23 May 2015
My dear Maurice, your film is astonishing, totally astonishing; far beyond the cinematic horizon covered up until now by our wretched gaze.
[For many] Maurice Pialat is the guy who made this weird movie about Van Gogh, the one where he doesn’t cut off his ear
Kent Jones, “Lightning in a Bottle: Maurice Pialat Profile”, Film Comment”
The critical mauling VG received from the press for his contribution to the 1890 Brussels exhibition of Les XX may have exacerbated the crisis that led to his death. One critic wrote: “he crushes tubes of color between ill-balanced, clumsily drawn lines.”
Laura Gascoigne, “Vincent At Work”, Apollo, March 2015, p. 202 – 203
In 1890, Theo van Gogh was searching for a home for his brother after Vincent was released from an Asylum at Saint-Remy. Upon recommendation of Camille Pissaro (a former patient of Dr. Gachet), who told Theo of Gachet’s interest in working with artists, Theo sent Vincent to Gachet’s home in Avers.
Merleau-Ponty characterized Freud as, above all, a philosopher of the flesh. The notion of the “flesh” refers to substantial pressures, the semiotic and somatic stresses of “creaturely life”. The “creaturely” refers to an exposure… not simply to the fragility or precariousness of the mortal, finite lives, but rather to ultimate lack of foundation for the historical forms of life that distinguish human community… We could say that the precariousness, the fragility – the “nudity” – of biological life becomes potentiated, amplified by way of exposure to the radical contingency of the forms of life that constitutes the space of meaning… Creatureliness is thus a dimension not so much of biological as of ontological vulnerability, a vulnerability that permeates human being as that being whose essence is to exist in forms of life that, in turn, are contingent, fragile, susceptible to breakdown.
Eric L. Santner, “The Royal Remains (The People’s Two Bodies and the Endgames of Sovereignty)”, Un. of Chicago Pr., 2011, p. 4 – 6
Pialat and Van Gogh
Vincent and his work
Vincent and Theo
Vincent and his human environment
Here Pialat compares two human gazes – one is of a specialist directed at the patient, and other is of a human being directed at another human being. It is not necessarily the difference between a gaze at a human body (of Dr. Gachet), and that at human face (of (VG at Dr. Gachet). But it is the difference between the gaze of a person in a “superior” position, and that – from soul to soul (of one human being at another).
Vincent between Dr. Gachet (Gerard Sety) and Gachet’s daughter Marguerite (Alexandra London) – everybody here is jolly positive and friendly, but a terrible silent drama is already in motion behind the curtain of appearance.
Vincent and Cathy/“Carmen”
Vincent and Marguerite Gachet
We see here Vincent and Marguerite Gachet – together and, as if, already separated by destiny. In spite of being in love with him Marguerite feels that her future is apart from his, while he sees no other future for himself than down, under the earth.
De-existentialization of culture through wit, fun and aestheticism
Van Gogh’s last tormented attempt or final frustration
Here we see Vincent who had lost himself and started to accuse Theo (Bernard Le Coq) for not really trying to sell his canvasses. In between them, in the middle we see Theo’s wife Johanna who recently gave birth
But Theo knows how art market works. He knows the psychology of the consumers. His position is a realistic one – for his success, Vincent needs some big-big event to happen. But what can that be? – Is it Vincent’s death? Of course, nothing like this is explicitly said. Real events take place lower than the threshold of words and verbalization.
Theo and his wife
The last celebration (at the brothel)
The biggest scene in the film is a representation of a popular (during this time) “dance macabre”, in a stylized form – the celebration of military service and the brave readiness to die for a noble cause. In Pialat’s interpretation – what motherland is for the soldier, the art is for van Gogh. Here we see Vincent and Marguerite (on the right), for her this dance symbolizes initiation into the tragic human adulthood – into the adult world as it exists. We see also Theo (on the left in a second raw).
Vincent’s despair pushing him to rational assessment of his options
Pialat’s “Van Gogh” is the only film about Vincent which has the power to break through the pompous curtains of cliché covering our perception of this exceptional artist. The film provides us with a chance of a real encounter with van Gogh’s life. We don’t see VG in a make-up of an inspired genius irradiating metaphysical light; we don’t see him crazy or eccentric by the calling of the soul. We see VG who looks like everybody else, who is doomed to meet despair, who wants to live but whose life, like everybody else’s, is locked in the trap of survival or social success. We see VG as the one who belongs to his life (as everybody else – to their), VG pushed to the corner by the circumstances, as every viewer knows what it means.
We see VG laughing, joking, lost amidst existential crossroads, confused and puzzled, indignant and desperate. We see him drinking while he says he doesn’t (he invented that he has epilepsy because of his shame for not being a successful painter, for being a loser). In the film, his relationship with his art is hidden inside his soul – he is silent about it – he doesn’t like to emphasize how he is different from others, to make the point that he is the chosen in comparison with others. For Pialat’s VG any social dancing around his art would be an unforgivable vanity. VG of Pialat and of Jacques Dutronc doesn’t look like an artist. It is for this reason we, the viewers, can think that he is a real artist.
We will remember how he walks – as a person who walks big distances with his painting equipment in search of perspectives. He developed a special manner of walking – his body, as if, is balancing by each step the heaviness of his craft. And he walks as a person who has no place to rush to – who is always there, in front of his landscapes, with other people. VG was a homeless – he was at home everywhere – he was with his eyes, his soul, his response to the world, his art.
For van Gogh his success was important as it is for anybody else. But the point of success for VG is not like for us, Americans who understand this word as a persistent pursuit of success with lucky result. For us today social success is different phenomenon than it was for VG. Yes, he needed it and the absence of it was destroying him, but he wasn’t looking for it. He created independently of the possibility or impossibility of success. VG did nothing to get it. He didn’t try to be successful – he didn’t try to make his paintings in a way that could make them successful – that could excite the art consumers to buy them from the art dealers, and excite specialists in art and art salon journalists to praise and promote them.
Today’s American concept of success is based on grasping what consumers want and on the ability of the creators to imitate what consumers could accept. VG, on the other hand, wanted success of his work that had nothing to do with what the public could like to possess, to look at, to appropriate physically or mentally, to identify with. VG’s paintings were not at all his attempts to satisfy the public or culture’s tastes. They were emanations of hia soul, of his moods, of his capricious imaginary added to what he saw – they were outside and beyond somebody else’s tastes and interests. He wanted to be successful without doing anything to achieve this success. He wanted to be successful as he is in his unique creative individuality – without any attempts to adapt to the public‘s desires, without any wish to conform to cultural or psychological expectations. He was interested in the moments of his unity with the world which he was registering in his canvasses.
In this sense VG has a strong democratic sensibility – he was a creative individualist, he believed in his particular response to the impressions he got from nature and from his models. VG is a carrier of democratic individualism – he wanted to be taken in his stubborn uniqueness. Here lies the very difference between a person like VG and Dr. Gachet (Gerard Sety), who was an aesthete and himself an amateur painter with conventional taste. VG wasn’t motivated by aesthetic qualities of the painting, he did something else – his artistic sensitivity wasn’t about ”beauty“ at all. It was rather about genuineness, about otherness, independence of the world.
For Dr. Gachet being a physician and being an aesthete is two sides of the same philosophical position towards the reality – an alienated investigative approach to the matter of the world on the one hand, and the attempt to elevate and even fetishize the beautiful and pleasant side of life. The principle of VG’s perception of reality is different – to try to find a new, spiritualized body for life in a new spiritualized matter created by his painting method. Gachet’s stance in front of reality – to control through medical knowledge its stubborn/obstinate matter and beautify what deserves beautification. It is a posture towards life from, as if, outside of life. VG’s ontological position towards the reality – is from inside it. He intuitively shared his Being with nature and other people-his models.
