The Logic of Conformist Rebellion against Society

In the old world the sign was understood as a bearer of meaning, and the relation between sign and meaning was guaranteed by the external and objective existence of a referent. But this referential logic is abandoned once we enter the domain of generalized indeterminacy… What guarantees the meaning of the sign once all signs transgress their codes, once the phantasmagoria of the code becomes the code of phantasmagoria?
Franco “Bifo” Berardi, “The Soul at Work (From Alienation to Authonomy)”, Semiotext(e), 2009, p. 147 – 148

A person stops worrying about death when life is no longer considered worthy enough to live or when, conversely, life provides so much joy and happy excitement (Lacanian jouissance) that it, as if, in advance beats death – precludes its importance. Social anomy is a condition (when life becomes so unreliable, unpredictable and precarious) which triggers both situations – when death is either desirable or not important at all, either a result of too much despair or too much joy.

Anomy or drastic changes in the circumstances of an individual life creates a potential for both conditions – despair and over-joy. Anomy can rapidly change life from unredeemably hopeless to ecstatically plentiful and it can be another way around – when both poles are equally extreme and extremely exhausting. Anomy makes people act out doing risky things or withdraw into a deadly stupor. Sometimes depression and mania become fused. Anomy makes adventurism of all sorts noble and even a heroic proclivity while in reality it can be just convulsion of despair or a lack of imagination. Where adventurism and proneness to make risky gestures and trials are considered moral and necessary deeds (during the periods of fascization of socio-psychological field which introduces into the behavioral currency the great national goals justifying violent means, as it happened in Germany of 1938 represented in Cavani’s film) irrationality in decision-making on all the levels of society is not very far away. Frivolousness in thinking and in intuitive illuminations is adventurism’s unconscious. It gives way to the cult of inspiration, of creative impulsivity fused with ruthless calculation (the condition we, Americans, got used to during the eight years of Chen-Rum-Bu rule [Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush triumvirate] characterized by military and financial disasters).

In these periods the structures of cultural values and norms of behavior lose their consistency, design, mutual connectedness and stability. Earthquakes of anomy destroy segments of meaning, sense and logic. Everything can happen. Nobody takes responsibility for anything. Everything is a “noble” experimentation without any guarantees, like today the US financial elite is playing with economic collapses or British Petroleum and Halliburton are playing with oil-spill disasters. Fragmentation of identities, expectations, behavioral and perceptual patterns becomes the way of getting through day and night. We are already in the very midst of “Berlin Affair”.

When democracy is not able to reproduce itself despotism comes in a dress and makeup of liberation. Totalitarianism introduces itself as destabilizing and renovating factor. With all primitive unanimity of fascist ideology, its demand for conformism, with all fascism’s orientation on totalitarian order and iron stability it creates disorder and chaos in a country it triumphs over and in the world in general. And this happens not only because fascism’s socio-cultural tools are extremely violent but because the destruction of democracy (Germany after 1933 and U.S. from 2001 to 2008) or pre-democratic structures (Russia after 1917), creates havoc that is antagonistic to life.

This fascist socio-cultural environment is internalized by human psyche and it becomes a part of the internal life, emotions, motivations, sensitivity. If social environment is democratic, stable and rational the internal life of the population is more genuine and balanced. But if the social life deteriorates and is corroded by the presence of anomy, people internalize anomy and start to reproduce it in their feelings and behavior. That’s how it is possible to behave as the heroes of “Berlin Affair” do. Are Frau Louise von Hollendorf and her husband (a Nazi official with upper-middle class decorum) just philistines enjoying an exemplary life style? Or are they fascists capable of mutating into new identities while following their impulses that promise them out of this world experiences through consumption and possession of over-joys?

The Berlin affair of the wife of a Nazi (who enjoys prestigious social position) with the daughter of the Japanese ambassador to Germany (followed by her husband’s not less passionate involvement with the irresistible exotic Japanese “seductress”) is simultaneously the blind attempt of the couple to get away from the fascist atmosphere, and not less blind desire to repeat exactly what they want to get away from and even more exaggeratedly in the area of private/intimate relationships. Mitsuko is not an equivalent of the Fuhrer in the area of private life – somebody like the Fuhrer in kimono and with fateful dimples – she is the personification of Nazi (and any fascist) utopia of absolute happiness by any price. Mitsuko is irresistible for anyone hooked on paradisiacal harmony; she symbolizes a plenitude of Being. She is in private love the personification of (and makes those who touch her heart feel like) the “Chosen People” and at the same time she is the incarnation of the “Promised Land“. She is the blissful End of everything into Eternity. After her (like after Communism, Third Reich or “American global domination”) nothing else can be.

