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Monthly Archives: June 2010

If you can see, look.
If you can look, observe.
FROM THE Book of Exhortations.
Blindness
The moral conscience that so many thoughtless people have offended against and many more have rejected, is something that exists and has always existed. It was not an invention of the philosophers of the Quartenary, when the soul was little more than a muddled proposition. With the passing of time, as well as then social evolution and genetic exchange, we ended up putting our conscience in the colour of blood and in the salt of tears, and, as if that were not enough, we made our eyes into a kind of mirror turned inwards, with the result that they often show without reserve what we are verbally trying to deny. Add to this general observation, the particular circumstance that in simple spirits, the remorse caused by committing some evil act often becomes confused with ancestral fears of every kind, and the result will be that the punishment of the prevaricator ends up being, without mercy or pity, twice what he deserved.
Blindness
…we’re so remote from the world that any day now, we shall no longer know who we are, or even remember our names, and besides, what use would names be to us, no dog recognises another dog or knows the others by the names they have been given, a dog is identified by its scent and that is how it identifies others, here we are like another breed of dogs, we know each other’s bark or speech, as for the rest, features, colour of eyes or hair, they are of no importance, it is as if they did not exist, I can still see but for how long.
Blindness
Doctor’s wife.
A blind man is sacred, you don’t steal from a blind man.
Blindness
Car thief.
…anyone who gets up early by inclination or has been forced to rise early out of necessity finds it intolerable that others should go on sleeping soundly, and with good reason in the case to which we are referring, for there is a marked difference between a blind person who is sleeping and a blind person who has opened his eyes to no purpose.
Blindness
…just as well that we are still capable of weeping, tears are often our salvation, there are times when we would die if we did not weep…
Blindness
Doctor’s wife.
As the saying goes, in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, Forget about sayings, But this is not the same, Here not even the cross-eyed would be saved…
Blindness
Recalling the H. G. Wells saying.
Attention, attention, the internees may come and collect their food, but be careful, if anyone gets too close to the gate they will receive a preliminary warning, and unless they turn back immediately, the second warning will be a bullet.
Blindness
Voice over loudspeaker in mental asylum.
Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are.
Blindness
The Doctor.
…a longing to curl up inside herself, her eyes, especially her eyes, turned inwards, more, more, more, until they could reach and observe inside her own brain, there where the difference between seeing and not seeing is invisible to the naked eye. Slowly, ever more slowly, dragging her body, she retraced her footsteps to the place where she belonged…
Blindness
Doctor’s wife.
…for the authorities had no humanitarian scruples when rounding up the blind and confining them here, they even stated that the law once made is the same for everyone and that democracy is incompatible with preferential treatment.
Blindness
…for dignity has no price, that when someone starts making small concessions, in the end, life loses all meaning.
Blindness
Say to a blind man, you’re free, open the door that was separating him from the world, Go, you are free, we tell him once more, and he does not go, he has remained motionless there in the middle of the road, he and the others, they are terrified, they do not know where to go, the fact is that there is no comparison between living in a rational labyrinth, which is, by definition, a mental asylum and venturing forth, without a guiding hand or a dog-leash, into the demented labyrinth of the city, where memory will serve no purpose, for it will merely be able to recall the images of places but not the paths whereby we might get there.
Blindness
…just like everything else in life, let time take its course and it will find a solution.
Blindness
There’s no difference between inside and outside, between here and there, between the many and the few, between what we’re living through and what we shall have to live through…this must be what it means to be a ghost, being certain that life exists, because your four senses say so, and yet unable to see it…
Blindness
…you do not know, you cannot know, what it means to have eyes in a world in which everyone else is blind, I am not a queen, no, I am simply the one who was born to see this horror, you can feel it, I both feel and see it…
Blindness
Doctor’s wife, the only person who retains her sight through blindness epidemic, to her blind companions.
Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.
Blindness
Blind people do not need a name, I am my voice, nothing else matters…
Blindness
It is a great truth that says that the worst blind person was the one who did not want to see…
Blindness
On their way to the home of the girl with dark glasses, they crossed a large square with groups of blind people who were listening to speeches from other blind people, at first sight, neither one nor the other group seemed blind, the speakers turned their heads excitedly towards their listeners, the listeners turned their heads attentively to the speakers. They were proclaiming the end of the world, redemption through penitence, the visions of the seventh day, the advent of the angel, cosmic collisions, the death of the sun, the tribal spirit, the sap of the mandrake, tiger ointment, the virtue of the sign, the discipline of the wind, the perfume of the moon, the revindication of darkness, the power of exorcism, the sign of the heel, the crucifixion of the rose, the purity of the lymph, the blood of the black cat, the sleep of the shadow, the rising of the seas, the logic of anthropopagy, painless castration, divine tattoos, voluntary blindness, convex thoughts, or concave, or horizontal or vertical, or sloping, or concentrated, or dispersed, or fleeting, the weakening of the vocal cords, the death of the word, Here nobody is speaking of organisation, said the doctor’s wife, Perhaps organisation is in another square, he replied.
Blindness
The difficult thing isn’t living with other people, it’s understanding them.
Blindness
The Doctor.