For Gachet VG himself represents the material substance of life which is “naturally” crude and without the redeeming value of beauty, a kind of dark “vulgar stubbornness”. But what he takes as a lack of harmony, beauty and grace in Vincent’s personality is exactly the spiritual part of VG’s identity – the absence of philistine appeal to another people for the sake of reaching a psychological comfort in smooth relations with them. VG is depicted by Pialat and Dutronc as the very personification of otherness. He can be perceived as a strange, opaque, bizarre, even sinister figure. The otherness of his personality echoes by the specificity of his art. He himself is under a tremendous burden of his talent and his destiny. If he couldn’t be like this he couldn’t have a chance to develop his unique vision.
Art for Gachet (like for majority of people) is a part of a pleasant pastime. And art whose code of beauty is not immediately available seems to him superfluous. He satisfies his need in other people in celebrations of different sorts when various people come together to enjoy life. Gachet can invite VG for the dinner or to invite Theo with the family “for summer”, but refuses to offer his help to VG in spite of Vincent’s desperate situation, although he has a unique opportunity to do so. The result is – VG’s suicide and self-tormenting suffering of Gachet’s daughter.
The culmination of psycho-social motif of festive celebration of life as a model of human solidarity (instead of attention of people to one another) with inevitably tragic feeling of doom of this kind of togetherness is depicted in the biggest scene of the film – the scene in Parisian brothel with atmosphere impregnated by apocalyptic tonality of the general gaiety. Two scenes anticipate this brothel type of human togetherness – it is lunch at Gachet and the concert and dance at the riverside.
Another van Gogh’s symbolic encounter with meaning which can help us to define the specificity of his position in life is the situation with the guy who keeps asking VG to make his portrait. The “village idiot” personifies the metaphysical sensibility – the feeling that the essence of the human being lies not in life but in another world, which he, according to his delirium, hopes to recognize in his portrait. Underdeveloped (not humanized/dehumanized) life creates the need for psychological compensation in the form of yearning for the foggy imaginary alternative.
Vincent, by immanent stubbornness of his personality refuses to stop living and to adapt to survival/success, to stop to be human being and to become a seeker of material and psychological reward. This ultimate conflict of human civilization is reflected here – between spiritually creative life and material survival. De-existentialized high-culture dedicated to “other world” is distracting people from life and by this perpetuates the inhumane condition of human existence. This leaves life itself not attended/under-attended by human intelligence. And life as it is, indifferent and cruel is the reason why van Gogh was left with the option of taking his own life. Gachet could easily save van Gogh’s life. But in this world it is impossible for him to allow Vincent and Marguerite to live together in happiness and by this help him to continue with his work. Instead, Gachet is retreated to traditional moralistic position of “protecting” his daughter against “this beggar and bum”. If he would help his daughter and Vincent it in the eyes of the society could mean to emasculate himself, to be seen as a weak person who cannot protect his daughter’s honor. Gachet didn’t like Vincent’s art, he didn’t sympathize with him personally – he found him rude and vulgar. Who in this situation could help the person with an artistic ambition and without any social success who in addition – refuses to try to please potential buyers of art through a reasonably attractive style?
Vincent understood that if he has any chance at all to become a successful painter – it will be only his suicide in the nimbus of sexy gossip and scandal that can attract the attention of a wide public and create mass sales of his paintings. Art must be dressed and made-up like a whore, even if it is a chased art, even if it is and especially so an art created by the genius.
12 May 2015
The ability to doubt and reject requires more mental resources than acceptance… Statements people believe to be true produced little characteristic brain activity – just a few brief flickers in regions associated with reasoning and emotional reward. In contrast, disbelief produced longer and stronger activation in regions associated with deliberation and decision-making, as if the brain had to work harder to reach the state of disbelief. Statements the volunteers did not believe also activated regions associated with emotion, but in this case pain and disgust… Belief comes easily; doubt takes effort… Conservatives react more fearfully than liberals to threatening images – they perceive the world as a more dangerous place… [They] often feel strong revulsion at the violations of the status quo and so judge them to be morally unacceptable…
Graham Lanton – “Special Report: Belief”, p. 28 – 33, “New Scientist”, April 4, 2015
Democracy is a very difficult political system to live through – it expects from the populace not only tireless participation but permanent thinking (when the inner thinker while thinking has to keep its horses – its emotional reactions under control and not to transform thoughts into passionate impulses: slogans of the battlefield). If (democratic) thinker will surrender to sloganeering the very prospect of winning over the anti-democratic forces means totalitarian elimination of opposing opinions instead of building/developing democratic project (when opposing interests could find a common – civilized goal and language).
Democracy can function only if people are democratically oriented – not rivalrous freaks trying to out-compete one another and outmaneuver each other with their power/wealth. But people are naturally not democratic. Neighbors are idiosyncratic to each other’s presence near “my narcissistically bloated” ego. Traditional conservative systems are strictly hierarchical – based on inequality of power and wealth rule, where more power/wealth means more influence in terms of the right to individual advantage and to deciding the destiny of the whole society. Totalitarian systems are openly power oriented, but democratic systems, especially in the 21st century, are essentially so – without proclaiming this as its ruling principle (democracy is an excellent ideological and propaganda tool, much better than communism). When the electorate consists of psychologically authoritarian people – those whom it elects will act as authoritarian (pre-democratic) leaders. In Soviet Union it was also well understood how to avoid honest election. Communism and Democracy both claim to be egalitarianly oriented, but in reality both are hierarchical societies. In US of 21st century the wealthy decision-makers have outsmarted democratic procedure of the election through political ads money and gerrymandering, while in USSR the procedure of subduing elections was even more obvious. If elections in Soviet Union were essentially eliminated by the Party tops, in US they are undermined not without the help of anti-democratic conservative electorate which exactly hates what democracy introduced into American life and who use procedure of elections to, practically, overturn democracy.
People of power and wealth accumulation as a main drive cannot love a real democracy which gives people the right to decide who is in power. That’s not what power-worshippers need. They need more wealth in order to have more power, and more power to have more wealth. Indeed, why on Earth the strong/wealthy people have to surrender their decision-making prerogative to the demos? Why should they voluntarily strip themselves of power? They would feel themselves then like a soldier going to the enemies while leaving his machine-gun on the ground behind, or like a man who decides to undress to complete nakedness in the freezing temperature. You have to be a masochist to do something like this. Neither the leading Soviet Communists nor the American rich and their political servant/clients want to be in such an absurd role. So, Soviet Communism/Socialism was a dictatorship of the ruling CP members, like American democracy of 21st century is a dictatorship of the corporate leaders and their politicians (if they want war – they will have their war, if they want austerity for the American population – they will have it for the majority of Americans).
With the Russian population being used to despotic rule for centuries, Communist dictatorship looked not only natural but “organic”. The narcissistic contempt for a world resisting Socialist transformation was enough psychological compensation for the aggrandized (by Soviet ideology) masses feeling themselves as the “vanguard of humankind”, like Americans have their own vanguard ideology of Democracy (“…ethnocentric disease of American exceptionalism… As political leaders like to assert: America is today’s ‘the light of the world’ – Matthew 5: 14 – 16” [“America’s God Complex”, Rev. William E. Alberts, A United Methodist Minister and former Hospital Chaplin at Boston Medical Center]). The both groups of people, the Americans and Soviet Russians like to think that they carry into the world the torch of supreme wisdom, communist or democratic correspondingly. Like Soviets sacrificed themselves for future Communism, today’s Americans sacrifice themselves for… the interests of the wealthy decision-makers who by the magic trick of trickle down economy will share their prosperity with less lucky.
Of course, the propagandist task of the American powerful/wealthy minority is much more difficult than it was for Communist elite in the Soviet Union. Soviet Socialism was a dictatorship, proud and righteous, but American leader-bosses had to represent oligarchy as a democracy, despotism as equality, injustice as brotherhood. It is not surprising that the Soviet Communists were successful with the (Russian) masses, but why did the Americans fall for the American propaganda – why even American poor agree to defend the financial elite, as if, the interests of the wealthy are the same as interests of the poor? The answer is, basically, the same as the answer to question “Why did the Russian poor majority for 70 years were passionate fighters for the Soviet Communist leadership?”
