Thursday, February 26, 2009

Shut the Other's Gaze Down

This is my response to Louis Proyect's review of the Academy Award Winning "Slumdog Millionaire":

I didn’t watch the movie and probably I will not as its “realism” seems too much for my tastes. Concerning realism, the movie’s realistic representation of the Mumbai slums, I think we shouldn’t confuse “Dickensian” plain realism with magical realism of, for instance, Garcia Marquez, whose works would offer a better comparison to “Slumdog Millionaire”.

A couple of years ago, in his reality news show, a prominent Turkish journalist disclosed a despicable scandal involving the roofing-tile factories of the developed Marmara region which employ the forced labor of Kurdish children hired out from their patents residing in the eastern countryside of the country. This was the most distressing TV show I had ever watched, the living conditions of those slave-children was the perfect modern day resuscitation of the stories quoted by Marx in Capital. But, surprisingly for the readers here who expect me to state that this scandal has changed a lot of things, through the courage and the fidelity of the journalist to the reality of Western Turkey’s industrial development, Kurdish children have now freed from slave labor, I can only admit with grief: Nothing has changed, the reality failed, or more properly, fantasy about the inevitable spontaneity of poverty and destiny prevailed over the reality. This is the dead end of “Dickensian” plain realism. Marx’s Capital would be consisting of only one chapter, the chapter called “Machinery and Modern Industry” if he was a realist preoccupied with appearances.

If we go through magical realism the distinction is striking, as Marquez once pointed out, its central concern is to abolish the border line between reality and fantasy. The defense function of fantasy that enables us to avoid the traumatic scene is here introduced as the determinant which structures the very traumatic content of reality. Fantasy prevails again but in a reversed extreme form by totally subjecting reality to its authority. The central question of the neurotic fantasy, “what the Other wants from me?” turns into the inverted question of perversion as “how can I satisfy the Other?” as for Lacan, “…intersubjective relation is lost its place to sustain the perverse fantasy of serving the Other’s jouissance”. Doesn’t the protagonist of “Slumdog Millionaire” satisfy the Other in his own peculiar way by transforming his coincidental knowledge piled up in his experience of poverty and desolation into an instrument to escape from the Mumbai slums? Is not the reality of the global capitalism’s objective violence which is particularly materialized in the slums of Mumbai presented as immersed in the perverse fantasy of the protagonist?

I certainly agree with Louis that it is proper to a documentary to reflect the dialectical complexity of the conditions of slums, the involvement of IMF’s destructive monetary policies, etc. and my objection is not to “Dickensian” realism or to genuine fantastic artwork, such as Woody Allen’s brilliant movie Sleeper (which I watched recently), they both reflect the dominant ideologies of the world which they originated respectively from Victorian England and the USA of the Cold War period as “the lived experience of individuals”. But the question is, as Alain Badiou puts it, how not to be a formalist-Romantic, contrary to the dominant current of contemporary art i.e. the mixture of modernism’s infinite desire of new forms and obsession of finitude, body, suffering and death, the reactionary combination which aspires not to reflect the reality of the ideology in the form of subjective experience but aims to reproduce the ideology itself. In “Slumdog Millionaire”, as I understand from the reviews, this artistic tendency reveals itself as the reproduction of the gaze of Western capitalist democracy proud of its tolerance and formal freedoms and thus posits itself as the ultimate alternative of the authoritarian corruption of Eastern capitalism.