Category Archives: movies

Anthropoetics’ Spring issue 15:2 now available! http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/ap1502/index.htm

The latest issue of Anthropoetics, Spring 15:2, is now available at http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/ap1502/index.htm .The table of contents is listed below.

Table of Contents
Anthropoetics XV:II

Jean-Loup AmselleTo Count or Not to Count: The Debate on Ethnic and Diversity Statistics in France Today

Peter GoldmanThe Meaning of Meaning in Kafka’s The Castle

Kyle KarthauserPopular Culture after Postmodernism: Family Guy, Borat, The Office, and the Awkwardness of Being Earnest

Adam Katz From Habit to Maxim: Eccentric Models of Reality and Presence in the Writing of Gertrude Stein

Marina LudwigsThree Gaps of Representation / Three Meanings of Transcendence

Andrew McKennaArt and Incarnation: Oscillating Views

Emma Peacocke“A novel word in my vocabulary”: Laughter and the Evolution of the Byronic Model into Don Juan

Simon WatsonReview Essay: Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion and Atheist Fundamentalism

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No enemies on the Left

Although not all academics are radical leftists, all radical leftists are academics, in the sense that they are accepted, and often feted, by the academy. I have long been struck by the extreme political views of many of the most successful academicians, views that, far from acting as a handicap, are a factor in their success. Nothing attracts university faculty as much as being allowed to participate vicariously in an unsparing denunciation of everything their lives really depend on; only then can they enjoy their SUVs in peace.

I was reminded of this the other day when I watched a partial reconstruction of a lost film by Eisenstein entitled Bezhin Meadow, “very loosely” based on a Turgenev story. The film’s plot is far indeed from Turgenev’s characteristic pre-revolutionary father-son conflict. The father, who incidentally has beaten his wife to death, is designated explicitly as a kulak. With a few other reactionaries he attempts to stop collectivization by burning grain and the kolkhoz gasoline supply. He and his friends are imprisoned, but only their evil can supply an appropriate conclusion to the film, so they escape and commit other crimes including martyring the heroic son, whereupon (the shots are a bit obscure) the good guys crush them under Soviet tractors. Meanwhile, these good people have made a “clubhouse” out of the local church. This is no mere act of secularization. The only thing we see them do there is desecrate its religious symbols; one burly peasant plays Samson in bringing down an altar. Resentment and violence against the church; resentment and violence against the “kulaks”–the new Soviet utopia is defined entirely by hatred. Yet shots abound of smiling youngsters, and the blond hero of the film, who could have stepped right out of a Hitlerjugend recruitment poster, displays some of the most sickening grins in cinema history.

Now for the jacket blurb:

BEZHIN MEADOW would have been Eisenstein’s most beautiful and lyrical film — had it been permitted to see the light of day. In one of cinema’s great tragedies, Eisenstein’s film was banned by Stalinist officials in 1937 and copies of the film were subsequently destroyed in a fire caused by German bombing in World War II. Only individual still images and film frames survived from the original footage. These, along with Eisenstein’s script and production records, guided Soviet researchers who painstakingly produced this 30-minute reconstruction of Eisenstein’s original conception.
Based very loosely on a pastoral tale by Turgenev, BEZHIN MEADOW is set in a Russian village during the Soviet collectivization programs of the 1930s. Eisenstein chose to dramatize that conflicted process by centering his story on a peasant boy who supports the collective and who dies at the hands of his counterrevolutionary father. This tale of martyrdom inspired the most lyrical work of Eisenstein’s entire career. The haunting still images which comprise this reconstruction are meticulously reproduced in this edition and do full justice to Eisenstein’s renowned visual style.

Since Khrushchev’s revelations back in 1956, good leftists no longer number Stalin among their heroes. Thus instead of condemning Eisenstein for this tasteless apology for mass slaughter, our commentator makes him a martyr to “Stalinist officials” who banned the film. My guess is that Stalin did it because even he couldn’t take that grinning kid.

Needless to say, a similar Nazi film, with the “kulaks” replaced by Jews (Jew Süss is a work of sublime delicacy next to Bezhin Meadow), would not have come in for similar praise. Leni Riefenstahl, whose films celebrate Hitler but not Nazi violence, was tainted; Eisenstein, whose films are dominated by images of resentful violence, is a “lyrical” genius hampered by Stalinist persecution.

What accounts for this? Why do campuses invite Noam Chomsky but not David Duke or even Pat Buchanan? It is a bit too easy to point to the difference between an ideology that is “essentially” exclusionary (“Germany for the Aryans/Germans”) and one that excludes others only “contingently” (“The kulaks cannot be permitted to thwart the will of the Soviet people”). What this difference really shows is how little all the righteous indignation against Nazism corresponds to any true moral awakening. This moral posturing is the foundation of the victimary world-view that we call “postmodernism”; we need to condemn the Nazis in order to inoculate ourselves against the Western sin of firstness. What really determines the status of our political pariahs is the resentment of the Others in the rest of the world. Now that the Middle East has revived Nazi antisemitism, the latter is becoming once again respectable, but it is still a long way from acquiring the continued viability of communist slogans and icons. Che Guevara posters are found all over the world; I doubt if there is much of a market for Himmlers. The crimes of the Left are no less vicious than those of the Right, but we cannot condemn them without arousing what we fear most, the resentment of the Others at home and abroad.

