Friday, November 27, 2009

Meeting Gary Snyder

Great to meet one of the members of Beat Generation, although he refused the label of "Beat writers".
I am not a big fan of Snyder, yet I appreciate his insistence on Zen's ineffability - which makes the Koan of a monk got his finger cut make sense -and I am happy to know that there is another Noh fan.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Badiou; 15 Theses on Contemporary Art

I think everybody has the 15 theses, it is necessary, I think, for the talk. I'll comment about the theses and you can read them. I think the great question about contemporary art is how not to be Romantic. It's the great question and a very difficult one. More precisely, the question is how not to be a formalist-Romantic. Something like a mixture between Romanticism and formalism. On one side is the absolute desire for new forms, always new forms, something like an infinite desire. Modernity is the infinite desire of new forms. But, on the other side, is obsession with the body, with finitude, sex, cruelty, death. The contradiction of the tension between the obsession of new forms and the obsession of finitude, body, cruelty, suffering and death is something like a synthesis between formalism and Romanticism and it is the dominant current in contemporary art. All the 15 theses have as a sort of goal, the question how not to be formalist-Romantic. That is, in my opinion, the question of contemporary art.

Lombardi is really a good example, and I am very glad to speak here tonight. We can see that there is something like a demonstration, a connection, points of connections. You have something very surprising, because Lombardi knew all that before the facts. We have somewhere, a great drawing about the Bush dynasty which is really prophetic, which is an artistic prophecy, that is a creation of a new knowledge, and so it's really surprising to see that after the facts. And it's really the capacity, the ability of art to present something before the facts, before the evidence. And it's something calm and elevated, like a star. You know, it's like a galaxy, see, it's something like the galaxy of corruption. So, the three determinations are really in the works of Lombardi. And so it's the creation of a new possibility of art and a new vision of the world, our world. But a new vision which is not purely conceptual, ideological or political, a new vision which has it's proper shape, which creates a new artistic possibility, something which is new knowledge of the world has a new shape, like that. It's really an illustration of my talk.

The first thesis: Art is not the sublime descent of the infinite into the finite abjection of the body and sexuality. It is the production of an infinite subjective series through the finite means of a material subtraction.

This is an intimation of how not to be a Romantic. It consists of the production of a new infinite content, of a new light. I think it’s the very aim of art; producing a new light about the world by means of precise and finite summarization. So, you have to change the contradiction. The contradiction today is between the infinity of the desire for new forms and the finitude of the body, of the sexuality, and so on. And new art needs to change the terms of this contradiction and put on the side of infinity new content, new light, a new vision of the world, and on the side of finitude, the precision of means and of summarization. So, the first thesis is something like the reversal of the contradiction.

Subtraction: the word subtraction has two meanings. First, not to be obsessed with formal novelty. I think it’s a great question today because the desire for novelty is the desire of new forms, an infinite desire for new form. The obsession of new forms, the artistic obsession with novelty, of critique, of representation and so on, is really not a critical position about capitalism because capitalism itself is the obsession of novelty and the perpetual renovation of forms. You have a computer, but the following year it’s not the true computer, you need a new one. You have a car, but the coming year it’s an old car, something like an old thing and so on. So, it’s a necessity for us to see that the complete obsession with new forms is not really a critical position about the world as it is. It’s a possibility that the real desire, which is subversive desire, is the desire of eternity. The desire for something which is a stability, something which is art, something which is closed in-itself. I don’t think it’s quite like that, but it’s a possibility because the perpetual modification of forms is not really a critical position, so the desire of new forms is certainly something important in art, but the desire for the stability of forms is also something important. And, I think we have to examine the question today.

The second meaning of subtraction is not to be obsessed with finitude, with cruelty, body, suffering, with sex and death, because it’s only the reversal of the ideology of happiness. In our world there is something like an ideology of happiness. Be happy and enjoy your life and so on. In artistic creation we often have the reversal of that sort of ideology in the obsession with suffering bodies, the difficulty of sexuality, and so on. We need not be in that sort of obsession. Naturally a critical position about the ideology of happiness is an artistic necessity, but it’s also an artistic necessity to see it as a new vision, a new light, something like a positive new world. And so, the question of art is also the question of life and not always the question of death. It is a signification of the first thesis; we have to search for an artistic creation which is not obsessed with formal novelty, with cruelty, death, body, and sexuality.

Second thesis: Art cannot merely be the expression of a particularity (be it ethnic or personal). Art is the impersonal production of a truth that is addressed to everyone.