…all the images in the church had their eyes covered, statues with a white cloth tied around the head, paintings with the thick brushstroke of white paint… that priest must have committed the worst sacrilege of all times and all religions, the fairest and most radically human, coming here to declare that, ultimately, God does not deserve to see.
Blindness
I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.
Blindness
Blindness, an allegorical novel about a mysterious epidemic of blindness that paralyzes a major city, was written by Portuguese writer Jose Saramago and published in 1995. Born on November 16, 1922, Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998. He died on June 18, 2010.
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The possibility of the impossible, dreams and illusions, are the subject of my novels.
Jose Saramago
Every man has his own patch of earth to cultivate. What’s important is that he dig deep.
Jose Saramago
I was not born for all this glory.
Jose Saramago
On winning Nobel Prize for Literature 1998.
The apprentice thought, “we are blind”, and he sat down and wrote Blindness to remind those who might read it that we pervert reason when we humiliate life, that human dignity is insulted every day by the powerful of our world, that the universal lie has replaced the plural truths, that man stopped respecting himself when he lost the respect due to his fellow-creatures.
Jose Saramago
On writing novel Blindness, Nobel Prize for Literature acceptence speech, 1998.
In one sense it could even be said that, letter-by-letter, word-by-word, page-by-page, book after book, I have been successively implanting in the man I was the characters I created. I believe that without them I wouldn’t be the person I am today; without them maybe my life wouldn’t have succeeded in becoming more than an inexact sketch, a promise that like so many others remained only a promise, the existence of someone who maybe might have been but in the end could not manage to be.
Jose Saramago
Nobel lecture, 1998.
The painter paints, the musician makes music, the novelist writes novels. But I believe that we all have some influence, not because of the fact that one is an artist, but because we are citizens. As citizens, we all have an obligation to intervene and become involved, it’s the citizen who changes things. I can’t imagine myself outside any kind of social or political involvement. Yes, I’m a writer, but I live in this world and my writing doesn’t exist on a separate level. And if people know who I am and read my books, well, good; that way, if I have something more to say, then everyone benefits.
Jose Saramago
The Observer newspaper UK, May 2006.
I am not a bad person. I hurt only with my tongue!
Jose Saramago
We live in a dark age, when freedoms are diminishing, when there is no space for criticism, when totalitarianism — the totalitarianism of multinational corporations, of the marketplace — no longer even needs an ideology, and religious intolerance is on the rise. Orwell’s ‘1984’ is already here.
Jose Saramago
New York Times, 2007.
I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.
Jose Saramago
Blindness.
Just as well that we are still capable of weeping, tears are often our salvation, there are times when we would die if we did not weep.
Jose Saramago
Blindness.
For dignity has no price, that when someone starts making small concessions, in the end, life loses all meaning.
Jose Saramago
Blindness.
Just like everything else in life, let time take its course and it will find a solution.
Jose Saramago
Blindness.
Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.
Jose Saramago
Blindness.
Blind people do not need a name, I am my voice, nothing else matters.
Jose Saramago
Blindness.
The difficult thing isn’t living with other people, it’s understanding them.
Jose Saramago
Blindness.
I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.
Jose Saramago
Blindness.
There are times when it is best to be content with what one has, so as not to lose everything.
Jose Saramago
The Double.
In the end we discover the only condition for living is to die.
Jose Saramago
On his 2005 novel Death With Interruptions, which depicts Death as woman who goes on strike because she is fed up with being hated by people.
All my books without exception deal with the improbable and the impossible.
Jose Saramago
The novel is not so much a literary genre, but a literary space, like a sea that is filled by many rivers.
Jose Saramago
Words were not given to man in order to conceal his thoughts.
Jose Saramago
What kind of world is this that can send machines to Mars and does nothing to stop the killing of a human being?
Jose Saramago
Americans have discovered the fragility of life, that ominous fragility that the rest of the world either already experienced or is experiencing now with terrible intensity.
Jose Saramago
On how September 11 changed the world.
Americans have discovered fear.
Jose Saramago
On September 11 terrorist attack.
We use words to understand each other and even, sometimes, to find each other.
Jose Saramago
Some people spend their entire lives reading but never get beyond reading the words on the page, they don’t understand that the words are merely stepping stones placed across a fast-flowing river, and the reason they’re there is so that we can reach the farther shore, it’s the other side that matters.
Jose Saramago
Human vocabulary is still not capable, and probably never will be of knowing, recognizing, and communicating everything that can be humanly experienced and felt.
Jose Saramago
All the scheming and plotting in the world won’t result in something lasting, transcendent. Anything that’s authentic, that’s real, comes in the form of a gift. Even if by accident.
Jose Saramago
Perhaps it is the language that chooses the writers it needs, making use of them so that each might express a tiny part of what it is.
Jose Saramago
I don’t trust television, unless I can see things with these eyes of mine that the earth will one day devour, I don’t believe in them.
Jose Saramago
Character in The Stone Raft.
This is how everyone has to begin, men who have never known a woman, women who have never known a man, until the day comes for the one who knows to teach the one who does not.
Jose Saramago
Mary in The Gospel According to Jesus Christ.
If my grandfather had been a rich landowner and not an illiterate pig breeder, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. If I could choose my own background — even with the cold of the winters, the heat of the summers, sometimes going hungry — I wouldn’t change a thing.
Jose Saramago
Jose Saramago is a Portuguese writer who was born on November 16, 1922. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998. He died on June 18, 2010.

