Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Revenant Of Deconstruction

Derrida On 'Ghostly Hauntings' ... And Kafka's 'Ghost'

'The Science Of Ghosts' - Derrida In 'Ghost Dance'

Presence Is Always Divided

On The Problematics Of Deconstruction

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Image, The Film-Maker, His Cow, And Her Cheese [INLAND EMPIRE]

"Without cheese there wouldn't be an INLAND EMPIRE." [Short Video]

[The two guys who made/accidentally-captured this 2-minute video - of Lynch in a suitably bizarre "performance art" promotion of his latest film on a Hollywood sidewalk - sound like the two guys from the Black-Book office scene/massacre in Lynch's Mulholland Dr ...].

Since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival last September, this DV-shot, 3-hour oneiric epic has been rhizomatically percolating ever so slowly but surely.

"EVEN by David Lynch’s weird standards his latest thriller is an exasperating stretch. For three chilly hours we shadow a small cast of artists and prostitutes as their identities are deliberately blurred in one of the most impenetrable films ever made ... The character played by Jeremy Irons is trying to shoot a psychological drama about love and terror in some sort of crazy labyrinth but there’s something deeply wrong with his script. "

"David Lynch's latest opus is a Russian doll of a film with stories inside stories inside stories. But coming in at three hours long, made in Poland and Hollywood, the digitally-shot film is inspired and incomprehensible by turns ... Laura Dern (who also co-produced) stars as an actress who has just landed a part in a new film. What the producers have neglected to tell her is that the movie is a remake and that the two original leads were murdered. Now, history looks set to repeat itself. "

"There is a very clean divide in Mulholland Drive between a woman's dreams and waking life, but the walls between the two are completely dissolved in the more fragmentary Inland Empire, Lynch's most self-reflexive creation to date. The director has vowed never to work on film again, and for this, his first feature shot on digital video, he lobs a cherry bomb at his entire canon, recording the jagged remnants that resonate from the blast as they slide and dissipate into the swirl of his projector beam. Some may call it a toilet, but I like to think of it as a splendiferous whirlpool of wonders. "

"You may ask what the film's stream of non sequiturs, anecdotes, clues, doublings, folktales, and psychotic episodes mean. We could say nothing and declare that Inland Empire doesn't so much fall into the abyss as it resides in it, telegraphing dizzying sounds and visions from its drowned world toward the outside, which should suffice as an explanation if you've learned to respect the fact that Lynch carves his films much closer to where our id resides than anyone has ever dared. Lynch, more honestly than Godard, embraces the dark and dingy contours of the DV format ..."

Can't wait ...

See also this excellent review over at American Stranger.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Gramophone's Technological Uncanny


" The time is out of joint. Time is out of joint, time is unhinged. The hinges are the axis around which the door turns. Cardo [hinge of the door, the semantic root of "cardinal" numbers], in Latin, designates the subordination of time to the cardinal points through which the periodical movements that it measures pass. As long as time remains on its hinges, it is subordinate to movement: it is the measure of movement, interval or number. This was the view of ancient philosophy. But time out of joint signifies the reversal of the movement-time relationship. It is now movement which is subordinate to time. [ . . .] Time is no longer related to the movement which it measures, but movement is related to the time which conditions it." (Deleuze, Kant's Critical Philosophy, vii, 1963).


Further to Mark K-Punk's continuing investigation of sonic hauntology, phonograph blues and the technological uncanny:


Starting From Scratch: Remembering the Gramophone in Literature, Music, and Film

Remembering White Noise: R. M. Rilke’s Gramatophonocentrism

Bram Ieven

This paper introduces the general topic of the session, memories of the gramophone in other media and in the arts. To do so, I first introduce a theoretical apparatus that might help to circumscribe the phenomenon at hand. I argue that the grammatology Derrida developed in the sixties shows traces of the gramophone and that this theory itself can be mobilized again to conceptualize the gramophone as a medium for storing information (technical memory). Derrida, I argue, was himself influenced by the paradigm of material inscription that was set out by the gramophone, which clearly shows in his definition of the grammè as the material inscription that destroys the possibility of direct experience but at the same time makes sensation possible. (Derrida 1967: 19-20) Derrida’s critique of phonocentrism, which is based on his theory of the grammè and the trace, is redefined by Friedrich Kittler as an ascendant of the gramophone: “The trace of all writing, this trace of pure difference, is simply the needle of a gramophone.” (Kittler 1986: 55)

Having introduced the theoretical apparatus, I turn to a concrete example of the remediation of the gramophone: the remediation of white noise in Rainer Maria Rilke’s work. Reflecting on the classes in anatomy he attended in Paris, Rilke describes how he was struck by the meandering seam that crosses the crown of the scull. To him this seam looked as if it was drawn by the needle of a gramophone, and a primal noise (Ur-Gerausch) could perhaps be heard if a needle would scratch over the seam. (Rilke, in Kittler 1986: 66) Rilke’s reflection is emblematic for how the gramophone found its way into the arts in general, and into literature in specific. I will trace the influence of white noise in Rilke’s work, with specific attention for his short text on primal noise and Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge.