The great question here is a question of universality: is there, or is there not, a universality of artistic creation? Because the great question today is the question of globalization, the question of the unity of the world. Globalization proposes to us an abstract universality. A universality of money, the universality of communication and the universality of power. That is the universalism today. And so, against the abstract universality of money and of power, what is the question of art, what is the function of artistic creation? Is the function of artistic creation to oppose, to abstract from universality only a singularity of particularities, something like being against the abstraction of money and of power, or as a community against globalization and so on? Or, is the function of art to propose another kind of universality? That’s a big question. The more important issue today is the main contradiction between capitalistic universality on one hand, universality of the market if you want, of money and power and so on, and singularities, particularities, the self of the community. It’s the principal contradiction between two kinds of universalities. On one side the abstract universality of money and power, and on the other the concrete universality of truth and creation. My position is that artistic creation today should suggest a new universality, not to express only the self or the community, but that it’s a necessity for the artistic creation to propose to us, to humanity in general, a new sort of universality, and my name for that is truth. Truth is only the philosophical name for a new universality against the forced universality of globalization, the forced universality of money and power, and in that sort of proposition, the question of art is a very important question because art is always a proposition about a new universality, and art is a signification of the second thesis.

Third thesis. It’s only a definition of the universality of art. What is an artistic truth? Artistic truth is different from scientific truth, from political truth, from other sorts of truths. The definition is that artistic truth is always a truth about the sensible, an outline of the sensual. It’s not a static sensible expression. An artistic truth is not a copy of the sensible world nor a static sensible expression. My definition is that an artistic truth is a happening of l’Idèe in the sensible itself. And, the new universality of art is the creation of a new form of happening of the Idea in the sensible as such. It’s very important to understand that an artistic truth is a proposition about the sensible in the world. It’s a proposition about a new definition of what is our sensible relation to the world, which is a possibility of universality against the abstraction of money and power. So, if art seems very important today, it is because globalization imposes to us the creation of a new kind of universality, which is always a new sensibility and a new sensible relation to the world. And because the oppression today is the oppression of abstract universality, we have to think of art along the direction of the new sensible relation to the world. And so, today, artistic creation is a part of human emancipation, it’s not an ornament, a decoration and so on. No, the question of art is a central question, and it’s central because we have to create a new sensible relation to the world. In fact, without art, without artistic creation, the triumph of the forced universality of money and power is a real possibility. So the question of art today is a question of political emancipation, there is something political in art itself. There is not only a question of art’s political orientation, like it was the case yesterday, today it is a question in itself. Because art is a real possibility to create something new against the abstract universality that is globalization.

Fourth thesis. This thesis is against the dream of totalization. Some artists today are thinking that there is a possibility to fuse all the artistic forms, it’s the dream of a complete multimedia. But it’s not a new idea. As you probably know, it was the idea of Richard Wagner, the total art, with pictures, music, poetry and so on. So the first multimedia artist was Richard Wagner. And, I think multimedia is a false idea because it’s the power of absolute integration and it’s something like the projection in art of the dream of globalization. It’s a question of the unity of art like the unity of the world but it’s an abstraction too. So, we need to create new art, certainly new forms, but not with the dream of a totalization of all the forms of sensibility. It’s a great question to have a relation to multimedia and to new forms of images, of art, which is not the paradigm of totalization. So we have to be free about that sort of dream.

A few words about theses five and eight. The question here is what exactly is the creation of new forms. It’s very important because of what I previously said about the infinite desire for new forms being a problem in contemporary art. We have to be precise about the question of new forms in themselves. What is the creation of new forms? I hint that, in fact, there is never exactly pure creation of new forms. I think it’s a dream, like totalization, pure creation of absolute new forms. In fact, there is always something like a passage of something which is not exactly a form to something that is a form, and I argue that we have something like impurity of forms, or impure forms, and purification. So, in art there is not exactly pure creation of forms, God created the world, if you want, but there is something like progressive purification, and complexification of forms in sequence. Two examples if you wish. When Malevich paints the famous white on white, the white square on white square. Is that the creation of something? In one sense yes, but in fact, it’s the complete purification of the problem of the relation between shape and color. In fact, the problem of the relation between shape and color is an old one with a long story and in Malevich’s white square on white square, we have an ultimate purification of the story of the problem and also it’s a creation, but it’s also the end, because after white square on white square there is, in one sense, nothing, we cannot continue. So we have a complete purification and after Malevich all correlation between shape and color looks old, or impure, but it’s also the end of the question, and we have to begin with something else. We may say that with artistic creation, it’s not exactly the pure creation of new forms, something like the process of purification with beginnings and with ends too. So, we have sequences of purification, much more than pure rupture of pure creation. And it’s the content of theses five and eight.

