Acting-Out Politics

Weblog opens discussion about the psychology of Bushmerican style of behavior.

Prosperity VS. Consumerism (Consumerism As A Post-WWII Strategy To Debilitate American Democracy)

The consumerist pseudo-prosperity that pervaded American life after post-WWII, did gradually something terrible to majority of Americans. It, contrary to prevalent opinion, made them psychologically incapable of fighting for their democratic rights and freedoms, although this came to be obvious only in 21st century (when consumerism became really rooted in people’s bodies, souls and imagination). It put down their political alertness, made them forget their own history – how difficult it was to establish an acting, functioning democracy. It made them credulous, obsessed with entertainment and megalomaniacal – feeling that they are invincible for anti-democratic powers inside democracy. The victory against Vietnam War disoriented them even more – they decided that they have freedom in the pockets of their jeans. They started to think that democracy is such a tremendous idea that it will carry itself through all the obstacles which the conservative profit-worshippers (CPWs) put on its way – they became rather believers in democracy instead of being democrats in feelings and actions.

Their naïve megalomania of people who got a taste of “plenitude”, well-being, material comfort and complacency – was telling them (who during anti-war demonstrations made adult males in police uniform retreat), that they are on top of life, encircled by governmental services, working opportunities, affordable education and abundant and tasty food and drinks, that nobody would dare to intervene between them and their even more prosperous future. And so they became addicted to the good feeling that they are unreachable for the evil in which human history was drowned in for eons. And it happened at the same time when anti-democratic energies were looking for the opportunity to start with ferocious intensity to undermine the prevailing democratic sensibility and principles which democratic country lived by. Habitual (self-sustaining) megalomania parasiting on fresh verdure of enthusiastic democrats is very dangerous condition. It misinforms them to what can and cannot happen in real life. It can make a young person (euphoric that guitars of pop-singers are bigger than cops’ buttons), paralyzed with mystical joy and unable to take political action on time. It makes him underestimate the persistence and intensity of hate for democracy on the part of internal enemies of democracy who while pretending to be its lovers are just skillful impostors – those who deploy austerity slogan and actions to throw our democracy oriented on people’s wellbeing and freedom for everybody to more than a hundred years back. Megalomania makes people, who during the period of mass consumerism have reached a pleasant familiarity with money as with a good, reliable and generous friend, to underestimate money as an enemy. Megalomania is like an armor of medieval knights – by protecting you it locks you in it and narrowing your options.

Conservative profit-worshippers (CPWs) managed to graft onto democracy mass culture of consumerism, and they were able to persuade too many people that it is what democracy is about. By “collaborating” with democratic development CPWs in reality were destroying it not yet by challenging democracy as such ideologically (only in 21st century they dare to do this, but still carefully), but by gradually changing its nature – by transforming democracy into mass culture of mass consumerism, by “baptizing” it with the virus of money-worship. As a result American democracy became weaker and weaker with each decade, while monarchy of money stronger and stronger. CPWs have deployed money-worship as antidemocratic socio-psychological weapon of surprising strength, may be, equivalent to what nuclear weapon is in direct war-making. Americans more and more believed that consumerism, not prosperity without consumerism, is the essence of democracy.

Transformation of material prosperity into consumerism (maniacal and obsessive consumption as a goal and meaning of life) is the creative gesture of the genius of the very drive for profit-calculation as can-be a universal human psychological complex. If material prosperity in combination with freedom from being hooked on consumption, and with dignity and self-respect can root democracy deeper and help people to become more independent, consumerism (democracy became corrupted) makes people less democratic in their sensibility. As money corrupts human souls, consumerism corrupts democracy. It transforms it into flea-market.

Having a self-image of being someone who is “well-off”, who is “with a good promising career and rear”, who will be “richer and preacher” – has the magic power closing the person from thinking in terms of political activism. For a person who is megalomaniacally “constructed” as “successful”, the thought that this success couldn’t be possible without political fight, carries self-depreciating narcissistic wound. For megalomaniacal narcissist political activity has the connotation of trying to make your success through political battles, not by your intrinsic talents. To deny your self-image as an exceptional person who succeeded by his own talents is extremely, painfully unpleasant. The conformist position of following the socio-political situation as it already exists is widespread because of lack of understanding how many opportunities are completely closed to our choice. Then the person looks for success among what is offered and neglects much bigger pool of opportunities which are “forbidden” or “not advertised”. Megalomania in this situation helps to mask one’s conformism. You have to have a spiritual strength and humility to be able to even think in terms of political activism. In the moment you are decided to become politically active you already recognized that you are not among the “top elites” and that you are suffering from their egoistic and self-serving decisions in the name of everybody.

By creating a pseudo-prosperity verified by the availability of cheap imitation of luxurious life, people become the prisoners of fake self-image that they are able to live a consumerist life style and don’t need political action. The stronger austerity measures will influence the conditions of life the more desperate people will become (because their self-aggrandized self-image will crack). And when they finally will be capable of shaking off its remnants and start to act as human beings, not super-men, it can be too late – the conservative money-worshippers (CMWs) will be already entrenched politically and militarily to easily give up their anti-humane ideas and practices under the pressure of public opinion.