"You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet": The Voice as Object in Early Sound Cinema

Yasco Horsman

This paper discusses the intrusion of the voice in the two ‘first’ commercially released sound films: The Jazz Singer (1927), a musical starring singer Al Jolson, and a Mickey Mouse short, Steamboat Willy (1928), which was marketed as the first animated cartoon with sound. Both films are highly self-conscious in the way they employ the new technology of sound cinema. The story-lines of both Steamboat Willy and the Jazz Singer revolve around the voice. In both cases, the voice is not so much an organ of speech but is first and foremost used for singing, an activity which is presented as slightly obscene and invested with an enjoyment that is rather anti-social. My paper points to the fact that the preoccupation with this singing voice leads both films to make a similar visual pun in which the voice is depicted visually as an object that has a certain autonomy with regard to the singing subject. This object becomes a puncture that threatens to unravel the texture of the cinematic text (in The Jazz Singer) or a blur that distorts the film anamorphotically (in Steamboat Willy). I argue that these crucial scenes in both films point to the ‘scandal’ of the gramophone, an uncanniness that is at the heart of this technology, and –perhaps surprisingly- suggest that cinema had relied on the very ‘dumbness’ of its silent phase for its coherence. The ‘remediation’ of the gramophone in early sound film, then, is revealing with regard to both media.

The Original Scratch: Hip Hop Scratch Techniques in Between Art and Medium

Jan Hein Hoogstad

Although Thomas Edison primarily developed the gramophone as a medium to store and transmit human speech, it was also used to record music from the start. Nonetheless, this technical device first acquired its real musical potential with subsequent inventions. The first of these shifts was the introduction of multi-track recording technology. The recording now no longer necessarily maintained a mimetic relation to the recording session, but is changed into a complex sonic landscape of voices, sounds and other noises. The same argument can also be applied to the concept of time. Multi-track recording should be conceived as an event that breaks the mimetic relation between the temporal structure of the original and the copy. As a result, a gramophone record is not marked by a unidirectional temporal motion, but forms a temporal patchwork of different time tracks.

The technique of scratching – as developed by New York hip-hop DJs at the end of the 1970’s – marks a second shift in the history of the gramophone. The scratch changes the record player from a recording device into a musical instrument with its own distinctive sound. Because this sound is unique, it quickly became a source of recording itself. In other words, with the invention of the scratch the gramophone simultaneously completed the circle and made a new beginning.

When we look closer at what a scratch exactly is, we will notice that it is marked by the same paradoxical movement as its invention as such. The scratch is at the same time a jump back in time and a new beginning. Although this temporal movement is a disposition of the gramophone as such, it cannot be conceived from an intermedial perspective. The scratch can only be initiated by an external – rather than a transcendent – actor. In my presentation I want to develop scratching with Heidegger’s concept of Ursprung (origin, but literally primordial jump). As opposed to Ursprung, however, the scratch does not go back to a single origin. Because the vinyl has become a temporal patchwork, the scratch can go back to multiple beginnings. For that reason, the scratch not only transforms a technical device into a musical instrument, it is also a cultural technique that manipulates the course of time.


Intellipedia: Gov't unveils a Wikipedia for spies

Analysts can add and edit content on government's classified Web site

Updated: 6:53 p.m. ET Oct. 31, 2006

WASHINGTON - The U.S. intelligence community Tuesday unveiled its own secretive version of Wikipedia, saying the popular online encyclopedia format known for its openness is key to the future of American espionage.

The office of U.S. intelligence czar John Negroponte announced Intellipedia, which allows intelligence analysts and other officials to collaboratively add and edit content on the government's classified Intelink Web much like its more famous namesake on the World Wide Web.

A "top secret" Intellipedia system, currently available to the 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, has grown to more than 28,000 pages and 3,600 registered users since its introduction on April 17. Less restrictive versions exist for "secret" and "sensitive but unclassified" material.

The system is also available to the Transportation Security Administration and national laboratories.

Intellipedia is currently being used to assemble a major intelligence report, known as a national intelligence estimate, on Nigeria as well as the State Department's annual country reports on terrorism, officials said.

Some day it may also be the path intelligence officials take to produce the president's daily intelligence briefing.

But the system, which makes data available to thousands of users who would not see it otherwise, has also stirred qualms about potential security lapses following the recent media leak of a national intelligence estimate that caused a political uproar by identifying Iraq as a contributor to the growth of global terrorism.

"We're taking a risk," acknowledged Michael Wertheimer, the intelligence community's chief technical officer. "There's a risk it's going to show up in the media, that it'll be leaked."

Intelligence officials say the format is perfect for sharing information between agencies, a centerpiece of the reform legislation that established Negroponte's office as national intelligence director after the Sept. 11 attacks.

They also said it could lead to more accurate intelligence reports because the system allows a wider range of officials to scrutinize material and keeps a complete, permanent record of individual contributions including dissenting points of view.

That might help avoid errors of the kind that led to the widely criticized 2002 national intelligence estimate that said Saddam Hussein possessed large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

Intelligence officials are so enthusiastic about Intellipedia that they plan to provide access to Britain, Canada and Australia.

Even China could be granted access to help produce an unclassified intelligence estimate on the worldwide threat posed by infectious diseases.

"We'd hope to get down to the doctor in Shanghai who may have a useful contribution on avian flu," senior intelligence analyst Fred Hassani said.


Wikipedia's entry for Intellipedia: Intellipedia is a project of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence ...

More detailed, in-depth information and analysis about Intellipedia is accessible from this dedicated Intellipedia Blog.