We come now to theses six and seven. The question here is what exactly is the subjective existence of art? What is the subject in art, the subject in the subjective sense? It’s a great discussion, a very old one. What is the subject in art? What is the agent of art? The subject in art is not the artist. It’s an old thesis too, but an important one. So, if you think that the real subject in artist creation is the artist, you are positing the artistic creation as the expression of somebody. If the artist is the subject, art is the expression of that subject, thereby art is something like a personal expression. In fact, it is necessary for contemporary art to argue the case that art is a personal expression, because you have no possibility to create a new form of universality and you oppose to the abstract form of universality only the expression of the self or the expression of communities. So, you understand the link between the different problems. It’s imperative for us to say that the subject in artistic creation is not the artist as such. “Artist” is a necessity for art, but not a subjective necessity. So, the conclusion is quite simple. The subjective existence of art are the works of art, and nothing else. The artist is not the subjective agent of art. The artist is the sacrificial part of art. It’s also, finally, what disappears in art. And the ethic of art is to accept the disappearance. Sometimes the artist is someone who wants to appear, but it’s not a good thing for art. For art, if you want art to have today the very important function of the creation of a new universality, if you think that art is something like a subjective expression for the market, it’s necessary that the artist make a great appearance, naturally, but if art is the creation, the secret creation, something like that, if art is not something of the market, but is something against the force of universality of the market, the consequence is that the artist must disappear, and not to be someone who appears in the media and so on. And a critique of art is something like a critique of something like desperation. If the ethic of art is something like desperation, it is because what show are works of art, which are the real subjective existence of art in-itself.

It’s also the same thing in thesis nine. I don’t comment The question of the ethic of art is not to be imperial. Desperation because operation is always something like imperial operation, because the law of operation is today imperial law.

About theses ten and eleven, I think we can demonstrate that imperial art is the name for what is visible today. Imperial art is exactly Romantic-formalism. That is a historical thesis, or a political thesis if you want. The mixture of Romanticism and formalism is exactly the imperial art. Not only today, but, for example, during the Roman Empire too. There is something common between the situation today and the situation at the end of the Roman Empire. It’s a good comparison, you see, and more precisely between the United States and the Roman Empire. There is really something very interesting with that sort of comparison, and in fact the question is also a question of artistic creation, because by the end of the Roman Empire we have exactly two dispositions in artistic creation. On one side, something really Romantic, expressive, violent, and on the other, something extremely formalist, politically straight. Why? When we deal with the situation of something like an empire, something like having the formal unity of the world, if you want, it’s not only the United States, it’s finally the big markets, when we have something like a potential unity of the world, we have in artistic creation something like formalism and Romanticism, a mixture of the two. Why? Because when we have an empire, we have two principles. First, all is possible because we have a big potency, a unity of the world. So we may say, all is possible. We may create new forms, we may speak of everything, there is not really laws about what is possible, what is not possible, so everything is possible. Yet, we also have another maxim, everything is impossible, because there is nothing else to have, the empire is the only possible existence, the only political possibility. So, you can say that everything is possible and you can say that everything is impossible, and when the two are said you have an artistic creation, formalism, that is to say all is possible, new forms are always possible, and Romanticism and nihilism because all is impossible, and finally, we have the mixture of the two, and contemporary art is saying that all is possible and that all is impossible. The impossibility of possibility and the possibility of impossibility. That is the real content of contemporary art. To escape that sort of situation is to state that something is possible, not all is possible, not all is impossible, but something else is possible. There is a possibility of something else. So, we have to create a new possibility. But to create a new possibility is not the same thing as to realize a new possibility. It’s a very fundamental distinction, to realize a possibility is to think that the possibility is here and I need to conceive the possibility. For example, if all is possible, I have to realize something, because all things are possible, but, naturally, it’s quite a different thing to create something possible. The possibility is not here. So, it is not true, that all is possible, some things are not possible, and you have to create the possibility of that thing which is not possible. And it is the great question of artistic creation. Is artistic creation the realization of a possibility or is artistic creation the creation of a new possibility? The possibility of something, the possibility of saying something is possible. If you think all is possible (that is the same as to think all is impossible), your conviction in the world is finished, the world is something closed. It is closed with all the possibilities, which is the same thing that everything are impossibilities and artistic creation is closed too, it’s closed in formalist-Romanticism which is the affirmation that all is possible and all is impossible. But the true function of artistic creation today is the possibility of saying that something is possible, so to create a new possibility. But where can we create a new possibility when something is impossible? Because we can create a new possibility when something is not a possibility. If all is possible, you cannot create a new possibility. So, the question of a new possibility is also the question of something impossible, so we have to assume that it’s not true that all is possible, that also it’s not true that all is impossible, we have to say something is impossible where something is impossible. I have to create a new possibility. And, I think the creation of new possibility is today the great function of art. In other activities of circulation, communication, the market and so on, we have always the realization of possibilities, infinite realization of possibilities. But not creation of possibility. And so it’s also a political question, because politics truly means the creation of a new possibility. A new possibility of life, a new possibility of the world. And so the political determination of artistic creation is today whether it is possible, or impossible to create a new possibility. Actually, globalization carries the conviction that it is utterly impossible to create a new possibility. And the end of Communism, and the end of revolutionary politics is, in fact, the dominant interpretation of that all: it is impossible to create a new possibility. Not to realize a possibility, but to create a new possibility. You understand the difference. And I think the question of artistic creation lies here. It proves for everybody, for humanity in general, that it is a possibility to create a new possibility.