Conformists are those who agree “to live well” according to the existing standards created by the decision-making elites which will pay conformists salaries because the rich believe that it will bring them more money on a long range, instead of “wasting dollars on the useless democratic majority of population”.

Exterminating Fury Combined With Praising The Lord And With Narrow Instrumental Orientation

According to 2010 report – 18 veterans of Gulf War commit suicide every day (540 per month, about 6400 per year), with 950 attempted suicides monthly. Afghan and Iraq wars veterans are more likely to commit suicide by violent means. According to Rand Corporation’s 2008 analysis, 300,000 soldiers returning from the Middle East campaigns will experience PTSD and an additional 320,000 will suffer traumatic brain injuries.

[After “London Review of Books” and “Guardian” both refused, I sent the poem to “The Observer” that] was the most complex and fascinating web that I actually ran into. I sent the poem not to the literary editor, but to the editor himself. A couple of days later, he called me and said that he thought it should be published. He thought it was very testing. Probably going to be quite a lot of flack, he said. But he thought it should be published, not on the literary pages, but on the leader page. It was a truly political poem, he said. So I was delighted to hear that. He’d send me a proof, which he did.
The next Sunday nothing happened. And then the following Sunday nothing happened. So I called the editor. He said, ‘Oh dear, Harold, I’m afraid that I’ve run into one or two problems with your poem.’ I asked what they were. ‘In short, my colleagues don’t want me to publish it.’ Why not? He said, ‘They’re telling me we are going to lose lots of readers.’ I asked, Do you really believe that? Anyway, we had a quite amiable chat. He said, ‘I want to publish it but I seem to be more or less alone.’ I then said, Look, the Observer, as a serious newspaper, has in fact published quite recently an account of what the US tanks actually did in the desert. The tanks had bulldozers, and during the ground attack they were used as sweepers. They buried, as far as we know, an untold number of Iraqis alive. This was reported by your newspaper as a fact and it was a horrific and obscene fact. My poem actually says, ‘They suffocated in their own shit. ’It is obscene, but it is referring to obscene facts.
He said, ‘Absolutely right. Look, I want to publish the poem. But I’m running into all sorts of resistance. The trouble is the language, it’s the obscene language. People get very offended by this and that’s why they think we are going to lose readers.’ I then sent the editor of the Observer a short fax, in which I quoted myself when I was at the US Embassy in Ankara in March I985 with Arthur Miller. I had a chat with the ambassador about torture in Turkish prisons. He told me that I didn’t appreciate the realities of the situation vis-a-vis the Communist threat, the military reality, the diplomatic reality, the strategic reality, and so on.
I said the reality I was referring to was that of electric current on your genitals. Whereupon the ambassador said, ‘Sir, you are a guest in my house,’ and turned away. I left the house.
The point I was making to the editor of the Observer was that the ambassador found great offence in the word genitals. But the reality of the situation, the actual reality of electric current on your genitals, was a matter of no concern to him. It was the use of the word that was offensive, but not the act. I said I was drawing an analogy between that little exchange, and what we were now talking about. This poem uses obscene words to describe obscene acts and obscene attitudes.
But the editor of the Observer wrote to me and said he couldn’t publish, with great regret. ‘I’ve been giving serious thought to publication of your poem on the Gulf War. As you know, my first instinct was in favour, despite warnings by senior colleagues that many readers would be offended … I admit to having cold feet.’

Harold Pinter

What Pinter is clearly doing in American Football is satirising, through language that is deliberately violent, obscene, sexual and celebratory, the military triumphalism that followed the Gulf War and, at the same time, counteracting the stage-managed euphemisms through which it was projected on television. […] Pinter’s poem, by its exaggerated tone of jingoistic, anally obsessed bravado, reminds us of the weasel-words used to describe the war on television and of the fact that the clean, pure conflict which the majority of the American people backed at the time was one that existed only in their imagination. Behind the poem lies a controlled rage: that it was rejected, even by those who sympathised with its sentiments, offers melancholy proof that hypocrisy is not confined to governments and politicians.
Michael Billington, “Life and Work of Harold Pinter”, Faber and Faber, 1996

I suspect the ‘me’ in the final line is Mom since we all know the slang expression, ‘You kiss your momma with that mouth?’ “We’re fighting for mom and apple pie.” That’s what the American GI’s often said when asked what they were fighting for during World War II. Either that or for God and country.
Jim Murdoch, “The Truth About Lies: The Poetry of Harold Pinter”

American Football

(A Reflection upon the Gulf War)

It works.
We blew the shit out of them.

We blew the shit right back up their own ass
And out their fucking ears.

It works.
We blew the shit out of them.
They suffocated in their own shit!

Praise the Lord for all good things.

We blew them into fucking shit.
They are eating it.

Praise the Lord for all good things.

We blew their balls into shards of dust,
Into shards of fucking dust.

We did it.

Now I want you to come over here and kiss me on the mouth.

