19 Jun 2016
The first four paintings seem to belong to a different psychological category than the last two. The first model (in “Nude on a Divan”) barely tolerates the gaze of the viewers – the artist and the public. Her gaze can be interpreted as expressing her “tiredness” of being a model and even reproach to the consumers of her nudity including the painter. The second model (“Grand nu”) lets herself to be observed, but with a drop of sadness, as if, she accepts her posing job as inevitable routine, se la vie. The third one – “Female Nude”, pretends that she is resting – she is trying to ignore the whole event. She could prefer not to be where her bare-naked body is. And the fourth one, “Nu allonge”, is coming to a full ontological contact with the gazes of those who have transformed her into an object of their staring – she is, as if, emphasizing her equality with her audience. She matches the gaze of the audience, and this challenge can be the first step of flirtation and, may be, even the imposition of her emancipated-ness. In this sense she is the younger sister of Manet’s “Olympia”.
With the last two paintings the situation is radically different – here we are already not in the land of perception at all, not in the theater of the gazes. Nude on the red cushion and the pink nude (the same model, but…), as if, has eliminated the very possibility of her own gaze – her eyes are not closed and not opened. More exactly, they can be either open or closed, but Modigliani, as if, suggests that this is not the point, that the punctum of the paintings is elsewhere. It is the very body of the model which starts to be the focus of interaction with those who approaches the model via the paintings. In “Nude on the Red Cushion” and even more in “Pink Nude” the human soul (of the model) is communicating through the body. The human soul became body in order to seek contact with the very personalities of the viewers.
The body of the model here is not only alive, like in preceding paintings, but it is living. It’s moving, not externally, but internally. We are not just in the presence of an attractive or even irresistible woman’s body – woman in her body, the bodily woman, woman fully incarnated, woman as body, we are involved with this body, that is, as if, “physically” interacting with us. The model is responding to our emotional response to her being in front of us – she activates our desire by putting us inside the sexual situation before we are awakened to it. There is no question of peep-hole perception anymore. This model is reacting on our presence in front of her before we started to react on her. She doesn’t belong to our perception, but to our desire which unexpectedly became maniacally aware of itself.
We are not perceiving woman’s body giving itself to our greedy curiosity – we are already unified with this body in a blissful abyss instantly staged inside our imagination. We‘re semiconsciously sexually involved with Modigliani’s model, and our involvement is framed by the work of art. We, appropriated by her, appropriate her. The difference between two paintings, the “Nude on a Red Cushion” and “Pink Nude” – is the coloration emphasizing various tonalities (various degrees of intensity) of the model’s body. In the first painting the woman’s flesh is still an object of neutral coloration, while the second addresses her body in a process of being transformed by her own ardor, which, as if, making her blood circulate much more intensely. In the second painting the woman is involved in a sexual intercourse with us. We feel the hotness of her body. We feel the resilience of her body – this irresistible effect of resistance in collaboration. She took us much before we took her.
The painter inserts his “Pink Nude” in between our voyeuristic greed and our feeling of sexual participation with the model – we are able to surpass our sexual dreams or our factual sexual pursuits – we discover the model’s sensual trembling in the depth of a physically static – cognitive interactional experience. Modigliani’s Pink Nude is ahead of life and ahead of imagination.
The artist leads us into the painting, and he abandons us on this way, when we are already there. And soon after this very moment we feel that we are anointed into becoming the monarch of the situation – chosen by the model for love with her, and then we notice the very absence of the artist, and more, that we don’t need him anymore, and still more, that we never needed him, that all the miracle is between us and her, her and us. And we visit her again in the painting, which in reality is a magic theater making us happier than we ever are in real life. To get the woman in response to her getting us, to find ourselves as the sexual object of the model right during sexual act – without any amorous and sensual preparation is like to find ourselves right in the middle of paradise existing without hell or purgatory and against everyday life with cane of imagination and crutches of entertainment.
When Modigliani was creating his “Nu couche/Pink Nude”, he was understanding his spiritual responsibility according to the principle of aesthetic privilege – his right to de-existentialize the sublime: to take sublimation out of life, to occupy the desire to sublimate with instrumentality and delights of art, and with this “trick” triumphantly squeeze the excess of “de-sublimated” pleasure for himself and the viewers of the painting. Even hundred years later we find ourselves as beneficiaries of his sophisticated boldness.
Modigliani achieves with us what he wanted – making us the poppets of his talent and craft. He forces us to meet his model who is sexually dedicated to us before we discovered her, and her sexuality in action treats us as sexual slaves. Modigliani’s canvass is a magic membrane imprisoning us into an irresistible primordial orgy*.
*Of course, in the big world of mass culture people are exposed to naturalistic/de-sublimated “pantomimes” that overstimulate people’s sexual energies. Uniqueness of Modigliani’s “Nu couche” is that it is satisfying our de-sublimated desires as de-sublimated ones but in a sublimated context. It mobilizes the viewers’ cognitive resources to process but not modify their de-sublimated impulses in the depths of their physically static interactional experience. Modigliani uses our cognitive focus against the naturalism of imagination.
09 Jun 2016
“Silence” is a foundational metaphor of the film whose meaning is the silence of something like the human soul in a world of triviality, blind impulses, greedy consumption, indifference and hate armed with military technology. But what is exactly silent in the human world depicted in the film? The term “soul” is drastically over- and out-worn long before the beginning of the 60’s in the previous century, when Bergman was concentrated on working with the idea and, finally, with production of the film.
