tennessee alone and several in other Southern states. Montgomery, Ala., which I visited last fall, has a gigantic Confederate flag on the outskirts of the city, planted there by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Confederate monuments dot Montgomery’s city center. There are three Confederate state holidays in Alabama, including Martin Luther King/Robert E. Lee Day. Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi also honor Lee’s birthday. Jefferson Davis’ birthday is a state holiday in Alabama and Florida. And re-enactments of Confederate victories in the Civil War crowd Southern calendars.

The steady rise of ethnic nationalism over the past decade, the replacing of history with mendacious and sanitized versions of lost glory, is part of the moral decay that infects a dying culture. It is a frightening attempt, by those who are desperate and trapped, to escape through invented history their despair, impoverishment and hopelessness. It breeds intolerance and eventually violence. Violence becomes in this perverted belief system a cleansing agent, a way to restore a lost world. There are ample historical records that disprove the myths espoused by the neo-Confederates, who insist the Civil War was not about slavery but states’ rights and the protection of traditional Christianity. But these records are useless in puncturing their self-delusion, just as documentary evidence does nothing to blunt the self-delusion of Holocaust deniers. 

Those who retreat into fantasy cannot be engaged in rational discussion, for fantasy is all that is left of their tattered self-esteem. When their myths are attacked as untrue it triggers not a discussion of facts and evidence but a ferocious emotional backlash. The challenge of the myth threatens what is left of hope. And as the economy unravels, as the future looks bleaker and bleaker, this terrifying myth gains potency. 

Achilles V. Clark, a soldier with the 20th Tennessee Cavalry under Forrest during the 1864 massacre at Fort Pillow, wrote to his sister after the attack: “The slaughter was awful. Words cannot describe the scene. The poor deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees, and with uplifted hands scream for mercy but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. … I, with several others, tried to stop the butchery, and at one time had partially succeeded, but General Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs and the carnage continued. Finally our men became sick of blood and the firing ceased.”

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Normalizing torture so liberals don’t feel guilty


Imagine a documentary that depicted the Holocaust in a cool, disinterested way as a big industrial-logistic operation, focusing on the technical problems involved (transport, disposal of the bodies, preventing panic among the prisoners to be gassed). Such a film would either embody a deeply immoral fascination with its topic, or it would count on the obscene neutrality of its style to engender dismay and horror in spectators. 

Where is Bigelow here?

Without a shadow of a doubt, she is on the side of the normalisation of torture. When Maya, the film's heroine, first witnesses waterboarding, she is a little shocked, but she quickly learns the ropes; later in the film she coldly blackmails a high-level Arab prisoner with, "If you don't talk to us, we will deliver you to Israel". 

Her fanatical pursuit of Bin Laden helps to neutralise ordinary moral qualms. Much more ominous is her partner, a young, bearded CIA agent who masters perfectly the art of passing glibly from torture to friendliness once the victim is broken (lighting his cigarette and sharing jokes). There is something deeply disturbing in how, later, he changes from a torturer in jeans to a well-dressed Washington bureaucrat. This is normalisation at its purest and most efficient – there is a little unease, more about the hurt sensitivity than about ethics, but the job has to be done. This awareness of the torturer's hurt sensitivity as the (main) human cost of torture ensures that the film is not cheap rightwing propaganda: the psychological complexity is depicted so that liberals can enjoy the film without feeling guilty. This is why Zero Dark Thirty is much worse than 24, where at least Jack Bauer breaks down at the series finale.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Arts Catalyst / John Hansard Gallery



Left: Revital Cohen, "Kingyo Kingdom" (video still), 2012. Photo: Cohen Van Balen. Right: Melanie Jackson, "The Urpflanze (Part 2)" (still), 2012. Commissioned by The Arts Catalyst.