 “In Examined Life, filmmaker Astra Taylor accompanies some of today’s most influential thinkers on a series of unique excursions through places and spaces that hold particular resonance for them and their ideas.

Peter Singer’s thoughts on the ethics of consumption are amplified against the backdrop of Fifth Avenue’s posh boutiques. Slavoj Zizek questions current beliefs about the environment while sifting through a garbage dump. Michael Hardt ponders the nature of revolution while surrounded by symbols of wealth and leisure.

Judith Butler and a friend stroll through San Francisco’s Mission District questioning our culture’s fixation on individualism. And while driving through Manhattan, Cornel West—perhaps America’s best-known public intellectual—compares philosophy to jazz and blues, reminding us how intense and invigorating a life of the mind can be.

Offering privileged moments with great thinkers from fields ranging from moral philosophy to cultural theory, Examined Life reveals philosophy’s power to transform the way we see the world around us and imagine our place in it.”

aaaarg exists!

With the aim of changing the past, an impossible thing to do, the subject messes with nature, and his intrusion causes the very event which he was trying to prevent from happening. Just like Oedipus’s father who, in escape from a prophecy, falls victim to his choice of way to escape, and becomes the victim of his own choice. And his choice is, in the first place, to believe in the prophecy. It is as soon as he puts his belief into action that he prepares the grounds of his subjection to an external force. His own construct, that external force, governs his actions independently of his intentions. There still is a governor but this governor is an internally constituted external force.

What Lacan calls the unconscious is the dead zone in-between the subject and the signifier. Or the state of non-being in the space between the state of being governed by drives and the entry into the symbolic order. The unconscious understood as the dead zone in between the subject and language, is at the same time the gap between being and becoming. Entry into the symbolic is associated with a passage from the state of being, through non-being and into the symbolic order of becoming.

Melanie Klein takes the beginning of becoming to as early as the first months of life. In her analysis of the “Early Stages of the Oedipus Conflict and of Super-ego Formation,” Klein looks for the causes of aggression and sadistic impulses in the normal development of the child.

The child also has phantasies in which his parents destroy each other by means of their genitals and excrements which are felt to be dangerous weapons. These phantasies have important effects and are very numerous, containing such ideas as that the penis is, incorporated in the mother, turns into a dangerous animal or into weapons loaded with explosive substances; or that her vagina, too, is transformed into a dangerous animal or some instrument of death, as, for instance, a poisoned mouse-trap. Since such phantasies are wish phantasies, the child has a sense of guilt about the injuries which, in his phantasy, his parents inflict on each other.[1]

Absence of the feeling of guilt causes the sadistic impulse to dominate the child. The external world is considered to be dangerous and the child attacks the mother whom he believes to contain the father’s penis. As he is attacking the mother the child is in fact attacking the father. Formation of the super-ego, or entry into the symbolic requires the acceptance of loss of innocence, purity, security, omniscience and recognition of one’s own guilt. The importance of what Klein is saying here lies in her realization that there is more evil and less evil, but there is no absolute good and evil. We are all, in a way, mad, but some are more so than the others. According to Klein, most subjects experience a certain neurosis during normal development, but in some children the neurotic experience is stronger, more intense, and lasts a longer time. In the Mantle twins for instance, we have seen that it lasted quite a long time, so long as to enable them turn their pathology into their object of study and make a profession out of themselves.       

Creativity going wrong and producing weapons rather than surgical tools is a recurrent theme in Cronenberg films. What we see in Dead Ringers and Videodrome is the same process of degeneration, a worstward movement of the experiment undertaken, in different fields of knowledge. Just as Max’s sadistic fantasies turn against him, the Mantle twins’ surgical instruments turn into sharp edged weapons which they direct against themselves at the end. What is portrayed is the characters’ inability to pass from the state of being governed by the unconscious drives, to conscious desiring. The passage from death drive to the desiring production is never achieved in Cronenberg’s films. As we have seen in eXistenZ the subjects only become capable of desiring when they are in the virtual world of the game, attached to an organic bio-port with an umbilical cord. In escape from the realists Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) hides in her own game. At the end of the film we learn that even her escape from the realists was part of the game, a construct of her own psyche, her own creation. We also learn that eXistenZ is only a game within another game called transCendenZ and that the realists trying to annihilate the project turn out to be Allegra Geller and her security guard (Jude Law). As it was in Videodrome so too it is in eXistenZ; what the virtual world of another reality does is to sustain the subject with the environment in which he/she can act out his/her fantasies in a virtual realm beyond the flesh. Within the game Allegra and the security guard can make love, outside it they have a purpose; they have to free desire from the confines of virtuality and restore it to its true place, that place being the material world.

existenz01

When Jude Law refuses to undergo the operation of being penetrated by what looks like a big machine gun, so that the bio-port can be plugged into him, Allegra Geller says, “this is it, you see! This is the cage of your own making. Which keeps you trapped and pacing about in the smallest space possible. Break out of the cage of your own, break out now.” Allegra Geller sees the physical world as limiting and unsatisfying. To go beyond this limited existence she creates an illusory time-space in which the player is in the service of his/her unconscious drives which are themselves represented in material objects. When the bio-port is plugged into the subject the subject’s five senses are governed by the sensual effects the game creates on the subject. The illusion of safety and security is the result of the depersonalization of experience; it is the Other that plays the game through me. A fantasy world which keeps death at bay, an impersonal consciousness that thinks through me, and a body that never dies. What the game eXistenZ does, then, is to promise immortality in a spiritual realm beyond the flesh. And yet it does this through stimulating the centres of reception in the body which activate the five senses. When Jude Law licks Allegra Geller’s bio-port hole she immediately withdraws and asks, “what was that?” Surprised at his own act, Jude Law says, “That wasn’t me, it was my game character. I couldn’t have done that!” After a very brief silence they realize that since they are in the game they can’t be held responsible for their actions and start kissing passionately.

