Tag Archives: Psychoanalysis

Slavoj Žižek – Lessons From the “Airpocalypse”

Link to an article by Slavoj Žižek:

“Lessons From the ‘Airpocalypse’”

 

Notes: The phrase “spaceship Earth” was coined by R. Buckminster Fuller.  Žižek seems to clarify Fuller’s suggestion, “If the success or failure of this planet, and of human beings, depended on how I am and what I do, how would I be? What would I do?”  Žižek repeats his general position that people should not cynically obtain surplus enjoyment for doing what is good, but should instead be duty-bound to do good.

Alejandro Jodorowsky on Psychomagic

Alejandro Jodorowsky on “psychomagic”, from his book, The Dance of Reality: A Psychomagical Autobiography (2001):

“[M]ost of the problems we have, we want to have.  We are attached to our problems.  They form our identity.  We define ourselves through them.  It is no wonder, then, that some people try to distort the act and try to devise ways to sabotage it: getting free of problems involves radically changing our relationship with ourselves and with the past.  People want to stop suffering, but are not willing to pay the price — namely, to change, to not keep living as a function of their beloved problems.”  (p.313)

“The trainer has to teach [the subconscious] to obey.  This is difficult; in fact, people fall ill because they have a painful problem that they cannot solve or become conscious of.  They want to be treated — but not cured.  Although they ask for help, they then struggle to stop that help from being effective.”  (p. 281).

The most unusual aspect of “psychomagic” is the method of treatment, by “psychomagical acts” that “induce people to act in the midst of what they conceive[] as their reality” (p. 312):

“Once the subconscious decides that something should happen, it is impossible for the individual to inhibit or completely sublimate the impulse.  Once the arrow is launched, one cannot make it return to the bow.  The only way to free oneself from the impulse is to fulfill it…but this can be done metaphorically.” (p. 333).

“The patient must make peace with her subconscious, not becoming independent of it but making it an ally.” (p. 311).

“[T]he psychomagician presents himself only as a technical expert, as an instructor, and devotes himself to explaining to the patient the symbolic meaning and purpose of every act.  The client knows what he or she is doing.  All superstition has been eliminated.  However, as soon as one begins to perform the prescribed acts, reality begins dancing in a new way.” (p. 316).

If psychomagic were to be summarized, it would be important to note that it is mostly about taking ritual folk medicine and adapting it to appeal to educated urban-dwellers.

Slavoj Žižek on Hegemonic Ideology

Slavoj Žižek quote from “Democracy’s Fascism Problem”:

“Of course, no privileged political agent knows inherently what is best for the people and has the right to impose its decisions on the people against their will (as the Stalinist Communist Party did). However, when the will of the majo[r]ity clearly violates basic emancipatory freedoms, one has not only the right but also the duty to oppose that majority. This is not reason to despise democratic elections — only to insist that they are not per se an indication of Truth. As a rule, elections reflect the conventional wisdom determined by the hegemonic ideology.”

Bonus links: “Draft Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” and Footnote Four of Carolene Products

The Holy Mountain

The Holy Mountain

The Holy Mountain (1973)

ABKCO Films

Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Main Cast: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Horacio Salinas


Alajandro Jodorowsky is really one the the most unique film directors of his time.  The Holy Mountain opens much like The One Thousand and One Nights (especially Raoul Wash‘s The Thief of Bagdad), with a thief (Horacio Salinas) cavorting about a town.  The town is a bit heavy on religious and military pomp (recalling both Fellini and Costa-Gavras‘ political thriller Z).  There is much other symbolism, including characters modeled on Tarot cards.  But then the thief hops aboard a hook being pulled up a minaret-like tower and enters the mysterious structure.  A cloaked alchemist figure (Alejandro Jodorowsky) disarms the knife-wielding thief and then makes him his apprentice, telling him, “You are excrement; you can turn yourself into gold.”  This, of course, in the premise of modern psychoanalysis.

The alchemist, acting as a “master” (Jodorowsky describes the character as “a sort of hybrid of Gurdjieff and the magician Merlin“), then introduces a montage of scenes describing his other disciples.  These are powerful, wealthy figures, and yet, also the most outrageously surreal representations of society’s worst traits: domination, deception, decadence, exploitation.  He summons them and they ceremonially burn their money and effigies.  They set out on a quest to find the mythic Holy Mountain upon which hermits who know the secret of immortality have supposedly lived for thousands of years.  They plan to capture the hermits and appropriate the secret.

The rest of the film is a surreal vision of an adventure movie, supposedly taking inspiration from René Daumal‘s novel Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing.  A girl (Ana de Sade) with a monkey follows the master and his disciples.  On the journey, the group is confronted with a series of test to provoke subjective destitution, to surrender worldly desires.  The master convinces disciples to kill him, literally and symbolically (though with a laugh, he is killed only symbolically in one scene despite literal intentions).  The thief winds up with the girl with the monkey.  Although Jodorowsky wanted the film to end in a paradise scene filmed in a Mexican restaurant with a woman (actually) giving birth on camera, the pregnant woman backed out at the last minute, scuttling those plans.  Instead, the firm ends in an equally remarkable way.  The master orders the camera to zoom back, revealing the film equipment surrounding the actors — what is known in cinema as “breaking the fourth wall.”