Transformism – two new commissions
by Melanie Jackson and Revital Cohen
22 January–9 March 2013

John Hansard Gallery
University of Southampton
University Road, Southampton
Hampshire SO17 1BJ, UK
Hours: Tuesday–Friday 11–5pm, Saturday 11–4pm

T + 44 (0) 23 8059 2158


Transformism, an exhibition of two new works by Melanie Jackson and Revital Cohen, has been commissioned by The Arts Catalyst. Both artists through their distinctive practices have made new works exploring their interests in how cultural archetypes and ideas interweave science and technology to create new shapes, visual forms and structures.

As we develop the tools to manipulate and engineer new forms and systems of life, the exhibition considers our historical and contemporary entanglements with nature, technology and the economy, and how these relationships influence emergent forms in biological and synthetic matter, through new sculpture, installation and moving image works.

The Urpflanze (Part 2) is the second part of Melanie Jackson's ongoing investigation into mutability and transformation that takes its lead from Goethe's concept of an imaginary primal plant, the Urpflanze, that contained coiled up within it the potential to unfurl all possible future forms. Contemporary science likewise imagines the potential to grow or print any form we can imagine, by recasting physical, chemical and biological function as a substrate that can be programmed into being. Jackson's work begins in the botanical garden and looks to the laboratory, from clay pits to the factory floor, from analogue to digital clay, from its own animated pixels to the interior of the screen in a series of moving image works and ceramic sculptures. She has collaborated with Esther Leslie on a text that has informed the work and a new publication, THE UR-PHENOMENON, that will be distributed as part of the exhibition.

In Kingyo Kingdom, Revital Cohen, whose projects often test the ethical parameters of biological design, explores the genus of fish that have been designed for aesthetic purposes, questioning the definitions used to indicate living creatures. Does one denominate a manipulated organism as an object, product, animal or pet? What consequences does this entail for our feelings and behaviours? Cohen's interest in the cultural perceptions and aesthetics of animal-as-product took her to Japan, where exotic goldfish have been developed over centuries of meticulous cultivation, breeding out dorsal fins and sculpting kimono-like Ranchu fish tails. Kingyo Kingdom explores the unique culture of breeders, collectors and connoisseurs with footage from the Japanese national goldfish competition, questioning the design and commodification of this species.

An illustrated exhibition guide with an essay by Isobel Harbison will be available in print and as an eBook.

Saturday 26 January
12–2pm Private view
2–4pm Crafting Life: Materiality, Science and Technology symposium

Melanie Jackson's The Urpflanze (Part 2) will be exhibited at Flat Time House, 210 Bellenden Road, London SE15 4BW, UK, 28 March–12 May 2013

Revital Cohen's continuing project will be exhibited later in the year.
Details of both will be posted on www.artscatalyst.org


Django Unchained: Who frees who?


Written by Ed Thompson

“We all intellectually ‘know’ the brutality and inhumanity of slavery, but after you do the research it’s no longer intellectual any more, no longer just historical record—you feel it in your bones. It makes you angry, and want to do something.…

"I’m here to tell you, that however bad things get in the movie, a lot worse shit actually happened. When slave narratives are done on film, they tend to be historical with a capital H, with an arm’s-length quality to them. I wanted to break that history-under-glass aspect, I wanted to throw a rock through that glass and shatter it for all times, and take you into it.” 

Quentin Tarentino, Guardian, December 7, 2012

Django is a grandiose mixture of spaghetti western and blacksploitation films. The story is about a slave Django and a German bounty hunter Dr. Schultz who journey to free Django's wife Hilde.
Don't be fooled by the theatrical use of blood or flying bodies. The themes here are quite serious: slavery, black liberation, master and slave, inter-racism and the nature of America. 

Django comes out shortly after the film Lincoln. These two films lock together in a duel. In Spielberg's Lincoln, Black people appear in static forms whose liberation is handed to them through the courage of white men.

Django offers a counter to this narrative.