Harold Pinter

The poem is stylized as a mini-play representing an extremely frustrated American soldier who sometimes in the same breath combines exclamation of religious bliss (“Hallelullah” and/or gratitude to the Lord!), instrumental/technical orientation (“”It works”, “We did it”), and the forceful sadistic posture towards other human beings scapegoated into generic labels of being different from us (“them”, “their”, “they” as the opposite of “We”).

The destructive passion expressed by the soldier, mainly concentrates on the anal and genital objects, angles and functions. Sometimes anal and genital focuses are combined, and sometimes a necrophilic coloration is added to the genital agitation (“We blew their balls into shards of dust”).

What kind of soldiers can feel and talk like this? – Only the overwhelmingly disappointed. We hear in News – how many American soldiers, after a while started to violate the rule of military conduct and were sentenced and punished, and how far some of them went in killing civilians and in torture of prisoners. What kind of disappointment must a soldier experience to express himself as the protagonist of Pinter’s poem does? The answer is rather obvious. To make military service respected by those who are ready to sacrifice their life, you have to give them reasons for fighting in war – the false reasons for war is like a delayed detonation mine in a soldier’s soul. In order to feel that war we involved in, is worthy of human life and death, to perceive it as a noble and dignified occupation, the servicemen have to know and to believe that they are defending their country against enemies who want to destroy and enslave the sacred land of our ancestors. Bush Jr. administration’s reasons for invading Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t find confirmation in facts, and this took from American soldiers the meaning of their heroic decision to invade other parts of the world – the absence of WMDs in Iraq was a fatal blow to the very soul of the young Americans who enlisted to serve in the Middle East. This, it seems, is the ultimate reason for such shockingly inflated numbers of suicide among the vets who returned back from the Gulf War. And this is the fundamental reason for the psychological and sometimes ethical degradation in those who serve and served in the Gulf War.

That’s why the protagonist of Pinter’s poem talks the way he does – he doesn’t respect what he has to do, and primitive psychological defenses against the fact that you have to kill somebody without noble reason – primordial bravado, purely emotional hatred and nationalistic contempt for the Iraqis and Afghanis based on belief that “we are greater and smarter” and “they are weak and stupid” is the only “meaning” our soldiers are left with.

Fight with enemies becomes anal and genital fury (defiling the people of the opposite side by ascribing to them anal and genital identities – “blowing the shit out of them” became our soldier’ perception of bodies of the people of another nation including women and children’s; “blowing shit out of their fucking ears” becomes our soldiers’ perception of civilians of other nation as deserving to be exterminated. “We blew their balls into shards of dust, into shards of fucking dust” – is the genocidal culmination of the protagonist’ blindly belligerent determination. “To blow balls into shards of dust” is not already human speech and it’s not human intuition and intentionality that is talking, but a monstrous robotism determined to kill without human reasons and activated by software with genocidal pre-determination against genetic information of human species. When human reproduction is not perceived as a sacred gift from Creation, but instead as “dust that is fucking”, human species is in real, if not ultimate trouble. Of course, speech does not always express what the person really means, but Pinter reminds us that where the area of reasons for war becomes more and more “rarefied” in comparison with a more and more perfect technology of killing, the distance between regressive violent words and murderous actions becomes as short as the space between a finger and the button.

The most troubling aspect of Pinter’s poem is exactly how natural and ritualistically easy the poem’s protagonist’s verbal expressiveness matches with the most extremist actions where anti-social behavior becomes a matter of debased physiology. Usually people try to ignore the seriousness of sadistically pornographic verbalizations – they cowardly hide in the caves of connotations (in the darkness of abstractions). “They suffocated in their own shit” – means to be suffocated in their own bodylines, in their own bodily being. That’s how easily the archaic – religious: super-human sensibility is combined with super-modern – technological disrespect for the bodily incarnation of human soul. “We blew the shit out of them” means “we liberated them from their bodies” – we blow their bodies out of their bodies: we disincarnate them – we make them “spiritual” and by this we make them more “noble”, more “sublime” (cleaned of their bodies). This is the shameful “metaphysical” echo of genocidal rage.

It’s very important that Pinter emphasizes how traditional religious frame of reference naturally combines with destruction of life by technological means. From “Hallelullah!” and “Praise the Lord” the transition to “blowing shit up their ass” or “to blow balls into shards of fucking dust” is not already “natural” but it’s, somehow, “organic” and as such a proof that these soldiers have lost human souls to psychotic yearning for power and wealth of the creators of Gulf War, who stole from the soldiers their conscience, their hope and meaning of life without which we cannot live and many of us suffer from deprivation to the degree of committing suicide. In a sense, the character of the poem who wants reward for his war deeds in the form of a kiss from his wife or beloved is already suicidal – he is going too far in his cynical bravado, he will be broken by god in his transgression of universal existential norms of human life and decency. For these abused and traumatized people their murderous talk (Pinter showed us,) and, sometimes, their criminal actions, is the only (and the illusory) way out of the meaninglessness of their participation in meaningless wars which has nothing to do with defending of their country and its interests.