Two sisters and a child, the son of the younger one, are crossing Europe, which is transformed by the chronic war and outrageously monotonous “survival” in an impossible circumstances, into a chronically ill patient – habitual and depressed alertness impregnates the atmosphere of the city, where action takes place. The hotel where Ester, Anna and Johan stay, is, as if, without air – it is like human history without present tense, when past and future seized the present, transforming it into a kind of timeless purgatory. But it is in this kind of a city and in such an hotel the most psychologically significant events of the story take place – relations between Anna and Ester took the most dramatic turn, relationship between Anna and her son Johan became more articulated, relations between Johan and his aunt Ester took prophetic turn, and Johan‘s relations with the Hotel room service steward, the old man, became the backdrop for Johan existentially spiritual growth and his growing attention to his aunt. Even casual meeting (ephemeral anonymous contact) of Johan and worker in the hotel gave Bergman the chance to explain how work, when human beings become dependent on it too much, leads to psychological degradation and distortion of human interaction.
In Bergman’s films of the mature period (“The Silence” belongs to) commercial calculations (which cinema in general as a very expensive medium and even films of non-commercial kind are forced to dignify) are always subordinate to their (interwoven philosophical) content and their (aesthetically loaded) form. Universal human problems (as always in Bergman rooted in clearly differentiated socially objectivized conditions of life and the human psychological participations in these conditions) define the films’ content and the emotional perception, feeling, intuition and understanding of these problems define the form. “The Silence” is an exemplary film in which social, political, religious and economic dogmas usually dissolved in their anonymous factuality, matter-of-factness and it-is-as-it-is-ness, have an encounter with personages and viewers’ unconscious and conscious minds.
“The Silence” is not about how the “human soul” reacts on the facts of life. The cliché encounters of the heroes of commercial movies can also be named as “human soul’s” clash with circumstances and/or with other “human souls”. But Bergman in his film differentiates between three type of human soul – soul of the body (soul of bodily needs and their emotional representations to the human mind), which is personified by Anna (Gunnel Lindblom), soul of the human self (the soul of holistic personality which reacts on various aspect of human and non-human environment), which is personified by Ester (Ingrid Thulin), and the childish soul (soul psychologically growing on the subject’s identifications with human objects), which is personified by the pre-adolescent boy Johan. In interaction between these three personages the viewers get the picture of how human individuals and societies can repeat (project themselves/itself into the world and into the future) and modify (change or distort themselves/itself by acting in the world and preparing to act in the future) for the better or the worse.
21st century needs Bergman’s cinema even more than the 20th century did. We personally know many people who are not able to watch “The Silence” for more than several minutes. This inability to follow Bergman’s thinking and cinematic language is an indicator of the success of commercial (entertaining) movies occupying the human psyche as did long ago Fernando Cortez’ occupation forces which used Christmas tree-like ornamental trinkets – to conquer the awkward but authentic native cultures of American archipelagos.
In comparison with what Ester is confronting in this moment, her sister (Anna, Gunnel Lindblom) and Johan are like little innocent creatures inside the womb of mindless living, when we feel safe from the intrusion of alien powers from outside of our lives.
Anna’s anonymous sexual partner (Birger Malmsten) is, probably, went through terrible experiences during the war and in no way is “scapegoated” by Ester or Bergman for “intervening into and disturbing” the life of the family. Nobody can reproach him personally for desperately needing consolation for his psychological traumas.
Anna and Johan – what more can a mother do for her child, except being nearby, with her maternal generosity. But even her overwhelming emotional power is not enough for Johan – Ester’s presence with her ascetic intellectual aura is necessary as well for furthering Johan’s development.
Posted om May 26, 2016 – Ingmar Bergman’s “The Silence” (1963) – Silence of the Human Soul and Noise of Technology Versus Meaningful Communication: The Last Part of Bergman’s Religious Trilogy (“Through Glass Darkly” – 1960, “Winter Light” – 1961-1962, And “The Silence” – 1962) by Acting-Out Politics
07 Jun 2016
Mass-cultural Americans are by no means identical with scientific Americans, but they are not necessarily on opposite poles. An Astro-physicist or elemental-particles specialist can simultaneously be mass-cultural person, if s/he doesn’t make a use of humanistic education to permanently bridge professional interests with human and societal life. Mass-cultural Americans do not read scholarly books and either form their opinions through political and ideological propaganda speeches (by people who talk in slang of pre-scholarly subjective common-sense impregnated by passionate and dogmatically structured emotions), or intellectually ignore a whole area of societal life while living their life of work and rest.
Mass-cultural Americans’ heart/soul is formed by their identification with stars of various ready-made skies – religious leaders and preachers, rock-musicians, movie-screen heroes, athletic career achievers and, of course, the bill-mills (billionaires-millionaires). For them the world is addressed by manipulation through working tools and exact formulas, and their practical or techno-scientific professions are about how to “train” nature, world and life to satisfy “human needs”. Mass-cultural Americans can be technical scientists or local workers – they are taught to deal with nature, world or other humans through instrumental actions.
Intense mass-culturization of the American soul started with post-WWII intensification of democratic and anti-militaristic moods among Americans. But this post-war anti-war cheer had substantial semantic limitations – the understanding of war was too emotional, too childishly impatient – it is, as if, democratic pulsation in the country was a matter of sunny air on the street, not of concrete people’s thinking. It looked that the trees and shrubs with their leaves and flowers were participating in a diffused enthusiasm, and a dense smell of money-investments into the peaceful democratic future joined the fiesta. It was a feeling that we had enough death, enough murders and enough destruction and human suffering as a result – that from now on it is time for life, for making a living, not war, for making love. But love is always ignorant about death, it doesn’t want to know about competitive connotations of love, the violent undercurrents inside sex, unconscious manipulative overtones in the beloveds’ treatment of one another. Because of hellishly difficult conditions of survival throughout the history, human psyche is prone to view alternative to war not as responsible life of reasonable moderation, but as a greedy consummation of living – as a life of excesses, of consuming pleasures, which we, who survived those millions who didn’t, as if, had a right to enjoy “for them”. This excess in how alive understand living after war became the nucleus of a perverted perception of what peaceful life should be about. The young people, especially from liberal families, started to build their own world on the American soil – this world was a mass culture – mass art, where the young people were the creators and performers. They did art for their peers, they didn’t care how the elder generation will take their creative twittering.
