Thursday, October 12, 2017


So what DOES happen if you yell, "Fire!" in a crowded theatre?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Simply Three

THE DAY is done and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me
That my soul cannot resist:

A feeling of sadness and longing
That is not akin to pain
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.

Come read to me some poem
Some simple and heartfelt lay
That shall soothe this restless feeling
And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters
Not from the bards sublime
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.

For like strains of martial music
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
And to-night I long for rest.

Read from some humbler poet
Whose songs gushed from his heart
As showers from the clouds of summer
Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who through long days of labor
And nights devoid of ease
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs
And as silently steal away.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "The Day is Done"

Friday, September 22, 2017

Gone on a Walkabout

from Wikipedia
Walkabout historically refers to a rite of passage during which Indigenous male Australians would undergo a journey during adolescence, typically ages 10 to 16, and live in the wilderness for a period as long as six months to make the spiritual and traditional transition into manhood.[citation needed] Walkabout has come to be referred to as "temporary mobility" because its original name has been used as a derogatory term in Australian culture, demeaning its spiritual significance.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Places Out of Time

"Fiction is supposed to be immersive and supposed to be entertaining and narrative, so structures have to be buried a little bit. If they come foregrounded too much, it stops being fiction and starts being poetry - something more concrete and out of time."
- Eleanor Catton

Saturday, August 5, 2017

What Will You Leave Behind?

All this she taught me at various times when she spoke of love. And I
remember her once saying to me, 'What is the cause, Socrates, of love,
and the attendant desire? See you not how all animals, birds, as well as
beasts, in their desire of procreation, are in agony when they take the
infection of love, which begins with the desire of union; whereto is
added the care of offspring, on whose behalf the weakest are ready to
battle against the strongest even to the uttermost, and to die for them,
and will let themselves be tormented with hunger or suffer anything
in order to maintain their young. Man may be supposed to act thus from
reason; but why should animals have these passionate feelings? Can you
tell me why?' Again I replied that I did not know. She said to me: 'And
do you expect ever to become a master in the art of love, if you do not
know this?' 'But I have told you already, Diotima, that my ignorance is
the reason why I come to you; for I am conscious that I want a teacher;
tell me then the cause of this and of the other mysteries of love.'
'Marvel not,' she said, 'if you believe that love is of the immortal,
as we have several times acknowledged; for here again, and on the same
principle too, the mortal nature is seeking as far as is possible to be
everlasting and immortal: and this is only to be attained by generation,
because generation always leaves behind a new existence in the place of
the old. Nay even in the life of the same individual there is succession
and not absolute unity: a man is called the same, and yet in the short
interval which elapses between youth and age, and in which every animal
is said to have life and identity, he is undergoing a perpetual process
of loss and reparation--hair, flesh, bones, blood, and the whole body
are always changing. Which is true not only of the body, but also of the
soul, whose habits, tempers, opinions, desires, pleasures, pains, fears,
never remain the same in any one of us, but are always coming and going;
and equally true of knowledge, and what is still more surprising to us
mortals, not only do the sciences in general spring up and decay,
so that in respect of them we are never the same; but each of them
individually experiences a like change. For what is implied in the word
"recollection," but the departure of knowledge, which is ever being
forgotten, and is renewed and preserved by recollection, and appears to
be the same although in reality new, according to that law of succession
by which all mortal things are preserved, not absolutely the same, but
by substitution, the old worn-out mortality leaving another new and
similar existence behind--unlike the divine, which is always the same
and not another? And in this way, Socrates, the mortal body, or mortal
anything, partakes of immortality; but the immortal in another way.
Marvel not then at the love which all men have of their offspring; for
that universal love and interest is for the sake of immortality.'

I was astonished at her words, and said: 'Is this really true, O
thou wise Diotima?' And she answered with all the authority of an
accomplished sophist: 'Of that, Socrates, you may be assured;--think
only of the ambition of men, and you will wonder at the senselessness of
their ways, unless you consider how they are stirred by the love of an
immortality of fame. They are ready to run all risks greater far than
they would have run for their children, and to spend money and undergo
any sort of toil, and even to die, for the sake of leaving behind them
a name which shall be eternal. Do you imagine that Alcestis would have
died to save Admetus, or Achilles to avenge Patroclus, or your own
Codrus in order to preserve the kingdom for his sons, if they had not
imagined that the memory of their virtues, which still survives among
us, would be immortal? Nay,' she said, 'I am persuaded that all men do
all things, and the better they are the more they do them, in hope of
the glorious fame of immortal virtue; for they desire the immortal.
- Plato, "Symposium"

Friday, July 28, 2017

Five O'Clock Shadow

Five o'clock tea, that pernicious, unprincipled and stomach-ruining habit.
7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1886)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Each Day I Take a Piece of My Life and Put it in a Little Box...

For centuries, Hindus from across India and beyond have traveled to Varanasi to spend their last days in the 5,000-year-old city. They believe dying there will release them from the cycle of life, death and reincarnation -- and bring them salvation.

"Words fail to describe what I have seen while on this epic trip," filmmaker Aeyaz Hasn said. "This is my attempt to give you a sense of what it was like to experience the amazing 'Varanasi' and the mysterious vicious cycle of life and death."

The hauntingly beautiful scenes are paired with the poetic words of philosopher Alan Watts.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


In the port of Amsterdam
There are sailors who sing
The dreams that haunt them
Off Amsterdam
In the port of Amsterdam
There are sailors who sleep
Like banners
Along the bleak banks
In the port of Amsterdam
There are sailors who die
Full of beer and drama
At the first light
But in the port of Amsterdam
There are sailors who are born
In the thick heat
In the port of Amsterdam
There are sailors who eat
On too white tablecloths
Fish dripping
They show you teeth
To chew fortune
Decreasing the moon
To eat stays
And it smells like cod
To the heart of French fries
Let their big hands invite
Back to top
Then get up laughing
In a storm sound
Referment their fly
And go out
In the port of Amsterdam
There are sailors who dance
By rubbing the paunch
On the women's paunch
And they turn and they dance
Like split suns
In the torn sound
From a rancid accordion
They twist their neck
To better understand oneself laugh
Until suddenly
The accordion expires
Then the serious gesture
Then look proud
They bring back their battle
Up to full light
In the port of Amsterdam
There are sailors who drink
And who drink and reboivent
And who still reboot
They drink to health
Whores from Amsterdam
From Hamburg or elsewhere
Finally they drink the ladies
Who give them their pretty body
Who give them their virtue
For a gold coin
And when they drank well
Plant the nose in the sky
Blown in the stars
And they piss like I'm crying
About unfaithful women
In the port of Amsterdam
In the port of Amsterdam.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

[At night]

Anna, you're lost in a shadow there
Cinder and smoke hanging in the air
Oh and I know you'll be
Bolder than me, I was high, I was unaware

God above saw, ever in the mind
Blue and white irises in a line
Under your nameless shame
I left you in frame, and you rose to be ossified
As a Rose of the Oceanside

[It bloomed]

Too long till the light of the morning
So unseen, as light in a dream
Too long now to the rising
Too long now to the rising

[It wilted]

Can you be slow for a little while?
Widow your soul for another mile?
I'm just the same as when
You saw me back then
And we're bound to be reconciled
We're bound to be reconciled

[It bloomed]

Too long swinging the knife
All will wash over you, in a night so unending
Not long now to the rising
Not long now to the rising

[It wilted]

Anna, you're lost in the shadow there
Cinder and smoke hanging in the air
Oh and I know you'll be
Bolder than me, I was high, I was unaware

[It rose]
The iris's mythology dates back to Ancient Greece, when the goddess Iris, who personified the rainbow (the Greek word for iris), acted as the link between heaven and earth. It's said that purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the goddess Iris to guide them in their journey to heaven. Irises became linked to the French monarchy during the Middle Ages, eventually being recognized as their national symbol, the fleur-de-lis.

The February birth flower, the 25th wedding anniversary flower and the state flower of Tennessee, the iris's three upright petals are said to symbolize faith, valor and wisdom.

Thursday, June 15, 2017


One can understand James Joyce, with all the obscenities that permeate his writings, as the ultimate Catholic author, “the greatest visionary of the dark underground of Catholicism, an underground embodying a pure transgression, but one which is nevertheless a profoundly Catholic transgression.” [1] Catholicism is legalistic, and, as Paul knew it so well, the Law generates its own transgression; consequently, the staging of the obscene underground of the Law, the travesty of the Black Mass (or, in Joyce’s case, the elevation of Here Comes Everybody into Christ who has to die in order to be reborn as the eternal Life-Goddess, from Molly Bloom to Anna Livia Plurabelle), is the supreme Catholic act.

