Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Stand Against Totalitarianism!!

It seems that another dark moment has risen in Sri Lankan politics where we have to stand up and fight for democracy once more. The dissolution of the parliament is an anti-democratic and totalitarian move towards the destruction of universal democratic practices which were positively introduced to the Sri Lankan constitution during good governance after 2015. Now Maithripala Sirisena has turned the whole democratic and good governance process upside down by appointing Mahinda Rajapaksha. We all got together to form this government and it is our right to fight for the rights of people. In the same of good governance, we should not give away our rights to the former demon! What we need is togetherness and fight for democracy.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Return of the Real: The Local Government Results 2018


















Why did Mahinda Rajapaksa Win? 
Reflections on the 2018 Local Government Results

Preview: 
One shall ask the fundamental question after the appalling decline of the Yahapālana Government in the 2018 Local government election; ‘why did Mahinda Rajapaksa win?’ It is true that the voters were angry about the negligence of this government and anxious about their own future. They were confused about the financial transparency that came up with the bond issue.  Does that anger justify ‘the hysterical madness’ that they display towards the very foundation of our existence?  
‘Behind all the sound and fury, beyond the endless series of set ups and punch lines, there is nothing’ (Slavoj Zizek).

The Mysterious Turn towards Totalizing Authority: 
The much delayed local government election held in 2018 February shows that SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) dominates in the Southern part of Sri Lanka among Sinhala-Buddhist voters. It had acquired nearly 45 percent of the total valid votes while UNP got only 32 percent. This sweeping victory can easily be attributed to the Sinhala nationalistic sentiments that it generally represents but this 'mysterious turn' shows something more. On the one hand, it represents a common anger and disappointment among the Sinhalese majority in the south. When President Maithripala Sirisena and this coalition government were elected around 2005, the voters hoped for many things; democracy, financial transparency, economic stability, freedom of speech and devolution of power. The Ranil-Maithri union could not actualize any of these 'progressive' expectations, (they are 'progressive' in a broader sense of universalism). The youths wanted to change the restricted nature of the previous Rajapaksa government which, with the help of China, was heading towards a new form of totalitarianism. It openly stood for a Chinese model of 'democracy' i.e. achieving economic prosperity at the cost of universal values.  Hence the Rajapaksa family (and the then SLFP) popularized its 'image' ('spectacle' is the word used by Guy Debord) to propagate 'the lie as the truth' (non-democracy to signify democracy). That image (even today) is used to 'mean' ( to signify) his family as the saviors of the Sinhala nation (saving it from its imaginary enemy) and it should be mentioned here that no political discourse in Sri Lanka could 'deconstruct' it. Since such deconstructive capacity needed a thorough theoretical integrity which the present political parties did not possess, general critics could never predict what was going to happen. What Mahinda Rajapaksa shows us is an image of an un-signifiable 'father-figure' who cannot be de-constructed through general democratic (political) discourse. Political theory has to go through a stage of 'surplus theory' to understand the function of a primordial father figure in a disappointed third world nation. Hence, as Shiraal Lakthilaka believes, the SLPP victory in 2018 was not at all a contingent one but an easily predictable possibility (of a never-dying impossibility of a primordial spectacle). This point is open for argument. 

For They Know Not What They Do: 
When the global political trend was ignited by the European Financial downfall, Brexit, the Donald Trump phenomenon was also heading towards some form of fantasmatic despotism. It seems that postcolonial nations such as Sri Lanka are also fearlessly taking the same footpath. Trump represents the failure of western capitalism as well as the failure of modern universalism. In Sri Lanka, after the 2015 victory, both the UNP and the SLFP were 'too comfortable' with the prevalent symbolic space and never thought that the fantasmatic father can contingently return to its symbolic space. They accused each other for everything that went wrong and no party wanted to take the responsibility of their own actions. The JVP and TNA were playing the usual waiting game to grab power at the easiest junction. Actually, the TNA wanted a radical power-devolution mechanism but it could never voice it properly since they were also under the mysterious shade of liberal politics in the south (TNA is the most damaged political party by 2018). In the meantime, the nationalistic movement was sublimating the returning of the Rajapaksa father-figure image (against all evils) and covered up the true failure of liberal democracy. Here 'the Return of the Real' is derived from Freud's 'return of the repressed' to connote that the Real unexpectedly comes back to the Symbolic space to traumatize our present (comfortable and negligent) existence. Both UNP and SLFP 'disavowed' the factual situation that their political space was fast deteriorating among the ordinary public and its cost can be very high during the next few years. It is very important to understand today that politics in the present post-global world is not only organized around 'welfare', fertilizer, free education, free of corruption but 'jouissance', the unknown (This is why JVP never wins). The crowd who rallies around Wimal Weerawansa or Mahinda Rajapaksa does not know 'what they want' (che vuoi?) but they do so 'for they know not what they want'. The meaning of their speeches never becomes a serious issue for them. The real success of SLPP is that it 'promises' (one should note the interesting fact that no election promises are given by Mahinda Rajapaksa) 'the impossible', what the mass cannot demand (does not know what to demand). It seems the Mahinda Rajapaksa phenomenon is the perhaps the most profound psychoanalytical development that sprung up in post-independent Sri Lanka.

