Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Imaginary Berlin Wall

The text below is my response to a post appeared in Louis Proyect's The Unrepentant Marxist:
Hello Louis,

Although I haven’t written you in a while, I am keeping the track of the updates of your blog. Your reference to the “post-modernist sensibility” gave me a pause to question one of the distinctive patterns of postmodern narrative: the unfulfilling culmination with an ambiguous escape from the fiction. It is the inevitable finale of a fiction suffering from the Tristram Shandy Syndrome.

Here we are introduced with an East German ghost is desperately dreaming that she has survived from her unavoidable destiny and eventually merged herself with modern West German post-industrial society. The Freudian innovation in interpretation of dreams fundamentally centered on the rupture from the previous theory in which the dream was treated simply as the imaginary showcase of the arbitrary remainders of the daily reality, however, in Freudian sense, the dream is not the imaginary illustration of our reality but it essentially displays how we relate ourselves with the reality. At this juncture Louis Althusser integrates ideology with the Freudian conception of the dream:

“Now I can return to a thesis which I have already advanced: it is not their real conditions of existence, their real world, that 'men' 'represent to themselves' in ideology, but above all it is their relation to those conditions of existence which is represented to them there. It is this relation which is at the centre of every ideological, i.e. imaginary, representation of the real world. It is this relation that contains the 'cause' which has to explain the imaginary distortion of the ideological representation of the real world. Or rather, to leave aside the language of causality it is necessary to advance the thesis that it is the imaginary nature of this relation which underlies all the imaginary distortion that we can observe (if we do not live in its truth) in all ideology.”

The central allegation of postmodern narrative is the decisive disavowal of the modern conception that reality is represented in fiction albeit in a ciphered form. Since everything is a part of the complete signifying system, there is no possibility of reality outside of the language. Just like one of Auster’s ordinary hackneyed characters, Quinn from "City of Glass" summarizes the postmodern cliché of metafiction, i.e. the primary and probably the only remarkable narrative trick of his author: the postmodern author is not interested in how his stories related with the world, but how they are relate with other stories. The postmodern distortion here resides in its initial identification that the signifying system is the ultimate determination of the representation of reality. But language, in its imaginary aspect, naturally excludes the real and demonstrates no more than how we relate ourselves with our real conditions. The same goes for literature. Even though it is a waste of time to investigate a shred of Turkish reality through the lyric verses of an ordinary petite bourgeoisie Turkish poet who in general used to extensively chant about the skies, birds, flora, bugs and insects and love, (which is the sum total of all these arbitrary images plucked from the purity of rural life… and which is contrary to the Socialist Realists of 70’s who employ love as the complementary drive-object of revolution) this imaginary arrangement of items apparently unconnected with the prevailing and pervasive indignity of the urban working class perfectly represents how the rumbles and grumbles of the stomach of our modern artists are related with the reality.

Although no more than little of my concerns still remains, for me the keystone for critic of art is to crack code of its representation that how the imaginary and the real is related. With regard to Christian Petzold’s movie that you reviewed, sticking to my standard procedure to evaluate the meaning in the artistic creation, it is required to invert and fix his depiction what his movie is about:

“…Someone who has come from a ghost town like this and who wants to enter into life, but carries around the ghostly with them, that is what Yella is all about.”

Based on your quite short synopsis, Yella is not about what Mr. Petzold ostensibly disclosed. There is a stunning irony in the act of confession or disclosing a concealed meaning: In effect, which is more bluntly revealed is the presence of a disturbing connection between the subject and the truth which is supposedly disclosed. It is not the infection of the ghostly melancholy of East German countrymen that is haunting the German financial capital personified as Philip, the rapacious private investor. But it is the German neo-liberalism (Here I used term the Real like Lacan and Badiou employed: something outside of the borders of the mighty signifying system persistently pressures the symbolic order to take precautions to interrupt its eruption with a traumatic Event which would disintegrate the coordinates of the system.. More explicitly, it’s a reminiscent of the neurotic vibration inside my left ear) which summons the East-German ghost to exorcise its evil spirit, a vibration of reality that patiently lies to wait to explode out with an unexpected Event. I think this is also the reason of your recent discontent on how contemporary fiction ends without a fulfilling culmination. Whereas the narrative is all about to suppress the reality, it is compulsory to prohibit any Event only which has the supremacy to represent the Real.