"A gift from the CIA. These shovels are the equivalent of Meatball / Wikipedia BarnStars, except they award both virtual and real shovels (for gardening Intellipedia, the intelligence community's Wiki)."---Eekin, who claims to be the first person outside of the intelligence community to receive one of these shovels 

"The Wiki and the Blog: Toward a Complex Adaptive Intelligence Community." --------Original proposal for Intellipedia presented by D. Calvin Andrus, Chief Technology Officer, CIA Center For Mission Information, April, 2006.

• At CIA, we have created nearly 500 internal blogs in
CIA’s Office of Iraqi Analysis are devoting time to assembling what they know into a collection of wiki pages, collectively know as the Intellipedia. ...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

US Fascism: Local Comfort, European Neutrality


Legal Defence now a serious crime in comfortably fascist US:


Stewart in Leg-irons; the latest victory in the war on terror

By Mike Whitney

10/17/06 "
Information Clearing House" -- -- "She has represented the poor, the disadvantaged and the unpopular ... It is no exaggeration to say that Ms. Stewart performed a public service not only to her clients but her nation." Judge John G. Koeltl; Federal District Court, Manhattan, NY.

So far, Bush's only triumph in his muddled war on terror has been locking up the two Stewart Sisters, Lynne and Martha. (They're not really sisters) Neither posed any threat to national security, but that's beside the point. Their arrest sends a chilling message to "home-decoration mavens" and 67 year old cancer patients that they'd better "watch their step" or they'll find themselves in prison-pinstripes.

Do Americans really see how crazy this is or have we been so subsumed in "terror-hysteria" that we've lost our sense of humor altogether?

Consider this: while attorney Stewart is tottering off to prison for defending a "blind Sheik", a tan and rested Bin Laden is somewhere in the Pakistan-outback working on golf swing and his memoirs?

Does that make any sense?

Only if the real objective is to intimidate lawyers who defend unpopular clients rather than nailing terrorists.

Bush's contempt for leftists far exceeds his dubious desire to rid the world of terrorism. That's why the country's energies are so misdirected and doomed to failure.

Sure, his cohorts, the uber-nationalists, eat-it-up. That's why the right-wing blogs are all atwitter with the news of Bush's "Big Catch" in the GWOT. According to the loonies on the right, "Terrorist Kingpin" Stewart is guilty of everything except steering the planes into the buildings.


Bilious Bill O'Reilly and his ilk will probably follow up with their typical scathing attack on civil liberties organizations, those pedophile-defending Stalinist pornographers. If we took O'Reilly's advice we'd empty Guantanamo right now to make room for any card-carrying member of the ACLU. The only way to keep America free is by eliminating the people who defend freedom.

How logical is that?

Imagine if we really took terrorism seriously? What if we withdrew the troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, shut down Bush's gulag in Guantanamo, stopped killing Arabs in their own countries, and recognized that "Islamo-fascism" is a clever public-relations buzzword intended to incite hatred of Muslims?

How long would it be before the "global threat of terrorism" would shrivel and die on the vine?

Three weeks ago, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was leaked to the New York Times. The report laid out the findings of the 16 American intelligence agencies, which "unanimously" agreed that Iraq was producing a new generation of terrorists and making the American people "less safe".

What a surprise.

Lynne Stewart's name was not in the report, but George Bush's featured rather prominently. Bush has incited more terrorism than any person in the grim history of the planet, and now, the 16 preeminent intel-agencies have confirmed that very point.

If we're serious about terrorism, we have to do something about the people who are creating it; Bush and Cheney. 5 years after 9-11, it's not enough to say “"At least we got Martha Stewart and her 67-year old namesake off the streets."

Note: Lynne Stewart received a 28-month sentence, but is now free on bail pending appeal.


Meanwhile, those in neutral-fantazising Europe resisting US-UK terrorism are treated as "common criminals" while delivering suspended pronouncements about their "criminal sentences."

The courts are starting to accept that the war against Iraq is a crime

In Britain and Ireland, protesters who have deliberately damaged military equipment are walking from the dock

George Monbiot
Tuesday October 17, 2006
The Guardian

In the early hours, two days before the attack on Iraq began, two men in their 30s, Phil Pritchard and Toby Olditch, cut through the fence surrounding the air base at Fairford in Gloucestershire and made their way towards the B52 bombers which were stationed there. The planes belonged to the US air force. The trespassers were caught by guards and found to be carrying tools and paint. They confessed that they were seeking to disable the planes, in order to prevent war crimes from being committed. This year they were tried on charges of conspiracy to commit criminal damage, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Last week, after long deliberations, the jury failed to reach a verdict.

The same thing happened a month ago. Two other activists, Margaret Jones and Paul Milling, had entered the same RAF base and smashed up more than 20 of the vehicles used to load bombs on to the B52s. The charges were the same, and again the jury failed to agree. In both cases the defendants claimed to be putting the state on trial. If I were in government, I would be starting to feel uneasy.

The defendants had tried to argue in court that the entire war against Iraq was a crime of aggression. But in March this year the law lords ruled that they could not use this defence: while aggression by the state is a crime under international law, it is not a crime under domestic law. But they were allowed to show that they were seeking to prevent specific war crimes from being committed - principally, the release by the B52s of cluster bombs and munitions tipped with depleted uranium.