The answer is – because of emotional identification with powerful (in USSR) and with the wealthy/powerful (in USA) on the part of even the most materially deprived segments of population. Only some members of the Middle class can get a relative psychological independence from the fetish of power/wealth because of humanistic education. But even a big chunk of the American homeless in the 21st century is passionately for the rightwing positions in internal and external politics (those who have lost nearly everything – desperately need to believe in the power and wealth to feel themselves as if powerful and wealthy, although only ideologically and psychologically (they also want to have a right to patronizingly hate foreigners inside and outside US (who are “less than we, Americans”). But even among the Middle class the humanistically educated who took this education seriously are a minority – only they are able to make inside their souls the nest of democratic truth as abode of independent (from the official slogans) meaning.
Conservative think-tanks or tank-thinks (financed by Belle-lionaires who save a lot of money on taxes cut for them by politicians – senior [neocons] and juniors [democrats], and on other loopholes by the price of pauperizing the majority of the Americans) were and are working very hard over the issue of how to represent for the masses oligarchy as democracy. The American propaganda specialists were surprised themselves how not difficult it was to represent to the masses monarchy of money/consumerism as democracy. Propaganda always appeals to beliefs which support people’s megalomaniacal needs (to feel associated with the super-human wisdom and power, to feel that they are “better” than other people – to feel this for them is, as if be saved for immortality). Materially prosperous life can serve as a confirming factor that “we” (and our political system) are “best” in the world, and so can the possession of superior weaponry. In Soviet Union, where people were much poorer than in US, the main confirming mass megalomania factor was the appeal of Marxism as a conceptual system capable of saving the human race. It is very pleasant to have the more authentic and wisest god than anybody else, and the smartest ideology. American propagandists use similar psychological motif of super-greatness of the American Democracy – and the masses are not able to detect the inevitability of the drastic discrepancy between propagandist clichés and the reality of American life. So, people blame the foreigners inside and outside their country for screwing up their life which, according to propaganda, is supposed to be exceptionally good and just. The same reaction was in the Soviet Union – people blamed the “imperialists” (and their “secret agents inside Russia”) for the inability of “Communism” to achieve what the propaganda had promised.
The Soviet and American propaganda specialists knew/know that the majority of people (the poor and those on or close to the bottom of the social hierarchy) are full of resentment and latent hate – so, the task is to find ways to channelize/displace resentment/hate of the masses from being directed at the rich and powerful of their own country to internal or external enemies. Megalomania becomes highly regressive and inflamed as American life, for the majority, is slapped with austerity – it regresses to the most basic situation of self-assertion (through trying to prove “our” superiority by acts of violence against others). At this point war becomes the only way to make the masses happy – it provides people with the right to kill, to mistreat/violate others’ will and life and “feel strong and great”.
Psychologically money- and/or power-worship were already present in religious worship – accumulation of ontological value in the idol and appropriation of this value into fanatic/fundamentalist possession through absolute believe. Through consumption of the deity (including the god of communism or god of democracy) people get the confidence to continue to live and the right to conquer others. Psychologically, megalomania is association with what you believe is super-human. In this psychological sense (as a human reaction) the fundamentalist appropriation of the fetish of communism is not different from the Western money-profit worship. The both reactions are opposite of a democratic self-respectful humility and openness to the otherness of the world.
Sovetization of American democracy inevitably means its totalitarization. To lose democracy it means to transform it into a totalitarian country – keeping its population in poverty and hate for dissimilar others, reducing its freedoms, forcing unification of political opinions and stimulating emotional and verbal intolerance. .
Practitioners of financial self-enrichment in US and Europe made a discovery that the Soviet ruling communists made much earlier – that real money is not private but privatized, appropriated from the public and public assets. This appropriation, which in the Soviet Union was done matter-of-factly under the mask of free use of the “collective”/state property by the rulers of the country, is done in the West not only by cutting taxes for the rich and endless loopholes, but through bailing out the failed financial institutions, privatizing the pension funds and radical privatization of public assets. In this sense communists are successful teachers of today’s appropriators of somebody else’s wealth (who also follow the Soviet communists in their fear of free market and relying on monopoly – in USSR – Federal, in USA – corporate: with Fed’s help).
Butt-brains credulity of a culturally illiterate and intellectually underdeveloped population in any country is the basic reason of people’s susceptibility to politico-ideological and politico-commercial propaganda.
07 May 2015
Pound insisted on making a distinction between his own feelings and ideas and those presented in the poems: “I catch the character I happen to be interested in at the moment he interests me, usually a moment of song, self-analysis, or sudden understanding or revelation. I paint my man as I conceive him.”
From Ezra Pound’s letter to William Carlos Williams (“Poetry Foundation”)
Another Bit and an Offer
I see by the morning papers
That America’s sturdy sons
Have started an investigation
Of the making of guns.
The morning paper tells me
They have asked the senate to guess
Whether Mr. Dupont* and the gun-sharks*
Have influence with the press.
I sit alone in the twilight
After my work is done
And wonder if my day’s three and eight-pence
Would count on the price of a gun.
Was I started wrong as a kiddie,
And would my old man have been smarter
To send me to work in Vickers*
Instead of being a carter?
The poem is written in the name of Alfred Venison (one of Ezra Pound’s pseudonyms). The surface structure of the poem (its obvious meaning – its “story” or what here can be called its “plot”) is, as if, written by Alfred Venison who is going through the morning papers, listening to what they are telling him, “sitting alone in the twilight” and “wonders” if his miserable pay is enough to buy a gun, and whether there was something wrong with him as a child (as soon as he as an adult doesn’t make enough), or whether his father wasn’t smart enough to make him capable of making more money.
As we see, Pound masked himself as Alfred Venison but makes him function as a subject of the annunciated. Ezra Pound himself hides behind the intonational hints of the poem and its gentle semantic cues. In the first and the second stanzas Pound emphasizes Venison’s naiveté of taking what he is reading as if you can trust that newspapers honestly give information in order to objectively inform us. The expressions “America’s sturdy sons” and “Have started an investigation” carry obvious ironic load.
But the really heavy sarcasm Pound reserves for the third and fourth stanza – when Alfred Venison “sits alone in the twilight/After his work is done/ And wonders if his working day’s three and eight-pence/ Would count on the price of a gun.”, or sincerely pondering, the poor soul – “Was he started wrong as a kiddie,/ And would his old man have been smarter/To send him to work in Vickers/Instead of being a carter?”. The role of poor people in American political process according to Ezra Pound is that instead of questioning the officially accepted “co-existence” between the extremely rich and extremely poor – the extreme inequality of society as such, those who are poor are dreaming of becoming the rich inside the same system of inequality that has made them poor – they don’t want to be the poor themselves, but in a system still consisting of the rich and the poor.
In other words, in “Another Bit and An Offer” Pound emphasizes how conformist is the position of American poor that reflects the despotic domination of those who are not only involved but define the meaning and forms of political life. In two last stanzas Pound shows that poor measure their self-respect through possession of fire-arms and becoming richer not by the logic of fairness and justice but by charitably generous decision of employers. Just because Alfred Venison had the chance to read in the newspaper about the disagreement between “America’s sturdy sons” and “Mr. Dupont and the gun-sharks” he already tends to understand his wellbeing through the fact of possessing fire-arms. That’s why US today spend as much as whole world on weapons (made for taxpayers’ money), and even its poor – their last penny for private gun ownership – what an amazing unity between the taste of the wealthy (Mr Dupont, the largest gun-powder manufacturer in the world in 30s) and regular citizens dreaming of wealth and guns.