Tarentino spoke about his desire to do 'a Southern' (not a Western). Meaning: A film placed in the Deep South and dealing with “America's horrible past with slavery but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they're genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it's ashamed of it, and other countries don't really deal with because they don't feel they have the right to.” (from the Telegraph)

Tarentino doesn't explictly say why he makes the film oriented towards popular culture, as opposed to 'big issue films', but the point is that serious topics, even if dealt with through humor, are still exposed. Our laughter only lets us view the phenomenon from a different perspective. This is obvious in the scene where hooded riders, with the intent to hunt down Django and Dr. Schultz, have a group conversation about the tailor job on their hoods. The problem? Nobody can see out of them. The result is a demystification of the hooded riders as a terror. Instead, they barely know their doing. And in the end, most of them are killed off.

In the theatre that I saw the film, the audience (at least 90% black) laughed hardest at this scene. It made me realize how humor is connected to power: the KKK didn't symbolize fear, but vulnerability and theatrics.

Dr. Schultz

Usually, the story goes like this: white man finds black man in misery. White man frees black man. White man and black man become friends. The two fight evil. One dies, the other weeps.

This film avoided this cliché. Yes, there is death. Alot of it, actually. And the plot starts as something, typical. Dr. Schultz is a German who we find in America. He is a bounty hunter, a former dentist. He has tact, a master of social maneuvering. His wit is outdone only by the accuracy he performs with his guns. We don't get much background to his character, but his dialog more then makes up for this. Still, we are left to assume much here.

Mike Ely has written about German immigrant communists and beer during Civil War times. And although we don't hear about Marx or the '48 revolution in Django, we do know that this German, Dr. Schultz, despises slavery. Still, he makes the mistake of assuming that he has given Django freedom.

All in all he makes an attempt to be partners with Django, but because he feels 'responsible' to him. The paternalism is still there. He compares his job of bounty hunting to slavery, in that both deal with flesh: Slavery deals in bodies, whereas he deals in corpses. As the film progresses, we see Dr. Schultz face a moral dilemma of enjoying his freedom in contrast to the horrific world around him. He can kill freely as a bounty hunter, and this puts him in a similar position of power to the slave owner: both have power over life.

This reaches a boiling point. Dr. Schultz' ethics (which are perhaps proto-communist because of the experience that Germans like him had in Germany's 1848 revolution), freely chooses his own death over shaking the hand of the slave owner Calvin Candie. The redemption here is in the choice: Death over affirming the Candie.

The name here is no arbitrary decision: Candie, candy, sweets. The poem "Sweet meat has sour sauce" is exemplary here. Dr. Schultz choose death over comfort derived from misery, resolving that contradiction.

The Other

Calvin Candie : Dr. Schultz
Stephen : Django

Each confronts their other in this film. Each set is a contradiction. The film shows how each of these contradictions influence one another, and yet are resolved internally.

The cliché would have been either Django or Schultz (or both with one dieing through the battle) against Calvin Candie. What happens in the end is Django fighting Stephen. Now, no other actor could have pulled of Stephen like Samuel Jackson. It was suberb. But the metaphor here is surprisingly advanced for a white American film director, as it points towards the complexity of race: there is no heterogenous 'black' form.


After their plan is thwarted, Django finds himself back as a slave. Here, the lesson of the film Burn! (Queimada) is applied: you cannot be freed by another. This is when the film negates the genre's trope: instead of a white man coming to free Django, Django uses lessons learned through struggle to free himself. Django develops from a slave to an apprentice of Dr. Schultz to his equal to having the final word. The scene were he frees himself ends with two powerful sequences.

First, Django washes the white dust from a dynamite explosion off him. The water takes away the dust and reveals a rejuvenated blackness. This is him washing himself of a white coating, of his dependency on whites.

Second, a slave who formerly detested Django watches him ride off on a horse. His smile illuminates the screen. He is affirmed by his people.

Django then returns to free his wife and finish off those who wronged him. The final vengeance upon Stephen is the resolution of the internal struggle of blackness. Liberation is achieved only by the negation of the Django's other: the slave who has become subservient to the white man and willingly sends his own kind to their death.