They cited section 5 of the 1971 Criminal Damage Act, which provides lawful excuse for damaging property if that action prevents property belonging to other people from being damaged, and section 3 of the 1967 Criminal Law Act, which states that "a person may use such force as is reasonable in the prevention of a crime". In summing up, the judge told the jurors that using weapons "with an adverse effect on civilian populations which is disproportionate to the need to achieve the military objective" is a war crime. The defendants are likely to be tried again next year.

While these non-verdicts are as far as the defence of lawful excuse for impeding the Iraq war has progressed in the UK, in Ireland and Germany the courts have made decisions - scarcely reported over here - whose implications are momentous. Last year, five peace campaigners were acquitted after using an axe and hammers to cause $2.5m worth of damage to a plane belonging to the US navy. When they attacked it, in February 2003, it had been refuelling at Shannon airport on its way to Kuwait, where it would deliver supplies to be used in the impending war. The jury decided that the five saboteurs were acting lawfully.

This summer, the German federal administrative court threw out the charge of insubordination against a major in the German army. He had refused to obey an order which, he believed, would implicate him in the invasion of Iraq. The judges determined that the UN charter permits a state to go to war in only two circumstances: in self-defence, and when it has been authorised to do so by the UN security council. The states attacking Iraq, they ruled, had no such licence. Resolution 1441, which was used by the British and US governments to justify the invasion, contained no authorisation. The war could be considered an act of aggression.

There is no prospect that the British prime minister could be put on trial for war crimes in this country (although, as the international lawyer Philippe Sands points out, there is a chance that he could be arrested and tried elsewhere). Even so, the government appears to find these legal processes profoundly threatening.

When the Fairford protesters took their request to challenge the legality of the war to the court of appeal, Sir Michael Jay, permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, submitted a witness statement which seems to contain a note of official panic.

"It would be prejudicial to the national interest and to the conduct of the government's foreign policy if the English courts were to express opinions on questions of international law concerning the use of force ... which might differ from those expressed by the government," he wrote. Such an opinion "would inevitably weaken the government's hand in its negotiations with other states. Allied states, which have agreed with and supported the United Kingdom's views on the legality of the use of force, could regard such a step as tending to undermine their own position."

It doesn't seem to matter how many journalists, protesters or even lawyers point out that the British government had no legal case for attacking Iraq, that the attorney general's official justification was risible and that Blair's arguments were mendacious. As long as the government has a majority in parliament, the support of much of the press and an army of spin doctors constantly weaving and reweaving its story, it can shrug off these attacks. It can insist, with some success, that we "move on" from Iraq. But an official verdict, handed down by a court, is another matter. If a ruling like that of the German federal administrative court were made over here, it could be devastating for Blair and his ministers.

The prosecutors have lost before. In 1999, a sheriff (a junior Scottish judge) at the court in Greenock instructed the jury to acquit three women who had boarded a Trident submarine testing station on Loch Goil and thrown its computers into the sea. They had argued that the deployment of the nuclear weapons carried by the submarines contravened international law. The sheriff said she could not "conclude definitively" whether or not this was true, but that she had "heard nothing which would make it seem to me that the accused acted with criminal intent". The court of session in Edinburgh later overturned her ruling. Now campaigners against nuclear weapons will be mounting further legal challenges, as they try to sustain a continuous peaceful blockade of the Trident base at Faslane for a year (see www.faslane365.org).

In 1996, four women were acquitted of conspiracy and criminal damage after disabling a Hawk jet which was due to be sold by BAE to the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia. They argued that they were using reasonable force to prevent crimes of genocide that the Indonesian government was committing in East Timor. Their acquittal might have helped persuade Robin Cook to seek to introduce an "ethical dimension" to foreign policy in 1997 (he was, as we now know, thwarted by Blair).

It is true that such verdicts (or non-verdicts) impose no legal obligations on the government. They do not in themselves demonstrate that its ministers are guilty of war crimes. But every time the prosecution fails to secure a conviction, the state's authority to take decisions which contravene international law is weakened.

These cases cannot reverse the hideous consequences of the crime of aggression (the "supreme international crime", according to the Nuremberg tribunals) that Blair and Bush committed in Iraq. But they do make it harder to repeat.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Of Used Brillo Pads: Zizek, Penman, and Ironical Correctness