The umbilical cords in eXistenZ, which seem to connect the subject with a world beyond the physical, in which there is no guilt, no responsibility, and no death, turn out to be the chain of negativity chaining the subject to a detached, meaningless, inauthentic existence. It was Hegel who pointed out that freedom without society is meaningless and not freedom as such. For freedom to become freedom it should be situated in a historical context and hence gain its meaning in relation to time. What Heidegger borrows from Hegel is this idea of the necessity of the social for any meaningful activity to take place. Heidegger’s attitude is very different from the Romantic understanding of freedom as something that can only be experienced in isolation, where, detached from his social environment, the subject bonds in a more profound way with nature, and unite with all the forces of nature in a state of euphoria.

This jubilant assumption of his specular image by the child at the infans stage, still sunk in his motor incapacity and nursling dependence, would seem to exhibit in an exemplary situation the symbolic matrix in which the I is precipitated in a primordial form, before it is objectified in the dialectic of identification with the other, and before language restores to it, in the universal, its function as subject.[2]

Lacan’s Mirror Stage describes the child’s first confrontation with its image of itself on the mirror. Lacan says that the child is not as unified as it sees itself on the mirror. But the child needs this illusion of unity to be able to see itself as a being in the world. This is when the sense of omnipotence begins in the child.

The primary process—which is simply what I have tried to define for you in my last few lectures in the form of the unconscious—must once again, be apprehended in its experience of rupture, between perception and consciousness, in that non-temporal locus, I said, which forces us to posit what Freud calls, in homage to Fechner, die Idee anderer Lokalitat, the idea of another locality, another space, another scene, the between perception and consciousness.[3]

If we keep in mind that the primary process is the death-drive then we can see that Lacan’s shift is away from Cartesian dualisms of subject and object, mind and body, nature and culture. In Lacan there is an opposition to a Heideggerian attitude towards the world and its relation to the self. A third world is introduced in addition to the imaginary and the real. And this third world is the symbolic. For Lacan, between the illusory sense of omnipotence and the symbolic loss of self with the acquisition of language, there is a dead zone, a space in-between, a gap between the symbolic and the imaginary. That space is the Lacanian Unconscious, the Real which refers to what Descartes called Cogito, Freud Ego, and Heidegger non-being. 

What Descartes and to some extent Freud presuppose is that there is a cogito before anything else, that there is an ego that says “I.”  There can be no self in relation to an external world before language. There is nothing before the subject says “I.” For the ego to begin to exist and develop it has to acquire language and say “I” first. The real entry into the symbolic takes place when the subject is sufficiently equipped with language and capable of realizing that “I” is an illusion, that the self who is to say “I” is lost upon entry into the realm of language. This illusion, however, this imaginary self who says “I,” should be preserved at least to a minimal extent, otherwise the Real slips through and life becomes painful. It is a necessary illusion, the subject, if one wants to be able to do things. Fantasies are illusions we need to keep the Real of our desire at bay.

Is it not remarkable that, at the origin of the analytic experience, the real should have presented itself in the form of that which is unassimilable in it—in the form of the trauma, determining all that follows, and imposing on it an apparently accidental origin? We are now at the heart of what may enable us to understand the radical character of the conflictual notion introduced by the opposition of the pleasure principle and the reality principle—which is why we cannot conceive the reality principle as having, by virtue of its ascendancy, the last word. [4]

So the Real is in-between the pleasure principle and the reality principle. The conflict between the pleasure principle and the reality principle takes place when and if the subject falls victim to the drives and the pleasure principle by letting himself be governed by the unconscious drives.

For Lacan progress takes place when and if the subject passes from the state of being governed by unconscious drives to becoming capable of desiring and being desired. Since for Lacan desire is the desire of the Other, desire is essentially social and symbolic, which means that it is the drive that is prior to the symbolic, and the imaginary is the support of the reality principle, without which the Real would enter the scene and destroy the subject.  Lacan forgets that death-drive is the cause of conflict as well as being its effect. The death-drive preceeds and proceeds the conflict at the same time. But with the traumatic incident the subject’s relation to the Real changes. The direction of this change may lead to destruction as much as it may lead to creation. It is a matter of becoming capable of using the unconscious drives in the way of producing new forms of life.

Gas (Willem Dafoe): See? That didn’t hurt.
Pikul (Jude Law): I didn’t expect that to hurt.
I expect the next part to hurt.

Pikul: Yeah, that’s the part I expect to hurt.

Gas: I haven’t crippled anyone yet.

