Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hauntology, Forgiveness and Perversity in Jerusalem

Man cannot live without belief in something that is
indestructible, even as the indestructible, and the belief in it, are forever hidden from him
.” ===>Franz Kafka

Udi Oloni, director of Forgiveness: ... after September 11, I was sitting in a seminar at NYU of Jacques Derrida and Avital Ronell about forgiveness. It was a very powerful seminar that made me contemplate the philosophical-political issues in my previous movie, Local Angel. Derrida says that when it is impossible to forgive, only then forgiveness can take place. In my previous movie, I tried to challenge this idea, and I visited Yasser Arafat while he was on curfew in order to try to understand the conditions for forgiveness, not between individuals, but between nations. When I finished shooting the new film, it suddenly occurred to me that this movie also deals the concept of forgiveness --but more in its emotional, melancholic aspects, and maybe as a necessary step towards love ...I want to bring the possibility of forgiveness back from heaven to the realm of the possible, the realm of politics, the realm of action --in short, back to earth.

Dear Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)

I read your letter asking me to boycott the Jerusalem International Film Festival. As you know, I'm coming to Palestine and Israel for the sole purpose of supporting Udi Aloni's film, Forgiveness, which is in my opinion maybe the most beautiful, powerful and important film ever made about the tragedies of the region. Even though I know that many of the individuals who run the Jerusalem Film Festival care tremendously about creating peace and justice, I
respect non-violent means of resistance chosen by my colleagues in Palestine in the fight against the Occupation, the Wall, the Israeli government's Apartheid policies, and the violence against the Palestinian people.

After communicating with others in the international community of intellectuals (including my long time friend, Judith Butler, who shared her huge appreciation with me for the movie Forgiveness and who also agrees that in this terrible time, we cannot act as if there is "business as usual"), I've decided to come as a guest of the film and not of the festival, regardless of the festival's good intentions. Therefore, I'm going to reimburse the festival for all funds that they've spent in bringing me. Yet I will speak about Forgiveness in Jerusalem, and I'm happy that the film is showing in the Jerusalem Film Festival.

Again, this isn't an easy decision for me. But I think it is the solution best fit for preserving the right of Israelis to change the hearts and minds of other Israelis through art and other means, while at the same time respecting the means of struggle that you have chosen. Further, I will make my first appearance in Ramallah for our friends who cannot come to Jerusalem because of the Apartheid policies of the Israeli government and the Wall.

Let's hope that with the combined forces of Palestinians, Israelis, and Internationals, we'll be able to bring justice, equality, and peace to the two peoples.

In solidarity,
Slavoj Zizek [Via I Cite]

[See also Zizek's explanation, during his recent Birkbeck lecture series on Lacan, for his attendance at the festival - Audio recording (final third) and transcript (via Different Maps)].

Two days after the beginning of the Israeli assault on Lebanon on July 12, Zizek delivered a lecture on Udi Oloni's Forgiveness at the Jerusalem Film Festival, immediately following a screening of Zizek's own film, The Pervert's Guide To Cinema.

[Extract here from a video recording of Zizek's 1-hour address at the festival]

Review of Forgiveness
written by Slavoj Zizek

FORGIVENESS realizes Eisenstein's old dream of film as a form of thinking: it confronts incompatible levels (the Holocaust and the Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians, victims and executioners, lovers and parents, political and private, reality and dreams) without offering any straight solution - it forces every viewer to start thinking and search for possible solutions. The thinking the film gives rise to is not a cold appraisal, but an emotionally engaged participation - the film THINKS WITH EMOTIONS, which is why many scenes display an almost unbearable emotional intensity. I was deeply shattered by this film. It works on me like magic. Although FORGIVENESS is deeply critical politically, it provides a profound experience of Jewish spirituality.

Review of Gilgul Mechilot & Forgiveness

written by Judith Butler

Udi Aloni's collection renews a theological reflection in the midst of ordinary life, popular culture, contemporary scenes of life and death. His film, "Local Angel," brings us into visual contact with Walter Benjamin's concept of the "ruin" that animated fragment from the past that drives us in ways that we cannot always know. He moves to the center of violent conflict between Israelis and Palestinians only to find there remnants of a theological relation to the 'Temple Mount' that furtively circumscribes the struggle over land, property, ownership, and claims to time and space.