But what’s about the disagreement between “America’s sturdy sons” and gun-makers? Why is it necessary for the sturdy sons of America to investigate “Of the making of guns” and look into whether “Mr. Dupont and the gun-sharks have influence with the press”? Can this investigation be compared with that of the financial collapse of the 2008 by the State Department with near zero results? If so, America’s sturdy sons’ investigation will be just an absurd event, like that of the investigation of Monika Lewinski’s dress (with precious dirty spots on it). This kind of mighty but empty investigations keeps politics going and generates in the masses not only “another bit” of political enthusiasm but also “offers” of a wholehearted support of this or that political party.
There are three political players in the universe described in the poem – “America’s sturdy sons”, “Mr. Dupont and gun-sharks”, and those who read “the morning papers” and “sit alone in the twilight” after a working day and dream to become rich and full of guns. Who are these three players? It is, it seems, if to take into consideration the specificity of the historical time reflected in the poem – mainly, Republican politicians but also patriotic Conservative Democrats on the one side, the wealthy and super-wealthy profit-makers on the other, and then masses of demos successfully internalized propagandistic jingoism, cult of the wealth and the desire to be the strongest in the world in wealth and weapons. The first and second categories make up the politics. The third – supports either the first or the second or both. The question is – where are in the poem the really democratically oriented people – those who are not only for a decent material life for everybody and for equality and justice, but for humanistic education, serious culture and existentially spiritual sensibility?
It is very symptomatic that Pound at the time of writing this poem didn’t find the category of progressively and culturally oriented people who could influence the political process. Ezra Pound simply didn’t see this kind of people as effective socio-cultural and a political force. May be, it is the reason Pound gave Alfred Venison the political realm of American life described in the poem (its surface semantic structure) for participation, while himself as a culturally oriented person retreated into being the anonymous creator of the work of art – a person outside political representation.
But how can we characterize Pound as a humanistic intellectual, while after WWII started he was doing radio broadcasts for a proto-fascist, Mussolini-controlled radio? Ezra Pound was personifying for himself poetic inspiration. And, confronting political process he made an ontological mistake. May be, he felt that profound criticism of one political system means non-critical – poetically inspirational embrace of its opposite. He was way too disappointed by the American democracy and he needed to keep his spiritual vitality by any price. Poetic inspiration is irrationally rational – enlightened and sublime energy – the mistake is to think that poetic inspiration even of such a talented poet as Pound is strong enough spiritual power to change the fallen reality of this world into spiritually radiant one. It is a mistake similar with that of Martin Heidegger, from which the philosopher quickly awakened. Pound’s tragic mistake doesn’t devaluate the truth of his criticism of American political process in “Another Bit and an Offer”, process which is, unfortunately, a part of American mass culture that has a power to corrupt and to secretly betray people whom, as it proclaimed itself, it is able and willing to help to become happy.
*Gun power manufacturer
04 May 2015
How do I define a work of art? It is not an asset in the stock-exchange sense, but a man’s timid attempt to repeat the miracle that the simplest peasant girl is capable of at any time, that is magically producing life out of nothing.
I consider myself responsible to the coming generations, which are left stranded in a blitzed world, unaware of the soul trembling in awe before the mystery of life.
Kokoschka was trying to paint his thoughts.
The contrast between the boy’s intelligent, focused and, somehow, a sad gaze at the girl, and her gaze at… nothing, just that of her own being, shocks us. Hers is a gaze simultaneously too full and too empty, that of a mute appeal, but too passive and without making a point. The boy is interested in her attention, in her as a playmate, but he feels that something is wrong, that the girl is not responsive, that she is just like a doll, not a partner, that she is a “thing in itself”.
What is the matter with her? Can she be autistic, retarded, or is it something else? In the psychological contrast between Kokoschka’s boy and girl their psychological inequality is obvious – the girl, somehow, has not yet awakened to feel simultaneously her psychic separateness from others and yet emotional ability of feeling connected with them as separate personalities. Her gaze lies down on what she sees, like her body – on what beneath her, like her heaviness – on her elbow, like her legs – on a generalized something.
But where are these two children – one confronting the enigma of togetherness, and the other passively belonging/not belonging to it, under the sun or cloudy sky – on the grass, on the beach, somewhere in a hiding place, in the yard? No, they are located on… the paint. They are children of the paint (they are born of it) – from the mind and inspiration of the artist. Let’s look, for example, at the girl’s right leg or right arm or at the boy’s left hand – we see under these limbs thick streams of brushed paint, as if isolating the protagonists from the larger space and connecting them with it. The environment of the paint is the protagonists’ surrounding, it is, as if their clothes. Paint here is a magic substance creating human beings and enveloping/containing them with a womb-like generosity.
Can it be then that the point of the painting (the point of the paint) – is not only the assertion of life as the phantom of a creative person/the artist who is the subjective origin of the objectified world and of life of the art as the incarnation of subjective idea, but the correction of the objective reality, which is too imperfect and too complacent to be taken as the final criterion of its own value. In real life these two children will never or almost never be playing together, will perhaps never feel attraction to one another because of the difference in mental development, more exactly, because of the conventional opinion about what is normal and what is not. Life as it is can inspire work of art but it can never be a model for inspiration. It is artistic inspiration that can offer the direction to life, not another way around (as it takes place in the greasy kingdom of the conformists).
In “Children Playing” children who cannot find each other in life can come together, can spend a time in proximity to one another, can learn how to talk and to think through being inspired by one another. Here we can understand better the girl’s gaze into the real – crude and spoiled, deformed world. This gaze, is as if saying without any reproach – you see what you, the world did to me, but now I am free from you, I am free even from paying attention to you – I found a friend and the world, the kingdom of art, where god is an artist, he is kind and is loving, and where children love me and help me to be as they are.
In this painting Kokoschka shows us art as a teacher of alternative life. The boy and the girl found each other in Kokoschka’s painterly inspiration. The boy is trying to understand – what is the matter with his playmate. May be, with the painter’s encouragement, he will be able to grasp her inner world better and will find a way to help. May be, one day they even will be able to leave Kokoschka’s canvass and step into the real and frightening world, full of righteous animosity (step into the world and be invulnerable to its evilness).
The girl is safe in the painterly world, enveloped by its blanket of colors. The painter is god of this universe. The boy is the angel, the girl’s savior. The girl is protected here. The boy is her guide through art to life, like Kokoschka is ours, his art’s viewers.
01 May 2015
On my left was shooting and sharp explosion of infantry artillery, on my right could be heard the sporadic cannon shots thundering from the front, and up above the sky was clear and the bright sun.
In his “Artistic Confession” (1918) Beckmann wrote: “The deeper and more fiercely my despair about existence burns within me, the more determined I become, with lips tightly sealed, to capture the disgusting, throbbing monster of vitality, and to capture it, suppress it, even throttle it in crystal-clear, incisive lines and surfaces.”
Beckmann became the recorder of unofficial history – the nightmare of history, of a Europe gone mad with cruelty, ideological murder, and deprivation.
In his 1938 lecture “On my painting”, Beckmann stated: “My dream is the imagination of space – to change the optical impression of the inner being… For the Ego is the great veiled mystery of the world… I believe in it and in its eternal, immutable form. Its path is, in some strange way, our path! And for this reason I am immersed in the phenomenon of the Individual, and I try in every way to explain and to represent it. What are you? Why am I? Those are the questions that constantly persecute and torment…”
Beckmann’s self-portraits were an attempt to define him as he struggled with the conflicts of the world. He came to believe that his moral purpose was to depict the horror of contemporary life.
As many as five hundred works by Beckmann were confiscated by the Nazis… After hearing Hitler’s speech on the radio (1937) in which he denounced modern art and referred to the “gruesome malfunctioning of the eyes of the artists”, Beckmann left Germany the following day for Amsterdam and never returned. His “The Night” (the analysis of which was posted here on July 6, 2009) – Max Beckmann’s “the Night”, Abu Ghraib and Symbolism Of Torture by Acting-Out Politics – is, perhaps a prophetic image of Hitler’s Germany, a society that, in Beckmann’s view, allowed itself to be tortured from within.