The Rise of Jouissance: 
People also seem to believe that a father-figure such as Mahinda could break of deadlock (of impossibility or the failure) of Liberal politics and elevate the country to a higher state. The Capitalist paradise of consumerism has become the ulterior utopia of our time. He seems to carry the strength of 'protecting the insecure subject' of capitalism, the ultimate consumer who wants to consume more and more without any objective interference (especially women), steals the unconscious of the consuming subject. In this case, one can also argue why did not the same consumer vote for Ranil who stands for limitless liberalism. The answer is that he cannot promise 'the short-circuit for jouissance', the pervert nationalistic bar that prevents the very same jouissance from the subject. Ranil is not a master of generating the illusion of consumerism - the promise of paradise and the very prohibition of desire (the apple). When Ranil is easily subject to deconstruction Mahinda is not. This is where one can find 'the pervert symptomatic link' between totalitarianism and ideology. Mahinda never questions the self-certainty and the hysteria of his subjective voters (crowd) but uses the same hysteria to establish himself as a master who asks 'why am I what you are saying that I am?' (බලන්න හැමෝම ඇවිල්ල ඉල්ලන්නේ මාව. ඉතින් මට බැහැනේ නිකම් ඉන්න. Why does everyone want me even when I do not want myself?). In this case, rational liberal politics fail to answer this mysterious question and this is the highest form of Stalinist de-politicization of the modern political space. When the modern space fails to 'understand' the rise of totalitarianism, it brings in the very destruction to the modern politics itself. Such a father can never resolve the true antagonisms (division of power, poverty, social inequality, etc.) of a society but can postpone them endlessly so that the subject may never feel the need to resolve them. People die without knowing what their true problems are. Their choices are forever barred by the totalitarian ruler and what is offered to them is always a 'forced choice'. 

The Working Class (petit bourgeoisie) Gone Awry:
In this context, the Left (especially the old camp) cannot mobilize a revolutionary agent who can competitively hegemonize his position against the totalizing power of a family. Even the so called working class unite under the family umbrella of Mahinda Rajapaksa abandoning its universal signifier. Since Mahinda 'represents' (like Donald Trump) the agony of the working class and its grievances, political signs become extremely complicated and indistinguishable. This is why the rise of totalitarianism is always a postmodern development where universal subjectivity (that inspires revolutions) is replaced by a historically transformed empty-signifier (Sinhala-Buddhist-Southern-Dutugamunu-Maharaja-a blood relative to Lord Buddha etc.) which can never bring about true emancipation. He is popular among the majority and excessively demanding nothing but absolute authority which he needs to ‘cure’ the hurt ego of the postcolonial subject. At the same time, he promises to heal the traumatic wounds of capitalism while promoting the domination of capitalism itself. The final horizon of the Sri Lankans is determined by a paradoxical marriage between nationalism and capitalism. This is the space that Mahinda successfully exploits. Yes, he has come back. He has come back to show us how fragile the postcolonial liberalist framework is.  

This time result has for the first time shattered the very foundation of the Yahapālana Government. It hardly has any legitimacy to continue its rule for another two years. However, there is another contingent point that we must never forget. Despite the above theoretical paradoxes, will Mahinda and his party try to ‘change’ the fate of Sri Lanka? Will he embrace universalism and change the derogatory image that he already possesses?  We'll wait and see whether he learns from his historical mistakes and deliver better for the future of this country. 


Friday, February 2, 2018

'Silence' is the strongest communication of God

The film Silence (2016) by Martin Scorsese reminds us of the popular Heideggerian statement that God is no longer looking at us and, therefore, man is fully free in this organic world. The freedom from that celestial gaze, the condition that no superior authority is looking at us, can be the ultimate freedom that man can think of. In other words, there is no master who supervises our actions and man is free from the bondage of gaze. If God is forever silent, as Christ proved in the cross, then it is up to the man to decide what he must do in this organic reality within the absence of His voice. When Christ painfully uttered "Father why did you forsake me?" in his last moment, he exemplified that there is nobody divine who is willing to intervene to this organic darkness that man encounters. Here, Christ proved that man is fully responsible for his action - the ultimate freedom of all - is his own freewill.  According to his own conscience, man has to decide what is right and wrong and act accordingly. The film Silence gives us an opportunity to rethink of that freewill and freedom of choice that has been granted to us by the highest sacrifice of a man - the pain of Christ.

After years of struggle and arguing with his own conscience, when there is dead silence from God, Father Ferreira decides to 'obey' the brutal Japanese Buddhist order to 'step on' (fumi-e) the portrait of Jesus to save his followers. He takes that decision in the absence of God's mediation. It seems that God speaks in silence and man must be profound enough to listen to that silence and understand what has to be done in a disaster.   

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Remains of Buddha Found? 2,500-Year-Old Cremated Bones with Revealing Inscription Unearthed in China

In what could be an enormously significant finding for Buddhists around the world, archaeologists in China have unearthed an ancient ceramic box containing cremated human remains, which carries an inscription saying they belong to Buddha, also known as Siddhārtha Gautama.
Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha or “Enlightened One,” is probably one of the most influential individuals to come out of India through the founding of Buddhism.  He is believed to have lived and taught mostly in the eastern part of ancient India sometime between the 6 th and 4 thcenturies BC.  According to the Mahaparinibbana Sutta of the Pali canon, at the age of 80, the Buddha announced that he would soon reach Parinirvana, or the final deathless state, and abandon his earthly body.
After his death, Buddha's cremation relics are said to have been divided amongst 8 royal families and his disciples. Legends say that, centuries later, they were enshrined by King Ashoka into 84,000 stupas.  Many of the remains were supposedly taken to other countries. 
According to Live Science, archaeologists identified cremated human remains inside the ancient ceramic box, and while it is impossible to say with certainty whether they are indeed the remains of Siddhārtha Gautama, the 1,000-year-old inscription certainly suggests this is the case.
The discovery was first made back in December 2012 while a group of villagers were repairing roads. After years of archaeological excavations at the site, the historically significant finding was reported in Chinese in 2016. Now, the discovery has reached the English-speaking world for the first time in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

Courtesy of Ancient Origin

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Blue (2001): Film Review


Film: Blue (2001)

Director: Hiroshi Ando
Language: Japanese
Genre: LGBT, Romance

Sex can be mischievous but the truth is always slow...