Postmodernism is a commemoration of Auschwitz for the wrong reasons, a cult of victims that ignores who they were and why they were killed. That is why it so enjoys squeezing tears out of the Holocaust but finds crushing “kulaks” under the treads of tractors “beautiful” and “lyrical.”

Real moral progress is very slow, and it may very well be that it does not occur at all. Systems of exchange improve, but those who inhabit them are never more than a catastrophe away from Hobbes’ state of nature. We rely ever more on the system and ever less on ourselves to defer the violence of our resentment. Let’s hope we never have to find out what would happen if the system failed us.

-eric gans

Postmodernity as White Guilt: Michael Haneke’s Caché (first impressions)

Michael Haneke’s Caché is one of the more interesting recent French films, even more interesting if you also watch the 20-minute interview with the German filmmaker. If I had more time I’d write a Chronicle on this subject.

Media intellectual Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil) finds a series of mysterious VCR tapes of his house and personal activities along with semi-childish drawings of a man with blood on his throat. (The metaphor of life as a video was a striking if easily missed feature of Haneke’s first and nastiest film, Funny Games, in which a couple of satanic young men torture and kill a family for their own amusement; at one point, the woman grabs a gun and points it at the evildoers, whereupon the film “rewinds” and rectifies the situation to the liking of its subject-author). The trail of the videos leads to Majid, an Algerian man whose farmworker parents had been killed in the bloody suppression of an FLN demonstration in Paris in 1961; Auteuil’s own parents, their employers, intended to adopt the young orphan, but Georges (if I understood the film correctly) cut the head off a chicken and blamed it on Majid, who was sent to an orphanage. Georges visits the now grown Algerian in his HLM and accuses him of sending the harassing tapes, of which the latter claims to be totally unaware. But the next tape shows Majid weeping with frustration after Georges’ departure. We meet Majid’s son, who also denies knowledge of the tapes. Finally Majid urgently invites Georges back to his apartment and on his arrival, after swearing he had no knowledge of the tapes, cuts his own throat in front of Georges and dies. Georges steadfastly refuses to feel guilty about any of this; even if he framed the Arab boy, he was a mere six years old at the time and should not be held responsible for the other’s unhappiness.

After the suicide, Majid’s son comes to see Georges in his office and insists on speaking with him, but we learn that his only purpose was to discover how Georges was bearing his guilt–which he continues to deny. The final scene takes place in near-darkness; Georges finally levels with his wife (played by Juliette Binoche, who with dark hair looks oddly like Catherine Zeta-Jones), then takes a couple of sleeping pills and retires to his room, shutting out all the light. This leads him to dream of the day at the family farm when Majid was taken off to the orphanage; we then cut to a long take of students exiting a lycee, in which Haneke pointed out that both Georges’ bratty son and Majid’s son were in conversation, although I could not identify them on my TV screen.

We never learn who sent the tapes. Haneke suggested it might have been one or both of the sons. But clearly that is not compatible with the content of the film; the only possible explanation is that the filmmaker “sent” them; they are a projection of Georges’ guilt. And indeed, Haneke made clear at the outset of the interview that his film was about bearing and denying guilt. In the rest of the interview, he insistently suggested that it was up to the spectator to figure out what was going on; in the final scene, were the two boys conspiring? was the Beur leading the other astray? Was Binoche having an affair with her friend Pierre? It’s all so postmodern.

Yet there is one thing that is not “multicultural” or “undecidable” or “aleatory,” that is not in the film to teach us the “Nietzschean” lesson that truth is whatever we want it to be: white guilt. We don’t know where the tapes are coming from, or even why Majid commits suicide, but we know that Georges is guilty. The Algerian context is projected on the present in a news program that refers to the Iraq war; but even forgetting this overt political analogy, Georges is guilty toward the Arab world, as presumably we all are toward some group of Others. As a German, Haneke has impeccable guilt credentials of his own; the pot that calls the kettle black is well aware of its own blackness. The German filmmaker acts as the Frenchman’s conscience. “We” are all guilty, but “we” is not everyone; guilt is not original sin, but sociopolitical domination, what I have called firstness in other contexts. The son’s utter contempt for his parents, which is very nearly par for the course in the French films I have seen recently, is a visceral moral revulsion. The hope for Europe, if there is any, is that its native sons will repudiate their guilty parents and join forces with the sons of immigrants–not exactly what happened recently in France over the CPE proposal. But purgation is a secondary matter; it’s the guilt that counts. Whence the unexpected absence of violence inflicted on Georges; even Najib’s son, a strapping fellow who could probably whip Auteuil with one hand, suggests that Georges could beat him up because he is the stronger–echoing a similar remark from his father. No burning cars here.

The intimate connection between postmodernity’s denial of “truth” and its fundamental post-Holocaust affirmation of guilt has rarely been made more explicit. As in a novel by Robbe-Grillet, we don’t know if it’s on tape or real or dreamt, but the fact that it is “there” at all is a reminder of an unambiguous event–the killing of 200 Arabs on October 17, 1961 that gives proof of Our guilt, like the bomb in Hiroshima mon amour. This sounds unhappy, and Haneke acknowleged that this is a “sad” film. But it’s really not so terrible. Georges, the allegorical representative of old Europe, winds up in a dark room, peacefully sleeping while the world goes on. When he finally wakes up, there will probably be a lot more Nabils than Georges coming out of that lycee, and they will be unlikely to express their resentment by weeping. Georges might do better to take a few more pills and not wake up at all.

-eric gans