Brought to you by Andy Warhol

Without defensively resorting to citational pedantry, academic-Big-Other castration, or psychophilosophicus pomposity, much less an insistence on the precious existence of some extra-ideological humanist kernal (ala Sokal et el) that magically "exposes" the fakery of applied social theory, of Academic Institution - its Form, its syntax, its Message (instead of being its very condition of possibility), I think Penpill's response to Z-Man, here and here, is itself a misguided patho-casualty of the very flaws, of the impotent malaise that both Z-Man and Penpill are forever challenging ...
I have difficulty here taking seriously someone who's point of departure in ridiculing Z-Man is a conflating, a short-circuiting of Thought with Feeling, of "real" thoughts really really really manifesting one's indivisible, ineluctable unconscious desires. Isn't this at the very core of Kapitalist New Ageism, of Gestalt therapy verbatim, of the reductivist reality principle, and of a reactionary retreat into mystic post-modern subjectivity? Was this all just in Penrap jest? Just another flaky pendulum squirm of in-your-face pomo Oirony? A response to this guy accosting him while out jogging?
No, it wasn't. It is worryingly suggestive of a cynically passive, nostalgic idealisation of a time (up to post-punk early-1980s, reading Derrida and Lacan, watching Scarface [or maybe even its later art-house classist British "remake", Peter Greenaway's Jacobian The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover?]) when someone like Z-Man would have been taken seriously by the NME crew, but now is a suitably safe and iconic, media-construct-saturated performing chameleon hyperstitionally whisked off the 1983 set of Woody Allen's Zelig as Tony Montana's Id ... Someone who's "criticisms" of Z-Man amount in this instance to nothing more than lazy personal abuse?
There are many serious reasons to be devastatingly critical (and I include myself in that cohort) of Z-Man - his refusal to engage with issues, his philosophy-as-parlour-game, his political schizophrenia, romantically appealing for far-left Leninist revolutionary Acts while simultaneously justifying the antics of the Christian fundamentalist far right [on "class antagonistic" grounds to be sure - his alibi then oh-so-remaining intact] and scribbling nonsense about the "saintly" Lacanian Pure Desire of Drive in the obnoxious Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, his appalling Israeli visitation to promote his filmic perversion as Lebanon suffered mass meltdown, making him one of the very "liberal communists" he supposedly so detests - but Penman's resort to ad hominem, personality-driven derogatory assaults is not one of the better ones.

"Cultural Analysis, it's as easy as this ridiculously sublime Lego set."

From 90s Political Correctness to 00s Ironical Correctness: let's just "I don't wish to offend, but ..." disavowedly lash out at Z-Man's Slovenian/East European eccentricities and idiosyncracies, in an update of Steven Hawking AS INTERVIEWED BY Beavis and Butthead passive-aggressivist, Ricky Gervais.
The lisping, slobbering lego man, with a used Brillo pad for a beard ... [What, Marx?]

"I blame it all on Scarface."

Penman: "I know we are supposed to be above such things and shouldnt mention it, but what's with the cheap false teeth or whatever it is causes him to pronounce all his Sz as SH's? ("Show we sheee clearly wish SHyco...") and means that he comes across as even more of a cliche Whacky Euro Prof than he would anyway?" Do you imagine he'd get to make all of these documentaries if he didn't, if he wasn't? That's the rub: the subject supposed to be a "Cliche Whacky Euro Prof."
Penman, appropriating a fantasy-female Big Other - as real autonomous being - to the cause: ""He's just a stupid old man with a beard Penman." ... [] ... "But Christ if I have to read or hear that beating-yourself-up-before-the-Other-as-liberating-paradigm example from The Fight Club ONE MORE TIME I'll tear his bloody beard out by the roots... "
Time to grow one yourself then, Ian ...[for iconical correctness sake].

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Parallax Deadlock Post-Godel

First Impressions

Fredric Jameson

The Parallax View by Slavoj Zizek · MIT, 434 pp, £16.95

From London Review of Books, Vol. 28 No. 17, 7th September, 2007

As every schoolchild knows by now, a new book by Zizek is supposed to include, in no special order, discussions of Hegel, Marx and Kant; various pre- and post-socialist anecdotes and reflections; notes on Kafka as well as on mass-cultural writers like Stephen King or Patricia Highsmith; references to opera (Wagner, Mozart); jokes from the Marx Brothers; outbursts of obscenity, scatological as well as sexual; interventions in the history of philosophy, from Spinoza and Kierkegaard to Kripke and Dennett; analyses of Hitchcock films and other Hollywood products; references to current events; disquisitions on obscure points of Lacanian doctrine; polemics with various contemporary theorists (Derrida, Deleuze); comparative theology; and, most recently, reports on cognitive philosophy and neuroscientific ‘advances’. These are lined up in what Eisenstein liked to call ‘a montage of attractions’, a kind of theoretical variety show, in which a series of ‘numbers’ succeed each other and hold the audience in rapt fascination. It is a wonderful show; the only drawback is that at the end the reader is perplexed as to the ideas that have been presented, or at least as to the major ones to be retained. One would think that reading all Zizek’s books in succession would only compound this problem: on the contrary, it simplifies it somewhat, as the larger concepts begin to emerge from the mist. Still, one would not have it any other way, which is why the current volume – which, with its companion The Ticklish Subject (1999), purports to outline the ‘system’ as a whole (if it is one), or at least to make a single monumental statement – inspires some apprehension.

It will be dialectical to say that this apprehension is and is not confirmed. The first chapter, which explains the title and seeks to ground Zizek’s philosophy in some definitive method, is tough going indeed; I’ll come back to it. But later chapters – on Heidegger and politics, on cognitive philosophy and its impasses, on anti-semitism, on politics today – are luminous and eloquent, and will surely stand as major statements, with enough to provoke and irritate people from one end of the ideological spectrum to another (I am myself attacked in passing as some kind of gullible practitioner of commodification theory). Nor are they lacking in jokes, as tasteless as you might wish, and in passing remarks on current films (Zizek seems to have got Hitchcock out of his system, if not out of his unconscious – one never does that).