About thesis twelve. It’s a poetic thesis. The three determinations of artistic creation, to compare artistic creation with a demonstration, with an ambush in the night and with a star. You can understand the three determinations. Why a demonstration? Because finally the question of artistic creation is also the question of something odd, something possessing a sort of eternity, something which is not in pure communication, pure circulation, something which is not in the constant modification of forms. Something which resists and resistance is a question of art also today. Something which resists is something endowed with some stability, solid. Something which is a logical equation, which has a logical coherence, consistence, is the first determination. The second determination is something surprising, something which is right away the creation of a new possibility, but a new possibility is always surprising. We cannot have a new possibility without some sort of surprise. A new possibility is something that we cannot calculate. It’s something like a rupture, a new beginning, which is always something surprising. Thus, the second determination. And it’s marvelous, like something in the night, the night of our knowledge. A new possibility is something absolutely new for our knowledge, so it’s the night of our knowledge. Something like a new light. Elevated as a star because a new possibility is something like a new star. Something like a new planet, a new world, because it is a new possibility. Something like a new sensible relation to the world. But the great problem lies elsewhere. The formal problem for contemporary art is not the determination, one by one. The problem is how to relate the three. To be the star, the ambush, and the demonstration. Something like that. And Lombardi is really a good example, and I am very glad to speak here tonight. We can see that there is something like a demonstration, a connection, points of connections. You have something very surprising, because Lombardi knew all that before the facts. We have somewhere, a great drawing about the Bush dynasty which is really prophetic, which is an artistic prophecy, that is a creation of a new knowledge, and so it’s really surprising to see that after the facts. And it’s really the capacity, the ability of art to present something before the facts, before the evidence. And it’s something calm and elevated, like a star. You know, it’s like a galaxy, see, it’s something like the galaxy of corruption. So, the three determinations are really in the works of Lombardi. And so it’s the creation of a new possibility of art and a new vision of the world, our world. But a new vision which is not purely conceptual, ideological or political, a new vision which has it’s proper shape, which creates a new artistic possibility, something which is new knowledge of the world has a new shape, like that. It’s really an illustration of my talk.

The last thesis. I think the great question is the correlation between art and humanity. More precisely the correlation between artistic creation and liberty. Is artistic creation something independent in the democratic sense of freedom? I think if you consider Lombardi for a second time, we may consider the issue of creating a new possibility as not exactly a question of freedom, in the common sense, because there is an imperial definition of freedom today, which is the common democratic definition. Is artistic creation something like that sort of freedom? I think not. I think the real determination of artistic creation is not the common sense of freedom, the imperial sense of freedom. It’s a creation of a new form of liberty, a new form of freedom. And we may see here that sort of thing because the connection between the logical framework, the surprise of new knowledge, and the beauty of the star is a definition of freedom which is much more complex than the democratic determination of freedom.

I think of artistic creation as the creation of a new kind of liberty which is beyond the democratic definition of liberty. And we may speak of something like an artistic definition of liberty which is intellectual and material, something like Communism within a logical framework, because there is no liberty without logical framework, something like a new beginning, a new possibility, rupture, and finally something like a new world, a new light, a new galaxy. This is the artistic definition of liberty and the issue today consists not in an art discussion between liberty and dictatorship, between liberty and oppression, but in my opinion, between two definitions of liberty itself.

The artistic question of the body in some art forms, like cinema or dance, is precisely the question of the body within the body and not the body without body. It is an idealistic conception of the body without the body or the body as something else, crucial in the story of Christianity and in Paul. For example in the Greek classical painting the body is always something else than the body, and if you consider something like the body in Tintoretto, for example, the body is something like movement which is body like something else than the body. But in fact today the body has a body, the body in the body is the body as such. And the body as such is something very hard, because the body has no representation which is really a representation as a star, something like that. In that sort of painting (Lombardi), we have names, and no bodies. It is a substitution of names to bodies. We have no picture of Bin Laden, but the name of Bin Laden. We have no picture of Bush, but the name of Bush. Father and sons.