Who Writes History?

As the film ended, the audience applauded. I heard one comment afterwards, “That shit was hot”. The soundtrack was a mix of Ennio Morricone and hip-hop. I'd never seen something like this before. The film itself was a success, although a bit lengthy and contained a usual failure of static-female characters. 

What do communists say about all this?

A lot of the debate revolves around one fact about the  film: that is a narrative of slavery that was directed by a white man. And some assume the whole issue is simple: Can a white director create film and narrative about the black experience?

I think the answer to that question is obviously yes. And any work like this should be evaluated in its own right (by its stand, politics and impact), not simply by the identity of the author.

From there however more difficult questions follow:

The question of liberation: how do an oppressed people achieve their freedom? In the U.S. the end of slavery involved the heroic sacrifice of African American soldiers, runaways, and resistors on the plantations. 

But it also involved them (necessarily, inevitably) in a broad, complex and highly contradictory alliance with antislavery and Unionist whites -- including literally millions of white soldiers, and the Lincoln government.

There is contradiction here. And that contradiction erupted in a terrible resolution with the ultimate betrayal of Black people that followed the initial emancipation.

And so: what is the relation between communist internationalism and black nationalism in a country like the U.S.? What kind of an alliance can lead to liberation today?"

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Today I am going to try to speak about knowledge, about that knowledge which, in the inscription of the four discourses - on which the social link is based, as I thought I could show you - I symbolized by writing S2 Perhaps I will manage today to make you sense why this 2 goes further than a secondariness in relation to the pure signifier that is written S1.
Since I decided to give you this inscription as a prop on the blackboard, I am going to comment on it, briefly I hope. I did not, I must admit, write it down or prepare it anywhere. It doesn't strike me as exemplary, if not, as usual, in producing misunderstandings. In effect, a discourse like analytic discourse aims at meaning. By way of meaning, it is clear that I can only deliver to you, to each of you, what you are already on the verge of absorbing. That has a limit, a limit provided by the meaning in which you live. I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said that that doesn't go very far. What analytic discourse brings out is precisely the idea that that meaning is based on semblance ce sens est du semblant. If analytic discourse indicates that that meaning is sexual, that can only be by explaining its limit. There is nowhere any kind of a last word if not in the sense in which "wod" is "not a word" mot, c'est motus - I have already stressed that. "No answer, not a word", La Fontaine says somewhere, meaning indicates the direction toward which it fails.
[…] We'll start with the four propositional formulas at the top of the table, two of which lie to the left, the other two to the right. Every speaking being situates itself on one side or the other. On the left, the lower line - xФx - indicates that it is through the phallic function that man as whole acquires his inscription (rend son inscription), with the proviso that this function is limited due to the existence of an x by which the function Фx is negated: Ǝx(Фx) ̅. That is what is known as the father function - whereby we find, via negation, the proposition (Фx) ̅, which grounds the operativity of what makes up for the sexual relationship with castration, insofar as that relationship is in no way inscribable. The whole here is thus based on the exception posited as the end-point, that is, on that which altogether negates Фx..."

—Jacques Lacan - Encore - March 13, 1971

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Slavoj Zizek’s  ‘Military Subject’  +  Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket
Rupert Nuttle


In his 1997 Plague of Fantasies Slavoj Zizek upends the popular perception of Robert Altman’s MASH as a true satire of military ideology, calling it “a perfectly conformist film”, and demonstrating that the characters’ apparent rebellion (their “mockery of authority”) in fact confirms their complete ideological identification (Zizek 1997 20). His reason is straightforward: “the members of the MASH crew perform their job exemplarily, and thus present absolutely no threat to the smooth running of the military machine” – their irreverence bears no consequence and causes no impediment (Zizek 1997 20). Zizek also cites An Officer and a Gentleman, in which the same ‘perfectly functioning military subject’ is realized through the “awareness that behind the cruel drill-sergeant there is a ‘warm human person’, a helping father-substitute” (Zizek 1997 20). Here the protagonist’s sincere (angsty, not comedic) rebellion against the ideological machine, paired with his longing for paternal acceptance (repressed respect for authority), prompt the drill-sergeant to grant him the allowance – the ‘second chance’ – that the protagonist so craves.