As for what has persisted through this now considerable oeuvre, I will start with the dialectic, of which Zizek is one of the great contemporary practitioners. The old stereotype is that Hegel works according to a cut-and-dried progression from thesis, through antithesis, to synthesis. This, Zizek explains, is completely erroneous: there are no real syntheses in Hegel and the dialectical operation is to be seen in an utterly different way; a variety of examples are adduced. Still, that stupid stereotype was not altogether wrong. There is a tripartite movement in the Hegelian dialectic, and in fact, Zizek goes on, he has just illustrated it: stupid stereotype, or the ‘appearance’; ingenious correction, the underlying reality or ‘essence’; finally, after all, the return to the reality of the appearance, so that it was the appearance that was ‘true’ after all.

What can this possibly have to do with popular culture? Let’s take a Hollywood product, say, Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Window (1944). (Maybe now Fritz Lang belongs to high culture rather than mass culture, but anyway . . .) Edward G. Robinson is a mild-mannered professor who, leaving his peaceful club one night, gets caught up in a web of love and murder. We think we are watching a thriller. At length, he takes refuge in his club again, falls asleep from exhaustion, and wakes up: it was all a dream. The movie has done the interpretation for us, by way of Lang’s capitulation to the cheap Hollywood insistence on happy endings. But in reality – which is to say in the true appearance – Edward G. Robinson ‘is not a quiet, kind, decent, bourgeois professor dreaming that he is a murderer, but a murderer dreaming, in his everyday life, that he is a quiet, kind, decent, bourgeois professor’. Hollywood’s censorship is therefore not some puritanical, uptight middle-class mechanism for repressing the obscene, nasty, antisocial, violent underside of life: it is, rather, the technique for revealing it.

Zizek’s interpretative work, from page to page, seems to revel in these paradoxes: but that is itself only some ‘stupid first impression’ (one of his favourite phrases). In reality, the paradox-effect is designed to undo that second moment of ingenuity, which is that of interpretation (it looks like this to you, but in reality what is going on is this . . .): the paradox is of the second order, so that what looks like a paradox is in reality simply a return to the first impression itself.

Or perhaps we might rather say: this is not a paradox, this is perversity. And indeed, the dialectic is just that inveterate, infuriating perversity whereby a commonsense empiricist view of reality is repudiated and undermined. But it is undermined together with its own accompanying interpretations of that reality, which look so much more astute and ingenious than the commonsense empiricist reality itself, until we understand that the interpretations are themselves also part of precisely that ‘first impression’. This is why the dialectic belongs to theory rather than philosophy: the latter is always haunted by the dream of some foolproof self-sufficient system, a set of interlocking concepts which are their own cause. This dream is of course the after-image of philosophy as an institution in the world, as a profession complicit with everything else in the status quo, in the fallen ontic realm of ‘what is’. Theory, on the other hand, has no vested interests inasmuch as it never lays claim to an absolute system, a non-ideological formulation of itself and its ‘truths’; indeed, always itself complicit in the being of current language, it has only the vocation and never-finished task of undermining philosophy as such, by unravelling affirmative statements and propositions of all kinds. We may put this another way by saying that the two great bodies of post-philosophical thought, marked by the names of Marx and Freud, are better characterised as unities of theory and practice: that is to say that their practical component always interrupts the ‘unity of theory’ and prevents it from coming together in some satisfying philosophical system. Alain Badiou has recently coined the expression ‘anti-philosophy’ for these new and constitutively scandalous modes of intervening conceptually in the world; it is a term that Zizek has been very willing to revindicate for himself.

Still, what can be the theoretical, if not indeed the philosophical content of Zizek’s little interpretative tricks? Let’s first take on the supremely unclassifiable figure who somehow, in ways that remain to be defined, presides over all Zizek’s work. One of Jacques Lacan’s late seminars has the title Les Non-Dupes errent. The joke lies in the homophony of this enigmatic proposition (‘the undeceived are mistaken’) with the oldest formula in the Lacanian book, ‘le nom du Père’, the name of the Father or, in other words, the Oedipus complex. However, Lacan’s later variant has nothing to do with the Father, but rather with the structure of deception. As everyone knows, the truth is itself the best disguise, as when the spy, asked what he does in life, answers, ‘Why, I’m a spy,’ only to be greeted with laughter. This peculiarity of truth, to express itself most fully in deception or falsehood, plays a crucial role in analysis, as one might expect. And as one might also expect, it is in that great non- or anti-philosopher Hegel that we find the most elaborate deployment of the dialectic of the necessity of error and of what he called appearance and essence, as well as the most thoroughgoing affirmation of the objectivity of appearance (one of the deeper subjects of The Parallax View). The other great modern dialectician, Theodor Adorno (whose generic tone compares with Zizek’s, perhaps, as tragedy to comedy), was fond of observing that nowhere was Hegel closer to his heroic contemporary Beethoven than in the great thunderchord of the Logic, the assertion that ‘Essence must appear!’

Yet this insistence on appearance now seems to bring us around unexpectedly to the whole vexed question of postmodernism and postmodernity, which is surely nothing if it is not a wholesale repudiation of essences in the name of surface, of truth in the name of fiction, of depth (past, present or future) in the name of the Nietzschean eternally recurring here-and-now. Zizek seems to identify postmodernism with ‘postmodern philosophy’ and relativism (an identification he shares with other enemies of these developments, some of them antediluvian, some resistant to the reification of the label), while on the other hand he endorses the proposition of an epochal change, provided we don’t call it that and provided we insist that it is still, on whatever scale, capitalism – something with which I imagine everyone will nowadays be prepared to agree. Indeed, some of his basic propositions are unthinkable except within the framework of the epochal, and of some new moment of capitalism itself; Lacan is occasionally enlisted in the theorisation of these changes, which have taken place since Freud made his major discoveries.