George Bellows, “Football”, Crayon ink drawing
George Bellows, “Football”, Crayon ink drawing

Renunciation Of Social Power In The Midst Of “Community of Human Animal” Is Destined To Become Masochism

Max Ernst, “The Blessed Virgin Chastising The Christ Child Before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eluard and The Painter”, 1926
Max Ernst, “The Blessed Virgin Chastising The Christ Child Before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eluard and The Painter”, 1926

People with intelligent souls and minds are never unconditional believers or unconditional atheists. Each of them invents a unique combination of religiosity and atheism. But people of exceptional intellectual sensitivity like Breton, Eluard or Ernst are capable of creating unique combinations of feelings and ideas in response to objects or situations appearing in their field of attention. Their reactions on witnessing the Virgin chastising the child Christ are especially interesting and meaningful.

According to the painting not too many people are psychologically able to witness/ visualize the corporeal punishment of child Christ by quite a determined Virgin Mary. The encounter of godly and human substances should be more dramatic than clash of galaxies. As soon as we are talking here not about the child Jesus but child Christ, more than twenty centuries of Christianity have opened to billions of observers the relations between mother Mary and Christ. Of course, amongst these billions only very few people would pay attention to the issue of child Christ being physically abused by his mother. That’s why the window we see in the painting is so small – not many people will dare to look through it. All three artists we see on the other side of the window came to see and confront the unbearable truth. But even Andre Breton cannot force himself to look straight through the window. Paul Eluard saw the truth but his eyes refused to continue to see. And only Max Ernst is forcing himself to keep on looking – we see his terrifying – gloomy and desperate face. But what is the big deal about Mary chastising her son? History is a reservoir of facts, and human behavior can be different or similar in various historical periods. The physical punishment of children by their parents is a very conservatively stable behavioral archetype. Even today and even in Western democracies physical abuse of children is proudly widespread practice.

The question here – about compatibility or incompatibility of godly and human realities, has additional complications because the very sensibilities of a superhuman world and human world are changing, together with continuation of Creation through human history. But why is the Holy Virgin so determine to punish her son? How strained and masklike her face has become! It has lost all the feminine and motherly softness, all the reverie towards the godly nature of child Christ. It is, as though Mary was trying to overcome her natural and pious compassion. Whom does she try to imitate?

An extremely symbolic space with two walls, on the left and on the right, is opened to the heavens. The right wall is, as if, separating god-father’s kingdom of sunny Creation. The left wall is enclosing the human world. And the area of Mary and the child Christ separates the two and mediates between them. It is the area where godly emanation is represented by the sharp triangle of light from above pointed at the godly child. Behind the wall signifying the human world, we see our three witnesses of the truth of the semi-godly and semi-human realm where we see the sadistic cruelty towards Christ as a human god, towards the very human aspect of godliness. On the buttocks and thighs of the child we see redness from the blows inflicted by the mother’s hand (Ernst suggests here, it seems, that the cruelty towards Christ is part of Mary’s destiny). The god-child’s halo ring has fallen to the ground. The position of the child’s body in relation to mother’s “blasphemously” suggests that sadistic libido on part of the mother is part of the situation when beating of the child has perverted sexual connotations which is often the case with physical abuse of children. The parent who has lost his/her temper or follows the proverb that sparing the rod means spoiling the child, is, indeed, as if, trying to break the child’s “stubborn desire” “to be capricious and spoilt” (“to be worshipped”), because parents believe that the sooner a child will learn the lesson the better it will be for him. It is, as though, the child who doesn’t know yet the ordeals and disappointments of adult life, all the terrors and humiliations adults have to go through, and “claims” “to be super-human in comparison with his parents”, has to go through tough pedagogical lessons to be returned to real – human condition. It is possible that in a situation of child Christ it is the mother who feels the necessity to “teach her son” the human – humiliated destiny.

Let’s return to, as if, petrified face of Ernst’s Blessed Virgin. Can it be, that in her (unconscious) envy that she is connected with godly substance only because of her son, she, in the moments of punishing him, righteously feels herself spiritually “bigger” than he, a… goddess? Can it be that for her, earthly woman abused by the patriarchal power and belonging to the bottom of the social hierarchy, to punish the child Christ is the only way to feel worthier than she regularly felt she is? If it is what Ernst is telling us, then we can talk about the Virgin Mary complex in every woman/mother in relation to her sons (who are traditionally considered worthier than she just by belonging to male gender). The fact that Mary‘s Nimbus is victoriously at its place above her head while Christ’s is on the ground, symbolizes the triumph of her secondary godliness over his direct one.

But the reason why Breton, Eluard and Ernst have such a hard times while looking at child Christ being abused by his mother is that they as creative intellectuals are more Christians by sensibility than Christian fundamentalists and dogmatists – they suffer that the godliness of human being (the existentially spiritual human potential) is destroyed with every new generation starting with childhood, when parents frustrated by their humiliated socio-economic life cannot resist revenging their children for their own wounds inflicted by an unjust and cruel life. We can imagine, how tormenting it must have been for Breton, Eluard and Ernst trapped between Two World Wars and post-WWII mass culture, to see how existentially spiritual potential of human beings is destroyed by various politico-economic systems with a Christian tradition.