This achievement of Joyce simultaneously signals his limit, the limit which pushed Beckett to break with him. If there ever was a kenotic writer, the writer of the utter self-emptying of subjectivity, of its reduction to a minimal difference, it is Beckett. We touch the Lacanian Real when we subtract from a symbolic field all the wealth of its differences, reducing it to a minimum of antagonism. Lacan gets sometimes seduced by the rhizomatic wealth of language beyond (or, rather, beneath) the formal structure that sustains it. It is in this sense that, in the last decade of his teaching, he deployed the notion of lalangue (sometimes simply translated as “llanguage”) which stands for language as the space of illicit pleasures that defy any normativity: the chaotic multitude of homonymies, word-plays, “irregular” metaphoric links and resonances… Productive as this notion is, one should be aware of its limitations. Many commentators have noted that Lacan’s last great literary reading, that of Joyce to whom his late seminar (XXIII: Le sinthome) [2] is dedicated, is not at the level of his previous great readings (Hamlet, Antigone, Claudel’s Coufontaine-trilogy). There is effectively something fake in Lacan’s fascination with late Joyce, with Finnegan’s Wake as the latest version of the literary Gesamtkunstwerk with its endless wealth of lalangue in which not only the gap between singular languages, but the very gap between linguistic meaning and jouissance seems overcome and the rhizome-like jouis-sense (enjoyment-in-meaning: enjoy-meant) proliferates in all directions. The true counterpart to Joyce is, of course, Samuel Becket: after his early period in which he more or less wrote some variations on Joyce, the “true” Becket constituted himself through a true ethical act, a CUT, a rejection of the Joycean wealth of enjoy-meant, and the ascetic turn towards a “minimal difference,” towards a minimalization, “subtraction,” of the narrative content and of language itself (this line is most clearly discernible in his masterpiece, the trilogy Molloy – Malone Dies – L’innomable). Beckett is effectively the literary counterpart of Anton Webern: both are authors of extreme modernist minimalism, of subtracting a minimal difference from the wealth of material.

Beckett’s Texts for Nothing (first published in French in 1955 as Nouvelles et texts pour rien) is the fourth term which supplements the trilogy Molloy – Malone Dies – The Unnamable – Beckett himself referred to Texts as “the grisly afterbirth of L’innomable,” the “attempt to get out of the attitude of disintegration /of the trilogy/ but it failed.” [3] The obvious link is that the first line of the first text (“Suddenly, no, at last, long last, I couldn’t any more”) echoes the famous last line of The Unnamable (“you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on”), a true Kantian imperative, a paraphrase of Kant’s Du kannst, denn du sollst (“You can, because you must.”). The voice of conscience tells me “you must go on,” I reply, referring to my weakness, “I can’t go on,” but as a Kantian, I know this excuse doesn’t count, so I nonetheless decide that “I’ll go on,” doing the impossible.

Since, for Beckett, what “must go on” is ultimately writing itself, the Lacanian version of the last line of The Unnamable is something that ne cesse pas a s’ecrire, that doesn’t cease writing itself – a necessity, the first term in the logical square which also comprises impossibility (that which ne cesse pas a ne pas s’ecrire, doesn’t cease not writing itself), possibility (that which cesse a s’ecrire, ceases to write itself), and contingency (that which cesse a ne pas s’ecrire, ceases not writing itself). It is crucial to note here the clear distinction between possibility and contingency: while possibility is the opposite of necessity, contingency is the opposite of impossibility. In Badiou’s terms of the attitudes towards a Truth-Event, necessity stands for the fidelity to Truth, impossibility for a situation with no truth, possibility for the possibility of a truth-procedure to exhaust its potentials and to stop, and contingency for the beginning of a new truth-procedure.

So what do Texts for Nothing register, a possibility or a contingency? A possibility, definitely – a possibility to “cease writing,” to betray fidelity, to cease going on. The failure of Texts is thus good news: Texts are failed betrayals, failed attempts to get rid of the ethical injunction. They are a comical supplement to the great triad – an opportunist’s attempt to squeeze out of the call of duty, somehow like Kierkegaard’s “sickness unto death,” where a mortal human being attempts to escape immortality, its unbearable ethical burden/injunction. In this sense, Texts are an optimistic work – their message is that one cannot but “go on” as an immortal bodiless drive, as a subject without subjectivity: “No, no souls, or bodies, or birth, or life, or death, you’ve got to go on without any of that junk”…

Jonathan Boulter thus got it right – on condition that we strictly distinguish between subject and subjectivity. The whole of the trilogy can be read as a gradual getting rid of subjectivity, a gradual reduction of subjectivity to the minimum of a subject without subjectivity – a subject which is no longer a person, whose objective correlative is no longer a body (organism), but only a partial object (organ), a subject of DRIVE which is Freud’s name for immortal persistence, “going on.” Such a subject is a living dead – still alive, going on, persisting, but dead (deprived of body) – undead. Texts are a comical attempt to resubjectivize this subject – among other things, to provide him with a body, to travel back the road from Cheshire cat’s smile to its full body. Boulter is right to correct Alvarez who claimed that Texts are written in the same “breathless, bodiless style” as The Unnamable :
“One of the things the reader notices about Texts from its outset is that the body (of the narrator/narrated) has made an uncanny return from its near obliteration in The Unnamable : the narrator of The Unnamable is disembodied (it may be that “he” is merely a brain in an urn). At the very least, the issue of subjectivity is a complex one in the trilogy because the relation between voice (of narrator) and body (of narrator) is continually called into question. We may in fact argue that the trilogy in toto is about the dismantling of the physical body: in Molloy, the body is ambulatory but weakening; in Malone Dies the body is on its last legs, immobile and dying; in The Unnamable the physical body may in fact have ceased to be an issue as the narrator floats between personalities and subject positions. All of which is to indicate that in Texts, the body has made /…/ an unexpected comeback.”(333-334)
The subject without subjectivity, this “living dead,” is also timeless – when we reach this point, “time has turned into space and there will be no more time till I get out of here” (note how Beckett repeats here Wagner’s precise formula of the sacred space of the Grail’s castle from Parsifal “time become here space,” which Claude Lévi-Strauss quotes as the most succinct definition of myth). The subject we thus reach, a subject without subjectivity, is a subject which
“cannot maintain with any certainty that the experiences he describes are in fact his own; we have a narrating subject who cannot discern if his voice is his own; we have a subject who cannot tell if he has a body; and most crucially, we have a subject who has no sense of personal history, no memory. We have, in short, a subject whose ontology denies the viability of mourning and trauma, yet who seems to display the viability of mourning and trauma.”(337)
Is this subject deprived of all substantial content not the subject as such, at its most radical, the Cartesian cogito? Boulter’s idea is that, for Freud, trauma presupposes a subject to whom it happens and who then tries to narrativize it, to come to terms with it, in the process of mourning. In the case of the Beckettian narrator, on the contrary,
“there is no hope of establishing a link between his own present condition and the trauma that is its precondition. Instead of having a story seemingly given to him unawares – as in the case of the victim of trauma who cannot recognize his past as his own – the Beckettian narrator can only hope (without hope /…/) for a story that will reconnect his present atemporal /…/ condition to his past.”(341)
This is the division of the subject at its most radical: the subject is reduced to $ (the barred subject), even its innermost self-experience is taken from it. This is how one should understand Lacan’s claim that the subject is always “decentered” - his point is not that my subjective experience is regulated by objective unconscious mechanisms that are decentered with regard to my self-experience and, as such, beyond my control (a point asserted by every materialist), but, rather, something much more unsettling: I am deprived of even my most intimate subjective experience, the way things “really seem to me,” that of the fundamental fantasy that constitutes and guarantees the core of my being, since I can never consciously experience it and assume it. One should counter Boulter’s question “To what extent do trauma and mourning require a subject?”(337) with a more radical one: to what extent does (the very emergence of) a subject require trauma and mourning? [4] The primordial trauma, the trauma constitutive of the subject, is the very gap that bars the subject from ITS OWN “inner life.”

Scenes From a Happy Life. This inner and constitutive link between trauma and subject is the topic of what is undoubtedly Beckett’s late masterpiece: Not I, a twenty-minute dramatic monologue written in 1972, an exercise in theatric minimalism: there are no “persons” here, intersubjectivity is reduced to its most elementary skeleton, that of the speaker (who is not a person, but a partial object, a faceless MOUTH speaking) and AUDITOR, a witness of the monologue who says nothing throughout the play (all the Auditor does is that, in “a gesture of helpless compassion”(Beckett), he four times repeats the gesture of simple sideways raising of arms from sides and their falling back. (When asked if the Auditor is Death or a guardian angel, Beckett shrugged his shoulders, lifted his arms and let them fall to his sides, leaving the ambiguity intact – repeating the very gesture of the Auditor.) Beckett himself pointed to the similarities between Not I and The Unnamable with its clamoring voice longing for silence, circular narrative and concern about avoiding the first person pronoun: “I shall not say I again, ever again”. Along these lines, one could agree with Vivian Mercier’s suggestion that, gender aside, Not I is a kind of dramatization of The Unnamable - one should only add that, in Not I, we get the talking partial coupled/supplemented with a minimal figure of the big Other. – Here, then, is the text of this piece in its entirety:
Stage in darkness but for MOUTH, upstage audience right, faintly lit from close-up and below, rest of face in shadow. Invisible microphone. AUDITOR, downstage audience left, tall standing figure, sex undeterminable, enveloped from head to foot in loose black djellaba, with hood, fully faintly lit, standing on invisible podium about 4 feet high shown by attitude alone to be facing diagonally across stage intent on MOUTH, dead still throughout but for four brief movements where indicated. As house lights down MOUTH`S voice unintelligible behind curtain. House lights out. Voice continues unintelligible behind curtain, l0 seconds. With rise of curtain ad-libbing from text as required leading when curtain fully up and attention sufficient into:

MOUTH: … out … into this world … this world … tiny little thing … before its time … in a godfor– … what? … girl? … yes … tiny little girl … into this … out into this … before her time … godforsaken hole called … called … no matter … parents unknown … unheard of … he having vanished … thin air … no sooner buttoned up his breeches … she similarly … eight months later … almost to the tick … so no love … spared that … no love such as normally vented on the … speechless infant … in the home … no … nor indeed for that matter any of any kind … no love of any kind … at any subsequent stage … so typical affair … nothing of any note till coming up to sixty when– … what? … seventy? … good God! … coming up to seventy … wandering in a field … looking aimlessly for cowslips … to make a ball … a few steps then stop … stare into space … then on … a few more … stop and stare again … so on … drifting around … when suddenly … gradually … all went out … all that early April morning light … and she found herself in the–– … what? … who? … no! … she! … (Pause and movement 1) … found herself in the dark … and if not exactly … insentient … insentient … for she could still hear the buzzing … so-called … in the ears … and a ray of light came and went … came and went … such as the moon might cast … drifting … in and out of cloud … but so dulled … feeling … feeling so dulled … she did not know … what position she was in … imagine! … what position she was in! … whether standing … or sitting … but the brain– … what? … kneeling? … yes … whether standing … or sitting … or kneeling … but the brain– … what? … lying? … yes … whether standing … or sitting … or kneeling … or lying … but the brain still … still … in a way … for her first thought was … oh long after … sudden flash … brought up as she had been to believe … with the other waifs … in a merciful … (Brief laugh) … God … (Good laugh) … first thought was … oh long after … sudden flash … she was being punished … for her sins … a number of which then … further proof if proof were needed … flashed through her mind … one after another … then dismissed as foolish … oh long after … this thought dismissed … as she suddenly realized … gradually realized … she was not suffering … imagine! … not suffering! … indeed could not remember … off-hand … when she had suffered less … unless of course she was … meant to be suffering … ha! … thought to be suffering … just as the odd time … in her life … when clearly intended to be having pleasure … she was in fact … having none … not the slightest … in which case of course … that notion of punishment … for some sin or other … or for the lot … or no particular reason … for its own sake … thing she understood perfectly … that notion of punishment … which had first occurred to her … brought up as she had been to believe … with the other waifs … in a merciful … (Brief laugh) … God … (Good laugh) … first occurred to her … then dismissed … as foolish … was perhaps not so foolish … after all … so on … all that … vain reasonings … till another thought … oh long after … sudden flash … very foolish really but– … what? … the buzzing? … yes … all the time buzzing … so-called … in the ears … though of course actually … not in the ears at all … in the skull … dull roar in the skull … and all the time this ray or beam … like moonbeam … but probably not … certainly not … always the same spot … now bright … now shrouded … but always the same spot … as no moon could … no … no moon … just all part of the same wish to … torment … though actually in point of fact … not in the least … not a twinge … so far … ha! … so far … this other thought then … oh long after … sudden flash … very foolish really but so like her … in a way … that she might do well to … groan … on and off … writhe she could not … as if in actual agony … but could not … could not bring herself … some flaw in her make-up … incapable of deceit … or the machine … more likely the machine … so disconnected … never got the message … or powerless to respond … like numbed … couldn’t make the sound … not any sound … no sound of any kind … no screaming for help for example … should she feel so inclined … scream … (Screams) … then listen … (Silence) … scream again … (Screams again) … then listen again … (Silence) … no … spared that … all silent as the grave … no part– … what? … the buzzing? … yes … all silent but for the buzzing … so-called … no part of her moving … that she could feel … just the eyelids … presumably … on and off … shut out the light … reflex they call it … no feeling of any kind … but the lids … even best of times … who feels them? … opening … shutting … all that moisture … but the brain still … still sufficiently … oh very much so! … at this stage … in control … under control … to question even this … for on that April morning … so it reasoned … that April morning … she fixing with her eye … a distant bell … as she hastened towards it … fixing it with her eye … lest it elude her … had not all gone out … all that light … of itself … without any … any … on her part … so on … so on it reasoned … vain questionings … and all dead still … sweet silent as the grave … when suddenly … gradually … she realizes– … what? … the buzzing? … yes … all dead still but for the buzzing … when suddenly she realized … words were– … what? … who? … no! … she! … (Pause and movement 2) … realized … words were coming … imagine! … words were coming … a voice she did not recognize at first so long since it had sounded … then finally had to admit … could be none other … than her own … certain vowel sounds … she had never heard … elsewhere … so that people would stare … the rare occasions … once or twice a year … always winter some strange reason … stare at her uncomprehending … and now this stream … steady stream … she who had never … on the contrary … practically speechless … all her days … how she survived! … even shopping … out shopping … busy shopping centre … supermart … just hand in the list … with the bag … old black shopping bag … then stand there waiting … any length of time … middle of the throng … motionless … staring into space … mouth half open as usual … till it was back in her hand … the bag back in her hand … then pay and go … not as much as good-bye … how she survived! … and now this stream … not catching the half of it … not the quarter … no idea … what she was saying … imagine! … no idea what she was saying! … till she began trying to … delude herself … it was not hers at all … not her voice at all … and no doubt would have … vital she should … was on the point … after long efforts … when suddenly she felt … gradually she felt … her lips moving … imagine! … her lips moving! … as of course till then she had not … and not alone the lips … the cheeks … the jaws … the whole face … all those– … what? … the tongue? … yes … the tongue in the mouth … all those contortions without which … no speech possible … and yet in the ordinary way … not felt at all … so intent one is … on what one is saying … the whole being … hanging on its words … so that not only she had … had she … not only had she … to give up … admit hers alone … her voice alone … but this other awful thought … oh long after … sudden flash … even more awful if possible … that feeling was coming back … imagine! … feeling coming back! … starting at the top … then working down … the whole machine … but no … spared that … the mouth alone … so far … ha! … so far … then thinking … oh long after … sudden flash … it can’t go on … all this … all that … steady stream … straining to hear … make some-thing of it … and her own thoughts … make something of them … all– … what? … the buzzing? … yes … all the time the buzzing … so-called … all that together … imagine! … whole body like gone … just the mouth … lips … cheeks … jaws … never– … what? … tongue? … yes … lips … cheeks … jaws … tongue … never still a second … mouth on fire … stream of words … in her ear … practically in her ear … not catching the half … not the quarter … no idea what she’s saying … imagine! … no idea what she’s saying! … and can’t stop … no stopping it … she who but a moment before … but a moment! … could not make a sound … no sound of any kind … now can’t stop … imagine! … can’t stop the stream … and the whole brain begging … something begging in the brain … begging the mouth to stop … pause a moment … if only for a moment … and no response … as if it hadn’t heard … or couldn’t … couldn’t pause a second … like maddened … all that together … straining to hear … piece it together … and the brain … raving away on its own … trying to make sense of it … or make it stop … or in the past … dragging up the past … flashes from all over … walks mostly … walking all her days … day after day … a few steps then stop … stare into space … then on … a few more … stop and stare again … so on … drifting around … day after day … or that time she cried … the one time she could remember … since she was a baby … must have cried as a baby … perhaps not … not essential to life … just the birth cry to get her going … breathing … then no more till this … old hag already … sitting staring at her hand … where was it? … Croker’s Acres … one evening on the way home … home! … a little mound in Croker’s Acres … dusk … sitting staring at her hand … there in her lap … palm upward … suddenly saw it wet … the palm … tears presumably … hers presumably … no one else for miles … no sound … just the tears … sat and watched them dry … all over in a second … or grabbing at straw … the brain … flickering away on its own … quick grab and on … nothing there … on to the next … bad as the voice … worse … as little sense … all that together … can’t– … what? … the buzzing? … yes … all the time the buzzing … dull roar like falls … and the beam … flickering on and off … starting to move around … like moonbeam but not … all part of the same … keep an eye on that too … corner of the eye … all that together … can’t go on … God is love … she’ll be purged … back in the field … morning sun … April … sink face down in the grass … nothing but the larks … so on … grabbing at the straw … straining to hear … the odd word … make some sense of it … whole body like gone … just the mouth … like maddened … and can’t stop … no stopping it … something she– … something she had to– … what? … who? … no! … she! … (Pause and movement 3) … something she had to– … what? … the buzzing? … yes … all the time the buzzing … dull roar … in the skull … and the beam … ferreting around … painless … so far … ha! … so far … then thinking … oh long after … sudden flash … perhaps something she had to … had to … tell … could that be it? … something she had to … tell … tiny little thing … before its time … godforsaken hole … no love … spared that … speechless all her days … practically speechless … how she survived! … that time in court … what had she to say for herself … guilty or not guilty … stand up woman … speak up woman … stood there staring into space … mouth half open as usual … waiting to be led away … glad of the hand on her arm … now this … some-thing she had to tell … could that be it? … something that would tell … how it was … how she– … what? … had been? … yes … something that would tell how it had been … how she had lived … lived on and on … guilty or not … on and on … to be sixty … something she– … what? … seventy? … good God! … on and on to be seventy … something she didn’t know herself … wouldn’t know if she heard … then forgiven … God is love … tender mercies … new every morning … back in the field … April morning … face in the grass … nothing but the larks … pick it up there … get on with it from there … another few– … what? … not that? … nothing to do with that? … nothing she could tell? … all right … nothing she could tell … try something else … think of something else … oh long after … sudden flash … not that either … all right … something else again … so on … hit on it in the end … think everything keep on long enough … then forgiven … back in the– … what? … not that either? … nothing to do with that either? … nothing she could think? … all right … nothing she could tell … nothing she could think … nothing she– … what? … who? … no! … she! … (Pause and movement 4) … tiny little thing … out before its time … godforsaken hole … no love … spared that … speechless all her days … practically speechless … even to herself … never out loud … but not completely … sometimes sudden urge … once or twice a year … always winter some strange reason … the long evenings … hours of darkness … sudden urge to … tell … then rush out stop the first she saw … nearest lavatory … start pouring it out … steady stream … mad stuff … half the vowels wrong … no one could follow … till she saw the stare she was getting … then die of shame … crawl back in … once or twice a year … always winter some strange reason … long hours of darkness … now this … this … quicker and quicker … the words … the brain … flickering away like mad … quick grab and on … nothing there … on somewhere else … try somewhere else … all the time something begging … something in her begging … begging it all to stop … unanswered … prayer unanswered … or unheard … too faint … so on … keep on … trying … not knowing what … what she was trying … what to try … whole body like gone … just the mouth … like maddened … so on … keep– … what? … the buzzing? … yes … all the time the buzzing … dull roar like falls … in the skull … and the beam … poking around … painless … so far … ha! … so far … all that … keep on … not knowing what … what she was– … what? … who? … no! … she! … SHE! … (Pause) … what she was trying … what to try … no matter … keep on … (Curtain starts down) … hit on it in the end … then back … God is love … tender mercies … new every morning … back in the field … April morning … face in the grass … nothing but the larks … pick it up–
Curtain fully down. House dark. Voice continues behind curtain, unintelligible, 10 seconds, ceases as house lights up.
Beckettology, of course, did its job in discovering the empirical sources of the play’s imagery. Beckett himself provided the clue for the “old hag,” but also emphasized the ultimate irrelevance of this reference: “I knew that woman in Ireland. I knew who she was – not ‘she’ specifically, one single woman, but there were so many of those old crones, stumbling down the lanes, in the ditches, besides the hedgerows.” But, replying the queries, Beckett said: “I no more know where she is or why thus than she does. All I know is in the text. ‘She’ is purely a stage entity, part of a stage image and purveyor of a stage text. The rest is Ibsen.” As to the reduction of the body of the speaker to a partial organ (mouth), in a letter from 30 April 1974, Beckett gave a hint that the visual image of this mouth was “suggested by Caravaggio’s Decollation of St John in Valetta Cathedral.” As to the figure of the Auditor, it was inspired by the image of a djellaba-clad “intense listener” seen from a café in Tunis (Beckett was in North Africa from February to March 1972). James Knowlson conjectured that this “figure coalesced with [Beckett’s] sharp memories of the Caravaggio painting,” which shows “an old woman standing to Salome’s left. She observes the decapitation with horror, covering her ears rather than her eyes” (a gesture that Beckett added in the 1978 Paris production).