Historically, we live in profound uncertainties. Fragile politics and structural inabilities overshadow our existence. Corruption is the only dynamic that matters to individualism today. Since everyone wants to be rich, selfishness is a universal ethic that no one contests. Ideals of the previous century are no longer valid or applicable. Sexual orientations are diverse and the differences are over-emphasized undermining the mega social projects that defined the humanity in the previous era. In this egocentric cold water, everything is dissolved as liquid content giving birth to a new form of existentialism. In that context, profit is the only currency that buys everything and everything is determined by it. If 'the essence' of existentialism in the 20th century is 'nothingness', the 21st century existentialism is made of 'obscenity' because, unlike in the previous century, it opens up a huge market place. One's petit desires can be converted to a big market space and can be profitably sold to another group of pervert consumers. This is where social media comes in as a virtual prop to propagate, distribute and profit from the previously hidden obscene content of individuals. If one can negate the propagation of such highly individualistic fantasies and concentrate on depicting the complex existential crisis of individuals, such art phenomenon is doomed to fail in the global market. But a true radical act would also be based on the denial of the same thing that the market is made of.   


The film 'Blue' (2001) directed by Hiroshi Ando has apparently received negative comments from many critics around the world. It can be understood that the reason for such negative reception may rest on its lack of popular elements, use of extensive conversation and the slow character development employed by the director. No need to mention that the director does not follow the hegemonic stereotypes cheaply available in Hollywood. Instead, he adapts his own poetic way of expressing the cinematic idea about a very appealing and a passionate relationship between two Japanese high school girls. Even the Japanese commentators do not seem to understand the deep existential meaning behind this movie, inspired by popular Japanese writers such as Yasunari Kawabata or Kazuo Ishiguro. Based on the thematic significance, it can be considered as a progressive and an aesthetic movie when it is contextualized in relation to the depicted lesbian romance within the contours of the global LGBT movement. Ando bravely talks about the complex existential struggle a lesbian lover faces in the contemporary Japanese society without deeply disturbing the existing values that glue the societal harmony.  He leaves it to social critics to decide whether the existing norms and values should alter under new global cultural conditions. 


The film evolves around two school girls who struggle with their own life-world crisis during the adolescence. Loneliness, love, passion and encountering otherness are some of the appealing themes of the movie. They don't worry about the outside world or its never ending political rhetoric, Tsunami warnings, environmental crisis or regional conflicts. By using each other as mirrors they travel an internal journey towards their own existence in order to discover its conditions, limitations and possibilities. Endo has already crossed so many boarders to find out her love, or rather to find out who deserves her love. When Kirishma loves her, she open-heartedly accepts it without hurting her. When that married man wants her love she forgets everything else and goes to comfort him, give him much needed love and to heal his wounds. She has gone to an extent that she got an abortion during her school days. She goes with the flow and, may be. no one can permanently possess her including Kirishima. She is also not fully detached from them either. She is there but she is not there. She is like an angel who passes by everyone like a cloud which appears in the end of the film. Comparatively, this has been a common metaphor used by Kawabata. In his 'Little Izu Dancer' (even Morning Clouds), the young man from Tokyo never fully encounters the little dancer. He could not get the return for his love for her. But he comes to know through her words that 'he is a nice man' in contrast to his own misanthropic feeling in Tokyo. He has to come to the country to heal his wounds caused by the city. He never meets the Izu dancer but meets himself through her. That is the gift that she returns for his love. Self-awareness. Not the physical encounter. The reason why the European readers are shocked by Japanese masterpieces is that characters like Izu Dancer maintains a mysterious- incomprehensible  distance from the other. The young Tokyo boy could not immediately understand this distance but with self-awareness he is able to. Silence consumes time but awareness also comes with time. Hence, the silence becomes an eye-opener. The un-meeting becomes the true meeting of their lives.


Some critics point out that this is a ‘painstaking slow’ movie and sometimes slower that the slowest movie in Japanese. In a psychoanalytical sense, what does this slowness explain to us? If there is an uncommon slowness in making choices, it comes with an existential condition that leaves characters responsible for their decision. Endo leaves Kirishima and goes to Tokyo leaving her alone for the entire summer. On one hand, she creates a ‘de-territorialized space’ for Kirishima by changing her geo-spatial location and giving Kirishima an enough time to think and rethink about their relationship and its meaning. On the other hand, by leaving her alone, she generates an absence, a metaphorical psychoanalytical vacancy for the replacement of her erotic drive for a higher course. In this way, when the libidinal drive is changed into a more creative spirit, the slowness has a profound meaning.  Such process consumes a lot of time but, in the end, humanity can reach certain creative height that it has never imagined before. As far as In the Realm of Senses, The Last Tango in Paris, Basic Instinct or most of the erotic experiments by Lars Von Trier are concerned, at least in their European sense, the erotic libido insatiably ends up in a death drive never reaching a higher human goal.  It is because other than the sexual drive as the first choice they do not know anything about the second choice that can make a true difference. Kirishima’s first choice was an erotic one. Here what Endo does is very similar to a role of an analyst. First, she agrees with her first choice but then she gives her the space to make a second choice, if there is any. It is in this ‘de-territorialized vacancy’ that Endo created in Kirishima’s life gives her the opportunity to reach enlightenment – the withdrawal as well as the cogito space – the maturity. Therefore, the truth is always slow. 