Zizek: 20 Years of Collapse

20 Years of Collapse


TODAY is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. During this time of reflection, it is common to emphasize the miraculous nature of the events that began that day: a dream seemed to come true, the Communist regimes collapsed like a house of cards, and the world suddenly changed in ways that had been inconceivable only a few months earlier. Who in Poland could ever have imagined free elections with Lech Walesa as president?

However, when the sublime mist of the velvet revolutions was dispelled by the new democratic-capitalist reality, people reacted with an unavoidable disappointment that manifested itself, in turn, as nostalgia for the “good old” Communist times; as rightist, nationalist populism; and as renewed, belated anti-Communist paranoia.

The first two reactions are easy to comprehend. The same rightists who decades ago were shouting, “Better dead than red!” are now often heard mumbling, “Better red than eating hamburgers.” But the Communist nostalgia should not be taken too seriously: far from expressing an actual wish to return to the gray Socialist reality, it is more a form of mourning, of gently getting rid of the past. As for the rise of the rightist populism, it is not an Eastern European specialty, but a common feature of all countries caught in the vortex of globalization.

Much more interesting is the recent resurgence of anti-Communism from Hungary to Slovenia. During the autumn of 2006, large protests against the ruling Socialist Party paralyzed Hungary for weeks. Protesters linked the country’s economic crisis to its rule by successors of the Communist party. They denied the very legitimacy of the government, although it came to power through democratic elections. When the police went in to restore civil order, comparisons were drawn with the Soviet Army crushing the 1956 anti-Communist rebellion.

This new anti-Communist scare even goes after symbols. In June 2008, Lithuania passed a law prohibiting the public display of Communist images like the hammer and sickle, as well as the playing of the Soviet anthem. In April 2009, the Polish government proposed expanding a ban on totalitarian propaganda to include Communist books, clothing and other items: one could even be arrested for wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt.

No wonder that, in Slovenia, the main reproach of the populist right to the left is that it is the “force of continuity” with the old Communist regime. In such a suffocating atmosphere, new problems and challenges are reduced to the repetition of old struggles, up to the absurd claim (which sometimes arises in Poland and in Slovenia) that the advocacy of gay rights and legal abortion is part of a dark Communist plot to demoralize the nation.

Where does this resurrection of anti-Communism draw its strength from? Why were the old ghosts resuscitated in nations where many young people don’t even remember the Communist times? The new anti-Communism provides a simple answer to the question: “If capitalism is really so much better than Socialism, why are our lives still miserable?”

It is because, many believe, we are not really in capitalism: we do not yet have true democracy but only its deceiving mask, the same dark forces still pull the threads of power, a narrow sect of former Communists disguised as new owners and managers — nothing’s really changed, so we need another purge, the revolution has to be repeated …

What these belated anti-Communists fail to realize is that the image they provide of their society comes uncannily close to the most abused traditional leftist image of capitalism: a society in which formal democracy merely conceals the reign of a wealthy minority. In other words, the newly born anti-Communists don’t get that what they are denouncing as perverted pseudo-capitalism simply is capitalism.

One can also argue that, when the Communist regimes collapsed, the disillusioned former Communists were effectively better suited to run the new capitalist economy than the populist dissidents. While the heroes of the anti-Communist protests continued to dwell in their dreams of a new society of justice, honesty and solidarity, the former Communists were able to ruthlessly accommodate themselves to the new capitalist rules and the new cruel world of market efficiency, inclusive of all the new and old dirty tricks and corruption.

A further twist is added by those countries in which Communists allowed the explosion of capitalism, while retaining political power: they seem to be more capitalist than the Western liberal capitalists themselves. In a crazy double reversal, capitalism won over Communism, but the price paid for this victory is that Communists are now beating capitalism in its own terrain.

This is why today’s China is so unsettling: capitalism has always seemed inextricably linked to democracy, and faced with the explosion of capitalism in the People’s Republic, many analysts still assume that political democracy will inevitably assert itself.

But what if this strain of authoritarian capitalism proves itself to be more efficient, more profitable, than our liberal capitalism? What if democracy is no longer the necessary and natural accompaniment of economic development, but its impediment?

If this is the case, then perhaps the disappointment at capitalism in the post-Communist countries should not be dismissed as a simple sign of the “immature” expectations of the people who didn’t possess a realistic image of capitalism.

When people protested Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the large majority of them did not ask for capitalism. They wanted the freedom to live their lives outside state control, to come together and talk as they pleased; they wanted a life of simplicity and sincerity, liberated from the primitive ideological indoctrination and the prevailing cynical hypocrisy.

As many commentators observed, the ideals that led the protesters were to a large extent taken from the ruling Socialist ideology itself — people aspired to something that can most appropriately be designated as “Socialism with a human face.” Perhaps this attitude deserves a second chance.