Much like in Jodorowsky’s immediately prior film, the western El Topo, there is much emphasis on traversing the fantasies of religion (especially) and cultural desires.  Jodorowsky very much makes his films according to Antonin Artaud‘s vision of a “theater of cruelty,” producing shocking, bizarre scenes to derange and assault the senses of viewers in the hopes of making them traverse their own psychological fantasies.  Viewers are meant to be surprised by what they see, to encourage them to cut the Gordian knot of their own ingrained habits of thought imposed by culture (and especially by family).  There is little doubt most viewers have never scene a movie quite like this!  Yet for as much as he breaks down mythic cultural institutions and the illusions that symbolically bind individuals, he refashions mystic processes in an atheistic way.  Here, he is concerned with a kind of frontier justice that fights symbolic problems with symbolic weapons, though later in life he changed his methods somewhat into what he calls “psychomagic”, a kind of “shamanic psychotherapy” — which perhaps can be described as using poetic rituals to self-administer metaphorical fulfillment of desires, to free the people burdened by those desires to engage reality on their own terms.

If there is any other artist work comparing to Jodorowsky, aside from Artaud, it might be the jazz bandleader Sun Ra.  In a documentary, an associate said that Jodorowsky liked to work in areas beyond his knowledge  Sun Ra made an album called Strange Strings in which he instructed the performers this way: “We’re going to play what you don’t know and what you don’t know is huge.”  While Sun Ra dealt in Afro-futurism, and especially Egyptian and outer-space mythology, Jodorowsky has a different set of things he draws from, like the Tarot.  They both nonetheless share a very communal, mutually-supportive practice that draws on the strangeness of mythology and exoticism to promote self-empowerment and liberation.  Contemporary philosophers like Alain Badiou like to talk about the need for positive statements about the world.  Isn’t Jodorowsky exactly that?

Jodorowsky had difficulty funding many of his later film ideas, with his ambitious attempt to film a version of the sci-fi novel Dune falling apart before shooting began — recounted in the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013).  It took him almost a decade before he completed his next feature, Tusk (1980), and it was not until the horror film Santa Sangre (1989) that he really made something with close to full artistic control.  He turned to writing comics and books instead of films when funding was not available.  This seems partly a matter of the idealism that peaked in the late 1960s fading away.  Jodorowsky’s work certainly sits in opposition to everything that the celebrity-driven, corporate, commodified mass culture of the following few decades.

While a dispute with the film’s distributor kept The Holy Mountain from widespread view for decades, it has become available again.  It is quite a film, and its “comeback” has brought well-deserved attention to an artistic method that presents a substantially different approach than the mainstream.  Love it or hate it, this won’t be a film easily forgotten.

Slavoj Žižek – The Cologne Attacks Were an Obscene Version of Carnival

Link to an article by Slavoj Žižek:

“The Cologne Attacks Were an Obscene Version of Carnival”

Selected quotes:

  • “being a victim at the bottom of the social ladder does not make you some kind of privileged voice of morality and justice.”
  • “This destructive potential of envy is the base of Rousseau’s well-known distinction between egotism, amour-de-soi (that love of the self which is natural), and amour-propre, the perverted preferring of oneself to others in which a person focuses not on achieving a goal, but on destroying the obstacle to it [quoting Rousseau, juge de Jean-Jacques, first dialog] . . . An evil person is thus not an egotist, ‘thinking only about his own interests’. A true egotist is too busy taking care of his own good to have time to cause misfortune to others. The primary vice of a bad person is that he is more preoccupied with others than with himself.”
  • “The difficult lesson of this entire affair is thus that it is not enough to simply give voice to the underdogs the way they are: in order to enact actual emancipation, they have to be educated (by others and by themselves) into their freedom.”

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

The Pervert's Guide to Ideology

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2013)

Zeitgeist Films

Director: Sophie Fiennes

Main Cast: Slavoj Žižek


Making a film about philosophy is not an easy task.  The main problem being: how to keep the audience awake?  Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami has said that good films can put you to sleep.  But these sorts of films are not always widely appreciated, for very much that reason.

Enter Sophie Fiennes and Slavoj Žižek, with a documentary — the sequel to The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006) — that makes contemporary philosophy as entertaining and engaging as possible.  Some may say it is still not engaging enough.  But the intellectually curious should find a lot to wrestle with, and at least will walk away with a list of interesting movies from around the world that they have probably not yet seen.  Ultimately, the film paints a beautiful and horrifying picture of how movies stage our dreams, where desire arises, and how ideologies correlate those desires to objective circumstances to create meaning.