The most obvious miracle of mass culture – consumerism, entertainment and peer orientation, was that financiers from the elder generation started to financially back it up. The preadolescent children join the happiness, and their parents readily picked up the bills. From the Beatles’ innocent smiles to the microphone, to Michael Jackson famous crotch-touching dance (asserting/proclaiming children’s inalienable right for masturbation) – youthful musical self-realization was rolling like a snow ball hit. Very quickly the prosperous youthful optimism became maniacal consumerism, not wellbeing but sweaty excesses, drug abuse, sexual revolution instead of development of the ability to love the world and other humans, psychological gluttony as a way of life. A new arrogance became part of the mass-cultural ethos, a new megalomania based on pride of consumerist plenitude as a life style – as prove of our advantage as Americans over other nations. Economic globalism joined mass culture, and soon the military-industrial complex became again the central part of the American miracle. Mass culture became a new recruiting tool for new mobilization of competitive and belligerent energies, and entertainment became the confirmation of new American exceptionalism. Hollywood and rock-music become the sub-cultural highway to economic and military globalism.
Technology for mass-cultural Americans (MCAs) today is like Communism was for the Soviets, like belief in ideology of racial superiority was for the German Nazis. MCAs look at technological toys like the Soviets looked at Communist happiness and like German Nazis – at the idea of their domination over the world. MCAs believe that their military technology will dissipate their “envious enemies”, like Soviets believed that they will be saved from the “world of evil” by the super-wisdom of Communism, like German Nazis expected to beat other nations by their racial exceptionalism. Mass culture combined with the ideology of money omnipotence has become radical tool of corrupting the young American’s souls, the fundamental justification for overcoming humility and the need to learn how to treat dissimilar people as equally human.
Now, the American neocon decision makers, while exterminatingly hating the drug-takers and addicts and feeling panic in front of the sexual revolution and feminism, use these “vices” as indicators of superiority of democracy over other countries in their propaganda of “our” exceptional right to subdue and control them. They accept “gay rights” as soon as gays yearn to serve in the military, law enforcement and surveillance apparatus, and they will accept “gay marriages” as longs as gay-spouses are among neocon voters and political activists.
Entertainment forms of thinking about life in society became solid structure inside the brains of the young people who react on the world according to James Bond movies. Humanistic sciences or liberal arts are in a process of being destroyed through limited and non-financing. Psychology and sociology, for example, became disciplines analyzing human beings and behavior without any connection with conditions of life. Without humanistic knowledge and natural proclivity to try to understand human life and destiny, people are losing the ability to be critical – silent adaptation to what decision-makers expect and encourage becomes the only possibility for human beings to continue to live – without existential intelligence.
Mass-culture (or – mass sub-culture) becomes a complex tool for marginalizing and destroying humanistic (scholarly) thinking, and promotes a “thinking” identifying with irrational human complexes and childish-toyish imagination. From childhood we are impregnated with animation cartoon’s depictions of innocent and “funny” violence – when the characters are so violently abused, that according to existential logic they should die, but unexpectedly and victoriously survive. Without this existential experience of watching innocently belligerent cartoons, the American military posture in the world today or relying on privately owned high-tech guns in everyday life could never exist with such a naturalness and a matter-of-factness, as we see it in the 21st century. Violent videogames prepare the population for new wars (when death is as instant as breath, and as much expected as not taken seriously).
01 Jun 2016
Ernst often used fragments of birdcages in the collages that he produced in the mid-1960s Jose Maria Faerna (Ed.), “Max Ernst”, Harry N. Abrams Publ., p. 56
Pre-democratic – proto- or true totalitarian systems kept the mass people (ignoramuses) in, metaphorically speaking, birdcages – so they couldn’t express their genuine opinion about their lives in any other way besides to their spouses – over meagre meals (after some alcohol made holes in their mental shells of fear) or during the night (between blurry episodes of sexual delirium). But Western democracies with pompous solemnity, under the velvety banners of free speech (which supposed to promote democratic justice and equality in the middle of crude money-making) broke the birdcages for ignoramuses and transformed the broken pieces into equipment for athletic exercises and mass aesthetic gusto. It is this important moment in the development of democratic potentials of humankind that Ernst, it seems, is immortalized in his “The Great Ignoramus”. Plain ignoramus became “the great ignoramus” – liberated into free market, free choice sexuality, free choice of your own gender, encouraged and celebrated consumerism, available dope, etc.
In Ernst’s collage you see great ignoramus right in the center, in a process of being liberated – full of curiosity about what democracy will pluralistically provide for him – computers, high-tech guitars, Hollywood blockbusters, high-tech weapons, videogames, cell phones, cheap artificial food, global warming (enveloping human worming) that soon will give great ignoramus chance to walk in shorts whole year even in North and South Poles, and other pleasures. What we have here is the difference between homo-ignoramus and homo-great ignoramus. Homo-ignoramus was a type of a bird, but homo-great ignoramus is the embryo inside the colossal egg of unimaginable super-high-tech future of democracy. The wizardry wisdom here is obvious – better to be the embryo in democracy than a bird in pre-democracy.