May be, the incredible attempt of human spiritual genius in Christianity to connect, to “marry” the godly and the human can be successful, but in a fallen world it’s very difficult to achieve. Godliness can create monstrous envy and hatred in the human beings – humiliated, uneducated and uncertain in their survival, and then the drastic contrast between fragility and dependency of a child, on the one hand, and the naïve narcissism of childhood, on the other, can only activate this unconscious envy in adults. In this sense, every child has something from Christ. It is secularly spiritual interpretation of child abuse by Ernst in his painting makes it so painful for viewers to see Christ corporeally punished in every abused child.

“In a Year of 13 Moons” is dedicated to the analysis of the psychological nature of self-sacrificial love that is personified by the main character Erwin whose childhood was mutilated by the fact that he has been abandoned by his mother and later on as a boy met with other situations that resonated with that primal rejection. Fassbinder scrupulously describes how Erwin’s childhood influences his behavior as an adult (including his decision to have a sex change operation to please the person he was in love with).

In US today, sex change operations have become much more widespread than before and even a popular topic of TV talk shows. For this reason for us, Americans of the 21st century, it’s especially important to learn what Fassbinder thought about the readiness to maim the body so as to be in tune with conventional morals, fashion and tastes. Erwin was not able to respect his homosexual desire and in a conformist way blamed his biology for not corresponding to “his true nature”. His sex change operation is a result of his inability to take responsibility for his unconventional sexual desire.

The wider concerns of the film are: the human ability to make genuine existential decisions instead of “choosing” between the conventional ones, and even more difficult – the capacity to judge one’s decisions retrospectively as wrong. This film about Erwin/ Elvira‘s unique destiny can help us to contemplate about human life in general and our personal scripts inside it.

Volker Spengler playing Erwin/Elvira impersonates the human soul wandering in between genders as common denominator of man and woman. The film is an important step towards a new kind of humanity that refuses to be dichotomized into machos and pussycats.

As always, in this film also Fassbinder manages to make the individual problem into a universal issue, and he generously uses visual symbolism to make points about human psyche, life, society and psychology of morality, amorality and immorality.
As a person of the second half of the 20th century Erwin/Elvira is locked between the two types of socio-ideological authority that defines contours of human destiny – the traditional one represented by religious authorities (personified by Schwester Gudrun played by Lilo Pempeit, Fassbinder’s mother), and the “brave new one” represented by the real-estate business magnate Anton Saitz (personified by Gottfried John). Religious power patronizes and punishes, while money power manipulates through seduction and indifference. Trying psychologically survive/maneuver between these two powers as we all do, Erwin/Elvira ends in a suicidal despair because of anguished realization that no one in the whole world is really interested in his/her humanity, in him/her as a human being dreaming to be accepted. The suicide that follows is a result of the main protagonist’s final feeling that something is deeply wrong in his innocent desire to be accepted (when the subject gives too much power to the external world to decide who he is and how he has to live and when to be loved is more important than to love).

Elvira, in a process of being abandoned by her husband, is going through his physical abuse of her…

… and his verbal assaults and insults. She hopes that by continuing to appeal to him she’ll be able to keep him longer. She wasn’t like this in all the years they were together. Elvira is afraid of being alone again, and “she is not getting any younger”, etc.

All made up and dressed in pitifully caricaturist and ludicrously absurd cloth Erwin/Elvira decided to visit the person for whom many years ago he made a sexual operation, with no results he dreamed about (to settle with Anton).

Pay attention to the impossible presence of the baguette in Elvira’s grocery bag, as if, she plans to suggest to Anton some kind of a domestic mini-event. The bread here is, of course, Fassbinder’s reference to castration (think about the symbolic meaning of the grocery bag) Ervin underwent years ago in exchange for Anton’s love (Erwin wanted to believe that if he will become a she then Anton will want and love her).

The prostitute, Elvira met by chance (Ingrid Caven), agreed to stay in Elvira’s place to help her to overcome the trauma of being an abandoned wife. In this still we see Zora, near the sleeping Elvira, watching on TV an interview with Fassbinder about, among other things, the rise of general Pinochet in Chile. Is there some association in meaning between painful story of Erwin/Elvira and conservative coup d’etat? Fassbinder suggests that it is and encourages us to understand it.

Elvira remembers those lucky days of hope for happiness and happiness of hope when she was still Erwin and worked with Anton in the slaughter house. In Fassbinder’s representation this documentarily stylized scene is complicated by Elvira’s memories (in the form of her voice-over) about her life with her husband Christoph when their sincere attempts at mutuality were blended with the currents of veiled emotional animosity (amidst tough – competitive, social environment) in a semi-conscious depth of their quite ordinary relationship.