Much more interesting are Beckett’s own uncertainties and oscillation with regard to the Auditor (who is generally played by a male, although the sex is not specified in the text): when Beckett came to be involved in staging the play, he found that he was unable to place the Auditor in a stage position that pleased him, and consequently allowed the character to be omitted from those productions. However, he chose not to cut the character from the published script, and left the decision whether or not to use the character in a production at the discretion of individual producers. He wrote to two American directors in 1986: “He is very difficult to stage (light - position) and may well be of more harm than good. For me the play needs him but I can do without him. I have never seen him function effectively.” In the 1978 Paris production he did reinstate the character but from then on abandoned the image, concluding that it was perhaps “an error of the creative imagination”… From the Lacanian perspective, it is easy to locate the source of this trouble: the Auditor gives body to the big Other, the Third, the ideal Addressee-Witness, the place of Truth which receives and thereby authentificates the speaker’s message. The problem is how to visualize/materialize this structural place as a figure on the imaginary of the stage: while every play (or even speech) needs it, but every concrete figuration is by definition inadequate, i.e., it cannot ever “function effectively” on stage.

The basic constellation of the play is thus the dialogue between the subject and the big Other, where the couple is reduced to its barest minimum: the Other is a silent impotent witness which fails in its effort to serve as the medium of the Truth of what is said, and the speaking subject itself is deprived of its dignified status of “person” and reduced to a partial object. And, consequently, since meaning is generated only by means of the detour of the speaker’s word through a consistent big Other, the speech itself ultimately functions at a pre-semantic level, as a series of explosions of libidinal intensities. At the premiere in Lincoln Center, the Mouth was played by Jessica Tandy, the mother from Hitchcock’s The Birds. Debating the piece with her, Beckett demanded that it should “work on the nerves of the audience, not its intellect,” and advised Tandy to consider the mouth “an organ of emission, without intellect.” [5]

Where does this bring us with regard to the standard postmodern critique of dialogue, which emphasizes its origin in Plato, where there is always the one who knows (even if only that he knows nothing), questioning the other (who pretends to know) to admit he knows nothing. There is thus always a basic asymmetry in a dialogue – and does this asymmetry not break out openly in late Plato’s dialogues, where we are no longer dealing with Socratic irony, but with one person talking all the time, with his partner merely interrupting him from time to time with “So it is, by Zeus!”, “How cannot it be so?”, etc. It is easy for a postmodern deconstructionist to show the violent streak even in Habermas’s theory of communicative action which stresses the symmetry of the partners in a dialogue: this symmetry is grounded in the respect of all parts for the rules of rational argumentation, and are these rules really as neutral as they claim to be? Once we accept this and bring it to its radical conclusion – the rejection of the very notion of “objective truth” as oppressive, as an instrument of domination -, the post-modern path to what Lyotard called le differend is open: in an authentic dialogue, there is no pressure to reach a final reconciliation or accord, but merely to reconcile ourselves with the irreducible difference of perspectives which cannot be subordinated to any encompassing universality. Or, as Rorty put it: the fundamental right of each of us is the right to tell his/her/their own story of life-experience, especially of pain, humiliation and suffering. But, again, it is clear that people not only speak from different perspectives, but that these differences are grounded in different positions of power and domination: what does the right to free dialogue mean when, if I approach certain topics, I risk everything, up to my life? Or, even worse, when my complaints are not even rejected, but dismissed with a cynical smile? The Left-liberal position is here that one should especially emphasize the voices which are usually not heard, which are ignored, oppressed or even prohibited within the predominant field – sexual and religious minorities, etc. But is this not all too abstract-formal? The true problem is: how are we to create conditions for a truly egalitarian dialogue? Is this really possible to do in a “dialogic”/respectful way, or is some kind of counter-violence needed? Furthermore, is the notion of (not naively “objective,” but) universal truth really by definition a tool of oppression and domination? Say, in the Germany of 1940, the Jewish story of their suffering was not simply an oppressed minority view to be heard, but a complaint whose truth was in a way universal, i.e., which rendered visible what was wrong in the entire social situation.

Is there a way out of this conundrum? What about the dialogic scene of the psychoanalytic session, which weirdly inverts the coordinates of the late-Platonic dialogue? As in the latter case, here also one (the patient) talks almost all the time, while the other only occasionally interrupts him with an intervention which is more of a diacritical order, asserting the proper scansion of what was told. And, as we know from the Freudian theory, the analyst is here not the one who already knows the truth and just wisely leads the patient to discover it himself/herself: the analyst precisely doesn’t know it, his knowledge is the illusion of transference which had to fall at the end of the treatment.

1 + 3. And is it not that, with regard to this dynamic of the psychoanalytic process, Beckett’s play can be said to start where the analytic process ends: the big Other is no longer “supposed to know” anything, there is no transference, and, consequently, “subjective destitution” already took place. But does this mean that, since we are already at the end, there is no inner dynamic, no radical shift, possible anymore – which would nicely account for the appearance of the circular movement in this (and other) Beckett’s play(s)? A closer look at the content of the play’s narrative, of what is told in this 20 minutes long monologue, seems to confirm this diagnostic: the Mouth utters at a ferocious pace a logorrhoea of fragmented, jumbled sentences which obliquely tells the story of a woman of about seventy who, having been abandoned by her parents after a premature birth, has lived a loveless, mechanical existence and who appears to have suffered an unspecified traumatic experience. The woman has been virtually mute since childhood apart from occasional winter outbursts part of one of which comprises the text we hear, in which she relates four incidents from her life: lying face down in the grass on a field in April; standing in a supermarket; sitting on a “mound in Croker’s Acre” (a real place in Ireland near Leopardstown racecourse); and “that time at court.” Each of the last three incidents somehow relates to the repressed first “scene” which has been likened to an epiphany - whatever happened to her in that field in April was the trigger for her to start talking. Her initial reaction to this paralyzing event is to assume she is being punished by God; strangely, however, this punishment involves no suffering - she feels no pain, as in life she felt no pleasure. She cannot think why she might be being punished but accepts that God does not need a “particular reason” for what He does. She thinks she has something to tell though she doesn’t know what but believes if she goes over the events of her life for long enough she will stumble upon that thing for which she needs to seek forgiveness; however, a kind of abstract non-linguistic continued buzzing in her skull always intervenes whenever she gets too close to the core of her traumatic experience.

The first axiom of interpreting this piece is not to reduce it to its superficial cyclical nature (endless repetitions and variations of the same fragments, unable to focus on the heart of the matter), imitating the confused mumbling of the “old hag” too senile to get to the point: a close reading makes it clear that, just before the play’s end, there IS a crucial break, a decision, a shift in the mode of subjectivity. This shift is signaled by a crucial detail: in the last (fifth) moment of pause, the Auditor DOESN’T intervene with his mute gesture – his “helpless compassion” lost its ground. Here are all five moments of pause:
(1) “all that early April morning light … and she found herself in the–– … what? … who? … no! … she! …” (Pause and movement 1.)
(2) “the buzzing? … yes … all dead still but for the buzzing … when suddenly she realized … words were– … what? … who? … no! … she! …” (Pause and movement 2.)
(3) “something she– … something she had to– … what? … who? … no! … she! …” (Pause and movement 3)
(4) “all right … nothing she could tell … nothing she could think … nothing she– … what? … who? … no! … she! …” (Pause and movement 4)
(5) “keep on … not knowing what … what she was– … what? … who? … no! … she! … SHE! … [Pause.] … what she was trying … what to try … no matter … keep on …” (Curtain starts down)
Note the three crucial changes here: (1) the standard, always identical, series of words which precedes the pause with the Auditor’s movement of helpless compassion (“… what? … who? … no! … she! …”) is here supplemented by a repeated capitalized ”SHE”; (2) the pause is without the Auditor’s movement; (3) it is not followed by the same kind of confused rumbling as in the previous four cases, but by the variation of the paradigmatic Beckettian ethical motto of perseverance (“no matter … keep on”). Consequently, the key to the entire piece is provided by the way we read this shift: does it signal a simple (or not so simple) gesture by means of which the speaker (Mouth) finally fully assumes her subjectivity, asserts herself as SHE (or, rather, as I), overcoming the blockage indicated by the buzzing in her head? In other words, insofar as the play’s title comes from the Mouth’s repeated insistence that the events she describes or alludes to did not happen to her (and that therefore she cannot assumer them in first person singular), does the fifth pause indicate the negation of the plays’s title, the transformation of “not I” into “I”? Or is there a convincing alternative to this traditional-humanist reading which so obviously runs counter the entire spirit of Beckett’s universe? Yes – on condition that we also radically abandon the predominant cliché about Beckett as the author of the “theatre of the absurd,” preaching the abandonment of every metaphysical Sense (Godot will never arrive), the resignation to the endless circular self-reproduction of meaningless rituals (the nonsense rhymes in Waiting for Godot).