We see Beckmann young, serious and harmoniously looking. And he is in Florence. But his gaze is already very heavy. Beckmann’s subject of annunciated (Beckmann within the painting) stares at the world with a mixture of extra-attentiveness and expectation of unpleasant surprises. His eyes are sad, as if, he already knows that his destiny (like that of many others) will be tormenting and traumatic, and nothing can be done about it. We can see in these eyes that he is irrecoverably with the world. Pay attention to the position of the cigarette in his hand – he surrenders his flame to the world.
Reality of the war is unbearable for Beckmann – it puts a horror in his gaze, but this horror is not naturalistic (fear of something dangerous from outside), it is a reaction not on the external terrors of war but on its demonic essence: on what is in human beings that makes war possible and desirable and makes young people prone to proudly carry in their hearts the militant narcissistic emotional bravura. Beckmann’s horror of war is a reaction mediated by his contemplative intelligence trying to grasp the human beings’ amazing attunement to war as a consequence of our emotional perversion and spiritual illness that normalizes it. It is with Beckmann’s gaze of disbelief that Americans with democratic sensibility react today on Zimmerman-ization/NRA-ization of the American psyche in the 21st century. But like Beckmann, in spite of his horror registers the seductive spell of war on the European population in his art, the democratic Americans today should be able not only feel indignant but think hard about the reasons for the cult of arms and violence in our country. Beckmann in his “SP as a Medical Orderly” describes war not just as a reaction on it by an artist as a human being but through refined segments of human mentality referring to an artistic sensitivity itself. As a subject of annunciated Beckmann looks at war as if in a mirror – he tries to register the basic role of impulsive fear as a trigger of phobic belligerency as exterminating drive. His hand is drawing/writing – the artist is trying to understand how wars are possible, why hate overrides self-preservation and why the pathos of intimidating, conquering and murdering, of dominating and manipulating, and desire to be on top and above others are the strongest stimulants of pleasure opened to human nature.
His whole life Beckmann had a very strenuous relations with people of “society” – socio-morphically oriented philistines: people occupied with consumerism, appropriation of property and propriety and with exhibitionistic secretion of social posing, those who are taking their high place in the social hierarchy much too seriously. These people with pathological fear of social bottom as a condition of being unprotected and denuded treat social hierarchy as a kind of peculiar armor. They are hierarchical freaks of human social nature. They need extra-money because money for them is their radical weapon. They laughed at the artist as the (marginal) outsider, a ludicrous extremist who “confuses the question of originality of a painterly style with metaphysical truth” and takes his artistic gift too simplemindedly and too fanatically. Much before the Nazis declared Beckmann a “degenerate painter” (not realistic, illegible for their childish minds and deviating from their taste for pop-magazines and Hollywood entertainment) he was an object of cheap gossip and judgmental persecution. The immense peculiarity of his painterly style made his haters feel challenged by the uniqueness of his artistic personality. Everything these people judge they have to put into hierarchical order, while Beckmann was too exceptional to be classified as “level” in hierarchy of artists. It was impossible to assess him based on collective taste in totalitarian (mass-cultural) society.
In “Self-portrait With Champagne” we see how Beckmann exposes himself to a hostile atmosphere with a stubborn desire to “beat it”, to be invulnerable, to stand his ground, be as he is in spite of “them”, to continue to develop his unique artistic paradigm despite their backbiting and continue to be critical of their society oriented on privileges regardless of who is in charge – Communist party, Nazi regime or neocon clique. We see him looking around by demonstrating that he cannot be touched by malicious animosity. He surrounds himself with three phallic attributes – a glass of champagne, cigar and champagne bottle, and with a mask of invulnerability on his face he tries to show them that in spite of their intrigues he is alive and so is his art work, that he is able to continue to work creatively. His manneristically bended at the wrist hand with cigar and his facial expression of mask-like invulnerability hiding accepted martyrdom, are, as if, proof of his well-being in an impossible world. But we can feel how much he is suffering inside, victimized for his artistic and intellectual originality.
Beckmann is horrified and infuriated by the very logic of “social survival/success”, its cowardly predatoriness, its cruelty and stupidity, by the fact that it blackmails him by the necessity to succeed over others (transform them into cheering crowd, to win over them by standard, hierarchical logic). We see him “in the corner” – in his studio, but this corner is in between, as if, two windows – one is a regular one, “naturalistic”, with cloudy sky, but the other is his creativity: metaphysical window: the canvasses he works on (windows to the unknown). We see two of his canvasses – one is with a plant, and the other with a steeple of a church, with sun and light. Nature and creativity are two refuges for creative artist, and he is cornered in between by the factual life and its established ideology of standardized success. Beckmann’s gaze is so overfilled with indignation that his left eye seems almost blind (so impossible it is to look at the world, but artist continues to look in spite of this impossibility). The red scarf is a signifier of being emotionally suffocated, and a sharp contrast between the wideness of the head and the sharpness of the chin creates the impression that the artist is telling the world some ferocious truth. In contrast between Beckmann’s widely positioned (scope of his gaze) and widely opened eyes and his spasmodically strained mouth we see a painful contradiction between a person’s orientation on understanding and impossibility to uninhibitedly express it.
In today’s “formal democracies” of mass “formalization” of arts where artists are losing their critical voice and existential concerns (the irrational feeling of responsibility for existing ways of societal life) because success of their careers depends on de-existentialization of artistic concentrations, Beckmann deserves to be a role-model-personified for those who are dedicated to artistic professions in a context of reality. When social power (intimidating critical voice) and consumerist obsession (orientation on social and financial success) unite they stifle artistic critical inspiration. Then the example of artists like Beckmann for whom art is not separated from existential sensitivity and (societal) life, from human pain and deep criticism of existing axioms of life, becomes an extreme cultural necessity.
Beckmann is conscious that his spiritual conflict with philistines who are ready to live under any regime including antidemocratic/totalitarian ones while continuing to fight for and enjoy their success and social status in spite of the suffering of others, is not without certain theatrical quality on his part, with its rhetorical component of stubborn resistance to the world as it is. Something in his pathos of non-conformism is similar with the style of his paintings – epic, grandiloquent, cosmic, as if, his fight is not only human but metaphysical, in no way just social and even cultural but something absolute. Beckmann is aware of the clownish side of his stance as a glorious outsider. And in spite of it and at the same time because of his ability as an artist to name/ express this side of himself as a part of his aesthetics, he as an artist got a unique vantage point as the one who tries to resist by any price. He shamelessly puts his personality, his vulnerability and Don-Quixote-ness as an ingredient of his aesthetics. And we are privileged to witness this unity of his narcissistic anthropomorphism and his aesthetics in his self-portraits. Do we have many artists today, in the 21st century, who are able to be non-conformists not only in their “artistic” paradigm, but simultaneously in their human position towards life? Look at Beckmann’s gesture addressing the world in his “SP as a Clown” by giving his veins to evil with a desperate and quiet intention of a martyr. How many artists today are able to stop to make their style salable to the tastes of the day instead of enjoying the perfume of their fame and success? The clown-martyr can be the pseudonym of Beckmann as a creator of art. The clown-martyr is more and more a dangerous stance for the artist of today, when “rational” conformism of the muffled or absent critical stance is the only way congruent with a successful career.
Subjective truth is a tough companion of a real artist (who dares to include his life into his creative work – who makes points personally, not through a purely aestheticized/ sterilized strategy). Resistance, as we see in this SP, takes its toll. The artist becomes rigid, ossified, petrified, as we see here. The rigidity is painful for the artist. It is unnatural for him as a creative person, and it makes him ill. The untimely death is the result. In his “SP with Cigarette” Beckmann is showing us the existentially cultural reason for his future death. And he is saying that it is okay, because that is the truth of creative/spiritual resistance, of creativity that is resistance.
The existentially spiritual one refuses to transform himself into a careerist super-star – a person who is creatively emaciated but socio-morphically bloated, whose talent is occupies with talented imitation of mediocrity. This resistance is the ultimate topic of Beckmann’s artistic life. The incompatibility between existentially-spiritually creative artist and repressive society is a traditional topic. What is new is the necessity to rediscover it in the 21st century in post-democratic societies habitually embellishing themselves with cosmetic liberties in exchange for conformist/careerist adaptation.