Pikul: How many have you done?

Gas: Three. Well, you’ll be my third.

Gas: Hey! Easy!
People usually pay me to do this, you know.

Pikul (to Allegra): As you can see, I’ve decided not
to have a bio-port installed.

Allegra (Jennifer Jason Leigh): This is what keeps you trapped
in a cage of your own making, which keeps you trapped
and pacing about. Break out of your cage, Pikul. Break out now.
Cut to:

The subtitles read:

[explodes]


[grunts]

Allegra: The swelling doesn’t last for long.


Pikul: What’s going on? I can’t… I can’t move my legs!

Reference Matter


[1] Melanie Klein, Psychoanalysis of Children, 132

[2] Jacques Lacan,,  Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1977), 2

[3] Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Hogarth Press, 1977), 56

[4] Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 55

 organ without a body

The Naked Lunch I am concerned with here is David Cronenberg’s film about William Burroughswriting process of Naked Lunch. The film, rather than being a direct adaptation of the novel, is a distillation of Burroughs’s life as he strives to write himself out of the past. We see Burroughs progressively deteriorating to the level of a dumb beast as he tries to make sense of his sufferings in and through writing. In the introduction he wrote for the 1985 edition of his earlier novel Queer, the writing of which dates back to 1953 following the two years period of depression, guilt, and anxiety ridden self-hatred after his accidental shooting of his wife Joan in September 1951, Burroughs, in an almost confessional manner, explicates the sources of his compulsion to write. Writing, for Burroughs, represents his lifelong pursuit of getting out of consciousness and reaching the area between fantasy and reality.

I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death, and to a realization of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from possession, from Control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.[1]

The death of Joan creates a space within Burroughs into which he escapes, and attempts to fill with his writings. Cronenberg explicates what Burroughs had already implied in his introduction to Queer. In the film writing in particular and creativity in general is shown to be a response to a traumatic incident, that is, production of fantasies to compensate for the horrors of life. As the film proceeds so does the mental deterioration of Bill Lee who represents Burroughs in the movie. The first signs of Lee’s split come when he is arrested by two policemen for “the possession of dangerous substances.” What they are talking about is the bug-powder which, Lee, who has given up writing to become a bug exterminator, uses to kill insects. The two policemen ask him to demonstrate his profession. One of them puts an insect the size of a hand on a pile of bug powder to see if the insect will die. As the insect begins moving its wings, arms, and legs they leave the room and Lee with the insect. As soon as they leave the room the insect tells Lee through a mouth-anus at its back that it has instructions for him, that it comes from the Interzone, that his wife Joan is not actually human and that he has to kill her. The insect asks Lee if he could put some bug powder on its mouth-anus upon the application of which it starts to make noises and movements as if in an orgy. In the next scene we are in reality and Joan is asking Lee to put some bug powder on her lips. As wee see a few scenes later that the mouth-anus turns out to be the abyss, the bottomless depth, or the space in-between fantasy and reality in which Lee loses himself and shoots his wife.

This presentation of fantasy and reality side by side occurs throughout the film. It is when the gap between fantasy and reality disappears that the Unconscious manifests itself. In the case of Bill Lee the undesired event is pushed back into the unconscious in turn causing an accumulation of sadistic impulses in him. These sadistic impulses are then externalized in and through writing. For Burroughs writing was cathartic in that it liberated the untamed drives and prevented the manifestation of aggression in the external world. In Cronenberg what we see is almost the opposite of this attitude to writing. As we know from Dead Ringers, Videodrome, and eXistenZ, for Cronenberg writing and creativity have destructive rather than therapeutic effects on the writer. In the film Bill Lee emerges as the culmination of these two opposing views on not only the creative process but also the relationship between the creator and the creation, the subject and the object, mind and body. As the arena of this conflict Bill Lee’s world is that of the one in-between the internal and the external worlds, the Interzone, or in psychoanalytic terms the Unconscious, the Real, where there is no self or not self.

Interzone is Tangiers on the North African coast where Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch in 1953. In those days it was a place of escape for the self-exiled artists and artisans. At Interzone everyone has their own particular universality in one big universal cesspool and that cesspool is Lee’s fantasy world. The Real, or the Unconscious, is impossible to represent and all those monsters, bug-typewriters, and disgusting images are only the creations of Lee’s hallucinating mind. In it every universality is surrounded by many other universalities and each universality is a body without organs. Upon arrival at the Interzone Lee starts to see his typewriter as an insect resembling the one which he had first encountered in the interrogation room at the police station. The bug-typewriter becomes the mouth-anus mechanism, the partial object opening a gap through language in-between the body without organs and the organ without a body.

Orality is naturally prolonged in cannibalism and anality in the case of which partial objects are excreta, capable of exploding the mother’s body, as well as the body of the infant. The bits of one are always the persecutors of the other, and, in this abominable mixture which constitutes the Passion of the nursing infant, persecutor and persecuted are always the same. In this system of mouth-anus or aliment-excrement, bodies burst and cause other bodies to burst in a universal cesspool.[2]

Here Deleuze is referring to Melanie Klein’s Psychoanalysis of Children. The state of being which Deleuze summarizes is the paranoid-schizoid position of the child, the world of simulacra. At this stage, which preceeds Lacan’s mirror stage, the child is not yet capable of identification. There is an introjection-projection mechanism going on but the objects, internal and external, are experienced as bad objects. The conception of goodness has not yet developed in the child. Since there is no good object for the child to identify with there is no condition of possibility for the identificatory process with a good or a bad object, there is no self or not self.