This, of course, in no way implies that we should counter the “theatre of the absurd” reading of Beckett with its no less simplified up-beat mirror-image; perhaps, a parallel with “Der Laienmann”, the song that concludes Schubert’s Winterreise, may be of some help here. “Der Laienmann” displays a tension between form and message. Its message appears to be utter despair of the abandoned lover who finally lost all hope, even the very ability to mourn and despair, and identifies with the man on the street automaticaly playing his music-machine. However, as many perspicuous commentators have noticed, this last song can also be read as the sign of forthcoming redemption: while all other songs present the hero’s inward brooding, here, for the first time, the hero turns outwards and establishes a minimal contact, an emphatic identification, with another human being, although this identification is with another desperate loser who even lost his ability to mourn and is reduced to performing blind mechanic gestures. Does something similar not take place with the final shift of Not I? At the level of content, this shift can be read as the ultimate failure both of the speaker (Mouth) and of the big Other (Auditor): when the Mouth loses even the minimal thread of the content and is reduced to the minimalist injunction that the meaningless bubble must go on (“keep on … not knowing what”), the Auditor despairs and renounces even the empty gesture of helpless compassion. There is, however, the opposite reading that imposes itself at the level of FORM: the Mouth emerges as a pure (form of) subject, deprived of all substantial content (depth of “personality”), and, pending on this reduction, the Other is also de-psychologized, reduced to an empty receiver, deprived of all affective content (“compassion,” etc.). To play with Malevitch’s terms, we reach the zero-level of communication – the subtitle of the play’s finale could have been “white noise on the black background of immobile silence”…

In what, then, does this shift consist? We should approach it via its counterpart, the traumatic X around which the Mouth’s logorrhea circulates. So what happened to “her” on the field in April? Was the traumatic experience she underwent there a brutal rape? When asked about, Beckett unambiguously rejected such a reading: “How could you think of such a thing! No, no, not at all – it wasn’t that at all.” We should not take this statement as a tongue-in-cheek admission, but literally – that fateful April, while “wandering in a field … looking aimlessly for cowslips,” the woman suffered some kind of collapse, possibly even her death – definitely not a real-life event, but an unbearably-intense “inner experience” close to what C.S.Lewis’ described in his Surprised by Joy [6] as the moment of his religious choice. What makes this description so irresistibly delicious is the author’s matter-of-fact “English” skeptical style, far from the usual pathetic narratives of the mystical rapture - Lewis refers to the experience as the “odd thing”; he mentions its common location - “I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus.” - the qualifications like “in a sense,” “what now appears,” “or, if you like,” “you could argue that… but I am more inclined to think…,” “perhaps,” “I rather disliked the feeling”):
“The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice. In a sense. I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus. Without words and (I think) almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay, or shutting something out. Or, if you like, that I was wearing some stiff clothing, like corsets, or even a suit of armor, as if I were a lobster. I felt myself being, there and then, given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut; I could unbuckle the armor or keep it on. Neither choice was presented as a duty; no threat or promise was attached to either, though I knew that to open the door or to take off the corset meant the incalculable. The choice appeared to be momentous but it was also strangely unemotional. I was moved by no desires or fears. In a sense I was not moved by anything. I chose to open, to unbuckle, to loosen the rein. I say, ‘I chose,’ yet it did not really seem possible to do the opposite. On the other hand, I was aware of no motives. You could argue that I was not a free agent, but I am more inclined to think this came nearer to being a perfectly free act than most that I have ever done. Necessity may not be the opposite of freedom, and perhaps a man is most free when, instead of producing motives, he could only say, ‘I am what I do.’ Then came the repercussion on the imaginative level. I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt. The melting was starting in my back - drip-drip and presently trickle-trickle. I rather disliked the feeling.”
In a way, everything is here: the decision is purely formal, ultimately a decision to decide, without a clear awareness of WHAT the subject decides about; it is non-psychological act, unemotional, with no motives, desires or fears; it is incalculable, not the outcome of strategic argumentation; it is a totally free act, although one couldn’t do it otherwise. It is only AFTERWARDS that this pure act is “subjectivized,” translated into a (rather unpleasant) psychological experience. From the Lacanian standpoint, there is only one aspect which is potentially problematic in Lewis’ formulation: the traumatic Event (encounter of the Real, exposure to the “minimal difference”) has nothing to do with the mystical suspension of ties which bind us to ordinary reality, with attaining the bliss of radical indifference in which life or death and other worldly distinctions no longer matter, in which subject and object, thought and act, fully coincide. To put it in mystical terms, the Lacanian act is rather the exact opposite of this “return to innocence”: the Original Sin itself, the abyssal DISTURBANCE of the primeval Peace, the primordial “pathological” Choice of the unconditional attachment to some singular object (like falling in love with a singular person which, thereafter, matters to us more than everything else). And does something like THIS not take place on the grass in Not I? The sinful character of the trauma is indicated by the fact that the speaker feels punished by God). What then happens in the final shift of the play is that the speaker ACCEPTS the trauma in its meaninglessness, ceases to search for its meaning, restores its extra-symbolic dignity, as it were, thereby getting rid of the entire topic of sin and punishment. This is why the Auditor no longer reacts with the gesture of impotent compassion: there is no longer despair in the Mouth’s voice, the standard Beckettian formula of the drive’s persistence in asserted (“no matter… keep on”), God is only now truly love – not the loved or loving one, but Love itself, that which makes things going. Even after all content is lost, at this point of absolute reduction, the Galilean conclusion imposes itself: eppur si muove.

This, however, in no way means that the trauma is finally subjectivized, that the speaker is now no longer “not I” but “SHE,” a full subject finally able to assume her Word. Something much more uncanny happens here: the Mouth is only now fully destituted as subject - at the moment of the fifth pause, the subject who speaks fully assumes its identity with Mouth as a partial object. What happens here is structurally similar to one of the most disturbing TV episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, “The Glass Eye” (the opening episode of the third year). Jessica Tandy (again – the very actress who was the original Mouth!) plays here a lone woman who falls for a handsome ventriloquist, Max Collodi (a reference to the author of Pinocchio); when she gathers the courage to approach him alone in his quarters, she declares her love for him and steps forward to embrace him, only to find that she is holding in her hands a wooden dummy’s head; after she withdraws in horror, the “dummy” stands up and pulls off its mask, and we see the face of a sad older dwarf who start to jump desperately on the table, asking the woman to go away… the ventriloquist is in fact the dummy, while the hideous dummy is the actual ventriloquist. Is this not the perfect rendering of an “organ without bodies”? It is the detachable “dead” organ, the partial object, which is effectively alive, and whose dead puppet the “real” person is: the “real” person is merely alive, a survival machine, a “human animal,” while the apparently “dead” supplement is the focus of excessive Life.
[1] Thomas J.J. Altizer, The Contemporary Jesus, London: SCM Press 1998, p. 101.

[2] See Le seminaire de Jacques Lacan, Livre XXIII: Le sinthome, Paris: Editions du Seuil 2005.

[3] Jonathan Boulter, “Does Mourning Require a Subject?”, in Modern Fiction Studies 50-2 (Summer 2004), p. 332. Numbers in brackets refer to pages in this volume.

[4] Judith Butler developed this point in detail, especially in her The Psychic Life of Power.

[5] In the 2000 filmed production, directed by Neil Jordan, we see Julianne Moore come into view, sit down and then the light hit her mouth – this makes us aware that a young woman as opposed to an “old hag” is portraying the protagonist.

[6] C.S.Lewis, Surprised by Joy, London: Fontana Books 1977, p. 174-175.

-Slavoj Zizek, "Beckett with Lacan"

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Paper Crowns and Robots

Lovers of the Light

In the middle of the night, I may watch you go
There'll be no value in the strength of walls that I have grown
There'll be no comfort in the shade of the shadows thrown
But I'd be yours if you'd be mine

Stretch out my life and pick the seams out
Take what you like, but close my ears and eyes
Watch me stumble over and over

I have done wrong, you build your tower
But call me home and I will build a throne
And wash my eyes out never again

But love the one you hold
And I'll be your goal
To have and to hold
A lover of the light

Skin too tight and eyes like marbles
You spin me high, so watch me as I glide
Before I tumble homeward, homeward

I know I tried, I was not stable
Flawed by pride, I miss my sanguine eyes
So hold my hands up, breathe in and breathe out

So love the one you hold
And I'll be your goal
To have and to hold
A lover of the light

And in the middle of the night, I may watch you go
There'll be no value in the strength of walls that I have grown
There'll be no comfort in the shade of the shadows thrown
You may not trust the promises of the change I'll show
But I'd be yours if you'd be mine

So love the one you hold
And I will be your goal
To have and to hold
A lover of the light

So love the one you hold
And I will be your goal
To have and to hold
A lover of the light

Friday, June 2, 2017

Promises, Promises

The three rules of a relationship: Don't lie, don't cheat, and don't make promises you can't keep.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tuning Out the Extraneous Noise

Twisting around inside of emotional bonds, trying to
control everything I do in life.