22 Apr 2015
Talented individuals with psychologically deeply rooted and rich and multifaceted personalities not only have social ambitions and professional dreams, but moral and intellectual ideals demanding realization. And this last factor makes them even more vulnerable to militant political organizations.
“Le petit soldat/The Little Soldier” (film trailer)
Bruno and Veronica spending time together
Godard and Bruno
Godard observes Bruno (Michel Subor) not like a detective, but like an elder brother, like before he observed Michel Poiccard in “Breathless”. Bruno is as much of a “modern” type of a Western hero as is Michel, but he is much more of an “intellectual” and he is culturally educated. He is more admirable than Michel but also much more disappointing. Godard wants to get at the bottom of Bruno’s failure as a human being. Is this failure that of the very revolutionary aspirations of the Western youth?
Bruno is a young man with a developed internal world and his own will able to act according to his personal intentionality, not according to orders and expectations of his political bosses. But the issue is – is to be culturally educated and a decent person enough to resist the grip of a repressive and militant organization and ideology with, indeed, impressive power over even so called democratic societies?
The “little soldier“-Bruno looks at the viewers without asking for advice or help nor condescending pity. His gaze is already acknowledging that he is trapped (like the majority of people kept by the throat by the necessity to succeed in the world belonging to masters-decision-makers), but somehow we feel in his eyes a mute appeal of somebody who is victim of the socio-political manipulation.
Bruno is psychologically yearning for freedom to resist the conventional society, but he is controlled by very developed manipulative strategies modern societies are equipped with. We live not in traditional or ideological monarchies, but under a political establishment with a mighty arsenal of seducing, corrupting and intimidating tools. And now it is much more difficult, than in older times, to resist, if you want to avoid personal martyrdom.
While driving in the car of his dreams, recruited not only as an informer, but as a political ”hit-man” Bruno mobilizes his cultural erudition shifting his focus from the poets to painters, from philosophers to scholars – to forget what he is hired to do in Switzerland.
Veronica and Bruno
His feeling of resistance against being manipulated and exploited for the sake of somebody else’s interests Bruno perceives not existentially, but “philosophically”, as if, it is a problem of human individual and his particular destiny, and not that of people’s socio-cultural life in general.
Bruno’s “great” ambition to be able to face any danger and to go through whatever ordeal corresponds to the elegancy of how he formulates to himself the difficulties which pursuing him and how he assesses his capacity to resist the pressures on him by the circumstances.
Sometimes both, Bruno and Veronica, feel that they are equally trapped by their corresponding political affiliations (although Veronica has chosen hers herself), but they see it as a problem of their individual self-realization, not as objective condition, and they somehow feel ashamed to share it with one another. They are like a brother and sister separated by a politico-ideological divide. And they unconsciously try to mask this fact of being existential siblings by eroticizing their mutual attraction.
“God, Veronica was beautiful”; but Bruno’s rush to appropriate her erotically, as understandable as it may be, tells us about his narcissistic immaturity which can express itself in other situations as well. It is, as if, with an attractive girl, it is natural to try to immediately establish erotic ties while detouring other existentially important issues, some of them much deeper than amorous sentiments.
Bruno is a person who is prone to declare to others the nobility of his relations with love. No, he doesn’t expect applauds, but he, as if, needs to remind himself of his tremendously dignified position in love relations as though he has a compulsion of reminding himself who he is, as if, he is not sure about it. Is he unconsciously trying to balance his self-reflective intelligence with his socio-political conformism? If so, private behavior very often compensates a person for his/her conformist social life.
Bruno likes to think about complicated philosophical and psychological questions without taking into consideration that the answers cannot be as limited to the general context of the certain area discussed as questions, but may demands invoking the facts which a person prefers to be silent about.
Veronica becomes a girl again when she thinks about her socio-political ideals – she is too youthful to comprehend that militant political fight destroys not only these sublime moral ideals but personal decency of those who join militant political organizations. There is an incompatibility between moral ideals and militaristic political praxis which noble young people don’t think through.
Right and Left Wing Functionaries and Secret Agents
Composition of the shot suggests that those who hide behind the Hitler poster are not necessarily neo-fascists, but people pursuing other political agendas by using Nazi tactics (which became universalized) in their political fight.
A New Face of Western Civilization
Already in the 1960s Godard predicted that not only torture will become legal and a routine practice, but that it will become a normal thing to depict, to show and to discuss publicly, and to feel heroic and “optimistic” about using torture.
Godard’s Bruno and Veronica, like Romeo and Juliette, belong to the opposite sides fighting one another. Of course, in Bruno and Veronica’s case the antagonistic sides are not “two families”, but the right- and left-wing political structures under opposite ideological banners. The extreme right and extreme left world-views differ in content but are similar in its psychological and behavioral code. Godard makes us to observe the loyalists of both sides giving us the opportunity to collect our own impressions about their psychological similarity. But what is even more impressive in the film than the comparison between secret agents of the two clans, one fighting against Algeria‘s independence and the other – for its independence, it is how our amorous couple – Bruno and Veronica became what they are: one joined the fighters against Algeria’s liberation from France and the other – for it.
Bruno is trapped into becoming a secret agent by the right-wing blackmail, but Veronica joined the left-wing organization voluntary, with a trembling idealistic dedication. Bruno’s moral ideals are not fascist in any way – they are rather based on the values of individual nobility and narcissistic belief that he will be able to maintain his personal decency in any circumstances and outsmart all the attempts to use him for immoral goals. Veronica’s moral ideals, on the other hand, are humanistic – to try to help those who are trying to liberate themselves from domination. Veronica’s political idealism is rooted in the concept of historical development, while Bruno has the self-consciousness of an intellectual and appeared in the area of politics by chance – his real interest is spiritual development in secular terms: through education in arts and philosophy, through sharpening his aesthetic and cognitive sensitivity. Veronica’s dedications are divided on personal relationships (here Bruno was a direct and lucky beneficiary) and socio-political level of life. Bruno’s self-image is connected with his personal courage, readiness to face ordeals and the necessity to achieve better understanding of art and life. The catastrophic naiveté of Veronica is projection of her moral ideals into political fight without understanding that the nature of political fight is different from the area of having moral ideals – that during the fight moral ideals will become unrecognizable – they will transform into ideological dreams swearing with propaganda while political fight will become dirtier and dirtier by the excuse of necessity and inevitability. In other words, moral ideals will become a banner stuff, and political fight – destruction, murders and torture, propagandist disinformation and manipulation for the sake of achieving victory. Bruno’s connection with the right-wing defenders of the traditional power, wealth and further wealth-making is ambiguous from the beginning (the right-wingers trapped him after his refutation to enlist during Algerian war). Eventually, after doomed attempts of resisting, he did what they wanted – he killed the target they wanted to eliminate. But it was not the worst thing Bruno did under the pressure – he betrayed the woman he thought he loved –Veronica, not intentionally, of course, but by putting his alertness – understanding of what’s going on – down (he let his bosses to outsmart him, he underestimated the high professionalism of their meanness, he misperceived the circumstances they created).
How was it possible for Bruno, amateurish but sharp mind and observant gaze, let these primitive guardians of the status quo – Jacques and Paul, to outplay him and kill his love? One of the reasons, it seems, is the very direction of his intelligence. People who try to realize themselves through symbolic culture can be awkward and vulnerable in real life. Bruno’s intelligence followed traditional concept of mental development as a process between the individual and secular spirituality coded in arts and philosophy. This traditional concept of what it means to become more intellectually developed doesn’t include sociological, socio-psychological and economic analysis of societal life and analysis of historical process – matters too prosaic to be considered important. While Veronica projected her political idealism into a noble socio-political goal without thinking much, for Bruno socio-political reality doesn’t exist at all as serious matter. His creative unconscious doesn’t give a damn about political reality. By being under-attentive to it he allowed the possibility of Veronica being caught – he just didn’t consider that something like this might happen. But there is something else – can it be that, may be, he wasn’t worried enough about Veronica?