Both these films operate through phantasmic depictions of a military structure that is apparently subverted, but left essentially unchanged. Both disavow their underlying fantasy, allowing the viewer to engage cathartically in the narrative, to project themselves onto those roles that resist ideological identification. The viewer thereby senses himself or herself a relieving (but temporary) disassociation from the symbolic order in which they actually exist – that order which provided the movie theater, the military, and the war.
Zizek contrasts these ‘conformist’ films with Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, from 1987. Full Metal Jacket introduces several more complex facets of the military ideological machine, and “successfully resists [the] … temptation to ‘humanize’” (either through patriarchal acceptance or prankster slapstick) (Zizek 1997 20). Kubrick achieves a critical distance in the film by establishing the weapon (the rifle) as the central fetish object of Marine Corps ideology. In the first part of the film, the recruits’ rifles serve as the medium by which they are indoctrinated. They chant prayer-like tributes to their rifles, sleep with their rifles, and are judged strictly on the proper handling of their rifles. In the second part, the rifle (and weapon machinery more generally) serves to evidence the moral degradation and complete absence of vision in the Vietnam War. The troops destroy impulsively and on a massive scale (i.e. the annihilation of entire cities – vast expanses of collapsed concrete structures on fire), but do so only as a method of compensation, to fill some ever-gaping psychological ‘void’, and out of utter terror. The results, consistent with Kubrick’s playful sense of irony and Douglas Milsome’s poignantly drab cinematography, are often deeply satirical. The humor in Full Metal Jacket is underlying and dark, produced by the characters’ own pathological deficiencies. It is the polar opposite of MASH, in which a superimposed secular humor dominates over the military machine, making it livable. In spite of its humor, Kubrick’s is not a livable depiction.
Marine recruit training in Full Metal Jacket begins with subject negation. Where there was a civilian, a person, now there is nothing, only the potential to become a killer. New recruits are defined by their lack; they are essentially ‘castrated’:
“If you ladies leave my island, if you survive recruit training … you will be a weapon, you will be a minister of death, praying for war. But until that day you are pukes! You’re the lowest form of life on Earth. You are not even human fucking beings! You are nothing but unorganized grabasstic pieces of amphibian shit!” (Kubrick 1987 0:01:30)
Not only are the recruits reduced to microbes by the drill-sergeant: the unspoken ideological Law of the military is coded subliminally in such violent corporeal rhetoric; “it is precisely [the] non-integrated surplus of senseless traumatism which confers on the Law its unconditional authority” (Zizek 1989 43). Such threats as “You had best unfuck yourself, or I’ll unscrew your head and shit down your neck!” provoke a self-doubting (self-effacing) fear, as the subject balances the evident hyperbole against the unacknowledged (and therefore vast) realm of plausibly administrable threats.
In A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Charles Rycroft cites Ernest Jones, writing in 1916: ‘true’ symbolization “arises as the result of intrapsychic conflict between the repressing tendencies and the repressed … only what is repressed is symbolized … only what is repressed needs to be symbolized …” (Rycroft 162). Making the transition of self-identity from human to ‘puke’ requires a forced repression of the subject’s ego. This repression becomes symbolically manifested in the recruit’s rifle, the only provided signifier, which he uses to externalize his sense of the threat of castration. Freud says: “the horror of castration sets up a sort of permanent memorial to itself by creating this substitute” (Freud 216).