This brings to mind the life and death of Victor Kravchenko, the Soviet engineer who, in 1944, defected during a trade mission to Washington and then wrote a best-selling memoir, “I Chose Freedom.” His first-person report on the horrors of Stalinism included a detailed account of the mass hunger in early-1930s Ukraine, where Kravchenko — then still a true believer in the system — helped enforce collectivization.

What most people know about Kravchenko ends in 1949. That year, he sued Les Lettres Françaises for libel after the French Communist weekly claimed that he was a drunk and a wife-beater and his memoir was the propaganda work of American spies. In the Paris courtroom, Soviet generals and Russian peasants took the witness stand to debate the truth of Kravchenko’s writings, and the trial grew from a personal suit to a spectacular indictment of the whole Stalinist system.

But immediately after his victory in the case, when Kravchenko was still being hailed all around the world as a cold war hero, he had the courage to speak out passionately against Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts. “I believe profoundly,” he wrote, “that in the struggle against Communists and their organizations … we cannot and should not resort to the methods and forms employed by the Communists.” His warning to Americans: to fight Stalinism in such a way was to court the danger of starting to resemble their opponent.

Kravchenko also became more and more obsessed with the inequalities of the Western world, and wrote a sequel to “I Chose Freedom” that was titled, significantly, “I Chose Justice.” He devoted himself to finding less exploitative forms of collectivization and wound up in Bolivia, where he squandered all his money trying to organize poor farmers. Crushed by this failure, he withdrew into private life and shot himself in 1966 at his home in New York.

How did we come to this? Deceived by 20th-century Communism and disillusioned with 21st-century capitalism, we can only hope for new Kravchenkos — and that they come to happier ends. On the search for justice, they will have to start from scratch. They will have to invent their own ideologies. They will be denounced as dangerous utopians, but they alone will have awakened from the utopian dream that holds the rest of us under its sway.

Slavoj Zizek, the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities in London, is the author, most recently, of “First as Tragedy, Then as Frace.

Terayama Shuji: Pastoral Hide-and-Seek

寺山修司的田园之死 (Pastoral Hide-and Seek, 1974, dir. Terayama Shuji)

By Venus Lau
《田园之死》 是寺山修司五部长片之一,是新手观其电影的入门课。片中华丽的视觉隐喻流溢,碎片般的情节,穿插期间的古怪人物(马戏团里的空气女,侏儒,全身披黑袈裟, 带海盗眼罩的白面老妇,硫磺味弥漫的恐山,化浓妆的小孩等),种种意象搭构出寺山修司的世界,跟寺山修司的整个电影系列组成庞大的风格化异色空间。

不少人看过《田园之死》后均认为其为寺山的自传体作品,除了以第一人称作为陈述角度外,戏中主角(以成人和少年两种姿态出现)与寺山修司同月同日生(同为12月10日,但寺山修司生于公元1935年,主角“我”出生年份则为昭和49年,即公元1974年,亦即该片拍摄年份); 寺山修司在日本青森县出生,戏中主角的出生地是位于青森县,有日本三大灵场之称的恐山(电影里主角称自己的出生地--恐山地处东京市)。种种非巧合的安排,证明寺山修司欲一借电影改写自己的历史而重生的意图。故此,解读此片的时候,不少人会堕入以作者生平为阐释作品的单一切入点的圈套,出色的电影随即代替作者经验(empirical)生活成为主线,不论是意难平或者有病呻吟,戏里的肆意的意象和诗意都沦为对作者来得太迟的抱怨的附庸。

艺术作品一如艺术家之儿。父母和子女的关系强调的是被伦理强化的,以脐带为象征的血缘关系。但是作品不是艺术家的附属,作品俨如离开子宫的幼儿,已然是独立个体,而不是父母共同投下的影子。电影是开放的,流动的文本,解读(虽然所有阐释都是误读)若然只取作者主导的方式,难免减损作品的价值--作品的价值就是的每次阐释的内容,每一次解读赋予作品新的生命。我不否定寺山修司欲以〈田园之死〉来表现昔日屈服于母亲权威下迟熟的反抗,继而获得重生,但寺山修司的想法并不是诠释的唯一路标,而且这观点在云云有关寺山修司的评论已被多番提及,更有有心人以寺山修司生平对号入座,把电影各元素与寺山生平的经验事件等同,把寺山多彩诡奇的想像力拉低到生活牢骚的水平, 艺术里的直观成分亦被完全消去。

寺山修司电 影里对权威的反抗极为明显,如在实验短片《番茄酱皇帝》里小童追杀成人,《再见方舟》近亲表兄妹不顾坚固的贞操带的阻隔,坚持尝试做爱,片中人物对权力象征权力实体的颠覆意图都非常明显。这些露白的反抗行动是寺山修司电影的重要课题。对权威的挑战在《死在田园》展示为弑母意识。主角想借对记忆的操控,让少 年时代的自己杀掉母亲,事与愿违,弑母计划最后失败。