After the attempt to buy male prostitute (around separation with Christoph) Elvira (dressed in men’s clothing), was severely beaten (upon discovery that she is a woman proud males on the bottom of maleness felt cheated – insulted and infuriated).

That’s how Erwin looked before changing her sex for the sake of being loved.

Erwin’s daughter (Eva Mattes) with the corpse of her father (yes, Ervin was married once).

Posted on Oct 27, 2011 –   Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “In a Year of 13 Moons” (1978) – When Life Decisions Are Retrospectively Judged as Existential Mistakes by Acting-Out Politics

“The Shout” is a film about the irrational side (the very nucleus) of artistic talent.
Like the main character of the film Charles Crossley (Alan Bates), every artist by psychological call, just by trying to develop his talent is as if writing a story of his/her artistic achievement. Of course, Crossley will not write a book about himself – he is too occupied with his creative gift and its power, not with his personality. His genre of description of life of his talent is oral story-telling we, the viewers, are privileged to hear and to observe.

The psychology of a genuine artist as an artist (in relation to his creative power), according to the film, has three layers: unconscious tendency to worship and to exaggerate the magic power of his gift, being hooked on truth-value of his art (on its uniqueness), not on its success, and, finally, the proclivity of the artist to feel that the truth of his art is more important than his whole life and must be nurtured even if it’s by the price of the creator’s life. In “The Shout” Skolimowski gives us chance to see in details how much the relation of the artist to his artistic gift is part of his creative achievement, that it is not enough to assess the work of art to understand it, that how the artist perceives his very creation of work of art is a part of the value and of the meaning of the creative result.

The film depicts ontological rivalry between a genuine artist and artist-businessman who uses his art to become successful in money-making and fame and who is ready to re-shape his art’s truth according to market demands to make this art appealing and salable. Until the artist is just an artifact-creator, like Rachel’s husband Anthony (John Hurt), he never will lose his inferiority complex and will be doomed to create more and more artifacts instead of reaching feeling of being a “maestro of artistic insight”.

The “duel” of talents between Crossley and a “post-modern” composer Anthony, and Crossley’s amorous and sexual triumph over Anthony’s wife Rachel (Susannah York – in one of the most miraculous among her performances in cinema), the exceptionally attractive woman with emotional power that is “equal to the universe”, are depicted by Skolimowski with rare cinematic virtuosity.

The metaphoric level of Skolimowski’s communication with viewers of the film is impressively sophisticated, and we can enjoy (and be dazzled and challenged by) the symbolic density of director’s images, analogies and metaphors.

The acting in the film as a characterization of the personality of the characters concentrates not on the circumstances which make a person react, not on characters as they projecting their personalities into their reactions on the circumstances, but on what can be called the “metaphysical”/archetypal essence of each human being. Skolimowski depicts each personage, even the one with the smallest screen time, as absolute, pre-empiric type of a human being whose “essence”, as if, has been written “metaphysically” – by the imagination of the artist personified by a magnificent mental patient Charles Crossley.
Jerzy Skolimowski – the auteur of “The Shout”

The first earthshaking encounter of pink-bodied and simpleminded couple with the magnificent magic of art

Is Rachel triumphantly seduced by the power of artist-sorcerer or is she herself the creative seductress entering through the artist’s art to his very heart?

Transformation of Rachel into a Baconian monster of feminine obedience to the will of the artist or of voluntary obedience to the emanation of the work of art

Reproduction of Francis Bacon’s painting on the wall of Anthony’s studio
Reproduction of Francis Bacon’s painting on the wall of Anthony’s studio (expressing his secret dream to dominate his wife, a dream realized by Crossley)

Crossley steps away and lets Rachel to be with her husband
Artist (Charles Crossley) and his art are generous (real master is efficient in both, charming and in releasing his charms) – Crossley steps away and lets Rachel to be with her husband, amidst the amorous crumbs of Crossley-Rachel‘s ontological orgies.

Posted July 12, 2012 –   Jerzy Skolimowski’s “The Shout”, 1978 (Based on Robert Graves’ Short Story) – A Cinematic Poem about the Sacred Madness of Art and its “Supernatural” Ability to Influence Life by Acting-Out Politics

“Nathalie Granger” is aesthetico-philosophical opus-film. The strictest logic of its visual images step by step moves us, the viewers, to the feeling that we, while observing the still and harmonious life in a quiet and prosperous household, never expected to get – the feeling of the incompatibility between traditional (over-worldly) spirituality (as it exists and flowers in religious and/or ideological beliefs) and… children’s psychological needs. It is the one of the miracles of this film that the concept of traditional (above-worldly) spirituality is not defined but is impersonated by two profoundly intelligent actresses: Jeanne Moreau and Lucia Bose. They both incarnate over-worldliness with miraculous naturalness of complete immanency. They live eternity as if it is possible to breath when you are inside it. They show that they can, more exactly – they can without showing it. – But what about Nathalie?

Nathalie, a girl of pre-adolescent age who is being cared for and loved by two extraordinary women – the mother and the “aunt”, unexpectedly started to express stubborn resistance to the very atmosphere of sublime spiritual calmness that characterized their household. At school she started to express animosity towards other kids. What’s happened to this seemingly gentle child in spite of her caregivers’ always positive and patient efforts?