Desire comes from the symbol of the “Big Other”: a god, or, in this case, cinema.  It provides meaning to otherwise meaningless, solitary existence.  In Fiennes’ and Žižek’s earlier collaboration, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, Žižek said, “Cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn’t give you what you desire – it tells you how to desire.” It would have been helpful to repeat that assertion here, to better explain the new film’s title.  Still, the underlying concepts of importance are revisited here.  A key one involves Žižek’s attempts to philosophically preserve free will, as a small but crucial factor set against a backdrop of philosophical concepts that increasingly explain relationships traced back to determined, objective conditions.

“[M]an is not simply a product of objective circumstances.  We all have this margin of freedom in deciding how we subjectivize these objective circumstances, which will of course determine us:  how we react to them by constructing our own universe.”

The way these objective circumstances are subjectivized is through ideology.

“Ideology is our spontaneous relationship to our social world – how we perceive each meaning and so on and so on.”

But every ideology has to “work as an empty container, open to all possible meanings.”  He illustrates with deft examples from Cabaret (1972) to The Fall of Berlin (1950) how different efforts to portray fascist or communist propaganda can utilize the exact same ideological frameworks, the same “empty container”.  This analysis of ideology can be applied to anything. To look outside this film, take “business management” gurus. They recommend, for instance, setting a big hairy audacious goal, but it should be attainable. This might help explain why business attracts (and selects for) unhealthy people. They seek simple pleasures from defined goals within the existing organization and obtain excess enjoyment from the social prestige and career advancement that comes with achieving those defined goals.

“How come it is easier for us to imagine the end of all life on earth — an asteroid hitting the planet — than a modest change in our economic order?”

He suggests not waiting for such a magical event to produce change from without, but rather,

“It depends on us, on our will.”

“We should draw a line of distinction, within the very field of our dreams, between those who are the right dreams — pointing towards a dimension effectively beyond our existing society and the wrong dreams, the dreams which are just an idealized, consumerist reflection, [a] mirror image of our society.  We are not simply submitted to our dreams – they just come from some unfathomable depths and we can’t do anything about it.  This is the basic lesson of psychoanalysis — and fiction cinema.  We are responsible for our dreams.  Our dreams stage our desires — and our desires are not objective facts.  We created them, we sustained them, we are responsible for them.”

He takes a complex view of desire.

“A desire is never simply the desire for certain thing. It’s always also a desire for desire itself. A desire to continue to desire. Perhaps the ultimate horror of a desire is to be fully filled-in, met, so that I desire no longer.”

There are different ways to control desire.  Žižek is quite explicit about the methods he favors.

“The conservative solution is we need more police.  We need courts, which pass severe judgments.  I think this solution is too simple.”

Taking a page straight from filmmaker John Waters (“I thank God I was raised Catholic, so sex will always be dirty.”), Žižek talks about how religion, using the example of catholicism, puts in place prohibitive injunctions with a hidden message to enjoy transgressing those limits.  This is too simple, though, because it takes away freedom, and responsibility.

“Freedom hurts.  The basic insight of psychoanalysis is to distinguish between enjoyment and simple pleasures.  They are not the same. Enjoyment is precisely enjoyment in disturbed pleasure — even enjoyment in pain.  And this excessive factor disturbs the apparently simple relationship between duty and pleasures.”

Rather than seek something superficial and take unhealthy enjoyment from an excess, Žižek suggests pursuing deeper desires that will likely not be fulfilled and accepting the superficial pleasure that arise along the way.  He cleverly illustrates this while eating a Kinder Egg chocolate candy, the chocolate covering a simple pleasure and the toy inside something further.

Once freedom of this degree is put on the table, Žižek is talking about revolutionary potentials.  These have been tried before, and have failed, but he sees them as still worth pursuing.  On failed revolutions, he diagnoses the problem:  “The dreams remained the old dreams; and they turned into the ultimate nightmare.”  All these examples, with movies, Kinder Egg candies, and so forth, provide easily grasped examples of where the breaking points are among the stuff of everyday life.

This is a well-made film.  Its subject is weighty, yet leavened with the constant references to film and pop culture.  Terry Eagleton, reviewing a pair of later Žižek’s books, wrote that “Academic philosophers can be obscure, whereas popularisers aim to be clear. With his urge to dismantle oppositions, Žižek has it both ways . . . .”  This is precisely the paradox that makes The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology such an interesting film.  We have discussions of philosophy that make substantive points worthy of both academic and unschooled audiences.  And along the way, viewers can enjoy the “simple pleasures” of seeing Žižek dressed up in a ridiculous Stalin costume, or sitting in a re-constructed set of the club from Kubrick‘s A Clockwork Orange (1971).  Viewers unfamiliar with anything Žižek has written or said before should still be able to grasp this film, with some mild effort.  It represents one of the most potent distillations of his philosophical worldview than just about anything else he’s done.