According to psychoanalysis, there are two types of decisions; conscious and unconscious. Kirishima’s first decision was an unconscious one. She was a lonely, silent and an introvert girl who wanted a companion. She chose Endo because Endo was of a special kind.  But her second decision to love painting was a fully conscious one which comes in as a replacement of first unconscious one. The unconscious is often transgressive and does not care for the symbolic law. Kirishima’s love for Endo was meant to go beyond the symbolic structure, and this was very similar to Endo’s relationship with the married man and her unfortunate abortion. But the conscious choice that she makes afterwards remains fully within the symbolic order. What happens when she becomes conscious is her fantasy disappears. So, an analyst must always go to the level of the unconscious (the Real) to convince the patient that his or her unconscious truth is symptomatic. An analyst must deal with the unconscious abstraction to traverse the patient’s fantasy – his or her passionate attachment to the fantasized scene of objectification. When Kirishima objectifies Endo’s physical love, Endo becomes Kirishima’s master signifier (for example, remember how Kirishima begs for Endo’s love in the beach). When the patient takes a decision based on the master’s discourse, such decision never becomes a free choice because the subject is already caught in the discourse of the master. But once the fantasy element is eliminated when she chooses to improve her painting skills, then she becomes liberated from the master and her choice is an objective one. The unconscious decision is always subjective but conscious one is the ground for subjective freedom. 

When Kirishima understands that Endo loves this strange married man more than her, she takes a decision to keep a distance from her. That distance gives her the cognitive space to rethink what has been happening between them. She becomes introvert and starts reviewing the whole episode, contemplating and defining her own existence. He overhears some important information about Endo. She realized that Endo's first place is always vacant even if that married man leaves her. That vacant first place slot will be filled by another but Kirishima will always be the 'second', filling the second slot. With her complete love for Endo, Kirishima always wants to be the first but that never seems realistic since Endo has already given her first place to someone. It will always be the first place that will be replaced by another first one by not be Kirishima. Their separation was metaphorically similar to what Kawabata portrays in his stories, weeping, crying and then healing the wounds. Kirishima and Endo cry and then reach the stage of self-realization. A marriage is not possible and they have to choose their own paths in life. Kirishima will continue to study painting and Endo will be an uncertain subject for the rest of her life, at least till she discovers who she is and what she wants to become of. Then they separate but with a true meeting of their inner souls. That will be the most important lesson for a higher school girl who goes in search of the meaning of life through sexuality. Sex will always be mischievous but, if you are intelligent enough, even a higher meaning can be derived through its mischief.  


However, the meeting between Kirishima and Endo was quite different from the ordinary Hollywood stereotype where one meets the other and passionately goes for a physical relationship. The filmmaker never makes an emphasis on the physical aspect of their relationship. Therefore one can say that Kirishima never meets Endo. The real meeting takes place when their encounter brings in some enlightenment and self-awareness. Endo brings in metaphorical meanings To Kirishima's s silent character which rescues her from her everyday existence and monotony. Through Endo's painting books she discovers a true meaning to her existence though they did not make Endo's life meaningful. Now she knows what she has to do to become a useful individual. Kirishima becomes a painter but Endo remains a floating cloud. She will be a cloud sheltering many other people from hash sunshine. The books and the cassettes she has are never meaningful in her existence. But one can come into her life and walk away unharmed. If the visitor is intelligent enough, can actually walk away with a meaningful baggage. That is the beauty of these two unique characters. They are two, and will remain two. Never met but deeply understood. 



Mahesh Hapugoda

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The CIA Reads French Theory: On the Intellectual Labor of Dismantling the Cultural Left


It is often presumed that intellectuals have little or no political power. Perched in a privileged ivory tower, disconnected from the real world, embroiled in meaningless academic debates over specialized minutia, or floating in the abstruse clouds of high-minded theory, intellectuals are frequently portrayed as not only cut off from political reality but as incapable of having any meaningful impact on it. The Central Intelligence Agency thinks otherwise.

As a matter of fact, the agency responsible for coups d’état, targeted assassinations and the clandestine manipulation of foreign governments not only believes in the power of theory, but it dedicated significant resources to having a group of secret agents pore over what some consider to be the most recondite and intricate theory ever produced. For in an intriguing research paper written in 1985, and recently released with minor redactions through the Freedom of Information Act, the CIA reveals that its operatives have been studying the complex, international trend-setting French theory affiliated with the names of Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan and Roland Barthes.

The image of American spies gathering in Parisian cafés to assiduously study and compare notes on the high priests of the French intelligentsia might shock those who presume this group of intellectuals to be luminaries whose otherworldly sophistication could never be caught in such a vulgar dragnet, or who assume them to be, on the contrary, charlatan peddlers of incomprehensible rhetoric with little or no impact on the real world. However, it should come as no surprise to those familiar with the CIA’s longstanding and ongoing investment in a global cultural war, including support for its most avant-garde forms, which has been well documented by researchers like Frances Stonor Saunders, Giles Scott-Smith, Hugh Wilford (and I have made my own contribution in Radical History & the Politics of Art).

Thomas W. Braden, the former supervisor of cultural activities at the CIA, explained the power of the Agency’s cultural assault in a frank insider’s account published in 1967: “I remember the enormous joy I got when the Boston Symphony Orchestra [which was supported by the CIA] won more acclaim for the U.S. in Paris than John Foster Dulles or Dwight D. Eisenhower could have bought with a hundred speeches.” This was by no means a small or liminal operation. In fact, as Wilford has aptly argued, the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), which was headquartered in Paris and later discovered to be a CIA front organization during the cultural Cold War, was among the most important patrons in world history, supporting an incredible range of artistic and intellectual activities. It had offices in 35 countries, published dozens of prestige magazines, was involved in the book industry, organized high-profile international conferences and art exhibits, coordinated performances and concerts, and contributed ample funding to various cultural awards and fellowships, as well as to front organizations like the Farfield Foundation.