不少人认为弑母是一种“反俄狄浦斯”, 把寺山得作品一把跟法国哲学家德勒兹(Gilles Deleuze)联系起来。但是单单把主角身兼父职的母亲等同德勒兹以差异和生成(becoming)挑战being的游牧,似乎有有点太草率。俄狄浦斯情结作为主体进入象征界(the symbolic)的关键,也是主体建立和认同(identification)的关键,当中的关键词是弑父意图,继而带出父明(the name of father)。田园之死里的弑母意图,与其说是对传统主体概念的颠覆,倒不如说是对家庭结构的崩坏和重组。
无论在寺山的电影,还是在他主持的《天栈屋敷》话剧团的作品里,时间的象征和隐喻无处不在:《再见方舟》内失去时间的村庄;舞台剧由真人扮演的巨钟,或者,,〈田园之死〉主角母亲收集的破钟堆。形形色色,表报不同时间的时钟,没有提醒人时间,相反,它们让人忘掉时间。时钟不但是象征,更是实际工具,令量化客观时间的统一结构可以复印在世界之上。 至少是人所认知的世界,之上。

客观时间是我们所熟悉的时间,三点半,美国比中慢,十三小时,一分钟等 同六十秒。。。。。这都是被普遍默认的,跟本真时间对立的派生概念。客观时间也是“时间对我们显现为各个当下,各个现在的次序” (1)这些现在可以在某写发 生事情的时段上被计数”,这种概念为时间的量化和一体化提供了可能性。相反,本真时间没有经过任何概念的干扰,是本原地向人展示的时间。本真时间就是我们 的此在,就是我们的主体性,那是真正的自我 (无意识?他者的语言?),而非透过线性时间里,拉康的镜象自我。

〈死在田园〉主角母亲尝试把自己的 儿子(少年时代的“我”)困在她的时间里,此举跟客观线性时间的霸权如出一辙。唯压力越大反抗越大,主角为古灵精怪的马戏团所吸引,决心逃离母亲,离开村 子过新生活,最后他阴差阳错失去了童贞。客观时间象征--母亲的时钟堆--渐渐远离的同时,少年手上多了一只象征本真时间的手表。比起弑母此类 对某一权力对象的颠覆,重新阐释时间, 并展示时间的伯格森式(Bergson)不可分割性并以此建立主体性是更为彻底的革命。

除了控制戏中人的时间,〈田园之死〉也操控观者的时间。电影开端小朋友玩躲猫猫,原本的小玩伴忽然变成大正年代打扮的诡异人物,电影结尾主角跟母亲在故乡家中,刹那间四面墙倒下,主角暴露与东京繁华的街头,还有电影中 空气女的呻吟,系在殉情男女身上的红线,鬼火般飘浮的日本老童谣。。。。。。这些感官异觉化(视觉和听觉上)不啻是寺山修司强烈风格特征,也是延长艾柯 (Umberto Eco)在〈优游小说林〉里述及的阅读(观看)时间的技巧。对于电影和书本里寻常的物事和情节,我们会用在现实中早已熟知的经验/取自经验的逻辑推断,加 快阅读时间。面对寺山修司精心布局的奇形怪状,既有逻辑无用武之地,观众只好费尽心神寻找当中的意蕴,或者象我那样,尽情享受日本cult 片鬼才预备的感官盛宴。如是者,观众所经验的时间不是放片的102 分钟,而是他们迷路的时间。


在 阳光灿烂的日子(或原著《动物凶猛》)里,主角马小军越深入自己的记忆,就越发现处处出错,到后来甚至黑白不分,我们就知道记忆的不可信。记忆隐恶扬善,只保留对意识有利的叙述,甚至对你作出彻底背叛。《死在田园》的“我”以为可以驾驭记忆,并以这种自信武装自己回到故乡恐山。可惜,当他跟昔日年轻的自己开始对话,少年主角马上揭 露成年主角美化了过去,记忆本是一连串谎言。记忆就是这么不可靠。无奈的是,我们需要从记忆抽取经验来建立自我的主体性和应付生活上的决定,无法进入记忆和意识的,就是我们生活里的惊颤。



寺山修司的重口味freak show 意向让不少人把他跟费里尼(Federico Fellini)连在一起,也有人说寺山修司象拍过Salo的柏索里尼(Pier Paolo Pasolini ),因为大家都有或隐晦或露白的性描写。 但,


Eyes Wide Shut: The Feng Jiangzhou solo

Eyes Wide Shut: Feng Jiangzhou opens the realm of senses

Venus Lau

Among the world’s living creatures, human beings are a species that relies heavily on vision, a perception that fosters itself in art with intoxicatingly bright colors and eye-catching images on canvas and sculpture and allows an equation between art and visual art. This assessment is further reinforced by the conditioned practice that humans have of watching TV, by which they let canned laughs and big grins determine the point at which they should be amused. Perhaps this is what is most exciting about Feng Jiangzhou’s first solo exhibition, “Dharmaguptaka-vinaya,” a multimedia art show that promises enough sensual texture to steer a little bit away from the ocularcentricism of the contemporary art world, and ultimately the world at large.

