Thursday, September 29, 2011

inscapes, escapes

The camera in 40 qm Deutschland, Tevfik Baser`s 1986 drama about a Turkish woman who accompanies her arranged husband to Germany, is at once the eyes and seeing mind of this nameless woman (Ozay Fecht). Somewhat in the genre of Charlotte Perkin`s Gilman`s ``The Yellow Wallpaper`` or Ingeborg Bachmann`s Malina, the film depicts the destructive interiority of the domestic space. The fascism of everyday relationships, a phrase which Bachmann uses to characterize the aggression of postwar relations, derives from the very palpable sense of confinement that is the condition of domestic labor. Georgio Agamben once told me that he had visited Bachmann`s apartment in Rome, and that it was like a little Vienna, a sequestered nostalgic shadow of a city within another. The model of this interior space is also Baser`s, and also that of Raul Ruiz, who depicts the sort of enclave-like existence of Chilean immigrants in Paris in 1974. In an interview with Ruiz from 2008 that is included in the 2010 restoration of the film, Percey Matas (Ruiz`s cameraman) first takes us through Ruiz`s family apartment (occupied by his mother until her death six months before the filming) in Santiago, Chile, which he describes as ``frozen in time,`` the lingering over kitschy nautical decor and knick-knacks, cut crystal goblets and fine serving dishes in glass cabinets. Like Ruiz`s film, Baser`s moves out of its interior on only several occasions, although the experience of confinement is not literalized. Baser follows the protagonist, this young wife, around the apartment, traces her sitting silently, looking out the window, catches her brief exchange of gestures with a little girl at a window across the way, and moves within her mind, in flashbacks, to her life in Turkey, and then slowly, reveals her unraveling mind, as dreams intrude on waking life, and hallucinations overwhelm. She is pregnant by this point; sex also a joyless, aggressive act, her feelings about the pregnancy evince this haunting aggression. She chops off the hair of a kitsch-like doll, the once she had used to communicate with the girl across the way, and the doll sits prominently on top of a dresser, the locks fallen around a little statuette of a mother and baby. Her husband`s joy over her pregnancy is as disturbing as the blankness with which he regards her and the state of imprisonment in which he keeps her. Her morbid fantasies about his death finally become real; his naked body lays between her and the outside, in front of the door. After sitting for some time in the apartment with his dead body, the last scene shows her pulling his legs to move away from the door. On the winding staircase down, she knocks on several doors, pleading in Turkish with old German people who look at her without understanding, before reaching large double doors to the outside, blinding light. In the end, the film figures escape as a radical expression--perhaps an inevitability--of heightened interiority, and it figures the sense of this inevitability as the condition of imprisonment.

picture: Ozay Fecht in 40qm Deutschland

Thursday, September 15, 2011


In his quirky little essay, ``Discussion of War Aims, `` D.W. Winnicott regards the problem of opposing morality in times of war (in which friend and enemy lines are drawn with a thick black Sharpie market) as a matter of complacency. Complicity, which is often regarded as a condition of guilt, is here only a kind of psychic fact, something like a condition for existing in such times:

At the present time we [Englanders] are in the apparently fortunate position of having an enemy who says, ‘I am bad; I intend to be bad’, which enables us to feel, ‘We are good’. If our behavior can be said to be good, it is by no means clear that we can thereby slip out of our responsibility for the German attitude and the German utilization of Hitler’s peculiar qualities. In fact, there would be actual and immediate danger in such complacency, since the enemy’s declaration is honest just where ours is dishonest. (211-212)
Complicity is the very movement of identifying and dis-identifying that comes to define the status of individual ambivalence in relation to group or collective identification. In most writing about guilt in the context not only of Holocaust studies but also, and potentially more problematically, in the context of contemporary Human Rights discourse and problems of ethics, complicity, however, remains the defining paradigm for thinking about the relationship between guilt and responsibility. Adorno`s statement on Auschwitz is often interpreted as one that identifies the inevitable complicity of art (and poetry), as for example Nouri Gana`s (nonetheless beautiful and compelling) essays on post-elegaic, post-Nabka, post-catastrophic film and poetry. Still others have attempted to shift the discussion away from such issues of guilt by turning to the theoretical notion of shame. For these individuals, including Ruth Leys and Timothy Bewes, shame is preferable because it provides a way of talking about conditions of vulnerability as ontological states, in contrast to the ethics that guilt seems to proscribe.

It is however, particularly difficult to want to talk about Adorno without talking about guilt, since the notion of guilt is so central to his conceptualization of both the artwork and individual experience after Auschwitz. Guilt--the ``guilt of the artwork,`` the ``encompassing context of guilt [umfassende Schuldzusammenhang], the ``guilt of society``--is pervasive. Winnicott`s
idea that complacency figures into guilt highlights something which is also there is Adorno`s writings on the society of the artwork in postwar culture. One does not, in fact, have to look far. In his revision of his (by now tired) Auschwitz statement, Adorno noted that he was speaking about culture particularly (this is evident when one reads ``Cultural Criticism and Society``) , but about the ``resurrected [auferstanden]`` culture of postwar Europe ( Metaphysics: Concept and Problems 112).

The idea complacency [Wohlbehagen] is also resonant with Freud`s discussion of the sense of guilt, which he suggests is ultimately the same as (or maybe a ``close up`` of) the discontents [Unbehagen] of civilization [Kult

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


It is the terms of employment--short-term contract work, virtual freelancing, obsession turned investigation--more than the type of the work (although this is also enviable) that makes Cayce Pollard`s position in William Gibson`s Pattern Recognition so appealing. She is hired for her aesthetic sense, which is attuned to the yet-to-be cool (itself, an outdated term, Cayce thinks). Like binary computing or the primacy of plus/minus, Cayce`s output is a yes or a no, but it is a gutteral, instinctual yes/no; she needs only an instant, a quick glance, to receive the impression. There is then the idea, so carefully preserved, that aesthetics--this resonance between sensory impression and expression, this self-moving enterprise--itself exists. Cayce`s skill (which even if believable is nonetheless somewhat superhuman) at knowing these things is impervious to external threats, which come mainly in the form of paranoia and of being exposed to phobic logos. Although Lauren Berlant calls it affect--and arguably, it is--it is nonetheless not the affective aspect of Gibson`s novel which invites its readers to take on the terms of Cayce`s world as their own but the leap that is required and continually performed in order to establish aesthetic certainty.