Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Post Scriptum: Hei-digging the Tao in Haneke and the Apocalypse that has Always Already Occurred

A new piece I wrote for Kino Fist, on the theme of film and apocalypse is available here. A few addenda for future re-workings or writings on the same topic...

Heideggerian temporality, the always-already of apocalyptic time in Haneke's films, the silences that speak volumes and the words that say nothing, the subversion of dichotomies (war/peace) all point to what ancient Chinese philosophy calls the Tao:

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

It is also what Agamben refers to in a discussion of Debord, Godard, and the Jewish Messiah (perhaps referring to the more subversive, mystical, kabbalistic interpretation, although he does not explicitly say): "In the Jewish tradition, there is a tremendous irony surrounding calculations to predict the day of the Messiah's arrival...The Messiah's arrival is incalculable. Yet at the same time, each historical moment is the time of His arrival. The Messiah has always already arrived, he is always already there." (Giorgio Agamben, 'Difference and Repetition: On Guy Debord's Films', in Art and the Moving Image: A Critical Reader, p. 328).

The film Hiroshima Mon Amour, the subject of a recent screening/talk at the Courtauld Institute of Art by artist Lisa Kolbowski ('After Hiroshima Mon Amour', a 22-minute video) takes a similarly Heideggerian/Hanekean approach, relying very little on shocking footage and far more on personal relationships and how the cataclysmic event is sublated in the ordinary, everyday present, with or without the atom bomb. The real measure of a tragedy is not difference drawn from identity - not how my plight compares to that of another - but internal difference, which asks: how do I differ from myself? How have I been alienated from myself? How is the tragic always-already event expressed or sublated in my ordinary everyday experience? The real tragedy, in other words, is when the tragedy is legitimized/normalized; when the power of shock subsides and we accept some horror as simply a part of everyday experience; when we fully identify with/assimilate the ideology of our own repression. The novel We by Russian dissident Evgeny Zamyatin, for instance - an early inspiration for Orwell's 1984 - opens with a reflection by the narrator on the pleasant sensation he gets from being watched over by his minders, who peruse every page of the book he is reading on the train.

In Society Must Be Defended, a series of lectures given at the College de France in 1975/76, Foucault elaborates the notion of political power based on the model of war, famously characterizing politics as the 'continuation of war by other means', rather than the conventional inverse way of putting it. War is everywhere, and this is perhaps one of the underlying messages of Haneke's 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, as discussed in the Kino Fist piece. Very scary, very prescient (the book, that is, although based on an analysis of history, but hey it's not all as obvious to everyone as it was to Michel in '76) - and increasingly relevant today in a world of 'disaster capitalism', market crashes, neoconservative ideology, and the 'war on terror'...

And finally, there is a fridge magnet I once saw somewhere with the following series of quotes (sadly, I couldn't find an image):

To do is to be - Nietzsche
To be is to do - Kant
Do be do be do - Frank Sinatra

Heh heh.