The intelligence agency understands culture and theory to be crucial weapons in the overall arsenal it deploys to perpetuate US interests around the world. The recently released research paper from 1985, entitled “France: Defection of the Leftist Intellectuals,” examines—undoubtedly in order to manipulate—the French intelligentsia and its fundamental role in shaping the trends that generate political policy. Suggesting that there has been a relative ideological balance between the left and the right in the history of the French intellectual world, the report highlights the monopoly of the left in the immediate postwar era—to which, we know, the Agency was rabidly opposed—due to the Communists’ key role in resisting fascism and ultimately winning the war against it. Although the right had been massively discredited because of its direct contribution to the Nazi death camps, as well as its overall xenophobic, anti-egalitarian and fascist agenda (according to the CIA’s own description), the unnamed secret agents who drafted the study outline with palpable delight the return of the right since approximately the early 1970s.

More specifically, the undercover cultural warriors applaud what they see as a double movement that has contributed to the intelligentsia shifting its critical focus away from the US and toward the USSR. On the left, there was a gradual intellectual disaffection with Stalinism and Marxism, a progressive withdrawal of radical intellectuals from public debate, and a theoretical move away from socialism and the socialist party. Further to the right, the ideological opportunists referred to as the New Philosophers and the New Right intellectuals launched a high-profile media smear campaign against Marxism.

While other tentacles of the worldwide spy organization were involved in overthrowing democratically elected leaders, providing intelligence and funding to fascist dictators, and supporting right-wing death squads, the Parisian central intelligentsia squadron was collecting data on how the theoretical world’s drift to the right directly benefitted US foreign policy. The left-leaning intellectuals of the immediate postwar era had been openly critical of US imperialism. Jean-Paul Sartre’s media clout as an outspoken Marxist critic, and his notable role—as the founder of Libération—in blowing the cover of the CIA station officer in Paris and dozens of undercover operatives, was closely monitored by the Agency and considered a very serious problem.

In contrast, the anti-Soviet and anti-Marxist atmosphere of the emerging neoliberal era diverted public scrutiny and provided excellent cover for the CIA’s dirty wars by making it “very difficult for anyone to mobilize significant opposition among intellectual elites to US policies in Central America, for example.” Greg Grandin, one of the leading historians of Latin America, perfectly summarized this situation in The Last Colonial Massacre: “Aside from making visibly disastrous and deadly interventions in Guatemala in 1954, the Dominican Republic in 1965, Chile in 1973, and El Salvador and Nicaragua during the 1980s, the United States has lent quiet and steady financial, material, and moral support for murderous counterinsurgent terror states. […] But the enormity of Stalin’s crimes ensures that such sordid histories, no matter how compelling, thorough, or damning, do not disturb the foundation of a worldview committed to the exemplary role of the United States in defending what we now know as democracy.”

It is in this context that the masked mandarins commend and support the relentless critique that a new generation of anti-Marxist thinkers like Bernard-Henri Levy, André Glucksmann and Jean-François Revel unleashed on “the last clique of Communist savants” (composed, according to the anonymous agents, of Sartre, Barthes, Lacan and Louis Althusser). Given the leftwing leanings of these anti-Marxists in their youth, they provide the perfect model for constructing deceptive narratives that amalgamate purported personal political growth with the progressive march of time, as if both individual life and history were simply a matter of “growing up” and recognizing that profound egalitarian social transformation is a thing of the—personal and historical—past. This patronizing, omniscient defeatism not only serves to discredit new movements, particularly those driven by the youth, but it also mischaracterizes the relative successes of counter-revolutionary repression as the natural progress of history.

Even theoreticians who were not as opposed to Marxism as these intellectual reactionaries have made a significant contribution to an environment of disillusionment with transformative egalitarianism, detachment from social mobilization and “critical inquiry” devoid of radical politics. This is extremely important for understanding the CIA’s overall strategy in its broad and profound attempts to dismantle the cultural left in Europe and elsewhere. In recognizing it was unlikely that it could abolish it entirely, the world’s most powerful spy organization has sought to move leftist culture away from resolute anti-capitalist and transformative politics toward center-left reformist positions that are less overtly critical of US foreign and domestic policies. In fact, as Saunders has demonstrated in detail, the Agency went behind the back of the McCarthy-driven Congress in the postwar era in order to directly support and promote leftist projects that steered cultural producers and consumers away from the resolutely egalitarian left. In severing and discrediting the latter, it also aspired to fragment the left in general, leaving what remained of the center left with only minimal power and public support (as well as being potentially discredited due to its complicity with right-wing power politics, an issue that continues to plague contemporary institutionalized parties on the left).

It is in this light that we must understand the intelligence agency’s fondness for conversion narratives and its deep appreciation for “reformed Marxists,” a leitmotif that traverses the research paper on French theory. “Even more effective in undermining Marxism,” the moles write, “were those intellectuals who set out as true believers to apply Marxist theory in the social sciences but ended by rethinking and rejecting the entire tradition.” They cite in particular the profound contribution made by the Annales School of historiography and structuralism—particularly Claude Lévi-Strauss and Foucault—to the “critical demolition of Marxist influence in the social sciences.” Foucault, who is referred to as “France’s most profound and influential thinker,” is specifically applauded for his praise of the New Right intellectuals for reminding philosophers that “‘bloody’ consequences” have “flowed from the rationalist social theory of the 18th-century Enlightenment and the Revolutionary era.” Although it would be a mistake to collapse anyone’s politics or political effect into a single position or result, Foucault’s anti-revolutionary leftism and his perpetuation of the blackmail of the Gulag—i.e. the claim that expansive radical movements aiming at profound social and cultural transformation only resuscitate the most dangerous of traditions—are perfectly in line with the espionage agency’s overall strategies of psychological warfare.