Take the new definition of the superego. No longer the instance of repression and judgment, of taboo and guilt, the superego has today become something obscene, whose perpetual injunction is: ‘Enjoy!’ Of course, the inner-directed Victorian must equally have been directed to enjoy his own specific historical repressions and sublimations; but that jouissance was probably not the same kind of enjoyment as that taken by the subject of consumer society and of obligatory permissiveness (Marcuse called it ‘repressive desublimation’), the subject of a desperate obligation to ‘liberate’ one’s desires and to ‘fulfil oneself’ by satisfying them. Yet psychoanalysis always involves a tricky and unstable balance between the theorisation of an eternal human psyche and the historical singularity of culture and mores: the latter tilts you back into periodisation, while the ‘eternal’ model is secured by the simple reminder that desire is never satisfied, whether you are a Victorian in thrall to duty or a postmodern intent on pleasure.

This is the point at which we reach the most persistent of all Zizek’s fundamental themes: namely, the death wish, the Thanatos, or what he prefers to call the ‘death drive’. Modern theory is indeed haunted by Freud’s death wish, that better mousetrap which any self-respecting intellectual owes it to himself or herself to invent a theory of (Freud’s own version having satisfied nobody). But we also owe it to ourselves to retain everything that is paradoxical (or perverse) in Zizek’s (or in Lacan’s) version of the matter; for here the Thanatos has nothing to do with death at all. Its horror lies in its embodiment as life itself, sheer life, indeed, as immortality, and as a curse from which only death mercifully relieves us (all the operatic overtones of The Flying Dutchman are relevant here, all the mythic connotations of the Wandering Jew, or indeed the vampire, the undead, those condemned to live for ever). The death drive is what lives inside us by virtue of our existence as living organisms, a fate that has little enough to do with our biographical destinies or even our existential experience: the Thanatos lives through us (‘in us what is more than us’); it is our species-being; and this is why it is preferable (following the later Lacan) to call it a drive rather than a desire, and to distinguish the impossible jouissance it dangles before us from the humdrum desires and velleities we constantly invent and then either satisfy or substitute.

As for jouissance, it is perhaps the central or at least the most powerful category in Zizek’s explanatory resources, a phenomenon capable of projecting a new theory of political and collective dynamics as much as a new way of looking at individual subjectivity. But to grasp the implications it is best to see jouissance as a relational concept rather than some isolated ‘ultimately determining instance’ or named force. In fact, it is the concept of the envy of jouissance that accounts for collective violence, racism, nationalism and the like, as much as for the singularities of individual investments, choices and obsessions: it offers a new way of building in the whole dimension of the Other (by now a well-worn concept which, when not merely added mechanically onto some individual psychology, evaporates into Levinassian sentimentalism). The power of this conception of envy may also be judged from the crisis into which it puts merely consensual and liberal ideals like those of Rawls or Habermas, which seem to include none of the negativity we experience in everyday life and politics. Zizek, indeed, includes powerful critiques of other current forms of bien-pensant political idealism such as multiculturalism and the rhetoric of human rights – admirable liberal ideals calculated to sap the energies of any serious movement intent on radical reconstruction.

All these ideals presuppose the possibility of some ultimate collective harmony and reconciliation as the operative goal or end of political action. It would be wrong to identify these ultimate aims with utopian thinking, which on the contrary presupposes a violent rupture with the current social system. Rather, they are associated, for Zizek, with that quite different absence of antagonism denounced in his very first book, The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989), a target also identified by Lacan and which has always been central in Zizek’s tireless explanations and propagation of Lacanian doctrine. This is the conviction that human subjectivity is permanently split and bears a gap within itself, a wound, an inner distance that can never be overcome: something Lacan demonstrated over and over again in an extraordinarily complex (and dialectical) articulation of the original Freudian models. But taken at this level of generality it is a view that might easily lead to social pessimism and conservatism, to a view of original sin and the incorrigibility of some permanent human nature.

It is to forestall and exclude just such a disastrous misunderstanding of the social and political consequences of the Lacanian ‘gap’ that is the task of The Parallax View. The book does so, however, not by any immediate extrapolation of the gap or constitutive distance from individual to collective; but rather by juxtaposing the theoretical consequences of split subjectivity on a variety of disciplinary levels (whence the difficulty of the opening chapter).

A parallax, Webster’s says, is ‘the apparent displacement of an observed object due to a change in the position of the observer’; but it is best to put the emphasis not on the change or shift, so much as on the multiplicity of observational sites, for in my opinion it is the absolute incommensurability of the resultant descriptions or theories of the object that Zizek is after, rather than some mere symptomal displacement. The idea thus brings us back to that old bugbear of postmodern relativism, to which it is certainly related. (Popular locution mutes this scandal by way of narrative: X tells the story of quantum theory, or modern dictatorship, this way; Y tells a different story. These convenient and widely accepted turns of phrase efface all the serious philosophical debates about causality, historical agency, the Event, philosophies of history, and even the status of narrative itself, which is probably why Zizek, assimilating the problems themselves to ‘postmodern philosophy’, has often been dismissive of narrative as such.)

