Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Unresolved anger: the movie

Slavoj Žižek's documentary The Pervert's Guide to the Cinema currently running on More4, has been instructive and fun, particularly as I'm not drawn to the cinema or psychoanalysis. I don't watch many films (and have not read any of Žižek's books). I hate being led by the hand into a story with twists and turns. Let's just go on, I plead silently. No twists and turns! I'm fed up with so many twists and turns. Just sit here with me and look. But no, always a fucking story.

Many of the films Žižek discusses I have yet to endure, probably for this reason. But it helped me appreciate why such cult movies - Blue Velvet, The Matrix etc (er, both of which I have seen!) - are so publically beloved by those around me. I used to assume it was their camp nature; enabling consumers to pose as innocent and knowing at the same time. It seems that I was right.

I remember an ex-colleague saying he did Media Studies at university so that he could read comics for three years. He got to write about how they reflect society, as if he was remotely interested in this or its implications for art. It's just another paradoxical pose (this time of laziness and engagement) designed to allow the abdication of any responsibility for its implications. It also enabled him to demand that comics be "taken seriously", as if reflecting society was art's sole purpose (and as if comics are art).

It's a curious thing that most of those who, like the above ex-colleague, devour popular culture, are also pathologically obsessed with "life". They are desperate to "live". They talk about it all the time. Live for the moment, Live life to the full they intone without ever questioning what this might mean; as if it's already been decided. They follow a round of "hedonism" in contrast to the numbing drudge of work: drinking, smoking and snorting to excess as often as possible in order to have a life that, paradoxically, they can only speak about later in some vague narrative of clichéd events assumed to be that fabled "life". Only it's the narrative that is all-important here. It's why they are also quite happy to spend hours and hours watching DVDs of cult movies and then discuss them for hours and hours. What they call "life" is an imitation; the play of a child (false innocence and false knowing again).

Žižek began his series by asserting that there is nothing spontaneous or natural about human desire, and that cinema tells us how to desire. It is the "ultimate pervert art". Well perversion is a minor form of solipsism, so that would explain the attraction. The vicious circularity of solipsism is well described here by Ian Penman in his pitch-perfect imagining of Julie Burchill's likely response to such an analysis.

Žižek's "fundamental question" at the beginning of the second part came after we see Keanu Reeves emerging from his pod in the Matrix. "Why can't we just enjoy life directly? Why do we need this virtual supplement of fantasies?" His answer is that our enjoyment needs an illusion to sustain itself. Hence our greedy consumption that seems so necessary yet also seems only to be on the road to enjoyment; on the road to life.

My fundamental question following this would be: what would it mean for art to be aware of this need; this contradiction? How would it manifest in the art itself? The answer, I would suggest, is the art we should seek (if not also desire).


Please email me at steve dot mitchelmore at gmail dot com.

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