Symbolically read, the rifle would therefore index the development of a specifically military libido, which replaces ‘normal’ or civilian libido. The military subject, deprived of his sex life and his social life, must be trained to express his drive through his weapon, the handling and operation of which come to stand for sexual – or social – performance. The helicopter door-gunner who, for sport, mows down ‘gook’ farmers from the air (shouting, “Get some … get some … get some… yeah … yeah … get some!”) exemplifies this mentality perfectly. Joker asks him, “How can you shoot women and children?” “Easy.” he replies, “You just don’t lead’em so much.” By identifying his carnal urges with his rifle’s function the subject transforms into a pathologically crazed fighting machine – killing (using his gun) becomes the total expression and fulfillment of his phantasmic desires.
Zizek writes of the phallic signifier: “In its very positivity it is the signifier of ‘castration’ – that is of its own lack” (Zizek 1989 157). Not only do the soldiers’ weapons embody the act of compensation, but the symbol utilized (the fetish itself), by its very form and physical manifestation, directly signifies the very lack which is being symbolically compensated for. The subject is left helpless, but for his gun. His sublimation into the ‘phantasmic superego machine’ is complete.
This reading runs directly parallel to Freud’s conception of the sexual fetish. Zizek notes, “in Freud a fetish conceals the lack (‘castration’) around which the symbolic network is articulated” (Zizek 1989, 49). This is true of the direct symbolic reading above, but Freud’s theory also possesses a more complex maternal dimension:
When I now disclose that the fetish is a penis-substitute … I hasten to add that it is not a substitute for any chance penis, but for a particular quite special penis that had been extremely important in early childhood but was afterwards lost. That is to say: it should normally have been given up, but the purpose of the fetish precisely is to preserve it from being lost. To put it plainly: the fetish is a substitute for the woman’s (mother’s) phallus which the little boy once believed in and does not wish to forego – we know why. (Freud 214-215).
Here the ‘particular quite special penis’ is most intriguing. Using it, Freud makes the crucial distinction between the subject’s phallus and the (phantasmic) ‘mother’s phallus’ – the acknowledged absence of which poses the perpetual threat of castration. By substituting the fetish for the ‘mother’s phallus’, the mother’s lack is accounted for and the subject’s (inhibitive) fear of castration is alleviated.

Understanding the full-on identification with ideological machinery through Freudian fetishism is integral to understanding Full Metal Jacket (particularly as concerns Pvt. Pyle’s psychological breakdown in the film’s first half), but for the most part the actual relationships forged between the soldiers and their rifles are of a more nuanced fetishism. Alphonso Lingis offers a useful splicing between fetishism and animism – more delicate than Freud’s definition of the former, and well suited to Zizek’s notion of operative ideology:
Animism recognizes a spirit in material things. The voice that we hear in things is not their voice, the voice of matter; material things are animated by a spirit or by spirits…
Fetishism recognizes a spirit of material things. Things emit signals and issue directives on their own. The voice is the voice of their material bodies. (Lingus 111)
Senior drill instructor Hartman employs a mixed rhetoric when speaking about the private’s rifles – he is both animist and fetishist in his message:
“Tonight, you pukes will sleep with your rifles. You will give your rifles a girl’s name … because this is the only pussy you people are going to get. Your days of finger-banging old Mary-Jane Rottencrotch through her purdy pink panties are over! You’re married to this piece, this weapon of iron and wood, and you will be faithful!” (Kubrick 1987 10:05)
(In this scene the platoon proceeds to lie down on their bunks (“Mount!”), where they clutch their rifles to their chests. Hartman shouts “Pray!” and the recruits recite in unison:)