You have to be as dedicated to Fuhrer and to Third Reich (or to personal wealth, to global economy and to profit-making) as our couple – to become dedicated to Mitsuko Matsugae so unconditionally, delightedly euphoric and heroically as Louise and Heinz. The impulse following the trajectory of boundless fascination with Mitsuko became stronger than rationality and calculation, more important than power over others, the image stronger than reality. Private life is not only imitation of public relations but a shift from it into ultimate harmony, like utopia is in comparison with the law of reality. Private utopia is more utopian than a collective one.

To shift from the life of fascist chaos where reality and metaphors of reality are mixed and fused to the life around Mitsuko, to give her the right to decide which one of our married couple will die along with her from an overdose of the mysterious pills and who will survive is a metaphoric behavior – a metaphor of the chaotic logic of war with its despotic will. To die or to live as a result of Mitsuko’s decision is an attempt to avoid the destiny of letting the fascist cause to decide your life and simultaneously to confirm it. It is difficult to disagree that it’s better to die as lovers of Mitsuko, even as her puppets than to die because of Fuhrer’s twisted ideas about human life (typical ideas of a person who had suffered from severe child abuse).

The respectable German couple’s preference for Mitsuko’s abusive treatment over the mistreatment by Nazi ideology is the scope of these two people’s non-conformism inside their conformism. They are rebels and conformists at the same time. They are conformist rebels. “They sign-post a problem to which they themselves are not the solution.” (Terry Eagleton, “Reason, Faith, & Revolution”, p. 42, Yale Univ. Pr., 2009)

Liliana Cavani considers the category of conformist rebellion and the types of conformist rebels archetypal for human life. From “Galileo” (1968) to “Night Porter” (1974) to “Francesco” (1989) she keeps investigating the human protest which ends up streamlined, distorted and degraded by the pressures from the system. Even in “Francesco” she demonstrates how genuine spiritual resistance (of St. Francis) gradually takes the form which the dominant values approve (how the ideology of “individualism” that of personal rapport with god prevails over human relations according to the spiritual call). In “Night Porter” only personal relationships give a battle to ideological dogmas and group superstitions, and no stance is taken against the dominant values and norms of societal life.

Rebellion in private space (the stubbornness of personal love) is an attempt to avoid challenging the power relations even a so called democratic society is based on. To transform the ugly Fuhrer and the revoltingly violent Nazi doctrine into beautiful Mitsuko is to fail to transform the symbiotic relations with over-worthy object (a fetish) into relationships with an equal existential partner (what power is suppose to be in real democracy). It means just to confirm a relationships where an object has such an overwhelming power over the subject.

Frau Louise Von HollendorfFrau Louise von Hollendorf is as beautiful, as bright and as strong as an emancipated, professional American woman of today can be. Her personality is as developed as her femininity. The power of her character is as impressive as it can be in any successful man. For her to look and to be looked at becomes the same – it is curiosity, an openness to the one she has chosen to look at, a flamboyant invitation to the love which will triumph over rivalry, unity over difference, to the final burst together with the dissolution into one another. It is quite a romantic and dangerous project. In Louise’s gaze we can already see her destiny – the heroism of her longing for a symbiotic fusion with the world, for overcoming the alienation of factual life.

Mitsuko for Louise and Heinz Is a Muse of Conformist ResistanceMitsuko is as beautiful and as strong as Louise. In her unabashed gaze we can sense challenge. Her gaze is not only promising fight for domination, it seduces you into it (love is a strategy of involving another person into a tournament of greatnesses but may be fight for domination is a strategy to make libidinous energy to go beyond culmination).

Intelligent Couple Under Fascism
The Appearance of Mitsuko Intensifies Louise-Heinz Love
Louise and Heinz’s relationships are standing on the four whales: comradeship, empathy, tenderness and eroticism. It is difficult to imagine that they live in Nazi Germany, not in today’s democracy – so close is their code of personal relationships to that of today’s enlightened couples.

Psychology of amorous encounter in nine shots:

Who Is More Daring - Louise or Mitsuko?
Louise and Mitsuko are instinctively trying to find who is more daring

Love Is a Net that Catches Not Only Passion But Also Aggression
Love is a net that catches not only passion but also aggression

Advantage Mitsuko
Advantage Mitsuko

Advantage Louise
Advantage Louise

Touching the Painting on Silk
Touching the painting on silk

A Little Blackmail Tightens the Relationships
A little blackmail tightens the relationships

Trying Out Their Double Reflection In the Mirror
Trying out their double reflection in the mirror

A little Fooling Around Relaxes
A little fooling around relaxes

Mother-daugterly Moment of Disinterested Togetherness
Mother-daughterly moment of disinterested togetherness

In the nine shots above we see Louise and Mitsuko’s “borderline” existential experimentation – their “private life” experiences as the ultimate ontological horizon – the most daring, the most important thing that can happen in the life of mortals. The both women are challenging the world and each other, and are having an (incredibly intense) Lacanian jouissance – an emotional blend which makes you bottomlessly high.