But he loved Veronica – he was fascinated by her, he dreamed about their love. Subjectively, he was in love with Veronica, but objectively… The difference between subjective and objective aspects of love is the issue of the ability to objectify love, to invest it in factual reality. It’s a matter of being interested in the environment love creates and in how love proves itself. A person like Bruno is not interested in love in this extraspective sense. He can be erotically inspired. He can be genuinely charming. As a personality he is expressive and multifaceted. His gift is to impress, not to care about another person. He wasn’t attentive enough to Veronica – he didn’t know how. He is too much of a soldier. He deserved to be cared for, but he cannot reciprocate care.
Bruno is no doubt erotically involved with Veronica. For woman it is an honor to be loved by Bruno Forestier. But it is not the experience. He shared with Veronica his impressive (for young man) ideas, associations, images. But he is ontologically closed. He is a monad isolated from the world including Veronica. His love is an instrument for being loved. There is no path from him back to the world.
Like Bruno is super-masculine, although in a sublimated form, Veronica is super-feminine, and these features are part of their fascination with each other, and this doesn’t help their “survival together” in barbaric environment they found themselves in – they are so fit together, that they, as if, swallow one another’s presence instead of paying attention to the world around them. They are “melting” from each other instead of helping one another to be more alert. If Bruno could be more sensitive and more caring, and Veronica – more operationally analytical and less relying on his mind and decisions, they could find a way to get rid of their political loyalties on time and wouldn’t become objects of a successful manipulation and victims of political cruelty and Machiavellianism.
Bruno and Veronica both are unbelievably naïve to play with real politics, with catastrophic consequences. Until people like them look for meaning of life in personal development (Bruno) and international justice (Veronica), people like Laszlo (torturer of Bruno) and Jacques and Paul (manipulators of Bruno and murderers of Veronica) get unprecedented competence in how to trick, mislead, manipulate, torture and murder. In the same way, there is an incomparable difference between military recruiters’ competence in propaganda and manipulation and the enlisted youth opened to life as mouth to air, or between higher ranking military specialists and regular military personnel, or between scholars of humanistic sciences and specialists in knowledge of how to manipulate, kill and destroy life. Humanistic sciences/liberal arts are more and more pure idealism while propagandists of exploitation and hate have practical knowledge of how to lie and mislead and get rid of millions of people they consider superfluous for their civilization of wealthy elite.
Intellectuals are “romantic” about intellectuality, idealistic about disinterested knowledge and understanding, about a life as purified by cognitive sublimation. But while they pursue their difficult cognitive projects, neocons train themselves in barbaric practices of propaganda, in technological mass murders, in exploitation and in practical economy of profit-making beyond limits.
Godard’s film is a grave warning. We ought to rush to understand it better. “Le petit soldat” is a film about systemic abuse of the young people, taking from them their right to study about the functioning of human societies inside historical processes, about manipulating the young ones by transforming them into self-sacrificial servants of the financial and political elite. These existential and cultural molesters of the young souls know how to use particularities of young age to get them to act according to the needs of their masters while keeping a happy consciousness of being individualistic, free and hedonistic in a consumerist and narcissistic sense. If such exceptional young people like Bruno and Veronica were with such an ease fooled by their bosses what kind of a destiny can we expect for the youth of 21st century, when the contrast in the competence between those who are open to the world and those who use others for their needs has become so much more acute than it was in the second part of the 20th century.
Today, the political and administrative organization of societal life is much more structured to keep the next generations under control while making them think that they are free. Godard’s Bruno and Veronica are the tragic prophecies of the post-democratic martyrdom of youth. This film stands together with Robert Bresson‘s “Mouchette” – 1967, and “Devil, Probably” – 1977, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Oedipus Rex” (1967) and “Salo” (1976), Liliana Cavani’s “I Cannibali/The Year of the Cannibals” (1970) and Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point” (1970) and “Blow Up” (1966).
10 Apr 2015
For millennia pantheism was understood superstitiously – like stones and leaves with anthropomorphic souls, and for millennia after spiritual emanation itself was understood as taking place very far from our life – somewhere above the sky. Spirituality attributed to humans during their earthly life was sensitivity towards what is above and beyond. French impressionists including Manet made an attempt not only to return civilization to nature, but to feel both – the human beings and nature as a part of the very phenomenon of spirituality. They felt spirituality as simultaneously natural and sublime. In the second part of the 19th century the European culture rediscovered nature and human being as such as a spiritual abode. Secular culture was able to return to the pantheistic sensibility in a de-theologized way, to recover it inside human perception and understanding, within societal and historical life. “Interior at Arcachon” depicts not just harmony between civilization (human beings, society and historical process) and nature (the earthly universe) but human reverie for nature as a precondition of human inspiration as spirituality.
Authoritarian/totalitarian power can be immediately recognized by its proclivity to transform people into servants and working robots, into passive and passionate followers of commands and orders. It takes away from the people the very possibility of freedom for independent inspiration of spiritual creativity. Instead it encircles people with war-training, with sells and consumption. In addition, today’s totalitarian societies try to enslave nature through the manipulative power of its ruling elites armed with high-tech technology.
Christianity attempted to ontologically centralize humanness, liberate it from the hierarchy of social power through a direct – mystical and ethical rapport with Christ, to state that not rich and powerful but every human being can be inspired by Christ. This humanistically oriented ontological baptism of human being as such was shattered by the Christian Church’ dogmatic thinking (which reinforced authoritarian – socially vertical and totalitarian – socially horizontal: oriented on standardization of human worldview, social atmosphere in order to subdue human creative intuition with the power of despotic centralized doctrine).
Secular spirituality (as depicted in Manet’s painting) is oriented to correct the socio-morphization of Christianity by the Church by trying to ontologically re-centralize the human being in embrace with nature in God-created universe. Manet’s “Interior at Arcachon” may be seen in the context of the history of human spirituality inside life. We see, here, the un-problematized unity between the secular interior and the inspiring intensity of nature. Manet makes nature the main motif of the interior as space and design, its very center.
Through the wide open window the nature enters the room to participate in human life. Compositionally, it is invited at the table. It gives its light to the sitting woman’s face, and it gives its support to the young man’s head (it organizes his profile orienting it into the future of his intellectual concentration). The table which the landscape sees and settles at is not dining one – it is the one for artistic and intellectual pursuits, for secularly spiritual concentration (SSC) which in this painting has an applied aspect – it has to be registered/elaborated on the paper through linguistic creativity. SSC has to be not only a matter of unity of the human soul with the universe but to become an aspect of human language and thinking. Mystical moment is only the beginning of spiritual experience Manet represented here as taking place in two human beings, may be, a mother and her son. According to the painting, without nature’s participation in human secular spirituality, creativity through writing is impossible.
The light of inspiration that is entering the room creates a strange atmosphere inside the interior. So much light makes the two human figures, things and colors uncertain, unsure of their visual identity. The forms, as though, are signaling about their existence but simultaneously enveloping themselves with the mysterious light. The atmosphere in the room is rather magic, alchemical. The usual “impressionistic” explanation of “atmospherization” of nature in painters-impressionists (transformation of nature into human visual impressions) doesn’t seem to be applicable anymore. It is not the creative posture of the human gaze that is responsible for a kind of dissolution of contours and colors. The point here is, rather, what exactly makes the impressionist sight so magic. Manet’s “Interior at Arcachon” seems to provides an answer. It is not the impressions of certain painters, and it’s not a particular painting style invented by them, and it’s not the specificity of their painterly talent, but rather their ability to see the world and people bathing in “internal/external” – mystical light (which is a metaphorization by the effects of real/natural light on the human visual perception). In other words, it is not the natural light that makes a sensitive gaze to create impressionistic art, but a certain kind of spiritual sensitivity of an artist-impressionist to the aura of mystical light inside the spiritual world (the belief that the matter has a subtle ability to respond to the light with light).