The CIA’s reading of French theory should give us pause, then, to reconsider the radical chic veneer that has accompanied much of its Anglophone reception. According to a stagist conception of progressive history (which is usually blind to its implicit teleology), the work of figures like Foucault, Derrida and other cutting-edge French theorists is often intuitively affiliated with a form of profound and sophisticated critique that presumably far surpasses anything found in the socialist, Marxist or anarchist traditions. It is certainly true and merits emphasis that the Anglophone reception of French theory, as John McCumber has aptly pointed out, had important political implications as a pole of resistance to the false political neutrality, the safe technicalities of logic and language, or the direct ideological conformism operative in the McCarthy-supported traditions of Anglo-American philosophy. However, the theoretical practices of figures who turned their back on what Cornelius Castoriadis called the tradition of radical critique—meaning anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist resistance—surely contributed to the ideological drift away from transformative politics. According to the spy agency itself, post-Marxist French theory directly contributed to the CIA’s cultural program of coaxing the left toward the right, while discrediting anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism, thereby creating an intellectual environment in which their imperial projects could be pursued unhindered by serious critical scrutiny from the intelligentsia.

As we know from the research on the CIA’s program of psychological warfare, the organization has not only tracked and sought to coerce individuals, but it has always been keen on understanding and transforming institutions of cultural production and distribution. Indeed, its study on French theory points to the structural role universities, publishing houses and the media play in the formation and consolidation of a collective political ethos. In descriptions that, like the rest of the document, should invite us to think critically about the current academic situation in the Anglophone world and beyond, the authors of the report foreground the ways in which the precarization of academic labor contributes to the demolition of radical leftism. If strong leftists cannot secure the material means necessary to carry out our work, or if we are more or less subtly forced to conform in order to find employment, publish our writings or have an audience, then the structural conditions for a resolute leftist community are weakened. The vocationalization of higher education is another tool used for this end since it aims at transforming people into techno-scientific cogs in the capitalist apparatus rather than autonomous citizens with reliable tools for social critique. The theory mandarins of the CIA therefore praise the efforts on the part of the French government to “push students into business and technical courses.” They also point to the contributions made by major publishing houses like Grasset, the mass media and the vogue of American culture in pushing forward their post-socialist and anti-egalitarian platform.

What lessons might we draw from this report, particularly in the current political environment with its ongoing assault on the critical intelligentsia? First of all, it should be a cogent reminder that if some presume that intellectuals are powerless, and that our political orientations do not matter, the organization that has been one of the most potent power brokers in contemporary world politics does not agree. The Central Intelligence Agency, as its name ironically suggests, believes in the power of intelligence and theory, and we should take this very seriously. In falsely presuming that intellectual work has little or no traction in the “real world,” we not only misrepresent the practical implications of theoretical labor, but we also run the risk of dangerously turning a blind eye to the political projects for which we can easily become the unwitting cultural ambassadors. Although it is certainly the case that the French nation-state and cultural apparatus provide a much more significant public platform for intellectuals than is to be found in many other countries, the CIA’s preoccupation with mapping and manipulating theoretical and cultural production elsewhere should serve as a wake-up call to us all.

Second, the power brokers of the present have a vested interest in cultivating an intelligentsia whose critical acumen has been dulled or destroyed by fostering institutions founded on business and techno-science interests, equating left-wing politics with anti-scientificity, correlating science with a purported—but false—political neutrality, promoting media that saturate the airwaves with conformist prattle, sequestering strong leftists outside of major academic institutions and the media spotlight, and discrediting any call for radical egalitarian and ecological transformation. Ideally, they seek to nurture an intellectual culture that, if on the left, is neutralized, immobilized, listless and content with defeatist hand wringing, or with the passive criticism of the radically mobilized left. This is one of the reasons why we might want to consider intellectual opposition to radical leftism, which preponderates in the U.S. academy, as a dangerous political position: isn’t it directly complicit with the CIA’s imperialist agenda around the world?

Third, to counter this institutional assault on a culture of resolute leftism, it is imperative to resist the precarization and vocationalization of education. It is equally important to create public spheres of truly critical debate, providing a broader platform for those who recognize that another world is not only possible, but is necessary. We also need to band together in order to contribute to or further develop alternative media, different models of education, counter-institutions and radical collectives. It is vital to foster precisely what the covert cultural combatants want to destroy: a culture of radical leftism with a broad institutional framework of support, extensive public backing, prevalent media clout and expansive power of mobilization.

Finally, intellectuals of the world should unite in recognizing our power and seizing upon it in order to do everything that we can to develop systemic and radical critique that is as egalitarian and ecological as it is anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist. The positions that one defends in the classroom or publicly are important for setting the terms of debate and charting the field of political possibility. In direct opposition to the spy agency’s cultural strategy of fragment and polarize, by which it has sought to sever and isolate the anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist left, while opposing it to reformist positions, we should federate and mobilize by recognizing the importance of working together—across the entire left, as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor has recently reminded us—for the cultivation of a truly critical intelligentsia. Rather than proclaiming or bemoaning the powerlessness of intellectuals, we should harness the ability to speak truth to power by working together and mobilizing our capacity to collectively create the institutions necessary for a world of cultural leftism. For it is only in such a world, and in the echo chambers of critical intelligence that it produces, that the truths spoken might actually be heard, and thereby change the very structures of power.


Gabriel Rockhill is a philosopher, cultural critic and political theorist. He teaches at Villanova University and Graterford Prison, and he directs the Critical Theory Workshop at the Sorbonne. His recent books include Counter-History of the Present (2017), Interventions in Contemporary Thought (2016) and Radical History & the Politics of Art (2014). Follow on twitter: @GabrielRockhill. For more information: https://gabrielrockhill.com




Thursday, March 2, 2017

Samayan, Killing and Philosophy


According to Zizek, 'one always needs a poem to kill another man'. The poem gives you the courage to forget your in-humanness and to identify yourself with something horrible and forget about the horror of what you are doing. Facebook is a new entity for such poetry (philosophy) that helps someone to do horrible things. Killing is not possible without poetry because it eases you of your guilt.

samayan-interview

Zizek Interview

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Is Palitha Thewarapperuma Crazy?