Suspended in the brine of hydrogenated blood – consumerism and entertainment – especially created for the growing post-human embryos, the great ignoramus is full of precocious optimistic pride about the future super-high-tech paradise on earth – for the great ignoramuses. He is already full of intuitive, not pre-verbal but post-verbal dreams and questions. And he expects to get answers in a form of super-goods, super-fun, super-food and super-services for future super-prosperity, super-targets for target practice and toys for adults – playing at living.
Over the great ignoramus we see a giant tag for his future code name – he is part of the elite of the future. It is for him and his peers our Founding Fathers spent sleepless nights trying to invent the best political system in the world.
After years of depicting the post-WWI and pre-WWII monstrous barbarians, Ernst, following the historical development of modern societies – shifted to a representation of robotized/dehumanized (and looking much less frightening) innocent monsters of a consumer society, a kind of hybrids between Herbert Wells’ Morlocks and Eloi. This very hybridization of rich and poor, top and bottom, is, it seems, Ernst’s parody on today’s democratic equality.
26 May 2016
The silence of human soul as a political problem is the last version of and, at the same time, a radical shift from the issue of the “silence of God”, which Bergman developed earlier in his “religious trilogy”. The silence of the human soul includes speech without (existentially spiritual) meaning – ideological propaganda, commercial ads, everyday life clichés and (nonsensical) commonsense “wisdoms”. Speech without meaning as a component of “silence” is present in the film in endless “pantomimes” of prosaic life – army officers in the train, people on the street, customers in overfilled bar, day- and night-workers.
We’re not saved by God, but by love. That’s the most we can hope for… Each film of the Trilogy has its moment of contact, of human communication: the line “Father spoke to me,” at the end of “Through a Glass Darkly; the pastor conducting a service in empty church for Martha at the end of “Winter Light”; the little boy reading Ester’s letter on the train at the end of “The Silence”. A tiny moment in each film – but crucial one. What matters most of all in life is being able to make that contact with another human being. Otherwise you are dead, like so many people today. But if you can take that first step toward communication, toward understanding, toward love, then no matter how difficult the future may be – and have no illusions, even with all the love in the world, living can be hellishly difficult – then you are saved.
Ingmar Bergman (quoted in Paisley Livingston, “Ingmar Bergman and the Rituals of Art”), Cornell University Press, 1982, p. 253
Following the première in September 1963 the press was full of headlines such as ‘Moral outrage’ and ‘Indignation and abhorrence for Bergman film’. The Christian magazine Dagen was especially harsh in its censure, and even though none of its staff had seen the film, they had declare that the film not only showed scenes of intimacy, but also ‘other abominations, such as a girl’s self-abuse’. Pastor John Hedlund summed up their feelings: ‘If Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, however artistic that may be, he is still Satan nonetheless’.
I have never denied my second (or first) life, that of the spirit.
Ingmar Bergman, I. Bergman, “The Magic Lantern (An Autobiography)”, Penguin, 1988, p. 204
Bergman and Johan’s future
Bergman is making a point to Johan that the world of military technology (here – tanks transported by the cargo trains into places of their use) are toys of childish imagination which adult people take seriously because they are not able to live with (spiritual) seriousness. Bergman is trying to make Johan psychologically stronger than the technological phantoms of human irrational fears.
Lilliputians in the film as personification of the condition of males involved in war, but also of the artistic ability to personify them critically
Lilliputians in the film belong to a wandering troupe of circus artists performing in Variety Theater near hotel. In their numbers we see unambiguous albeit veiled satire on war-making. Here, in their hotel-room they’re entertaining themselves and their unexpected guest – Johan.
War stimulates blind and maniacal sexuality
Suddenly understanding what she semi-consciously was looking for – causal amorous partner, Anna (Gunnel Lindblom) went to the bar on the corner, where she was quickly “discovered” by the man looking like soldier in spite of his civil clothes. Pay attention to the marks on her anonymous partner’s shoulder.
Hotel room service attendant (Hakan Jahnberg) personifies in the film the ennobling influence of human mortality on those who are spiritually sensitive to life
War as everyday life
Human soul and sexual nucleus of body-ness
Bergman in “The Silence” shocked the audiences by depicting a masturbatory act (performed by one of the world cinema the most serious actress Ingrid Thulin) not just matter-of-factly but with reverie.
To make an orgasm by the “trivial vice” a part of life of a person whom Bergman depicts as role model, is more than just violation of philistine’s etiquette. Bergman and Ingrid Thulin were able to challenge the international public opinion influenced by bad faith, conformism and fake chastity.
Hotel room steward, Ester
His facial expression is that of a person who is in between his life and his death, who is in an existential – not religious “purgatory”. He is not tired of his life and he is not afraid of dying. He is suspended in nowhere-land – in a pure self-contemplation, pure perception of his own memories and knowledge.
Ester, on the other hand, questions over and over her approaching death. She belongs to what she understands as her obligations before people, as her mission, and she could prefer to postpone the inevitable, not for the sake of herself, but in order to finish what she lives for – helping people to understand ideological and political lies. Her illness fuels her passionate, rebellious nature and makes her more idealistic. She is a martyr of spiritual humanism, a personification of a not yet existing – wise humanity.
Ester with her dedication to world culture
Ester’s life is thoroughly devoted to her analytic reading and thinking about life and the world, and to caring about her sister and nephew Johan. She needs to keep her illness under control to continue to train her ability to explain to people the existential traps and the necessity of carry on with cognitive enlightenment. Ester tries to distract Anna from wasting her life on casual and empty affairs and especially gently – to weaken intensity of bodily symbiosis between Anna and Johan in order to stimulate in Johan the development of his soul and mind out of swooning identification with his mother. Adult males are either in wars of domination or in business of profit at all cost, and these wasteful obsessions distract them from being able to help their children to overcome intellectual conformism and blind rivalry.