In his screenplay, "Forgiveness," it is the land and the mental institution built there that acts as the ruin, foreclosing the possibility of a return to the death and displacement of Palestinians who lived in the village of Diryasin. The mental receives the Jews who emerge from the Nazi genocide as 'musulman' - traumatized to the point of losing speech and self-reference. So the musulman, the muslim, the christian, and the Jew are compounded here at this multiple and unfathomable site of loss, where on the
land where a Palestinian village was destroyed, an Israeli mental institution is built to receive the destroyed lives of Jews from the concentration camps. Madness ensues, but what alternative is there?

In his meditation, "Jocasta's Dream" Aloni makes clear that there are those humans who are murdered from the start, who live their murdered life not only in spite of their apparent death, but through the endless terms of that death-like world. Suicide is not simply a tragic conclusion, but a sign only that one has ceased to be able to stop the cycle of violence and the evisceration of those sites that allow for mourning to begin.

There is no single loss in this terrain of destroyed villages, destroyed lives, only a question of whether the law that mandates continuing destruction can be openly opposed, whether the sites can be reclaimed for open mourning, and whether a new generation can break the curse that animates the places in their partial memories and constitutive disavowals, whether a wide enough angle can take in the full array of loss, mourning, violence, and inadvertent hope. Since hope, too, emerges in tandem with destruction, only because loss binds us, and binding is the condition for new community.

Aloni lays bare the visual landscape of these ruins, finding theological and mythological resonance in the political and emotional dilemmas they pose. And in the laying bare, some hope emerges for a life that is not murdered from the start, whose birth is not implicated in the curse of revenge, whose ability to acknowledge an irreparable loss makes way for another future.

Derrida's Between The Two Deaths Revisited

On April 9, 1948, a Jewish militia entered the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin and killed over 100 villagers.

Soon after, a mental hospital was built on the ruins. The first patients to be committed were Holocaust survivors.

A legend says that to this day, the survivors have been communicating with the ghosts of the village.

FORGIVENESS (Mechilot) [The word mechilot in Hebrew contains a double meaning: one meaning is 'forgiveness,' and the other is 'underground tunnels'] tells the story of David Adler, a 20-year old American-Israeli who decides to move back to Israel, where he joins the Israeli army and kills a Palestinian girl, only to find himself committed to a mental institution that sits on the ruins of a Palestinian village called Deir Yassin.

Flashbacks and flashforwards reveal the events that led up to his hospitalization. A 10-year old female ghost holds the secret to the riddle. But only when the secret is revealed can she find rest and give David the option to end a perpetually-repeated destiny...

Doctor Itzhik Shemesh, a psychiatrist at the mental institute, injects David with a chemo-technological drug in an attempt
to build a bridge over the trauma zone and allow David to live a normal life. Even though he doubts its ethical consequences, his use of the drug is an act that mirrors his own deep denial...

[Script Extracts]

What does it mean, erasing the memory of someone like David Adler? David Adler, who made aaliyah, precisely because of his memory; David Adler, who, because of the Jewish precept to “never forget,” came here to serve our country. Can we really erase the memory of his trauma, and yet keep the memory that he inherited from his father, whose family was murdered for no other reason than for being Jews? And what demons will fill the hole that we carved in David Adler’s mind? Should we invent a drug that keeps the memory intact but eliminates the associations--be they guilt, or horror, or fear? You might ask why I am raising these questions,
when we have many young people with similar conditions who function well in our society. Does killing our memory destroy the very essence of our Jewishness? When I looked into the eyes of David Adler, and saw the void, I thought of the light in the eyes of my grandfather, a righteous man from Jerusalem, and all I could think was, “God help us.”

The voices are real, Gentlemen. You can try to eradicate them, but they still exist.

What voices?

The voices who speak to us. First you took the voices from the outside and put them on the inside and called them the subconscious. Then when you heard them again you called them psychosis, and you killed them with your poison. One hundred and twenty people you killed, and the day after, you built a mental institution on top of the mass grave--so that when one hears the voices of the spirits, you can condemn him as a madman.