The paranoid-schizoid position is followed by the manic-depressive position in which identification with a good object takes place. The passage from paranoid-schizoid introjection-projection to manic-depressive identification is the process of passing through the Interzone, or in Lacan’s words “traversing the fantasy.” In Deleuze’s terms this process is the hovering of an impersonal consciousness over the transcendental field of partial objects. The bug-typewriter is Lee’s impersonal consciousness manifesting itself in the form of a paranoid fantasy, a body without organs which is pretending to be an organ without a body. In fact it is neither a body without organs nor an organ without a body and yet it is both at the same time. It is a becoming in between being and non-being.

Cronenberg’s move is away from Burroughs’s Kafkaesque understanding of the body as metaphor and towards a Deleuzean narrative of the metamorphosis of the body in a literal sense. All those self-destructive creators are inverted into the spotlight in and through Croneberg’s films and this enables Cronenberg to contemplate on the creative process as an inversion of destructive process and fill the film with this contemplation. What we see in Naked Lunch is the death drive in conflict with the life drive.

In Deleuze the body without organs is the metaphor of the death drive. And since the death drive is a response to the fragmentation of the self, it can only take the form of a paranoid fantasy projected onto the Real. The body without organs is the partial objects brought together in a totalizing way, in a way that deprives them of their partialities.

What the schizoid position opposes to bad partial objects—introjected and projected, toxic and excremental, oral and anal—is not a good object, even if it were partial. What is opposed is rather an organism without parts, a body without organs, with neither mouth nor anus, having given up all introjection or projection, and being complete, at this price.[3]

The body without organs, then, is the absence of a connection between the subject’s inside and outside. The subject, in a state of total negation, neither eats nor excretes. It eats nothingness itself and becomes the catatonic (w)hole. It is not out of the body without organs that the subject is born but from the paranoid-schizoid position which consists of a not yet formed consciousness, an impersonal consciousness violently attacking the external world and splitting the given unities. As opposed to the body without organs it consists of projection and introjection of the partial objects surrounding the subject to create fantasies such as an illusionary ego, and learns to keep the body without organs, or the Real at bay. The paranoid-schizoid position is followed by the manic-depressive position which corresponds to the formation of the super-ego and the sustenance of a balance between id, ego, and super-ego.

Burroughs’s cut-up and fold-in techniques appear to be the two constituent parts of his defense mechanism against the spectre of Joan haunting him. To escape from the paralyzing state of being haunted by the spectre, that is, not to turn into a body without organs, he carries the projection-introjection mechanism to its furthest and literally and unconsciously puts words and sentences, partial objects, next to and within each other to make up discontinuities, cause ruptures and keep the Real at bay. Through giving a voice to the Real as it is before symbolization, Burroughs’s intends to prevent it from becoming real, from being actualized  hence submitting the governance of his actions to an external force. It is this mechanism of repression inherent in the cut-up technique that causes what it tries to cure. The cut-up technique involves literally cutting-up passages and putting them together as a new text which would be neither the one nor the other, hence deforming the syntax. The fold-in technique involves folding into each other the different parts of the same text, hence distorting the order of time. In both states what is at stake is a total negation of the external world as a result of its being considered as hostile. In Burroughs the paranoid fantasy projected on the real replaces reality with its inverted version, that is, Burroughs turns what he imagines the external world to be against itself by creating a paranoid fantasy involving a scenario in which the subject believes itself to be governed by an internally constituted external and evil force. Burroughs discovered cut-up and fold-in techniques as a defense mechanism against the paranoid fantasy he constructed around himself. To get out of this mad symbolic world, he decided to slash it into pieces and connect it with other texts that are themselves torn apart.

Burroughs’s cut-up technique is a result of his search for a way of desymbolizing the paranoid symbolic world he had constructed and projected onto the external world. Burroughs thought resymbolization was therapeutic in that it gave voice to the evil within in the way of expelling it. Cut-up technique aims at desymbolizing the totalitarian system surrounding the subject and was a defense against the totalitarian nature of this resymbolization. Burroughs himself admits in a letter written to Kerouac shortly after beginning to use the cut-up and fold-in techniques that “writing now causes me an almost unendurable pain.”[4] In Naked Lunch the movie, the theme of the materiality of language recurs through the encounters between the bug-typewriter and Bill Lee. Bill Lee creates an insect within, projects it onto his typewriter, and talks with it.  His creations have taken on lives of their own and are doing and saying things mostly against him.

  • (via silent-musings)In Nova Express, Burroughs’s 1964 text, The Invisible Man says, “These colourless sheets are what flesh is made from—Becomes flesh when it has colour and writing—That is Word and Image write the message that is you on colourless sheets determine all flesh.”[5] Burroughs had a strong sense of the materiality of language. When he has The Invisible Man say “becomes flesh when it has colour and writing” he is in a way referring to the Unconscious as the invisible man who is striving to become visible to himself and to others in and through language.