Ester is smoking because of identification with her father who is no longer alive and who in the film is a metaphoric personification of God-father. She is drinking to be maximally alert until she is still alive.
Ester has her own euphoric moments for which she is paying dearly with her rapidly nearing death. She is a little overstimulates the importance of her soul. And her illness is made worse by her mental overstimulation. Her body is dying partially because her soul is over-active and over-passionate. She, as if, sacrifices her survival to her cognition.
Ester understands that her time with Anna and Johan is ending, and she doesn’t want to burden them with her unanswered expectations, closing hopes and unleashed dreams. This shot is registering the moment when Ester, as if, saying good bye to the quietly and innocently sleeping mother and son, her sister and nephew.
Anna (Gunnel Lindblom) and her casual lover (Birger Malmsten), feel in a way, as if, their relations were under siege. Who can reproach them for simply wanting to live even in the very middle of death/war, even though their understanding of living follows the most conformist and standard behavioral scenario?
Escapist and consumptive sex felt natural and easy, but its unconscious intention is not quick pleasure but the necessity to neutralize the hard work of human survival during war or any hard times. The meaninglessness of surviving a meaningless war can only be compensated by a meaningless sexuality. So, after indulgence you have nasty feelings coloring your relations with people.
Human body which Anna personifies in the film (more exactly, the body-ego, not in a conventional sense, rather – the body’s soul), has its own logic and its own will, but human soul (personified by Ester) as an independent psychological agency has more sophisticated logic and much more wisdom. Ester is not accusing Anna in anything, and is only trying to justify her position that it’s necessary to be less impulsive and less egocentric, and more disinterested in our decisions.
Like Ester is “crucified” by agonies of her illness for her disagreement with a world oriented on, simultaneously, killing and mindless survival, on rivalry, competition and fight/wars, Anna is “crucified” on her bed of passionate sexuality.
Johan, Johan and Anna
Lost while wandering through endless corridors of the anonymous hotel, Johan is confused by the fact that opposite directions which Bergman made the directions of Johan’s destiny, both refer to a future which not Anna but Ester has in mind for Johan – not a path to a blind (non-reflective) behavior (which inevitably leads to clash, fight and wars), but the one to a world culture and collaboration and tolerance and love for otherness.
Johan’s future which his mother cannot question or even contemplate while his aunt is terrified about, is represented by Bergman by what Johan sees through the window of the train – tanks transported to the place of the battles.
Johan and Ester
Johan’s factual life is to be locked between his mother and his aunt, between body and the soul, between sensations and contemplations, feelings and existential, not technical thinking, between rewarding heteronomy and anarchic autonomy
Johan is saying good bye to Ester. He, probably, will never see her again. But is this farewell forever or just situation? Aren’t the most important realities happening inside us and the most important relationships continue to influence us long after their factual end?
Ester and Anna (Dualism of Soul and Body)
Inevitable separation between Ester and Anna is the logical non-identity between thinking and feeling, emotions and cognition – between feelings growing into thinking, and feelings as limit of themselves
“Silence” as the absence of a culture of interpersonal confession is the basic existential metaphor of the film, the absence of communion between human souls as a condition of today’s world. The “silence” as a condemnation of human beings and communities dominates existential climate when people exchange either about what is not too important for them or, when it is important, it’s understood by them only instrumentally or through polished sticky clichés (when either shy hints or slang express/hide the real problems about life which people then left buried inside themselves). “Silence” thrives when too much noise exists – industrial, pop-musical, everyday life, of anonymous crowds, of shouts and screams, of roar of military technology. These types of noise are the symptoms of the silence of human souls.
Who are the three key characters in the film, Ester, her sister Anna and Anna’s pre-adolescent son Johan, crossing Europe during war on a train and get stuck in an anonymous city at a hotel when Ester’s illness takes a turn for worse? They are the personifications of the basic archetypes of human existence – Anna personifies the bodily self, our bodily drives and prejudices, the immanent spirituality of our body-ness and, at the same time the limitations of carnal way of perception of the world, then Ester personifies the soul’s self, soul’s needs and its conscious and unconscious in a particular historical moment of Western civilization, when after “death of God” human beings try to take charge of their life inside the parameters of secularized culture. This Western soul at the end of the 20th century (and the beginning of the next century) is as oversensitive and in most situations superfluous as it is feverish and powerless, as demanding as it’s doomed and agonizing and unable to enlighten its less mature – bodily sister. Our time, Bergman seems to be saying, is a time of decline and, may be, eclipse of the soul, but the one with hope for its recovery in future generations. It is, as if, the old soul is dying without god (without belief in god), but a new soul, completely existential (without theological prostheses) is trying to be born. The potential for harmony between soul and body, for the spiritually existential perception of the world is personified by the little Johan. And at this moment of history Johan, it seems, has to choose between his mother (body’s self) and his aunt (soul’s self) – between the neo-pagan and the post-religiously spiritual orientation. He has to eventually be able to grow away from the silence of bodily (physical and emotional) complicity with wars and soulless industrialization/technologiization, with mass culture of artificial (maniacally obsessive) pleasures and with blind sex, and to choose communion between dissimilar human beings. Johan’s communication with Ester is based on sublimated ways: reading to her, drawing for her, putting a puppet show for her, reading a letter she wrote for him, listening explanations from her containing his worries and clearing the mysterious and intimidating world of adults, etc. Johan, according to Ester, has, in his development, to take a direction on democratic (pluralistically oriented) humanism, not on the blissful swooning of bodily and emotional symbiosis’ blind yearnings.