Anyway, the concealed meaning in Yella connotes that an ordinary German needs to resurrect the soul of GDR to persuade him/herself that the Berlin Wall still remains, everything is in order, signifying system still functions, words like democracy, freedom, equality, egalitarian justice, communism, totalitarianism, etc still signifies the same fixed meaning as before 1989. Even in the sexual attraction, the aluminum phallus of the private investment could be desirable with the spurring of the obsessive-compulsive East German hick fettering the social unification quest of her ex-wife. This might be elementary lesson of this story.

My critical concern here is not the problem with the emblematic construction of the postmodern fiction. I can’t give a meaningful shit about a nonsensical fart (I only care about music). Like Badiou, my concern is the birth of a new subject which rises above the wreck of previous symbolic order. Unlike Badiou, I think Subject is not the completed creation of the Event. There the new subject exists only in a potential form, in-itself. It was our desire for social unity that prompted us to tear down the Berlin Wall, freedom and democracy were its objects… Eventually we secured a valuable trophy from the ruins just to realize that the bourgeois democracy and freedom have tiny, only descriptive connection. This is the crucial point whether the birth certificate of a new subject would be stamped. The potentiality of new subject surfaces at the moment when one gets what one wants with a little malformation. Like in Terry Gilliam’s movie Brazil, the main protagonist Sam Lowry unexpectedly encounters the woman of his dreams without the little detail of long curly blonde hair and eventually we see at the end of the movie that this time he dreams about Jill as she is. This is the excellent expression of true love. It is not true for the reason that from now on Sam Lowry loves Jill as the real Jill, as who she is. It is impossible anyway. But his encounter with a woman utterly dismantled the mechanism of his desire towards women: There is no need for a supplementary long blonde wig and dreams of heroism in which Lowry crosses swords with his own superego to save the dreamgirl, etc. Contrary, at the end of the movie, in Lowry’s final dream, we see that Jill the Real saves him from the torturers. This is the valid final scene of the movie for me. The actual last scene is an insult to this reality.

A new subject emerges at the decisive point that Badiou names as the “Fidelity to the Event”. Here we have extra options: We can get rid of the tomboyish shorthaired Jill or we can expel the generic “communist hypothesis” that once propelled us to demolish the walls, which would again enables us to circle around the little object of bourgeois democracy, formal freedoms of the market, more modest contentions of identity politics, etc. The science of necromancy to resurrect the deceased East German subject is for the most part represents the guilty conscience of German intellectuals that urges them to re-erect an imaginary Berlin Wall.

In an interview about his 2005 movie Gespenster (Ghosts), Christian Petzold, the director of Yella, yet again apparently discloses the recurring ghost theme in his movies:

“One has the feeling that there is something ‘ghostlike’ about all the characters in your film.…

It’s an interesting effect ... When a film starts with two girls coming home from school, throwing their schoolbags in the corner and going off for ice cream, then they have an immediate social definition. But the girls played by Sabine Timoteo and Julia Hammer are different; they don’t have homes or a place to define them; no social definition. They are, as I explained to them, in a sort of bubble. They want to go to a casting call because they want to be seen. They want to have an identity, and they can’t identify with doing an apprenticeship or anything like that ... This ‘living in a bubble’, the effort of trying to establish contact with so-called ‘life’, that’s what this film is about. And the effect is that the other characters who come into contact with the girls suddenly don’t seem to have terrific, normal lives either – suddenly it’s not only the two girls who are unable to be part of normal life. The girls reveal the rest of the world as also being a bubble; they take it apart. You get the feeling that wherever they are, just a metre beside them ... it’s not normality, but rather the beginning of the next ‘ghost (twilight) zone’. I don’t know whether that will be the effect film will have, but considering what I’ve seen so far, I think we’re on the right track.”

Apparently, Mr. Petzold is still on the right track and this is what I called as the Tristram Shandy Syndrome at beginning. Laurence Sterne’s colossal, never-ending novel is ultimate logical form that exemplifies the ideal postmodern narrative is composed of the permanent postponement of any event that has the power to castrate the story from the infinity of metafiction. Here we have two girls or Yella or whatever, but there must always be an imaginary Berlin Wall that they eventually bump their heads to just to bounce back and run against another. The perfect postmodern narrative might be achieved by an adult movie that in front of a screen which displays their former appearances, porn stars debate forever about the myth of simultaneous orgasm.


Renegade Eye said...

In modern cinema, the first expression for judging it, is the joy factor. After that it can be analyzed for relevance.

This post is over my head.

Marnie said...

Good post.