As we all know Parliamentarian Palitha Thewarapperuma is a hyper-active politician. Popular media used to report his 'activities' on weekly basis. That means every week he creates 'something' that catches media attention. I think many people believe that Mr. Thewarapperuma is a crazy politician or a pervert personality who provides 'enjoyment' for others (and some compare him with Mervin de Silva). It is true that from parliament to the village politics he did not distinguish any difference in what he did. He fully engaged his body in what he believed in (whereas others keep a 'sane distance' with what they believe in).  Finally, when he launched a fasting to death campaign on behalf of some school children who could not enter Meegahakiula Primary School, he became seriously ill. Now he is under treatment in the intensive care at Nawaloka. The extreme result of his 'body politics' went to the level of committing suicide (end of his body); an act of self-annihilation. It seems that your bodily existence becomes meaningless when the ideals you live for are gone. This will be most simplistic way to understand Palitha's intervention in proletariat politics in the guise of bourgeois outlook. For instance, he recently came to Sabaragamuwa University for an opening but the students did not allow him to enter. Amazingly, my friends in Sabaragamuwa University say that his did handle the student unrest (when he came for an opening few weeks back) very successfully and even the academics had lot to learn from this so called 'emotional' politician. They say many politicians don't have the skill to manage a situation like that. Though students did not allow him to inaugural open the Cultural Center, they did not negatively react to him as they did to SB or Basil during the Rajapaksa regime. He got that tensed political situation totally under control for nearly three hours. He did not run away from that situation nor asked for any assistance from police or other government agencies. He promised the students that he will help them to sort out their issues. 'He was a brave politician with good management skills', some senior academic said. The so called radical students didn't allow this beautiful man to enter the university even to drink a cup of tea. But he was successful where others totally failed. 

By looking at his 'surplus activism' it is easy to brand him as a pervert politician. So, Akila Viraaj can bravely say that Palith needs psychiatric treatment. But within his hyper-activity and tensed intervention to particulars, what bitter political lessons does he teach us? He is simply crazy or we have made such an inhuman 'system' that drives a sensitive man like Palitha crazy? When politicians like Ranil, Maithripala, Ravi or Akila don't go mad since they keep a cynical distance with the crazy system, Palith become over-close (too close) to the system that relentlessly drives such close observer crazy! Those who maintain that distance become sane people (Sane Society) and rule the country! Thewarapperuma was 'crazy enough' to look at the system that closely. Is he crazy or are we?

He intervened into some of most crucial areas of our daily life; school entrance, food quality in lower class hotels, sanitary issues, state bureaucracy, road constructions or bribery. These are the aspects that both the bourgeois politicians and so called Marxists simply ignore. By materially encountering those realities Mr. Thewarapperuma shows the enigmatic bourgeois politics that such issues are the most important elements that need immediate attention for the sake of poor people in the country. These people don't know much about the common slogans such as 'good-governance' or private universities and the like. Thewarapperuma's fatal efforts once more prove how difficult it can be to bring in real change to the frozen and corrupt Third World Reality.

For his enigmatic bodily representation in proletariat politics, I love this guy and wish him quick recovery...(This is a very subjective statement). 


Update: (2016. 05. 07.) Now Palitha Thewarapperuma is under police custody. When he moved from hospital and was trying to release those mothers who participated in the fasting to death campaign with him and are now under police custody, Palitha has also been arrested in accusation of illegal public gathering and threatening a government officer. Is this similar to what Mervin did to that government officer during Rajapasksa regime? Like Akila this guy can also enjoy the privileges he has without being 'crazily' worried about children and all.  It is also true that Sri Lankan education is going nowhere whether it is primary, secondary or tertiary. But we have to struggle to change that reality as well. Things cannot go on the same way as they are. Now from police he will be asked to go to an asylum where he will be treated for his 'sickness'! of being too close to the reality that we all live in. It is those 'failed students' (whom Palith represents) who need more attention than those who got through the exam and are in the safe side. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Will Kate and William enter the mysterious melancholia of the Asiatic soul?


The popular media in UK ask why Kate and William follow the footsteps of Diana in revoking or retracing the traumatic memories of her bitter marriage.  I think Kate and William do not follow Diana's footsteps but by sitting in the same Diana bench in the front of Taj Mahal, a universal symbol of love, but they 'decorate' or 'celebrate' over the bitter memories of the past to truly forget her. As Zizek quotes, 'if you want to kill a person bury him, and if you want to forget that grow flowers over the tomb'.

I think Taj Mahal also resembles some mysterious Oriental love of a Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan; a monument of celebration to get rid of past memories. What I fear is (against Jan Moir of Daily Mirror) whether they will fall prey to the melancholic mystery and abyss of the  depressing Asian soul....

Pre-philosophical Asian universe can generate-
a. a fantasy that creates the object of desire (mysterious unknown phantasmic kernel) for the Western soul.

b.  an 'economy of enjoyment' (that is why Yannis Varufakis says "others do not America but America needs others") that sustains the Western Enlightenment inheritance or the European Reality by excluding the mythical despotic content that can 'return' like a ghost to the Post-Enlightened world.


Click the hyperlink for the Daily Mail article
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3544910/Why-fear-picture-proves-Kate-Diana-s-shadow-William-hoped-recreating-mother-s-Taj-Mahal-pose-finally-lay-ghost-rest-contrary-says-JAN-MOIR.html


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Donald Trump: It's not how great America is but how small its soul has been!