One of the most daring aspects of Bergman’s film is the depiction of Ester’s lesbian desire for Anna not only as sexual and spiritual but as a moral position – result of her basic revulsion for the condition of the world, created by men and men’s territorial fights, hierarchical rivalries and reproductive reflexes as function of their self-assertion and self-expansion (Walter J. Ong, “Fighting for Life [Contest, Sexuality and Consciousness]”, Cornell Univ. Press, 1981). Bergman, seems, to be saying here that personal love as a completely human experience has to interact with the otherness of the bellowed person. The affair between Anna and her anonymous partner (Birger Malmsten) is another side of war (sexual equivalent of war), a regressively impersonalizing condition of life, which leads to aggressive assertion of the body at a price of denial of human soul’s needs.
“The Silence” is the third and the last part of Bergman’s “religious trilogy”, where Bergman addresses the life of the human psyche after the “death of god” – after the belief in the existence of “Heaven” as a basis of human life became flattened and marginalized. If in “Winter Light” the “death of god” is still interpreted as a “silence of god” (withdrawal of god, humans being abandoned by god), in “The Silence” the issue is human ability or inability to live with one another without theological mediation (which is “too thick” ontologically to promote human concentration on how to treat other human beings). In “The Silence” the silence is already not that of God’s (as a result of his “death”), but the future of human beings and human societal life – of human souls and bodies vis-à-vis other human souls and bodies.
The basic metaphors of the film represent the anatomy of modern life in its present condition: cargo trains with military equipment, passenger train with its cabins and corridors, monstrous “landscapes” of endless trucks – the tragic parody on Western civilization’s economic and military nomadism with a connotation of globalist intentionality; the anonymous hotel (where Ester, Anna and Johan temporarily stay); relationship between sisters after death of their father; Johan‘ relationship with his mother and, on the other hand, with his aunt; Anna’s way of life with her bodily rooted needs and moods, her sexual desires and her primordial bond with her son; Ester’s way of life with dedication to the meaning of human existence, her work as a translator of books, her drinking to alleviate the paroxysms of her illness, her smoking (sign of her identification with her father), her moments of contemplating about life and death, her communications with hotel room steward, her interest in serious music, her masturbation, etc.; Anna’s voyeuristic, exhibitionistic and sexual obsessions and her fights with Ester which meant to assert her freedom of sexual self-expression; Ester’s suffering because of Anna’s “moral weakness”; anonymous crowds oriented on survival, consumption of entertainment and military fight; hotel’s porter (Hakan Jahnberg) personifying the spirit of Bertrand Russel, and his relations with Ester and with Johan; the condition of typical male in Western societies as it is represented by the group of dwarf clowns and their “message” to Johan; Bach’s music as a drop of emotional spirituality in a world of silence – of total conformism and predatoriness; separation of Anna and Ester (of body-self and soul’s self of the modern psyche); separation of Johan and Ester (as a precondition of their ongoing relationship, their spiritual rapport); Ester’s letter to Johan as a Derridian trace and a message of hope.
The waiter at the restaurant (Anna’s casual lover) and the hotel porter (Ester’s caretaker and Johan’s friend) are two exceptionally important and semantically symmetrical characters in the film. The first is everybody – he is a typical European, American, Russian or Eastern living in toughest of times and trying to adapt and survive by any price. The hotel porter, on the other hand, is blessed by humility and contemplative ability. Bergman makes him even physically resemble Bertrand Russel to emphasize the existential overtones of Russell’s philosophy – sobriety of anti-dogmatic wisdom, rationalism with a courage to live without surrendering to obsessive panaceas and thinking without or at least with minimum of illusions. “For Russell rational thought is not the quest for certainty” (Erich Fromm, “On Disobedience”, Seaburry, 1981, p. 53). The porter’s “mini-pantomime of human destiny” in front of little Johan reminds us the “dance of human destiny” (performed by Antoine – Jean Rochefort, in front of the little client of his wife-hairdresser) in Patrice Leconte’s “Hairdresser’s husband” (made in 1990, many years after “The Silence”).
The separation of Johan and Ester at the end of the film, when Anna leaves sick Ester and takes Johan with herself, is not necessarily making the film “pessimistic”. With the fact that the mother, naturally, occupies the center of Johan’s world and Ester is just of a marginalized importance, her influence can be stronger than that of plenitude of Anna’s overwhelming physical availability. The tendencies which dominate also disseminate themselves, but a trace of the alternative can be stable and self-accumulating. “For presence to function… it must have the qualities that supposedly belong to its opposite, absence… Instead of defining absence in terms of presence, as its negation, we can treat presence as the effect of absence or as…difference.” (Jonathan Culler, “On Deconstruction [Theory and Criticism after Structuralism]”, Cornell Univ. Press, 1985, p. 95). Ester who in Johan’s experience and perception constitutes herself as a subject “divided from herself… in deferral” (Jacques Derrida, “Positions”, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1982, p. 29), can eventually become more important than Anna – as meaning, as a motto, as the dead father in Kenji Mizogucci’s “Sansho the Bailiff” (1954), who is able to radically influence his two children’s behavior long after his departure.
It is significant not only that Ester communicates with Johan through letter to him, but also that this letter is written on a solid, thick piece of paper – her being is incarnated not just in her symbolic message but in the very materiality of writing as a medium. In this sense her advice to Johan is not only to study foreign languages – to be able to dissipate the silence between people’s souls and to understand human dissimilarity, but to study the very human ability for written languages. Ester’s text doesn’t include, of course, any obvious advice and, god forbid, any trace of didacticism. It is “a speech produced without least violence… Nonviolent language would be a language without the verb to be, that is, without predication. It would be language of pure invocation…proffering only proper nouns in order to call to the other from afar.” (Jacques Derrida, “Writing and Difference”, Univ of Chicago press, 1978, p. 147). Non-violent code of communication as a model of communion is Ester’s precept to Johan.