Sub-optional tunes cater to whims of my stubbornness
as I release myself and find the freedom I so
desperately need each moment of my existence.

Keeping others at bay, filling my brain with feelings
I turn into words constantly.

Silence drapes itself quietly over me, tuning out all extraneous noise and bewilderment, allowing a
transcendental hymn of contemplation to enfold me in
it's grasp.

Holding my attention throughout all difficulty and
sorrow, reserving sanity by collecting all words of
feeling and meanings of worth into volumes of interior
living, notwithstanding, every mistake I make outside
this space of mine alone.

Waltzing in time with expected horizons on sands of
moving tides, always, creating an existence for self
alone, enjoying it immensely because it is totally of
my interests only.
RoseAnn V. Shawiak, "Expected Horizons"

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Ducky's Dance

It’s one of the iconic scenes of the modern cinema, part of a movie that its director has called one of his worst and to which he soon responded with a work of analytical and politicized modernism. But the scene itself is, in its way, a surprising work of modernism—I’m referring, of course, to the line dance done in a café by Anna Karina, Sami Frey, and Claude Brasseur in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Band of Outsiders”—and this clip, of its production (that my colleague John Bennet sent along), suggests a practical basis for its most original fillip of invention.

First, the substance of the clip itself (the commentary and interview are in French, unsubtitled). The commentator says that the cast and crew have gathered to shoot the scene “in a bar at Vincennes, at the busiest hour,” which explains why a crowd of onlookers is pressing close to the rail that separates the rest of the café from the part, right nearby, where the shoot is taking place. Godard himself hosts the television report like a sort of puckish master of ceremonies, doing the clap himself and calling the second take (“the sound was bad, it’s for television”). The interviewer asks Godard about the title of the film: “Why do your characters form a band of outsiders—in other words, how do they distinguish themselves from others?” Godard answers, “I’d say rather that they are normal people; people distinguish themselves from them.” He says that the movie is based on a “fait divers” (“news in brief” or “crime blotter”), and adds, “I wanted to call it—it could as easily be called ‘Fait Divers.’ “

The dance starts two minutes in; it’s fascinating to note that the café patrons press so close to it and all the more remarkable to hear the music on the jukebox to which they’re dancing—John Lee Hooker’s “Shake It Baby” (thanks to Shazam, as John let me know). Compare the sequence as seen in the finished film (which isn’t the same take—it features more patrons and a busy waiter in the background). The music that’s heard on the soundtrack is composed by Michel Legrand and is conspicuously dubbed in—and the dance doesn’t catch its beat perfectly, or, rather, vice versa. I wonder whether the question was one of rights—whether the production (and the movie has an American producer, Columbia Pictures) was unable or unwilling to get rights to the song, or whether Godard himself (who was administering the hundred-thousand-dollar budget through his own production company) had little interest in doing so.

I can’t help wondering whether, since the music is dubbed in, so are the claps, foot-stamps, and finger-snaps (because, of course, if another piece of music was playing in the café, there would be no way to remove it from the soundtrack while keeping the other ambient sounds)—or whether, for the take used in the film, there was no music playing at all, and the trio did their dance to the time of music playing in their minds. It would be all the more remarkable, inasmuch as none of the three actors—they’re now all in their seventies—is a trained dancer (they rehearsed that scene every day for a month before filming it).

In any case, the greatest flourish in the sequence is one involving the soundtrack. The music cuts out, and Godard speaks, in voice-over: “Now it’s time to open a second parenthesis, and to describe the emotions of the characters.” It cuts out three more times, and here’s what Godard says about each of the characters. First, Brasseur’s: “Arthur [Brasseur] keeps looking at his feet but he thinks about Odile’s mouth, about her [or, maybe, his] romantic desires.” Then, Karina’s: “Odile is wondering whether the two boys noticed her two breasts, which move beneath her sweater with every step.” Finally, Frey’s: “Franz is thinking of everything and nothing. He doesn’t know whether the world is becoming a dream or the dream, a world.” And that’s what distinguishes this notable sequence from its imitators and tributaries, whether scenes by Quentin Tarantino or by Hal Hartley or this one, from a movie I’ve never seen, “The Go-Getter,” by Martin Hynes.

For that matter, it distinguishes the scene from so many scenes in so many films where so many filmmakers are so concerned with bringing out their characters’ emotions solely by means of action. The fussily naturalistic framework of most movies by most filmmakers is more or less rendered obsolete in advance by this little scene. Filmmakers unwilling to break the sacrosanct continuity of action compel themselves to reveal character through action—and little is more tiresome in movies than scenes showing action that is supposed to reveal some aspect of character. That’s why many movies—and many wrongly hailed—give a sense of being constructed as illustrations of script elements, the connections of dots planted in just the right place to yield a particular portrait. Godard’s example is as much a lesson in substance as in style—in composition through fragmentation, in expression through directness and audacity, of artistic impulse combining with necessity as a means to enduring innovation. Whatever an experimental film might be, this sequence is one—it’s an experiment the discoveries of which have yet to be fully assimilated by the world of filmmakers, almost half a century later.
Richard Brody, The New Yorker

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Francisco Goya, "3 de Mayo" (1808)

from Wikipedia:
The Third of May 1808 is set in the early hours of the morning following the uprising and centers on two masses of men: one a rigidly poised firing squad, the other a disorganized group of captives held at gun point. Executioners and victims face each other abruptly across a narrow space; according to Kenneth Clark, "by a stroke of genius [Goya] has contrasted the fierce repetition of the soldiers' attitudes and the steely line of their rifles, with the crumbling irregularity of their target." A square lantern situated on the ground between the two groups throws a dramatic light on the scene. The brightest illumination falls on the huddled victims to the left, whose numbers include a monk or friar in prayer. To the immediate right and at the center of the canvas, other condemned figures stand next in line to be shot. The central figure is the brilliantly lit man kneeling amid the bloodied corpses of those already executed, his arms flung wide in either appeal or defiance.[24] His yellow and white clothing repeats the colors of the lantern. His plain white shirt and sun-burnt face show he is a simple laborer.

On the right side stands the firing squad, engulfed in shadow and painted as a monolithic unit. Seen nearly from behind, their bayonets and their shako headgear form a relentless and immutable column. Most of the faces of the figures cannot be seen, but the face of the man to the right of the main victim, peeping fearfully towards the soldiers, acts as a repoussoir at the back of the central group. Without distracting from the intensity of the foreground drama, a townscape with a steeple looms in the nocturnal distance, probably including the barracks used by the French. In the background between the hillside and the shakos is a crowd with torches: perhaps onlookers, perhaps more soldiers or victims.

The Second and Third of May 1808 are thought to have been intended as parts of a larger series.[27] Written commentary and circumstantial evidence suggest that Goya painted four large canvases memorializing the rebellion of May 1808. In his memoirs of the Royal Academy in 1867, José Caveda wrote of four paintings by Goya of the second of May, and Cristóbal Ferriz—an artist and a collector of Goya—mentioned two other paintings on the theme: a revolt at the royal palace and a defense of artillery barracks.[27] Contemporary prints stand as precedents for such a series. The disappearance of two paintings may indicate official displeasure with the depiction of popular insurrection

Monday, April 24, 2017

Rene Magritte, "The Looking Glass" (1963)

...a peek behind the mirror neurons...

In his Bayreuth production of Tristan und Isolde, Jean-Pierre Ponelle changed Wagner’s original plot, interpreting all that follows Tristan’s death — the arrival of Isolde and King Marke, Isolde’s death — as Tristan’s mortal delirium: the final appearance of Isolde is staged so that the dazzlingly illuminated Isolde grows luxuriantly behind him, while Tristan stares at us, the spectators, who are able to perceive his sublime double, the protuberance of his lethal enjoyment. This is also how Bergman, in his version of The Magic Flute, often shot Pamina and Monostatos: a close-up of Pamina who stares intensely into the camera, with Monostatos appearing behind her as her shadowy double, as if belonging to a different level of reality (illuminated with pointedly “unnatural” dark-violet colors), with his gaze also directed into the camera. This disposition, in which the subject and his or her shadowy, ex-timate double stare into a common third point (materialized in us, the spectators), epitomizes the relationship of the subject to an Otherness which is prior to intersubjectivity. The field of intersubjectivity where subjects, within their shared reality, “look into each other’s eyes,” is sustained by the paternal metaphor, whereas the reference to the absent third point which attracts the two gazes changes the status of one of the two partners — the one in the background — into the sublime embodiment of the real of enjoyment.