The film answers this question in a provocative yet solidly articulated way mobilizing the power of cinematic medium to make the point gently but irreversibly. The film doesn’t look like a philosophical argument, although it certainly is, and it influences our cognition through a psychodrama that approaches the viewers’ mind through their feelings and their consciousness through their intuitions. This film is not asserting and not stating anything, but it whispers something we don’t understand for a while.

To watch “Nathalie Granger” is challenging as well as a stimulating and rewarding experience for all those who in their life and thinking don’t follow the authoritarian clichés and seductive songs of entertaining ads but are prone to try to make up their own minds about life and the world.

It is, as if, the film was composed by the three irresistible but untouchable, attractive and awe-suggesting “witches” – Marguerite Duras, Jeanne Moreau and Lucia Bose who passes by our being to be never forgotten. In them the very metaphysical sensibility has something demonic in it, and the good, as if, is elevated/condemned to carry a gene of ambiguity. Nathalie (Valerie Mascolo) personifies us all in our childishly wise and immaturely non-conformist reaction on spirituality. The character of Gerard Depardieu personifies our “pragmatic”, instrumental mind as a conventional cover of our frightened unconscious.

Marguerite Duras is looking at her future which she is already tested in her present tasks.

Marguerite Duras is looking at the reality of her present challenges and the necessity to meet them in full.

Nathalie just had a tantrum – she is growing impatient with the reality of life, as if this reality is not a goal in itself but realization of our ready-made expectations. Her reaction is simultaneously – “metaphysical” and “anti-metaphysical”.

Nathalie’s “aggression” is anti-existential but in the same time it is, as if, “demonstrating” the fruitless incompatibility between “spirit” and “life”.

Is Jeanne Moreau cleaning eternity to fit actuality – what is reflected to make it ready for reflection, in the best condition for being reflected, or is she cleaning actuality to be able to reflect eternity without distortions?

What is more real – eternity reflected in the temporary or temporary reflecting and animating eternity? As this shot suggests, eternity looks at the reality of life by bowing down its head to it. Incessant mixing in the film of the metaphysical and existential landscapes, of watching and being watched, of presence and absence suggests that according to Duras, the time has come for spirit and life to accept their… equality and recognize their embrace as an amorous one, not just as a sign of coexistence.

Posted Mar 7, 2012 –   Marguerite Duras’ “Nathalie Granger” (1972) – Glimpse of Eternity In Black and White by Acting-Out Politics

“Dodes’kaden” depicts and examines the conditions of life and of the human soul in today’s urban civilization. Kurosawa is not too interested in the polished city individuals monotonously rushing for work and back and living an artificial life of prescribed goals and standardized interests and tastes. Kurosawa defines these people through visual metaphors of cars. But real heroes of DDSKD are semi-homeless paupers living on the giant dump in surrealistic decorations instead of houses, with a background of, as if, expressionistic painting. By these aesthetic analogies between the given and the created Kurosawa emphasizes a surrealistic condition of people’s life and expressionistic condition of their imagination. People’s way of life and their feelings, described in DDSKD, reflect the basic psychological archetypes constituting the existential legacy of humankind. Each character represents a certain anthropological model of life and certain way of the perception of the world. In “Dodes’kaden” it is, as if, human souls, abandoning their social selves, are retreated/banished from the industrial world of work and consumerism and settle outside as a colorful shadows of themselves.

Kurosawa questions the expediency of technological orientation of today’s civilization which condemns human life to fruitless nomadism (parodied by the endless trips of mentally disturbed teenager Rokkuchan on his imaginary streetcar through the giant dump) and neurotic restlessness and makes human dreams escapist and mentally disturbed. It is as if human beings, instead of learning how to live and how to improve the conditions of their lives, tried to avoid real life through pursuing mirages and vain and absurd goals. Question of being becomes a question of how to detour being. Real problems of human life are systematically put aside, postponed into future and never resolved and, as a result, they crystallized into morbid but majestically narcissistic characters of DDSKD living their lives amidst picturesque garbage on a waste land. It is human history itself (together with human nature) that has become the waste product on the periphery of a sterile world of urbanistic post-modernism populated by cars.

DDSKD, Kurosawa’s first color film, starts and ends with multicolored drawings of streetcars – the favorite occupation of children of various nations, which are so unnaturally bright in the moving lights of street traffic that it is as if all the importance, all substance of life has gone to these drawings, leaving people depressed, apathetic, senile, abandoned, wretched, tragically comic, irresistible and unforgettable.

The film provides an elaborate criticism of Western and Eastern cultural traditions in which rational, superstitious and prejudicial ingredients are fused together, and together in one decide the destiny of humankind.

The music of Toru Takemitsu is so expressive and so “Dodes’kaden” that, paradoxically, it has its own independent value and makes the composer an equal partner of the revered auteur Kurosawa in his creation of this exceptional work of art. The acting is simultaneously realistic and epic, emotionally involving and scholarly articulate.