Johan received secularly spiritual blessings – from his mother, from the old porter, from dwarfs-performers, and from Ester. They are – bliss of physical unity with another body, the message of the inevitability of aging and losing the loved ones, of loneliness and death, the message of spiritual androgyny as an alternative (to the belligerency and consumerism) model of human life and development, and the necessity for a non-violent, sublime communication with other people.
Posted on June 9, 2016 – “The Silence” by Ingmar Bergman (1963) by Acting-Out Politics
14 May 2016
In “Bless…” Kramer takes a very risky stance as a film director (who needs a solid financial backing) – he offers to the viewers a choice – either to identify with the characters who are similar with them – with the adults of this world, or betray themselves and identify with… the children in a difficult – adolescent age, when our sons and daughters are prone to target their parents with unjustified, from our, adults’, point of view, criticism.
We inherit human past which is full of unsolvable and nasty contradictions, which is very difficult to accept as inevitable (as between generations – between politico-economic system, created by the elder generation and its offshoots) and which create permanently renewed wound of human civilization. Fathers repressed, manipulated and seduced their sons by (fraudulent) ideologies where religious and secular elements were enriching one another. In the wealthy families the military service was an honorable destiny often culminating in courageous death on the battlefield. Even more disastrous was the destiny of the sons from the poor families – they were sacrificed for the gloriously aggrandized personalities of various super-stars – kings, dukes, emperors, generals etc., for the sake of the glorious images of the “our sacred lands”, “our sacred worldview”, or in the name of our collective narcissism’s sensitivity. Kramer’s film represents today’s version of contradiction between the elder and younger generation as between the American parents and the officials at the summer camp for boys on the one side, and boys at the camp who instead of dreaming about and training themselves for building their personal social and financial power and instead of consuming violent video-games and pop-music want to love nature and human beings and contemplate about and understand better human and societal life in the world.
Kramer’s “Bless…” emphasizes that “democracy”, unfortunately, is not alien to the global tradition of sacrificing young people by the war- and money-making decisions of elder males in charge of life. But Kramer is addressing not so much the physical danger of being a young person in a modern society, but the destruction of their souls through repression of their moral idealism which is a precious feature of the young minds and souls. Of course, youthful idealism of a “diffused” love for humanity and the world is always “childish” – “extreme” and “utopian”. To help it develop into a mature and nuanced moral stance it is necessary to create a sophisticated pedagogy, but, as Kramer depicts the social climate in his film, the very necessity to fight for a place in the social hierarchy and for financial success, the situation of modern family when both parents are busy working and the circumstances of children’s education where teachers are more and more reduced to the role of drill masters preparing the schoolkids for tests, make it practically impossible to address the children and the youth’s need to develop their souls, humanity and ontological (as opposite to social) confidence. We see that the officials of the summer camp are only interested in teaching kids competition, machoism and conformism. There is no place in our education today for developing taste for truth as such, if it’s not a technical-scientific one, but truth in the context of life.
The young heroes of the film resist behavioral and mental standardization, rivalrous posture and common identity. In our concept of education – obsession with calculation of one’s personal success is combined with the absence of emotional – democratic individualism. But the young heroes of the film fight for their idealistic moral utopia – liberation of the buffaloes from being slaughtered for the pleasure of those obsessed with guns and killing. They try to liberate themselves from competitive and fighting orientation, for the sake of friendship and care about the world and people.
The film depicts a permanent uneven psychological fight between kids and adults attempting to make from boys cowboys, and it is in tune with awakening of the American people to the necessity of protecting nature from corporate predatoriness and insensitivity to the world. The acting of adult actors and the children is balanced between the style of documentary and fiction films and, simultaneously, expressive and non-sentimental, and always essential, not situational. Kramer’s film becomes more and more exceptional work of art amidst commercially dedicated movies projecting into the audience the movie-makers’ obsession with shocks provided by violent gimmicks, and stimulating in viewers emotional non-sensitivity and cognitive stagnation.
The children in the film have an internal world while adults just react on circumstances which they then try to use for gaining advantage over the situations.
Posted on 4/18/’16 – Stanley Kramer’s “Bless the Beasts and Children” (1971) – Even Adolescent Idealistic Existential Utopia Is a Moral Dream Which Deserves Pedagogical Nurturing And Forming by Acting-Out Politics
07 May 2016
Concentrated wealth creates concentrated power, which legislates further concentration of wealth, which then concentrates more power…
We’ll focus here on two tools/strategies of subverting democracy in US after WWII without using antidemocratic ideology and more – by using pro-democratic phraseology. It’s, as if, the anti-democratic efforts take place covered with pro-democratic ideological banners. The first tool/strategy deployed against democracy is the ideology and practice of consumerism, and the second is mass culture that deploys machoism, guns/weapons worshipping and militarism with its hate and bravado to cover/handle with its influence youth with conservative sensibility, and, on the other hand, high-tech guitars and sweaty-sentimental signing on the stage – to handle young people with liberal sensibility. Who created these anti-democratic strategies – some evil mind in an evil body? Nobody in particular, but everybody with penchant for consumerist and mass-cultural pleasures. Primitive impulses to accumulate power and wealth got a chance to act through technology with full naiveté about their own nature. Technological manipulation of the people and lands doesn’t seem, at first glance, like manipulation, but as generously providing people unlimited opportunities to improve their lives.