Doctor Shemesh is given permission to use the drug by David's father, Henry Adler, a Holocaust survivor who spent a short time in Israel before becoming one of the most pre-eminent musicians in America.

Henry, who has the arrogance of Oedipus and faith in the rational overcoming of trauma via action, doesn't understand why his son has been hospitalized. But Henry's lust for life and his desire for normality make him live in denial of the past, which is unbearable for David, whose restless soul seeks the truth. Henry will confront a horror beyond all horrors when the truth reveals itself.

A blind patient in the hospital named Muselmann, also a Holocaust survivor, tells David to listen to the ghosts that are haunting him, that they have something important to tell him. [Muselmann is what they called the weakest people in Auschwitz. The ones on the verge of death. The ones beyond
despair. When we saw the living dead lying on the ground, we called them Muselmann. It means “Muslim” in German. Maybe they looked like Muslims praying all day long to God, totally surrendered… ]

Like the blind prophet Tiresias, Muselmann knows that the truth does not hold redemption, and this is why he never tried
to reconstruct his life after the camps. Because he lives between the world of the dead and the living, Muselmann can act as a conduit between the murdered ghosts and David.

(shaking his fingers)
This is my house. I am a mole.

A mole?

A blind little animal, digging and digging. You know, Herr Doktor, an old Hasidic rabbi once told me that when the righteous Jews of Poland were killed, their spirits began traveling through underground tunnels toward the Mount of Olives; for it is at the Mount of Olives that they will be resurrected when the Messiah comes. But when they reach the gates of the Mount, do you know who will be there to greet them?

Some other PATIENTS who have been listening to Muzelmann gather round, saying, “A mole, a mole!”

I suppose a mole.

(wide-eyed) Imagine, Doktor! There I am. Behind me,
piled high, are the bones of the slaughtered. In front of me, the spirits of the righteous Jews are coming. I must protect the spirits! For if they touch the bones they will lose their purity and will not be redeemed. So I tell them, “You cannot pass this way. This is a mass grave--a cemetery of the innocent!” And now those poor souls cannot go back and cannot go forward. So
there we stand, facing each other with blind eyes for eternity!

The flashbacks and flashforwards from the mental institute reveal, with the story of David’s life, the story of the eternal return of the trauma and a destiny that seems unalterable...

Yaakov, what did you do to my son? Release him from these demons that are haunting us. Let him go. Or are you telling me something I don’t know?

Henry, Henry, Henry. This secret is horrifying for you and for me; therefore my silence I will keep. You bear your burdens, I’ll bear mine. It’s better that way, please believe me.

Don’t patronize me, old man. With your blind eyes you see nothing. You’re trying to draw David into your madness, but I won’t let you. I am taking him away.

Henry, Henry, Henry. Is it not enough that you have already murdered? Now, your vanity will sacrifice your son.

You’re all full of riddles, but you don’t have any answers. We both came from the same hell. But you gave up on life; you chose to be with the ghosts. But I, I have to push them away, to fight them every single day to play my music. Not the way we played there, so that people wouldn’t hear the screaming, but to make the spirits fall asleep. I can’t let you hijack my son into your darkness just because you chose death.

Henry, Henry, Henry. Let the dead bury the dead, and don’t accuse me. You are the victim of your own success. You have eyes and you see nothing. The one who you saved you now kill. I chose nothing;
therefore I live between the worlds. I love David as the son I never had, and the tears from my blind eyes are now dropping for your fate. It is not in my hands to save, nor to destroy. The truth lies here, in the digging. And in this place, where you have been reborn, you will die. Therefore I tell you this: walk away, Henry, and give David the chance we never had. Leave him in my hands, for I am not alive; thus I am protected.