Family Scene Between a Husband and Wife Includes Somebody Else
Husband and wife – passionate lovers, partners and allies in life are quarrelling not only over which one of them possesses Mitsuko more and whom she loves more, but also over the necessity to prevent their scandalous affair with her (that has taken a hold over their entire life) from ruining Heinz’s career and the family’s position in society (its place within the hierarchy of the families of Nazi officials).

Masculine Stroke Prevails Over Feminine Witchcraft
Heinz tries with his masterful masculine strike-stroke to prevail over feminine witchcraft.

Uprooting Homosexuality by Himmler's Order
A respected general and war hero (on the left) is suspected of homosexuality. According to Himmler’s orders, before going farther with Germany’s economic and military plans, it is necessary to clean out the Universities and Army ranks from the sin of decadence. So, the chief of Berlin police (on the right) has staged at the house of his friends, Louise and Heinz, a trap for the general and his protégé, a young piano player (in the center). This shot registers a fleeting moment when both – the general and his lover, caught unexpectedly, appeal by looking at the aristocratic policeman, but he doesn’t have a human, an existential, response (he doesn’t need to return their gaze): he is just doing his job, like the special prosecutor Kenneth Starr in Bill Clinton/ Monica Lewinski case (exemplary of fascist times) who never even met her personally.

Patriarchal Order and Feminine Protest
While men are occupied with discussing business matters Louise is concentrating on the intellectually engaging position of the chess pieces. The composition of the shot suggests that men are a part of a certain perspective while Louise is located on the perspective’s side (like a woman should be in men’s universe). Can a secondary role assigned to a woman who is not less intelligent than her husband be part of Louise’s motivation to establish her own game – her own perspective, through relationships with Mitsuko? Can having her own “affair” be a variant of Louise’s need to escape from power into a private love?

Using Personal Relationships to Advance Ones Career
The importance in the film of this character Joseph Benno (professor of painting) is in his amazing conformism to whatever power dominates the society (and whatever principles and values are considered proper) in a particular historical moment coinciding with his physical existence. Benno will fight for his social success even by using his shady relationships with Mitsuko as a springboard.

Intellectual as a Door-keeper
Benno is certainly not the hero of Mitsuko’s amorous energies. But he managed, euphemistically speaking, to control the door to her intimacy, as the composition of this shot suggests. This particular qualification allows him to force Louise into signing an absurd legal pact with him as sharers of Mitsuko’s irresistibility. Together with Louise’s literature professor, this professor of painting (who unscrupulously promotes in his class the official ideology) is the second example of the collapse of intellectuals in a world where totalitarianism has gained power and influence.

Literature Professor's Fist
Louise and her literature professor belong to something like a religious Order of the fans of story-writing about private relationships. Appreciate the solidity of the desk reminding us of the desks where the great writers of 19th century created their immortal opuses. The photos (the windows into memory), and the backdrop of paintings (the windows into fantasy) – all emphasize the sublime interior that magically gets rid of the fascist life outside the window. In this shot we don’t see the professor, but he is there – he is the fist lying on the writer’s desk, fist of a writer, fist of the heart and of protest transformed into a private story telling – the fist of the desk.

"Spirituality" Is Above Politics
Before giving himself up to the Nazi secret police professor asks Louise to save his story for future generations of the readers. He gives himself to torture and murder without resistance or fear. His body and life means nothing to him. The best in him is given to writing of private stories that for him is synonym of cultural and spiritual dedication.

To Sacrifice Life for the Sake of Story
Heinz and Mitsuko are not only corpses – they also look it because they gave themselves to death willingly and romantically, entrusting Louise with the chance to go on, ahead with writing the story about their incredible threesome affair, in the middle of fascism, because of it and in spite of it. Is the Nazi dream itself with all the miscarriages of mass murders also a kind of private dream (shared by the Nazi elite and their supporters) expressed in a macabre story of Nazi mass movement? Isn’t the dream of the American globalist conquerors today – fossil fuel- and currency-eaters (these oil- nivorous and moneyvorous creatures), just another variant of the same dream? Is power-and-money their Mitsuko? If so, what are they running from into a dyad with power and money? In their case it is not fascism, as it was for Louise and Heinz. They are running from the American democracy they are afraid of.