What all these scenes have in common on the level of purely cinematic procedure is a kind of formal correlative of the reversal of face-to-face intersubjectivity into the relationship of the subject to his shadowy double which emerges behind him or her as a kind of sublime protuberance: the condensation of the field and counterfield within the same shot. What we have here is a paradoxical kind of communication: not a “direct” communication of the subject with his fellow-creature in front of him, but a communication with the excrescence behind him, mediated by a third gaze, as if the counterfield were to be mirrored back into the field itself. It is this third gaze which confers upon the scene its hypnotic dimension: the subject is enthralled by the gaze which sees “What is in himself more than himself”.… And the analytical situation itself — the relationship between analyst and analysant — does it not ultimately also designate a kind of return to this pre-intersubjective relationship of the subject(–analysand) to his shadowy other, to the externalized object in himself? Is not this the whole point of the spatial disposition of analysis: after the so-called preliminary interviews, the analysis proper begins when the analyst and the analysand no longer confront each other face to face, but the analyst sits behind the analysand who, stretched on the divan, stares into the void in front of him? Does not this very disposition locate the analyst as the analysant’s object small a, not his dialogical partner, not another subject?
- Slavoj Zizek, "Kant as Theoretician of Vampirism"

Monday, April 10, 2017

Have a Nice Afterlife!

Because I had danced, the beautiful lady was enchanted
Because I had danced, the shining moon echoed
Proposing marriage, the god shall descend
The night clears away and the chimera bird will sing
The distant god may give us the precious blessing!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Going for the Green

Oh! Paddy, dear, and did you hear
The news that's going round,
The shamrock is forbid by law
To grow on Irish ground.
Saint Patrick's Day no more we'll keep
His color can't be seen
For there's a bloody law agin'
The wearing of the green.

I met with Napper Tandy
And he took me by the hand
And he said "How's poor old Ireland?
And how does she stand?"
She's the most distressful country
That ever you have seen,
They're hanging men and women there
For wearing of the green.

Then since the color we must wear
Is England's cruel red
Sure Ireland's sons will n'er forget
The blood that they have shed.
You may take the shamrock from your hat
And cast it on the sod,
But 'twill take root and flourish still
Tho' underfoot 'tis trod.

When the law can stop the blades of grass
From growing as they grow,
And when the leaves in summer time
Their verdure dare not show,
Then I will change the color
I wear in my caubeen,
But till that day I'll stick for aye
To wearing of the green.

But if at last our color should
Be torn from Ireland's heart,
Her sons with shame and sorrow
From the dear old sod will part.
I've heard a whisper of a country
That lies beyond the sea,
Where rich and poor stand equal
In the light of freedom's day.

Oh, Erin! Must we leave you,
Driven by the tyrant's hand?
Must we ask a mother's welcome
From a strange but happy land?
Where the cruel cross of England's thralldom
Never shall be seen
And where in peace we'll live and die
A-wearing of the green.
- Dion Boucicault (1820-1890)

Saturday, March 11, 2017

That's the Way it Goes!

sometimes its rough, and scars still show
but thats the way it sometimes goes
we will all fail, but we all know
thats the way it sometimes goes
you will be challenged, in the path you've chose
thats just the way it sometimes goes.
you will feel struggle, thats what im told
i guess this is the way it sometimes goes.
-whosoevers1995, "The Way it Goes" (2013)

Monday, March 6, 2017

Angela Maria "Geli" Raubal ([ˈɡeːliː ˈʀaʊ̯bal]; 4 June 1908 – 18 September 1931) was Adolf Hitler's half-niece. Born in Linz, Austria-Hungary, she was the second child and eldest daughter of Leo Raubal Sr. and Hitler's half-sister, Angela Raubal. Raubal lived in close contact to her uncle from 1925 until her presumed suicide in 1931

Angela Maria "Geli" Raubal was born in Linz, where she grew up with her brother, Leo, and a sister, Elfriede. Her father died at the age of 31, when Geli was two. She and Elfriede accompanied their mother when she became Hitler's housekeeper in 1925; Raubal was 17 at the time and spent the next six years in close contact with her half-uncle, who was 19 years her senior. Her mother was given a position as housekeeper at the Berghof villa near Berchtesgaden in 1928. Raubal moved into Hitler's Munich apartment in 1929 when she enrolled in medicine at Ludwig Maximilian University. She did not complete her medical studies.

As he rose to power as leader of the Nazi Party, Hitler was domineering and possessive of Raubal, keeping a tight rein on her. When he discovered she was having a relationship with his chauffeur, Emil Maurice, he forced an end to the affair and dismissed Maurice from his service. After that he did not allow her to freely associate with friends, and attempted to have himself or someone he trusted near her at all times, accompanying her on shopping trips, to the movies, and to the opera.

Raubal was in effect a prisoner, but planned to escape to Vienna to continue her singing lessons. Her mother told interrogators after the war that her daughter was hoping to marry a man from Linz, but that Hitler had forbidden the relationship. He and Raubal argued on 18 September 1931—he refused to allow her to go to Vienna. He departed for a meeting in Nuremberg, but was recalled to Munich the next day: Raubal was dead from a gunshot wound to the lung; she had apparently shot herself in Hitler's Munich apartment with Hitler's Walther pistol. She was 23.

Rumours immediately began in the media about physical abuse, a possible sexual relationship, and even murder. Otto Strasser, a political opponent of Hitler, was the source of some of the more sensational stories. The historian Ian Kershaw maintains that "whether actively sexual or not, Hitler's behaviour towards Geli has all the traits of a strong, latent at least, sexual dependence." The police ruled out foul play; the death was ruled a suicide. Hitler was devastated and went into an intense depression. He took refuge at a house on the shores of Tegernsee lake, and did not attend the funeral in Vienna on 24 September. He visited her grave at Vienna's Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery) two days later. Thereafter, he overcame his depression and refocused on politics.

Hitler later declared that Raubal was the only woman he had ever loved. Her room at the Berghof was kept as she had left it, and he hung portraits of her in his own room there and at the Chancellery in Berlin.
we are not together here
though we lie entwined
to make room for the other presence
we both draw back in our minds
I have a prophecy
threatening to spill into words
this growing certainty
of Over

there once was a time I was sure of the bond
when my hands and my tongue and my thoughts were enough
we are the same but our lives move along
and the third one between replaces what once was love

freedom is being alone
I fear liberation
but something more alive than silence
swallows conversation
no pleasing drama
in subtle averted eyes
the swelling fermata
as the chord dies

there's no denying we feel the third one
we do
I'm tired of hiding and so are you
- Vienna Teng, "Between"

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

La La Land: A Leninist Reading

Among the PC reproaches to Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, the one that stands out for its sheer stupidity was that there are no gay couples in the film which takes place in LA, a city with a strong gay population… How come those PC Leftists who complain about the sub-representation of sexual and ethnic minorities in Hollywood movies never complain about the gross misrepresentation of the lower class majority of workers? It’s OK if workers are invisible, just that we get here and there a gay or lesbian character…

I remember a similar incident at the first conference on the idea of Communism in London in 2009. Some people in the public voiced the complaint that there was only one woman among the participants, plus no black person and no one from Asia, to which Badiou remarked that it was strange how no one was bothered by the fact that there were no workers among the participants, especially given that the topic was Communism.

And, back to La La Land, we should bear in mind that the movie opens up precisely with the depiction of hundreds of precarious and/or unemployed workers on their way to Hollywood to search for a job that would boost their career. The first song (“Another Day of Sun”) shows them singing and dancing to make the time pass while they are stuck in a highway traffic jam. Mia and Sebastian, who are among them, each in his/her car, are the two who will succeed—the (obvious) exceptions. And, from this standpoint, their falling in love (which will enable their success) enters the story precisely to blur in the background the invisibility of hundreds who will fail, making it appear that it was their love (and not sheer luck) which made them special and destined to success. Ruthless competition is the name of the game, with no hint of solidarity (recall numerous audition scenes where Mia is repeatedly humiliated). No wonder that, when I hear the first lines of the most famous song from La La Land (“City of stars, are you shining just for me / city of stars, there is so much that I can’t see”), I find it hard to resist the temptation to hum back the most stupid orthodox Marxist reply imaginable: “No, I am not shining just for the petit-bourgeois ambitious individual that you are, I am also shining for the thousands of exploited precarious workers in Hollywood whom you can’t see and who will not succeed like you, to give them some hope!”

Mia and Sebastian start a relationship and move in together, but they grow apart because of their desire to succeed: Mia wants to become an actress while Sebastian wants to own a club where he would play authentic old jazz. First, Sebastian joins a pop-jazz band and spends time touring, then, after the premiere of her monodrama fails, Mia leaves Los Angeles and moves back home to Boulder City. Alone in LA, Sebastian receives a call from a casting director who had attended and enjoyed Mia’s play, and invites Mia to a film audition. Sebastian drives to Boulder City and persuades her to return. Mia is simply asked to tell a story for the audition; she begins to sing about her Aunt who inspired her to pursue acting. Confident that the audition was a success, Sebastian asserts that Mia must devote herself wholeheartedly to the opportunity. They profess they will always love each other, but are uncertain of their future. Five years later, Mia is a famous actress and married to another man, with whom she has a daughter. One night, the couple stumble upon a jazz bar. Noticing the Seb’s logo, Mia realizes Sebastian has finally opened his own club. Sebastian spots Mia, looking unsettled and regretful, in the crowd and begins to play their love theme. This prompts an extended dream sequence in which the two imagine what might have been had their relationship worked out perfectly. The song ends and Mia leaves with her husband. Before walking out, she shares with Sebastian one last knowing look and smile, happy for the dreams they have both achieved.

As was already noted by many critics, the final 10 minutes fantasy is simply a Hollywood musical version of the film: it shows how the story would be told in a classic Hollywood musical. Such a reading confirms the film’s reflexivity: it stages in a movie how the movie should end with regard to the genre formula to which it relates. La La Land is clearly a self-reflexive film, a film on the genre of musicals, but it works alone; one doesn’t have to know the full history of musicals to enjoy and understand it (much like what Bazin wrote on Chaplin’s Limelight: it is a reflexive film about the old Chaplin’s declining career, but it stands alone; one doesn’t have to know Chaplin’s early career as the Tramp to enjoy it). Interestingly, the more we progress into the film, the less musical numbers are in it and the more of pure (melo)drama – till, at the end, we are thrown back into a musical which explodes as a fantasy.

