|Looking for a political voice, somewhere near Paris at dawn in November 2005 Picture from La Banlieue en replay|
|December, 2007 Arrests and isolated use of taser ensued after New Orleans City Council unanimously approved the New Orleans Housing Authority (NOHA) request would allowed the federal government to demolish 4,500 units in the city’s four largest public housing projects.Source Leeves Not War|
A step further from this zero-level of violence is found in Paul Schrader’s and Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver, in the final outburst of Travis (Robert de Niro) against the pimps who control the young girl he wants to save (Jodie Foster). Crucial is the implicit suicidal dimension of this passage à l’acte : when Travis prepares for his attack, he practices in front of the mirror the drawing of the gun ; in what is the best-known scene of the film, he addresses his own image in the mirror with the aggressive-condescending "You talkin’ to me ?". In a textbook illustration of Lacan’s notion of the "mirror stage," aggressivity is here clearly aimed at oneself, at one’s own mirror image. This suicidal dimension reemerges at the end of the slaughter scene when Travis, heavily wounded and leaning at the wall, mimics with the forefinger of his right hand a gun aimed at his blood-stained forehead and mockingly triggers it, as if saying "The true aim of my outburst was myself." The paradox of Travis is that he perceives HIMSELF as part of the degenerate dirt of the city life he wants to eradicate, so that, as Brecht put it apropos of revolutionary violence in his The Measure Taken, he wants to be the last piece of dirt with whose removal the room will be clean. Far from signaling an imperial arrogance, such "irrational" outbursts of violence - one of the key topics of American culture and ideology - rather stand for an implicit admission of impotence : their very violence, display of destructive power, is to be conceived as the mode of appearance of its very opposite - if anything, they are exemplary cases of the impotent passage à l’acte. As such, these outbursts enable us to discern the hidden obverse of the much-praised American individualism and self-reliance : the secret awareness that we are all helplessly thrown around by forces out of our control.
There is a wonderful early short story by Patricia Highsmith, "Button," about a middle-class New Yorker who lives with a mongoloid 9-years old son who babbles meaningless sounds all the time and smiles, while saliva is running out of his open mouth ; one late evening, unable to endure the situation, he decides to take a walk on the lone Manhattan streets where he stumbles upon a destitute homeless beggar who pleadingly extends his hand towards him ; in an act of inexplicable fury, the hero beats the beggar to death and tears off from his jacket a button. Afterwards, he returns home a changed man, enduring his family nightmare without any traumas, capable of even a kind smile towards his mongoloid son ; he keeps this button all the time in the pocket of his trousers - a remainder that, once at least, he did strike back against his miserable destiny. Highsmith is at her best when even such a violent outburst fails, as in what is arguably her single greatest achievement, Those Who Walk Away : in it, she took crime fiction, the most "narrative" genre of them all, and imbued it with the inertia of the real, the lack of resolution, the dragging-on of the "empty time," which characterize the stupid factuality of life. In Rome, Ed Coleman tries to murder Ray Garrett, a failed painter and gallery-owner in his late 20s, his son-in-law whom he blames for the recent suicide of his only child, Peggy, Ray’s wife. Rather than flee, Ray follows Ed to Venice, where Ed is wintering with Inez, his girlfriend. What follows is Highsmith’s paradigmatic agony of the symbiotic relationship of two men who are inextricably linked to each other in their very hatred. Ray himself is haunted by a sense of guilt for his wife’s death, so he exposes himself to Ed’s violent intentions. Echoing his death wish, he accepts a lift from Ed in a motor-boat ; in the middle of the lagoon, Ed pushes Ray overboard. Ray pretends he is actually dead and assumes a false name and another identity, thus experiencing both exhilarating freedom and overwhelming emptiness. He roams like a living dead through the cold streets of wintry Venice when... We have here a crime novel with no murder, just failed attempts at it : there is no clear resolution at the novel’s end - except, perhaps, the resigned acceptance of both Ray and Ed that they are condemned to haunt each other to the end.
ClintEastwood’s Mystic River stands out here because of the unique twist it gives to such violent passages à l’acte. When they were kids growing up together in a rough section of Boston, Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn), Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins) and Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon) spent their days playing stickball on the street. Nothing much out of the ordinary ever happened, until a moment’s decision drastically altered the course of each of their lives forever. This primordial, »founding,« act of violence that sets in motion the cycle is the kidnapping and serial raping of the adolescent Dave, accomplished by the local policeman on behalf of a priest - two persons standing for the two key state apparatuses, police and church, the repressive one and the ideological one, "the Army and the Church" mentioned by Freud in his Crowd Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. Today, twenty-five years later, the three find themselves thrust back together by another tragic event : the murder of Jimmy’s 19-year-old daughter. Now a cop, Sean is assigned to the case, while, in the wake of the sudden and terrible loss of his child, Jimmy’s mind becomes consumed with revenge. Caught up in the maelstrom is Dave, now a lost and broken man fighting to keep his demons at bay. As the investigation creeps closer to home, Dave’s wife Celeste becomes consumed by suspicion and fear, and finally tells about it to Jimmy. As the frustrated acting out, twice a murder occurs : Dave kills a man engaged in homosexual activity with a boy in a car ; Jimmy kills Dave, convinced that he murdered his daughter. Immediately afterwards, Jimmy is informed by Sean that the police found the true killer - he killed a wrong man, his close friend. The movie ends with a weird scene of family redemption : Jimmy’s wife, Annabeth, draws her family tight together in order to weather the storm. In a long pathetic speech, she restores Jimmy’s self-confidence by praising him as the strong and reliable head of the family, always ready to do the necessary tough things to protect the family haven. Although this symbolic reconciliation, this Aufhebung of the catastrophe of killing the wrong man, superficially succeeds (the last scene of the film shows Penn’s family watching the Irish parade, restored as a "normal" family), it is arguably the strongest indictment of the redemptive power of family ties : the lesson of the film is not that "family ties heal all wounds," that family is a safe haven enabling us to survive the most horrendous traumas, but, quite the opposite, that family is a monstrous ideological machine making us blind for the most horrendous crimes we commit. Far from bringing any catharsis, the ending is thus an absolute anti-catharsis, leaving us, spectators, with the bitter taste that nothing was really resolved, that we are witnessing an obscene travesty of the ethical core of family. (The only similar scene that comes to mind is the finale of John Ford’s Fort Apache, in which John Wayne praises to the gathered journalists the noble heroism of Henry Fonda, a cruel general who died in a meaningless attack on the Indians.) And, perhaps, this is all we can do today, in our dark era : to render visible the failure of all attempts at redemption, the obscene travesty of every gesture of reconciling us with the violence we are forced to commit. Perhaps, Job is the proper hero today : the one who refuses to find any deeper meaning in the suffering he encounters.
- English abstracts of almost all articles published in paper version of Multitudes
- Roots of the Riots Linn Washington Jr. in counterpunch from the independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run, reader-supported online alternative newspaper Thiscantbehappening
- Demonizing the Victims of Katrina.Coverage painted hurricane survivors as looters, snipers and rapists Jaime Omar Yassin in FAIR Extra! November/December 2005