This is my rifle.
There are many like it but this one is mine.
My rifle is my best friend. It is my life.
I must master it as I must master my life.
Without me my rifle is useless. Without my rifle I am useless.
I must fire my rifle true.
I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me.
I must shoot him before he shoots me.
I will.
Before God I swear this creed.
My rifle and myself are defenders of my country.
We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.
So be it! Until there is no enemy but peace!
(Kubrick 1987 10:39-11:58)
The first excerpt is essentially fetishistic in its reference to castration and its material (external) directives (“You’re married to … this weapon of iron and wood, and you will be faithful!”), and the second is animistic: the directives (“I must master [my rifle] as I must master my life.”) encircle the object – do not issue from it.
Sgt. Hartman’s most animistic characterization of the military weapon offers the key to the viewer’s ideological entrance into Full Metal Jacket – the phantasmic space shared by both audience and fictional character discussed with MASH and An Officer and a Gentleman:
“Your rifle is only a tool. It is the hard heart that kills. If your killer instincts are not clean and strong you will hesitate at the moment of truth. You will not kill! … And then you will be in a world of shit!”
(Kubrick 1987 0:22:04)
The true fantasy that is sustained (and sustains the viewer) throughout Full Metal Jacket is that of the realist-humanist subject – Pvt. Joker. Ostensibly he is the author, providing the occasional voice-over commentary; Kubrick adapted the film from Gustav Hasford’s 1979 semi-autobiographical The Short-Timers (with Hasford’s help). In the film’s second half Joker wears a peace symbol pinned on his vest and, in seeming contradiction, the words ‘BORN TO KILL’ written on his helmet. When a Colonel unknown to him inquires, “What’s that supposed to be, some kind of sick joke?” Joker replies,

“I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.”
“The what?”
“The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir.”
“Whose side are you on, son?”
“Our side, sir.”
“Don’t you love your country?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Then how about getting with the program? Why don’t you jump on the team and come on in for the big win?”
“Yes, sir!” (Kubrick 1987 1:05:05)
We see here a distinct alignment with the power relations present in MASH, that is, the authority figure’s ignorance revealed through the hero’s cleverness, but with crucial differences. Instead of the protagonist using silliness to mock dry military language, as in MASH, Joker introduces dry ‘extra-ideological’ (in this case psychoanalytic) non-military language to reveal the Colonel’s inherent silliness – his inane perception of war as sport. The humor is distinct in being utterly humorless, but distinctly unsettling as well. Nonetheless, the joke is undoubtedly on the Colonel (the authoritarian ideological perpetuator) and shared privately between Joker and the viewer, again allowing the viewer to project as ‘subversive’ within the film. The issue of the pin and the helmet is excused by default.
It must be noted that Joker does make the final concession in this interaction (“Yes, sir!”), just as on his first day of training he responded “Sir, to kill, sir!” when asked “Private Joker, why did you join my beloved Corps?” (Kubrick 1987 0:04:15). He does want to “jump on the team and come on in for the big win”, but, presumably, he also wants peace as the end goal, and the freedom to express what is apparently an ideological contradiction. Joker, like Zack Mayo in An Officer and a Gentleman, challenges the moral integrity of military ideology while engaged in its praxis. The peace symbol/BORN TO KILL pairing becomes a symbol of Pvt. Joker’s own dual nature. Embodied by his character is precisely that ‘Jungian thing’ to which he offhandedly refers.
In Joker’s synthesis of dual signifiers we discover the Zizekian ‘trans-ideological kernel’, which in fact confirms the subject’s complete identification with military ideology:
An ideological identification exerts a true hold on us precisely when we maintain an awareness that we are not fully identical to it, that there is a rich human person beneath it: ‘not all is ideology, beneath the ideological mask, I am also a human person’ is the very form of ideology, of its ‘practical efficiency’. (Zizek 1997 21)
He further qualifies:
It is only the reference to such a trans-ideological kernel which makes an ideology ‘workable’
(Zizek 1997 21, his italics).
Joker’s interactions with higher-ranking officers are assertions that he is ‘not fully identical’ to military ideology, yet, at the film’s climax, when a wounded Viet-cong sniper-girl is begging to be shot, and the other troops hesitate, it is Joker’s ability to bridge the ‘duality of man’ in action as well as thought – to bring together his humanism and his ‘killer instinct’ – that reveals him to be “the fully constituted military subject” (Zizek 1997 21).
Works Cited
MASH. Dir. Altman, Robert. Prod. Preminger Ingo. 20th Century Fox, 1970. DVD.
Freud, Sigmund. “Fetishism (1927).”
Sexuality and the Psychology of Love. Ed. Philip Rieff. New York: Macmillan, 1963. 214-219. Print.
An Officer and a Gentleman. Dir. Hackford, Taylor. Prod. Elfand Martin. Paramount Pictures, 1982. DVD.
Full Metal Jacket. Dir. Kubrick, Stanley. Prod. Kubrick Stanley. Warner Bros., 1987. color film. Lingis, Alphonso.
Body Transformations: Evolutions and Atavisims in Culture. New York, London: Routledge, 2005. Print. Rycroft, Charles.
A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1972. Print. Zizek, Slavoj.
The Plague of Fantasies. London, New York: Verso, 1997. Print.
The Sublime Object of Ideology. London, New York: Verso, 1989. Print.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dolar, Žižek, and Zupančič at Villanova Philosophy Conference