Both, the elder woman and younger man are writing, but if the woman’s act of writing is lit by the sun, more yellow on her face and whiter on the paper, the light on the young man is igniting his imagination. He takes inspiration right from the air, while she – from the landscape. The mystical light ignites her face and her paper – her soul, but in him it ignites inspiration itself! Are we here dealing with the difference between writing prose and writing poetry? It looks that the young guy writes poetry while the woman – prose. But their dependence on the mystical life of the very centrality of the world in human aspirations is especially precious today, when instrumental and anti-spiritual approach to the world became an ideology of power and greed, and as a result nature and civilization are both equally in danger.
There is no contradiction between nature and civilization if both are impregnated by the mystical light of creation (making matter and spirit made of one substance). But woe on those who want to dominate the life of the world and profit on it – who thinks that will of money-hooked profit-makers can become the law of the universal life. The union between spiritual (disinterestedly contemplating) human will and the will of the universe is the spiritual law of life, and we better make the human creativity to be in tune with the mystical light of creation instead of exploiting and destroying nature. Technical science has to be redeemed by secularly spiritual inspiration which Manet depicts in “Interior at Arcachon”.
06 Apr 2015
One of the most striking features of Bunuel’s film is the drastic contrast between its smooth, seamless and elegant, even graceful form and the violence of its content. We see several murders, one of them with agonizing death, two attempted murders, walking corpses with bleeding holes (made by the entered bullets) in the heads, a scene of physical torture, we see people who behave unattractively, clashes of false pride, serious quarrel without serious reasons, the life of petty calculations and disrespect for human nobility. But nothing, it seems, spoils our refined aesthetic pleasure from watching this film which is like a soft air unnoticeably streams into our perception regardless of its content and of the fact that identification of the viewers with the characters is blocked or devaluated by the director.
The major characters of the film are charming but coarse, they behave discretely but as persons they are quite impudent, each in his/her own way. Their souls are not too refined, their emotions are rather ordinary, they are often tactless and some of them are permanently engaged in petty power games. But they are, no doubt, charming. They are not always discreet, but their charm is. Bourgeoisie had charm during the mid-20th century, when democracy (discreetness) was used by it as aesthetic cover for imperial drives and obsession with profit by any price.
Bourgeois charm was a specific ontological appeal of these people. The bourgeoisie then produced charm as a fish – certain sounds or luminescence. Its charm was like birds’ plumage, or like specific coloration of skin and fur or a particular odor in animals. In his “Mythologies” (Hill and Wang, 1986, p. 141) Roland Barthes notes that bourgeois has a tendency to flight from the name “bourgeois” and that this flight is the bourgeois ideology itself, “the process through which the bourgeoisie transforms the reality of the world into an image of the world, history into nature”. The “discreet charm” is just another route of this bourgeois flight from its own essence (by thinking and suggesting that there is nothing specifically bourgeois in the bourgeois, that a bourgeois is just a paradigmatic representative of humankind and that his/her way of life is just a result of natural state of things).
The bourgeois charm is the direct expression of this tendency to create appearance (as bad artists’ intuition – appealing form of the work of art), to name this appearance as the essence and then try to register it in public consciousness as an expression of natural state of affair. In Bunuel’s terms, bourgeoisie wanted to register itself in history as a group of charming people who are full of charming plans and who have achieved through their activities in the world not just charming but charmingly admirable results. The production of bourgeois charm is a discreet bourgeois strategy to mask the ruthlessness of their dreams and actions as charming discreetness through which bourgeoisie tried to attract and seduce the world and was and is amazingly successful in this enterprise.
May be, the most striking feature of the film is demonstratively “objective”, distant, without a shade of compassion or empathy, even arrogantly scientific scrupulosity with which Bunuel investigates the bourgeoisie as a specific anthropological sub-specie. Bunuel’s film is a representation without plot (bourgeoisie, according to him, doesn’t have any “plot” – any responsible scenario for humanity). The film is a pure research, and in this sense it can be extremely offensive for the bourgeoisie. But the bourgeois viewers have reacted on the film positively – charm of discreetness is what they were or wanted to be during the times reflected in the film.
Bunuel imitates “the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie” with discreet charm of his cinematic style – impeccable, aloof, elegantly ironic, emotionally neutral, abstractly beautiful, not imposing but involving viewers bit by bit by charming them unnoticeably into being silently fascinated. And this style is ultimately responsible for the success of the film. By using his artistic charms to say the truth about the bourgeoisie Bunuel simultaneously pleases and fools it. He has “out-discreeted” and “out-charmed” the bourgeoisie. And he did it to nail it down. For the sake of his cinema, Bunuel becomes an artistic and philosophical bourgeois (discreet one) who is on the side of the truth against the bourgeois comme il faut hiding behind every bourgeois.
The realities of war, military life and the tragic destiny of militaries are a substantial part of the film. Three psychological aspects of being a military in bourgeois world are represented in the film: to be a killer (the story of the lieutenant Hubert de Rochcahin), to be killed (the story about the dream of the young sergeant about being dead), and to be dedicated to the fetishism of military honor (the presence of the colonel in the film and the story of his petty quarrel with Rafael Acosta, the ambassador of Latin American country). Bunuel insists that apart from being a killer, killed and the aggrandized through association with narcissistic tradition of belonging to the military force – nothing else exists in being a military except suffering of servicemen and their families.
Discreet charm of bourgeoisie is a historical phenomenon. Today, bourgeoisie has lost its discreteness, charm and its connection with protecting their country of origins. Today, the goal of the military structure is to protect the interests of the 1-2-3 % percent of population and agree with austerity for the 97%. Today, wealthy decision-makers don’t need discreteness or charm – money as a weapon and weapon itself deployed for the sake of making more profit do the job of conquering the world better. But Bunuel in his film provides the etiology of the present condition of bourgeoisie – we today have to know its previous condition to understand it better in order to try to handle it more effectively. Without Bunuel’s “The Discreet Charm of Bourgeoisie” we will not be on the level of this necessary and urgent task. Bunuel’s film must be part of a curriculum of History studies in every high school.
Rafael-the ambassador talks here about the “mutinous students” who loves to “protest and demonstrate” “instead of studying”, but he cannot resist a dose of universal right-wing “philosophizing”. By this Rafael deserves an extra-glass of dry martini from Thevenot and creates in ladies extra-admiration, which, as we see, is not unconditional.
How Colonel of the French Army quarreled with Rafael-the ambassador
The colonel giving a party at his place remembers that at the Senechal‘s the ambassador took a critical stance against the use of drugs in the military, and now he wants to respond by reminding the South American that Europe will always be in charge whatever it does.
It is funny that Rafael’s response follows a mutinous tradition of the previous colonies against the colonel’s of colonizing empires – he, a wealthy collaborator with the West, betrayer of the interests of his people for the sake of personal advantage suddenly, in this situation behaves like a parody on Southern revolutionary he never was. He is a part of the West’s puppet government.
From the story of Lieutenant Hubert de Rochahin
To the table, where our three ladies – Simone Thevenot, Alice Senechal and Florence were preparing to have a good time, approached a melancholic lieutenant asking for their permission to share with them his personal story.
Lieutenants story was about how his step-father sent him to a military college and by this decided the course of his whole life. Here, we see the lieutenants mother and father killed by his stepfather whom Hubert in his boyhood has poisoned by the suggestion of the ghost of his mother. In this shot, we see the lieutenants mother and father in the apotheosis of their revenge through their son and the villain himself lying on the bed before joining his rivals in a better world.
While the sad lieutenant was opening to the ladies about how he poisoned his stepfather, the waiter approaches the table to inform the women that their order cannot be fulfilled because the restaurant is out of coffee and tea. Bunuel expects the viewers to grasp how something like this can happen.