The conglomeration of DDSKD’s characters represents Kurosawa’s classification of universal human types outside the standardization of human work and conformist functioning in society.

Kurosawa is rehearsing with Yoshitaka Zushi (Rokkuchan) the scene which can be named as “The Demiurge of the waste land”

Rokkuchan in “Dodes’kaden” personifies the Demiurge of our nomadic civilization which had spread to the whole planet and is planning the expansion into Space’s “final frontiers”. Here we see how Rokkuchan is connecting imaginary electric wires with his imaginary tram. There is a real electric line behind him – the composition problematizing the very contradiction between imaginary and “real” technology in today’s world.

The father, homeless architect by education (Noboru Mitani), explains to his son the psychological motifs inside the art of architecture.

Poisoned by the leftover food he collected asking for handouts for his father and himself, the boy is trying to recover for the sake of his father – he knows that father is too shy to beg and will not survive without him.

The wise man of the slums Mr. Tamba (Atsushi Watanabe) and the father-architect are looking at the reality of death of the architect’s son.

Shima (the limping man with a tic – Junzaburo Ban) is trying to explain to his guests why his wife is not so hospitable.

Posted on May 26, 2012 –   Akira Kurosawa’s “Dodes’kaden” (1970) As Anthropological “Map” of Human Psychological Condition (Kurosawa’s Contemplation on the Living Art of Archetypal Crystallization)  by Acting-Out Politics

“Sisters or the Balance of Happiness” at first looks like a film about personal relationships between several characters, but it quickly becomes von Trotta’s research into a fundamental problem of a dangerous disproportion in today’s Western societies between people’s orientation on social exteriority – on “pragmatic” and “instrumental” aspects of life, and dedication to psychological interiority – to the life of the soul and the psychological and spiritual development. A lack of attention towards and investment in development of people’s internal world is shown by the director as a totalitarizing tendency inside democracy, making our world the one where established forms of life successfully block potentials for change and effectively dominate criticism (playing in relation to alternatives the role of a stubborn conservative despot). In these circumstances to be able to overcome our own conformism and one-dimensionality of our way of life is almost an impossible task. Only a self-inflicted death terminating one relationship of characters in the film, and dramatic impossibility to continue another ones force the heroine of the film to start to learn how to appreciate and celebrate human dissimilarity and to be dedicated to otherness of other people without stopping to be herself.

Maria, the personal secretary of the CEO of a global corporation is a kind and responsive person and an exemplary employee. After the death of her and her sister’s father and a prolonged depression of their mother, she tries to help by caring about her younger sister. But Anna is not like Maria. She has her own ideas about life; she disagrees with the technical science’s approach to the world (ignoring the destruction of a life supporting environment and more and more serving the exclusive interests of financial elite). She becomes more and more critical about the direction of the human civilization and stops her studies promising a good employment and career. Maria doesn’t understand Anna’s problems – for her the world is what it is, and to adapt to it and take advantage of what it offers is a sign of maturity and of being responsible person. Soon Anna feels so marginalized by society that she psychologically regresses and becomes too fixated on Maria “as a last protection”. Maria is almost destroyed not just by Anna’s suicide but by the fact that she didn’t understand the seriousness of Anna’s “issues” and couldn’t help her on time. The more she thinks about Anna the less and less she is sure that her position towards Anna was as right as she thought.

After Anna’s death Maria befriended Miriam, a girl who is very different from the both sisters, but, once again, unresponsive to the otherness of the other person, Maria is unable to appreciate Miriam’s subjectivity and to address it. Von Trotta makes a classification of the types of males in today’s society and elaborates a sophisticated symbolic visual language of humorous or ironic depiction of the film’s male characters. The style of acting in the film is existential, not situational, and we feel every person we see as his/her own living history. With this film Jutta Lampe (Maria) proved herself as a movie actress of international recognition. She personifies not only feminine intelligence, but its potentials. Lampe’s Maria with her mistakes and overcoming them points not only at the future of femininity, not just at future of feminism, but at the very future of human race.

Von Trotta finds unique visual images to address the depth of human personal relationships with its irrational and even bizarre corners and layers.

Margarethe Von Trotta (to the left) and her not really Chekhovian “three sisters” whose happiness she tries so hard to balance in her film (Anna is to the right, and Miriam is next to Von Trotta).

After Anna’s suicide Maria tries to understand what went so wrong in spite of all she was doing “to help” Anna succeed in her work and studies. They lived together and, as the older sister, Maria felt responsible for what happened. She simultaneously defends and accuses herself, and feels helpless and confused. Anna’s death forces Maria to question her own behavior and ideas in relation to the otherness of other people and to become less self-centered in her own identity.

Posted on 22 Jul 2013 –   Margarethe von Trotta’s “Sisters, Or the Balance of Happiness” (1979) – Being Oneself and “Keeping Another Persons, As If, Inside” – The Task of Identification Based On Difference by Acting-Out Politics

« Previous Entries  Next Page »


September 2014
« Aug    



Recent Comments