Apart from obvious references to other musicals, Chazelle’s more subtle reference is Sandrich’s classic Rogers/Astaire musical screwball comedy Top Hat (1935). There are many good things to say about Top Hat, beginning with the role of tap dancing as the disturbing intrusion into the daily life routine (Astaire practices tap dancing in the hotel floor above Ginger Rogers, which makes her complain, thus bringing the couple together). Compared to La La Land, what cannot but strike the eye is the total psychological flatness of Top Hat where there is no depth, just puppet-like acting which pervades even the most intimate moments. The final song and its staging (“Piccolino”) in no way relates to the story’s happy ending; the words of the song are purely self-referential, merely telling the story of how this song itself came to be and inviting us to dance to it: “By the Adriatic waters / Venetian sons and daughters / Are strumming a new tune upon their guitars / It was written by a Latin / A gondolier who sat in / His home out in Brooklyn and gazed at the stars // He sent his melody / Across the sea / To Italy / And we know / They wrote some words to fit / That catchy bit / And christened it / The Piccolino // And we know that it’s the reason / Why everyone this season / Is strumming and humming a new melody. // Come to the casino / And hear them play the Piccolino / Dance with your bambino / To the strains of the catchy Piccolino / Drink your glass of vino / And when you’ve had your plate of scalopino / Make them play the Piccolino / The catchy Piccolino / And dance to the strains of that new melody / The Piccolino.” And this is the truth of the film: not the ridiculous plot but the music and tap dancing as a self-goal. In parallel with Andersen’s Red Shoes, the hero just cannot help tap-dancing: it is for him an irresistible drive. The singing dialogue between Astaire and Rogers, even at its most sensuous (as in the famous “Dancing cheek to cheek”) is just a pretext for the musical-dancing exercise.

La La Land may appear superior to such an exercise since it dwells in psychological realism: reality intrudes into the dreamworld of musicals (like the latest instalments of superhero films which bring out the hero’s psychological complexity, his traumas and inner doubts). But it is crucial to note how the otherwise realist story has to conclude with the escape into musical fantasy. So what happens at the film’s end?

The first and obvious Lacanian reading of the film would be to see the plot as yet another variation on the theme of “there is no sexual relationship”. The successful careers of the two protagonists which tear them apart are like the ice hitting the Titanic in Cameron’s movie: they are here to save the dream of love (staged in the final fantasy), i.e., to mask the immanent impossibility of their love, the fact that, if they were to remain together, they would turn into a bitter disappointed couple. Consequently, the ultimate version of the film would have been the reversal of the final situation: Mia and Sebastian are together and enjoy full professional success, but their lives are empty, so they go to a club and dream of a fantasy in which they live happily together a modest life, since they both renounced their careers, and (in a dream within a dream) they imagine making the opposite choice and romantically remember the missed opportunity of their life together…

We do find a similar reversal in Family Man (Brett Ratner, 2000). Jack Campbell, a single Wall Street executive, hears on Christmas Eve that his former girlfriend, Kate, called him after many years. On Christmas Day, Jack wakes up in a suburban New Jersey bedroom with Kate and two children; he hurries back to his office and condo in New York, but his closest friends do not recognize him. He is now living the life he could have had, had he stayed with his girlfriend—a modest family life, where he is a car tire salesman for Kate’s father and Kate is a not-for-profit lawyer. Just as Jack is finally realizing the true value of his new life, his epiphany jolts him back to his wealthy former life on Christmas Day. He forgoes closing a big acquisition deal to intercept Kate who also focused on her career and became a wealthy corporate lawyer. After he learns that she only called him to give back some of his old possessions since she is moving to Paris, he runs after her at the airport and describes the family they had in the alternate universe in an effort to win back her love. She agrees to have a cup of coffee at the airport, suggesting that they will have a future… So what we get is a compromise solution at its worst: somehow the two will combine the best of both worlds, remaining rich capitalists but being at the same time a loving couple with humanitarian concerns… In short, they will keep the cake and eat it, as they say, and La La Land at least avoids this cheap optimism.

So what effectively happens at the film’s end? It’s, of course, not that Mia and Sebastian simply decide to give preference to their careers ahead of their love relationship. The least one should add is that they both find success in their careers and achieve their dreams because of the relationship they had, so that their love is a kind of vanishing mediator: far from being an obstacle to their success, it “mediates” it. So does the film subvert the Hollywood formula of producing a couple insofar as both fulfil their dreams, but NOT as a couple? And is this subversion more than simply a postmodern narcissistic preference of personal fulfilment over Love? In other words, what if their love was not a true Love-Event? Plus, what if their career “dream” was not the devotion to a true artistic Cause but just a career dream? So what if none of the competing claims (career, love, etc.) really displays an unconditional commitment that follows a true Event? Their love is not true, their pursuing of career is just that — not a full artistic commitment. In short, Mia’s and Sebastian’s betrayal is deeper than choosing one alternative to the detriment of the other: their entire life is already a betrayal of an authentically-committed existence. This is also why the tension between the two claims is not a tragic existential dilemma but a very soft uncertainty and oscillation.

Such a reading is nonetheless too simple, for it ignores the enigma of the final fantasy: WHOSE fantasy is this, his or hers? Is it not HERS (she is the observer-dreamer), and the whole dream is focused on her destiny of going to Paris to shoot the film, etc.? Against some critics who claimed that the film is male-biased, i.e., that Sebastian is the active partner in the couple, one should assert that Mia is the subjective centre-point of the film: the choice is much more hers than his, which is why, at the film’s end, she is the big star and Sebastian, far from a celebrity, is just the owner of a moderately-successful jazz club (selling also fried chicken). This difference becomes clear when we listen closely to the two conversations between Mia and Sebastian when one of them has to make the choice. When Sebastian announces to her that he will join the band and spend most of the time touring, Mia does not raise the question of what this means for the two of them; instead, she asks him if this is what HE really wants, i.e., if HE likes playing with this band. Sebastian replies that people (the public) like what he is doing, so his playing with the band means a permanent job and a career, with the chance to put some money aside and open his jazz club. But she insists correctly that the true question is the one of his desire: what bothers her is not that, if he chooses his career (playing with the band), he will betray her (their love relationship), but that, if he chooses this career, he will betray himself, his true calling. In the second conversation which takes place after the audition, there is no conflict and no tension: Sebastian immediately recognizes that for Mia acting is not just a career opportunity but a true calling, something she has to do to be herself, so that abandoning it would ruin the very base of her personality. There is no choice here between their love and her calling: in a paradoxical but deeply true sense, if she were to abandon the prospect of her acting in order to stay with him in LA, she would also betray their love since their love grew out of their shared commitment to a Cause.

We stumble here upon a problem passed over by Alain Badiou in his theory of Event. If the same subject is addressed by multiple Events, which of them should be given priority? Say, how should an artist decide if he cannot bring together his love life (building a life together with his/her partner) and his dedication to art? We should reject the very terms of this choice. In in an authentic dilemma, one should not decide between Cause and love, between the fidelity to one or the other event. The authentic relationship between Cause and love is more paradoxical. The basic lesson of King Vidor’s Rhapsody is that, in order to gain the beloved woman’s affection, the man has to prove that he is able to survive without her, that he prefers his mission or profession to her. There are two immediate choices: (1) my professional career is what matters most to me; the woman is just an amusement, a distracting affair; (2) the woman is everything to me; I am ready to humiliate myself, to forsake all my public and professional dignity for her. They are both false, as they lead to the man being rejected by the woman. The message of true love is thus: even if you are everything to me, I can survive without you and I am ready to forsake you for my mission or profession. The proper way for the woman to test the man’s love is thus to “betray” him at the crucial moment of his career (the first public concert in the film, the key exam, the business negotiation which will decide his career). Only if he can survive the ordeal and accomplish successfully his task while deeply traumatized by her desertion, will he deserve her and she will return to him. The underlying paradox is that love, precisely as the Absolute, should not be posited as a direct goal. It should retain the status of a by-product, of something we get as an undeserved grace. Perhaps, there is no greater love than that of a revolutionary couple, where each of the two lovers is ready to abandon the other at any moment if revolution demands it.

The question is thus: how does an emancipatory-revolutionary collective which embodies the “general will” affect intense erotic passion? From what we now about love among the Bolshevik revolutionaries, something unique took place there and a new form of love couple emerged: a couple living in a permanent state of emergency, totally dedicated to the revolutionary Cause, ready to sacrifice all personal sexual fulfilment to it, even ready to abandon and betray each other if the Revolution demanded it, but simultaneously totally dedicated to each other, enjoying rare moments together with extreme intensity. The lovers’ passion was tolerated, even silently respected, but ignored in the public discourse as something of no concern to others. (There are traces of this even in what we know of Lenin’s affair with Inessa Armand.) There is no attempt at Gleichschaltung, at enforcing the unity between intimate passion and social life. The radical disjunction between sexual passion and social-revolutionary activity is fully recognized. The two dimensions are accepted as totally heterogeneous, each irreducible to the other. There is no harmony between the two—but it is this very recognition of the gap, which makes their relationship non-antagonistic.

And does the same not happen in La La Land? Does Mia not make the “Leninist” choice of her Cause? Does Sebastian not support her choice? And do they in this way not remain faithful to their love?
- Slavoj Zizek