 Foucault’s interpretation of Bentham’s Panoptic mechanism becomes relevant here. In Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault presents the Panopticon as a metaphor of how power operates within modern western society. A revolutionary apparatus for its time (19th century), the Panopticon was more than just a model of prison for Foucault, it was a mechanism to keep an absent eye on the prisoner, to keep them under control at all times.

The Panopticon functions as a kind of laboratory of power. Thanks to its mechanisms of observation, it gains in efficiency and in the ability to penetrate into men’s behaviour; knowledge follows the advances of power, discovering new objects of knowledge over all the surfaces on which power is exercised.[6]

The formulation of the concept of the Panopticon involves not only seeing without being seen, but also a mechanism that imposes both their differences and their resemblances upon the subjects. So the subject’s difference from other subjects is itself externally constituted, but is also internal to the subject. The subject is the product of the mechanism in which the subject finds/loses itself, and participates in the setting of the trap. Some subjects are produced in such a way as to act on an illusory sense of consciousness, that they are in control of their lives and events surrounding them, that they are freely choosing their destiny, when in fact all the rules and possibilities of action are always already set. In a panoptic mechanism taking on passive and submissive roles brings wealth, love, health, and even happiness. In a panoptic mechanism everyone is a slave, but some are less so than the others. In a panoptic mechanism submissiveness brings power. The system is such that the subject, to feel secure, takes on a passive role. In return the subject is recognized as worthy of a higher step on the social ladder, which brings an illusionary sense of security. The efficiency of the panoptic mechanism depends on its ability to produce submissive/adaptive/rational subjects.

Panopticomania

Burroughs’s mind works exactly like a panoptic mechanism. And I think this has been one of the major concerns of Cronenberg throughout the shooting of the Naked Lunch. What we have in the movie is a man who has been caught up in a trap that he himself set. Bill Lee projects the construct of his psyche onto the external world and it is by doing this that he finds/loses himself in the trap, dismembered. The paranoid fantasy he constructs becomes so powerful that it engulfs him causing his detachment from the external world and leading to the eventual loss of the gap between fantasy and reality. It as this point that the Real slips through and tears him apart. He, in his mind, literally becomes a slashed monster, sees himself thus, as he is not, and becomes other than himself. His becoming-other, however, is in the wrong direction, or rather results in a confusion concerning the relationship between the subject and the object.

Burroughs believed that literature gives birth to action. He also saw writing itself as an action. At the end of the film we see Bill Lee at the border on his way back to Annexia from the Interzone. Two guards ask him what his occupation is. He says he is a writer. They want him to demonstrate. He takes out the gun from his pocket. Joan is at the back of the car. It’s time for their William Tell routine. Joan puts a glass on her head. Lee misses the glass and shoots Joan on the head. The guards are satisfied. The spectator witnesses this crime and remembers the person irrelevantly looking out of the window when they were slaughtering Kafka’s K. at the end of The Trial. Who was that person? Was it God? Was it a single man? Was it all of humanity?


[1] William Burroughs, Queer (New York: Penguin, 1985)

[2] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (London: Athlone, 1990), 187

[3] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 188

[4] William Burroughs, Letters (New York: Penguin, 1994), 286

[5] William Burroughs, Nova Express, (London: Panther, 1982), 30

[6] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977), 204

The Evil Spirit and The Spiritual Automaton

It is a recurrent theme in science-fiction-thriller movies that in time humanity turns into the slave of its own creation, namely of machines. It is precisely because of this fear of being replaced that humanity attempts to get out of time, out of the physical, and eventually falls on the side of what it was attempting to escape from; be that which they fall in the direction of metaphysics or pure-physics, in both cases their thought itself becomes machinic.

The Panopticon may even provide an apparatus for supervising its own mechanisms. In this central tower, the director may spy on all the employees that he has under his orders: nurses, doctors, foremen, teachers, warders […] and it will even be possible to observe the director himself. An inspector arriving unexpectedly at the center of the Panopticon will be able to judge at a glance, without anything concealed from him, how the entire establishment is functioning. And, in any case, enclosed as he is in the middle of this architectural mechanism, is not the director’s own fate entirely bound up with it?[1]

Panopticon, then, is a mechanism that disperses power as it produces submissive subjects. The transparency of the building makes it a model for the exercise of power by society as a whole. The subject becomes one with the mechanism surrounding it and so becomes the effect and the functionary at the same time. In short, the subject starts operating like and feeling itself as a machine. The body is not replaced by a machine but starts to work like the machine it is connected to. This is the contamination of the subject by the object.

Slavoj Zizek points out Deleuze’s emphasis on the passage from metaphor and towards metamorphosis in terms of the difference between “machines replacing humans” and the “becoming-machine” of a man.