After producing copious amounts of music under the names of The Fly and Far East Digital Hardcore, and others, and following his 2006 solo release Si Fen Lü (Dharmaguptaka-vinaya), Feng began a move into the realm of multimedia art, including designing stage works for famed director Meng Jinghui. The artist-cum-musician finally had his first solo debut in October 2008.

The show put on display a video and a multi-track sound art installation, the former titled Ni Kan Jian Xu Kong Dui Ni Zha Yan Le Ma?, or, to be more concise, Do You See the Void Blinking Back at You?, and the latter titled Dharmaguptaka-vinaya (also the name of the show as a whole). The video consists of an appropriation of the Yongle Gong (literally “Forever-Bliss Palace”) painting in Shanxi province, a mural dating back to the Yuan dynasty, in which the 200-plus supernatural Taoist immortals of the original wall painting are made by Feng to blink imperceptibly at the audience. Calling reference to a Zen Koan about “the emptiness blinks,” the piece meshes elements of Taoism and Zen, and offers a Chinese cultural label wittier than the Orientalist fantasy of mass-producing Mao’s face in 70 different colors. The appropriation of the symbols in both religions also engenders a look into nihilism characterized by negation.

If this piece grants any pleasure (or more precisely, jouissance), the pleasure comes from — instead of the surprising witness of a Taoist immortal blinking at you after a long wait — how the video exposes viewers to the uncanny gaze of the actually larger-than-human Taoist immortals in a reification of the “Big Other.” It is a bit unsettling to look into the eyes of deities on video, looking into the absolute alterity manifested in the face and the heavy ruffles on the ancient Chinese costumes: this is the otherness whereby death is forever postponed, while I am still stuck in the "being towards death," in a plural form with other beings. It would be wrong to spend too much time on this piece, waiting for a wink from a nameless deity. The piece requires intrinsic power beyond mere size in order to allow the gaze to be activated between the piece and the viewers; otherwise, it could easily be criticized for transplanting Chinese visual icons of any type onto a digital screen and calling it Chinese new media art.

Feng’s Buddhist proclivities led him to titled the show Dharmaguptaka-vinaya (also the name of his 2006 album), which means “the discipline in four parts” and is a title taken from a Theravada Buddhist book of rules. Feng’s audio installation is a 3.5 meter cage-like metal structure covered with black fabric, with amplifiers fixed on the inner frame. This constructed dark space creates total blindness while the amplifiers radiate random sounds from different directions, tickling and distracting the listener from localization within the body of blackness. The disorientation of senses constructs a space that is occasionally disrupted by sound morsels and recalls what anthropologist Edmund Carpenter referred to as “Eskimo Space,” described in his seminal 1973 work, Eskimo Realities, as a place where there is no distance and there are no angles or contours but only a barely-visible cold mist rising from the ice. Similarly, Feng’s piece creates a nomadic space, a stroll in darkness navigated by sensory geography in which the database of perception is rendered useless. As the sounds are produced out of context, the listener perceives the immediate power of the piece without an ability to decode it. It would be cliche to conclude this synopsis piece with a simple diagnosis of regression to the mother's womb. Man, as an animal of meaning, is thrown into this blanket of insecurity (the dark cage), the signification process for the noise — glitches that are the symptom of its signifying system — sounds like a futile attempt. Just as Zizek notes in Lacanian Real Television, the symbolic representation of the subject always ends up as a signifying surplus trying to hide fundamental lack. In this piece, Feng Jiangzhou takes a poetic artistic practice, providing poetry as a known symbolic dispositif pointing to an unknown. This is a subversion of language inside itself, transforming the it-is-very-dark-in-here installation into a smooth plane with only it inside itself.

If I may add another personal point, I would like to express my respect for Feng Jiangzhou's use of numerals in his concepts, explicitly highlighted in the pieces' titles. From Si Fen Lu in this show to Ba Yin,the Mariko-Mori-esque sound installation, the artist successfully brings an aesthetics of musical precision to his work.

This exhibition may claim nothing worth “seeing,” but it makes an effort to trick the senses into the process contradicting our obsession with residues of light reflections.