Zizek: Udi Aloni’s Forgiveness (2005) is a fiction movie based on one of those crazy historical coincidences: in order to arouse panic among the Palestinians and make them flee during the 1948 war, the Israeli army killed the population of a small Palestinian village in the suburb of Jerusalem and razed to ground all houses; afterwards, they built on these grounds a psychiatric hospital for the survivors of the holocaust (later for the victims of the terrorist kidnappings). The hypothesis of the film is that the patients are haunted by the ghosts of those who are buried beneath the ground of the hospital, in an example of what Gilles Deleuze referred to as the atemporal superimposition of historical moments in the crystal-image. The irony is shattering: those most sensitive to the ghosts of the killed Palestinians are the very survivors of the holocaust (the film plays with the fact that the living dead in the camps were called Muslims, Musulmannen). Aloni neither elevates the holocaust into the Absolute Crime which somehow legitimizes Israeli activity in the occupied zones, allowing the Israelis to dismiss all criticism of the Israeli politics as secretly motivated by the holocaust-denial; nor does he resort to the ridiculously false (and effectively latently anti-Semitic) equation “what Nazis were doing to the Jews, the Jews are now doing to Palestinians.”

So why should we, as Badiou proposes, abstract from the holocaust when we judge the Israeli politics towards Palestinians? Not because one can compare the two, but precisely because the holocaust was an incomparably stronger crime. It is those who evoke holocaust that effectively manipulate it, instrumentalizing it for today’s political uses. The very need to evoke holocaust in defense of the Israeli acts secretly implies that Israel is committing such horrible crimes that only the absolute trump-card of holocaust can redeem them.

... in the concentration-camp universe at its most horrifying, it is no longer possible to sustain this gap between reality in its material inertia and the aethereal domain of infinite Life. The Muslim is so destitute that his stance can no longer be considered "tragic": he no longer retains the minimum of dignity against the background of which his miserable position would have appeared as tragic - he is simply reduced to the shell of a person, emptied of the spark of spirit. If we try to present him as tragic, the effect will be precisely comic, as when one tries to read tragic dignity into a meaningless idiotic persistence. On the other hand, although the Muslim is in a way "comic," although he acts in the way that is usually the stuff of comedy and laughter (his automatic, mindless repetitive gestures, his impassive pursuit of food), the utter misery of his condition thwarts any attempt to present him as a "comic character." Again, if we try to present him as comic, the effect will be precisely tragic, like when the sad sight of someone cruelly mocking a helpless victim (like putting the obstacles in the way of a blind person, to see if he will stumble), instead of producing laughter in the observers, generates sympathy for the victim's tragic predicament. Did not something along these lines happen with the rituals of humiliation in the camps, from the notorious inscription above the entrance to the Auschwitz gate "Arbeit macht frei!" to the music band that accompanied prisoners to work or to gas chambers? It is only through such cruel humor that the tragic sentiment can be generated in the concentration camp universe.

The Muslim is thus the zero-point at which the very opposition between tragedy and comedy, between the sublime and the ridiculous, between dignity and derision, is suspended, the point at which one pole directly passes into its opposite. If we try to present his predicament as tragic, the result is comic, a mocking parody of the tragic dignity, and if we treat him as a comic character, tragedy emerges. We enter here the domain that is somehow outside or, rather, beneath the very elementary opposition of the dignified hierarchical structure of authority and its carnivalesque reversal, of the original and its parody, its mocking repetition. Can one imagine a film rendering THIS domain?

Udi Oloni: Primo Levi describes the Muselmann in the camps as a non-alive creature: even though there is no life in his eyes, he is not dead. Even though he cannot bear witness to the horror, he is, by his very existence, the testimony to the horror itself.

I placed the Muselmann and the entire story in a mental institute built in Israel on the ruins of a Palestinian village, Deir Yassin, most of the inhabitants of which were massacred in 1948. (This mental institute exists to this day and its first patients were Holocaust survivors.) I placed the psychological story in the soul of our protagonist David Adler, the son of Henry Adler and the one who carries the trauma into the future.

The mood of the film is located between the real and the uncanny. Between the conscious and the unconscious. From this mood emerges the aesthetic of the film. Within the mental institute, the aesthetic structure of the film will function vertically, as the undead (the victims of the massacre from the underground village) communicate with the unalive (the hospital patients) using the mental institute as conduit between the two worlds. Within the horizontal line of the narrative, the hospital acts as the hub from which flashbacks and flashforwards to New York, Israel, and Palestine emerge. FORGIVENESS tries to point to where the internal wounds of tragic heroes and tragic nations are bleeding and to suggest the possibility of an opening or a hope.


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