The problem is not how to reduce mind to neuronal “material” processes (to replace the language of mind by the language of brain processes, to translate the first one into the second one) but, rather, to grasp how mind can emerge only by being embedded in the network of social relations and material supplements. In other words, the true problem is not “How, if at all, could machines imitate the human mind?” but “How does the very identity of human mind rely on external mechanical supplements? How does it incorporate machines?”[2]

In Cronenberg’s films we see the theme of machines replacing humans in the process of being replaced by the theme of humans connected to machines, or machines as extensions of humans providing them with another realm beyond and yet still within the material world; the psychic and the material horizontally situated next to each other. In eXistenZ, for instance, we have seen how the game-pod is plugged into the subject’s spine through a bio-port and becomes an extension of the body. In Naked Lunch the typewriter becomes Lee’s extension. In Burroughs’s the obsession was still with the machine taking over the body. In Cronenberg’s adaptation of Burroughs the obsession is with body and machine acting upon one another. What Burroughs experienced with his body but was unable to express becomes possible to express with the film. As we know from his writings on his routines Burroughs himself was becoming-machine internally, he was incorporating the dualistic and mechanical vision of the world surrounding him, but he thought his body was being attacked by external forces and the space he occupied was being invaded by forces that belonged to an altogether different realm, an external world. In Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch we see Bill Lee becoming a spiritual automaton to keep the Evil Spirit within at bay. The paradox is that the Evil Spirit is itself his own construction which in turn constructs him as a spiritual automaton constructing an external Evil Spirit.


In what follows I will attempt to show that Cronenberg’s films are caught in a vicious cycle, that they are self-deconstructive, and that if one thinks too much about them they not only turn back on themselves but also collapse in on themselves. This is because they are shut up in themselves in a highly solipsistic fashion and are the victims of the way they attack what they consider to be dangerous for humanity. In short I will try to show how Cronenberg’s films deconstruct themselves and invalidate their own stance before what they criticize, and this turns them into suicidal rituals before which the spectator is expected to recoil in horror.

One example of what I have said concerning the self-deconstruction inherent in Cronenberg’s films is in the middle of Naked Lunch where Tom Frost, also a writer, who appears to be Joan’s husband in Interzone, tells Bill Lee that he has been killing his wife everyday for years.

Author William Burroughs, an ex-dope addict, relaxing on a shabby bed in what is known as a Beat Hotel. Paris, 1959. Photograph: Life/ Loomis Dean.

Tom: There are no accidents. For example, I have been killing my own wife slowly, over a period of years.

Lee: What?

Tom: Well, not intentionally, of course. On the level of conscious intention, it’s insane, monstrous.

Lee: But you do consciously know it. You just said it. We’re discussing it.

Tom: Not consciously. This is all happening telephatically. Non-consciously.[close-up of Tom’s mouth, his lips moving in disharmony with what he is actually saying] If you look carefully at my lips, you’ll realize that I’m actually saying something else. I’m not actually telling you about the several ways I’m gradually murdering Joan. About the housekeeper Fadela whom I’ve hired to make Joan deathly ill by witchcraft. About the medicines and drugs I’ve given her. About the nibbling away at her self-esteem and sanity that I’ve managed, without being at all obvious about it. [the movement of his lips become harmonious with what he is saying] Whereas Joanie finds that she simply cannot be as obsessively precise as she wants to be unless she writes everything in longhand.

We have to keep in mind before engaging in analysis that all this is happening in Lee’s mind, that Interzone is a construct of his psyche, that he is actually in New York, that he is hallucinating all this Interzone business, and that the year is 1953. What we have here is the loss of the boundary between the conscious and the unconscious mind. However, this is not a real loss of the boundary because we, the spectators, are informed beforehand that all this is happening in Lee’s mind. There is only the inside of Lee’s mind, and if there is anything lost it is the reality of the external world. Lee only hears the echoes of his projections. The murder of Joan has had such an impact on Lee that he is hearing nothing that the other says and he is replacing this nothing with his own scenarios concerning what’s actually going on outside.

What does the disintegration between Tom’s words and actions signify? It signifies the double-bind situation in which Cronenberg’s films are caught. In other words he is unconsciously communicating that which he thinks he is not saying. He is unconsciously doing what he thinks he is arguing against; that creativity brings with it destruction, that progress and regress are complementary. In Naked Lunch writing is identified with killing one’s wife. To keep the actual killing of the wife at bay, Lee writes not to rationalize the murder but to irrationalize not-killing one’s wife, and we know this from the fact that Tom Frost’s words are only projections of Lee’s psyche.

This scene also explicates Cronenberg’s attitude towards the recurring theme of a psyche-soma split in his films. But more importantly, since Naked Lunch is mainly concerned with the activity of writing and what happens to someone who is in the process of creating something, this scene deals with the relationship between body and language. Here I will leave aside the exhausted subject of a mind-body split who cannot make a distinction between appearance and reality and move towards the more recent theme of the relationship between bodies and languages, with the hope of opening up a field across which one passes and in the process of this passage becomes the embodiment of a new possibility of signification, another sign, neither within nor without the old mode of signification. For this a third dualism is required, and that third dualism, being that of language and Event, has already been worked through by Deleuze.     William Burroughs at his writing machine, New York, fall 1953. One of numerous, rarely seen photographs taken by Allen Ginsberg that feature in a special Gallery section of Naked Lunch@50, here Ginsberg’s Kodak Retina records a crucial moment for Burroughs, as he worked on the manuscripts of “Queer” and “Yage” before heading off towards Tangier and the writing of Naked Lunch… (Courtesy of the Allen Ginsberg Trust and Stanford University Library.)


[1] Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 204

[2] Slavoj Zizek, Organs Without Bodies (New York and London: Routledge, 2004), 16

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