Consumerism and mass culture – the clothes of anti-democracy designed as more democracy are growing inside democracy like neoplasms – consumerism participates in the destruction of democratic prosperity, like mass culture – of the secularly spiritual culture.
What consumerism uses against prosperity and mass culture against culture is an appeal to the psychologically crude layers of human psyche and by the intensification of devaluation and destruction of humanistic education (the main socio-cultural “agency” capable of refining the human psyche through training it how to overcome its megalomaniacal narcissism of implying that “we are by nature smart enough to understand life without humanistic education”.
Culture (as different from mass-culture) and the idea of prosperity (as radically different from consumerism) can function only insofar as a rational and reasonable (humanistically educated) spirituality is made part of the human psyche. This mature spirituality (result of a tormenting experience of permanent intellectual self-overcoming) prevents obsessiveness and naïve self-confidence on part of any need trying to command individual to act out in its name. It is the needs becoming obsessive and ideas becoming absolutized which transform culture into a mass culture and the concept of prosperity into a consumerist vain obsession.
Prosperity is modest and moderate, while consumerism is obsessive and avaricious. Culture is sublime, while mass culture is de-sublimated. Prosperity is noble and generous while consumerism plebeian and blind. Culture is disinterested while mass culture is indulgent. Culture is intellectually demanding while mass culture is intellectually loose and cognitively messy. Cultural images and their perception include humility while the task of mass culture is to provide over-satisfaction to hook us on easy pleasure.
The “mechanism” of destroying prosperity through consumerism and culture by mass culture is providing the “mechanical” and superficial exaggeration of the image of the host by the intruder, for example, of music by (entertaining) pop-music or well-being by luxury – of concentrated refinement by cheerful and sentimental vulgarity. Regular people perceive prosperity as an “underdeveloped” consumerism and the fact of being in poverty as a form of falling from the consumerist heaven. They consider consumerism as prosperity’s higher phase. For the humanistically under- or the uneducated ones gluttony is a result of developed taste for food. The same with culture and mass culture. Mass culture provides more “somatic” and gusto-dense emotions in comparison with culture which includes thinking about the meaning of images and words (hard work for many who operate mainly through intuitive inspirations and instinctive mental agitations). So, people prefer David Bowie to Pierre Boulez, Prince to John Cage and Madonna to Jessi Norman. Culture doesn’t encourage identification by similarity (for example between viewers and movie characters) – psychological mechanism which a totalitarian community and countries are based on, while mass culture exploits this very mechanism because it is based on strong and exceptionally pleasant “we-them” emotions (“morally and intellectually superior-we” and “inferior-them” feelings).
Instead of building their prosperity and expanding their cultural competence people drum-dream about becoming bill-mills (billionaires-millionaires) and indulging in consumption of each other, the world and entertainment, with crude-greed of bill-mills as the ultimate role models. They worship Donald Trumps and Lord Bankfines (Lloyd Blankfeins) who participate in destroying prosperity and in building consumerism for super-consumers like themselves.
Consumerism (as an economic activity) and mass culture have consumerism as a psychological position as shared common denominator. Consumerists imply that the world and technological advantages of human civilization exist in order to be at their disposal – to be a tool for their profit and pleasure. More and more Americans are frustrated not because in the time of austerity they are deprived of what they have the right to enjoy as citizens of a technologically developed democracy – the human prosperity, but because they are not able to be the (maximal) consumerists.
Consumerism and mass culture (both grown from consumerist roots) have debilitated American democracy so effectively, that today financial elites with their sophisticated strategies of manipulating people’s financial behavior and public funds in particular are in absolute charge. Even the poorest people have become more and more corrupted in their feverish dreams of becoming bill-mills. Neocons – saber-toothed conservatives are silently planning mass abandonment of the people (a new – “sublimated” form of mass extermination by withdrawing/cutting the funds from public investment to the helping those who need care because of being chronically unemployed, disabled or elderly. People possess more and more arms to kill one another and leave the financial majesties free to finalize their conquest of the world including US.
01 May 2016
Person died is crossing the famous river separating the kingdom of the alive from that of the dead (separating the very living from deadness which is trying, somehow, to live, light from darkness, hope from the vanity of hope, and fears from the knowledge). A gloomy voyage, stern visage of ultimate traveler and his meek gaze.
The dead eyes of the one who just died, quickly adapt to the darkness, became part of it and are able to see, and even appeal to others. The paddle – the waning moon still gives off light to the human neck and the head-the sail, and only the boat – the human body resists being seen in darkness – tarnished by the dirty-blew splashes of the water. The paddle-moon projects memory of the sunlight to the head-sail and to the mast-neck, but the boat-body is already corpse.
Of course, the protagonist is sad, his eyes, ready to cry, are emptied by death. They are telling us of his nostalgia, as if, it is in our, who are still alive, power to help him – how we can help the one, who is so much ahead of us. His sadness and his resignation join his obedience to his destiny – he is still appealing but has already surrendered. He is in a process of disintegrating – already looks like children’s Lego toy: set of pieces to be put together and taken apart. He fell into pieces. Compassion we may feel for him is compassion for ourselves (in us the tragedy of mortality is not yet muffled by the inevitable). He lost wholeness, he has been disintegrated-shattered by the materiality of dying. He is a trace, not even an echo of the materiality of living.
We follow him – his face is “stern”, but not his soul which still keeps its spiritual equanimity and looks at us with the memories alive by remembering.
For real artist like Paul Klee, who is capable of existentializing (transforming into a spiritual living) everything he is settling in through his imagination, the future is not an exercise in ignoring death – jumping over it to see what is there through something like virtual reality lenses, but alive after-death experience.