The more fundamental difference at issue can be measured by comparing the parallax idea with the old Heisenberg principle, which asserted that the object can never be known, owing to the interference of our own observational system, the insertion of our own point of view and related equipment between ourselves and the reality in question. Heisenberg is then truly ‘postmodern’ in the assertion of an absolute indeterminacy of the real or the object, which withdraws into the status of a Kantian noumenon. In parallax thinking, however, the object can certainly be determined, but only indirectly, by way of a triangulation based on the incommensurability of the observations.

The object thus is unrepresentable: it constitutes precisely that gap or inner distance which Lacan theorised for the psyche, and which renders personal identity for ever problematic (‘man’s radical and fundamental dis-adaptation, mal-adaptation, to his environs’). The great binary oppositions – subject v. object, materialism v. idealism, economics v. politics – are all ways of naming this fundamental parallax gap: their tensions and incommensurabilities are indispensable to productive thinking (itself just such a gap), provided we do not lapse into some complacent agnosticism or Aristotelian moderation in which ‘the truth lies somewhere in between’; provided, in other words, we perpetuate the tension and the incommensurability rather than palliating or concealing it.

The reader will judge from the case-studies in this volume whether parallax theory has been fruitful. In particular, the chapter on the dilemmas of cognitive science – the material brain and the data of consciousness – is a superb achievement which transcends Spinozan parallelism towards the ultimate Hegelian paradox: ‘Spirit is a bone.’ As far as politics is concerned, it seems to me that Zizek’s lesson is as indispensable as it is energising. He believes (as I do) that Marxism is an economic rather than a political doctrine, which must tirelessly insist on the primacy of the economic system and on capitalism itself as the ultimate horizon of the political situation (as well as of all the other ones – social, cultural, psychic and so forth). Yet it was always a fundamental mistake to think that Marxism was a ‘philosophy’ which aimed at substituting the ‘ultimately determining instance’ of the economic for that of the political. Karl Korsch taught us eighty years ago that for Marxism the economic and the political are two distinct and incommensurable codes which say the same thing in radically different languages.

So how to think about the concrete combinations they present in real life and real history? At this point, we glimpse what is clearly Zizek’s basic Lacanian model for parallax: it is the Master’s scandalous and paradoxical idea that between the sexes ‘il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel’ (Seminar XX). ‘If, for Lacan, there is no sexual relationship,’ Zizek writes, ‘then, for Marxism proper, there is no relationship between economy and politics, no “meta-language” enabling us to grasp the two levels from the same neutral standpoint.’ The practical consequences are startling:

To put it in terms of the good old Marxist couple infrastructure/superstructure: we should take into account the irreducible duality of, on the one hand, the ‘objective’ material socioeconomic processes taking place in reality as well as, on the other, the politico-ideological process proper. What if the domain of politics is inherently ‘sterile’, a theatre of shadows, but nonetheless crucial in transforming reality? So, although economy is the real site and politics is a theatre of shadows, the main fight is to be fought in politics and ideology.

This is a far better starting point for the left than the current interminable debates about identity v. social class (it also seems to me a more appropriate climax than the enigmatic reflections on ‘Bartleby’ that actually close the book).

But it is appropriate, in the light of the earlier discussion, to ask just how dialectical this now turns out to be. I think an argument would run something like this: that third moment of the dialectic which returned to appearance as such is sometimes described (in Hegelian jargon) as returning to ‘appearance qua appearance’, to appearance with the understanding both that it is appearance and that nonetheless as appearance it has its own objectivity, its own reality as such. This is precisely what happens, I believe, with the two alternatives of the parallax, let us say the subjective and the objective one. To discover that neither the code of the subject nor the code of the object offers in itself an adequate representation of the unrepresentable object it designates means to rediscover each of these codes as sheer representation, to come to the conviction that each is both necessary and incomplete, that each is so to speak a necessary error, an indispensable appearance. I would only want to wonder whether there are not more complex forms of the parallax situation which posit more than two alternatives (on the order of subject and object), but which rather confront us with multiple, yet equally indispensable codes.

I cannot conclude without explaining my hesitant apprehensions about Zizek’s project. Clearly, the parallax position is an anti-philosophical one, for it not only eludes philosophical systemisation, but takes as its central thesis the latter’s impossibility. What we have here is theory, rather than philosophy: and its elaboration is itself parallaxical. It knows no master code (not even Lacan’s) and no definitive formulation; but must be rearticulated in the local terms of all the figurations into which it can be extrapolated, from ethics to neurosurgery, from religious fundamentalism to The Matrix, from Abu Ghraib to German Idealism.

Yet theory was always itself ‘grounded’ on a fundamental (and insoluble) dilemma: namely, that the provisional terms in which it does its work inevitably over time get ‘thematised’ (to use Paul de Man’s expression); they get reified (and even commodified, if I may say so), and eventually turn into systems in their own right. The self-consuming movement of the theoretical process gets slowed down and arrested, its provisional words turn into names and thence into concepts, the anti-philosophy becomes a philosophy in its own right. My occasional fear is, then, that by theorising and conceptualising the impossibilities designated by the parallax view, Zizek may turn out to have produced a new concept and a new theory after all, simply by naming what it is probably better not to call the unnameable.

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.