http://plasticbodies.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/villanova-philosophy-conference-2013/villanova philosophy conference 2013
Posted on October 25, 2012
Call for Papers:

The 18th annual Villanova Philosophy Conference
Apocalyptic Politics: Framing the Present
Villanova University, Friday April 12-Saturday April 13, 2013
Confirmed Speakers: Mladen Dolar | Slavoj Žižek | Alenka Zupančič
The present is often characterized as a critical moment that totters between possibilities of irresolvable catastrophe and redemptive restoration. Such claims involve prophecies of an end. Whether consisting in theological predictions of a messianic end, political predictions of a revolutionary end, or historical predictions of an epochal end, claims on the future charge the present with immediate significance through the ethical and political demands they place on it. This is to say, an anticipated end, which in a way is not-yet, is also always enacted in the present. Apocalyptic futures clearly enter into the structure of contemporary subjects – of their desires and drives, on the planes of fantasy and of theory – but these relations call for clarification. The multiplicity of ways in which prophecy can be received, for instance – whether the foretold end is interpreted as already-accomplished, imminent, or in the indeterminate future, whether the end is met with a spirit of fear or hopeful anticipation, or whether it is understood as necessary and irrevocable or as contingent and preventable, etc. – invites fundamental inquiry into the conscious and unconscious relations of the subject to history and its ruptures.
Possible topics may include but are not limited to the following: the end/temporality of history (Hegel, Marx, Kojeve); political theology and the Messianic: the legacy of Paul in political theology, kariological temporality and klesis (Agamben, Derrida, Benjamin, Bloch); early modern political philosophy: the role of prophecy in shaping societal affects (Hobbes, Machiavelli, Spinoza); phenomenological relationality to the future; revolutionary politics; apocalyptic cinema, science fiction, and art.

“I must go on, I can’t go on, I will go on“.

wie geht kunst


[From a 2009 interview with Mladen Dolar]

WgK: Is there an artwork that had a lasting effect on you?

Dolar: The work of Samuel Beckett – if I have to single out just one. It is both the importance it had for me and for the particular historic moment of the end of the twentieth century. I think he is the one who went the furthest in a certain way. There are various reasons for this, and one of them has to do with an enormous will to reduction. What Beckett did was to create an infinitely shrinkable world. There is never little enough. You can always take away more.

Take the The Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable. In the Beginning there is some sort of plot and some sort of characters. Then in the second novel you have just Malone, who is dying alone in his room and who is inventing stories as he is waiting for death. The space has shrunk, there is no more travel. And then you have the third novel, where you don’t even have this. You don’t even have a space, you don’t even have a character, you just have a voice. A voice which just rambles on and continues, and it doesn’t matter what it says in the end. It’s just the sheer thrust of perseverance, of persistence, which carries the whole thing. So just persist. You have to go on. And you know how this ends, it ends in the most beautiful way: “I must go on, I can’t go on, I will go on“.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday, January 1, 2013