Fake front page by The Boston Globe)
                                     
                             'Education is the art of making man ethical' (Hegel)
As expected, America’s obscene underside is finally about to tap the front door of the White House. Donald Trump’s ascend to American politics, whether or not he is elected to be the President of the United States, is by no means a strange political phenomenon. Those who now see the demonic danger in his approach to American politics seem to have forgotten who actually ‘made’ him during the last ten years or so for what he is now. The very entertainment economy and negligent media did a 'tremendous job' to ‘elevate’ Donald Trump from a business tycoon to a popular politician through a very generous image-building process for what he so audaciously appears today (Read the article 'Donald Trump is American Journalism's Great Failure'). Within the current postmodern economy, enormous profits of his entertainment businesses kept increasing and, understandably, the electronic media fell before his feet though some of the mainstream channels despised him. As recent Panama Papers exemplified, nothing depends on so called mainstream media today. They all are busy with their demand-supply curves and do not care for the 'truth' anymore until truth enters in from the back door like a ghost. The 'expert' critics could properly estimate the risk that Trump's ‘cheap popular image’ could finally have a devastating effect on America’s elitism and its fluent Lincolnian rhetoric. Now that they realized Trump effectively uses, in his public addresses, some kind of grammar 'typical of children aged 11 and under' (read The Independent for the full story), he has come to the very threshold of world’s most powerful position. Within the context of 'age 11 grammar', now he uses the dark ethno-political metalanguage strategies adapted by German nationalism in the mid twentieth century.  What Trump injects to the American soul is the 'guilt' of the surplus enjoyment of consumerism that makes its subjects forget the Discourse of Universality. Within the ease of consumerism, Trump replaces the paternal superego with 'maternal short-circuit to enjoy' by externalizing the depressive and anxious enemy to a far away Islamic-Asian-Chinese-Latin American land. It is also a sort of resuscitation of the Enlightenment myth of some Oriental fantasy that lives in a maximum of distance to the European reality, which can at the same time be close if no 'protective measures' are taken.

This means that Trump's arrival is made of a deep psychoanalytical structure that runs at the very heart of the American unconscious. He screens the background for their exotic fantasy that haunts as a phantasmic 'specter'. A specter, as you know, can very easily cross the inside/outside, alien/familiar or away/close boundaries. By provoking American nationalism Trump easily gains daily popularity and media attention, while making the affairs for the opposition political movement extremely difficult, 'unpredictable' and 'unforeseeable' (for example, Bernie Sander's universality rhetoric did not gain momentum until recently). Symptomatically, Trump displays the unpredictability of a hysteric who obstinately demands acceptance from the bourgeois hierarchy and his weapons are nationalism and exclusion. The pages of modern history prove that confronting nationalism is perhaps the hardest ideological battle that universalism ever comes across. It is through Trump's body that the battered American soul responds to the ever-rising fundamentalism as a political reaction. He has borrowed the language of nationalism to combat those who fight against the American empire from the periphery. As Zizek points out, ‘suicide bombs and terrorist attacks are ‘momentary tastes’ imported for the rich nations from the Third World which experiences such catastrophes every minute of their daily existence. It is true that such reactions can traumatize American existence and threaten their enjoyment but it also creates the play-ground for postmodern politicians  such as Donald Trump. It's no astonishment that Trump unconditionally represents that entertainment oriented obscene underside of American decadence which essentially demands an enemy. Not that Trump is simply politically ‘illiterate’ but 'over-literate' in successfully generating a discourse of fear (Sri Lankan example would be Wimal Weerawansa). Americans will take another thirty years or more to understand how politically ‘illiterate’ their society had been to give the rise to the 'return of the repressed' in the name of Donald Trump (as Obama claims many politicians now use the language of hatred and exclusion but only Trump gets highlighted. In that sense, this trend represents generalized perversion) . 

At least some ten years ago Jurgen Habermas saw that, from within the American society, fundamentalism radically surfaces as a self-defense against the uncertainty and cultural upheaval triggered by capitalist modernization. He says, ‘what is more surprising is the political revitalization of religion at the heart of the United States, where dynamism of modernization unfolds most successfully’.  Modern secular tendencies have finally erupted into its opposite, the radicalized postmodern religion at both ends of the world.  Subsequently, the rational inheritance of the modern European civilization is challenged by irrational violence and Mr. Trump cunningly represents the irrational totalitarian potential that emerges within the liberal framework of modern American society.  The real patriarchal question is whether the liberal democracy can prevent him becoming the President of United State of America?  To quote Habermas, ‘religious tradition appear to continue with undiminished strength, washing away or at least leveling the thresholds hitherto assumed to pertain between ‘tradition and ‘modern’ societies’. Within his modern secular outfit, Mr. Trump places himself between above division, seeking the shelter in pre-modern values such as ‘religion exclusion’ and ‘Wall Theory’ to protect the so called modern life-world spoiled by consumerist fetishism. What Trump displays through his image is the very fetishist commoditization that all the Americans dream of. Now they have an exemplary figure who succeeded in materializing the very American Dream! They should not worry about the fact that their billion-dollar baby model is  not only politically 'illiterate' (cunningly 'hyper-literate' as Baudrillard says) but a specter that emerged from within their unconscious underside.

Trump provides the ‘surplus-enjoyment’ that Americans unconsciously need at this postmodern hour. It is the 'illusion' of an enemy that is structurally necessary for the truth to arise (Gabriel and Zizek 2009); the truth is the failure of capitalism. For this illusion to be real, now Trump has found out just not one enemy but multiple of them such as Islamic fundamentalism, Mexican drug dealers, Middle Eastern migrants, Chinese entrepreneurs and Asian labor force etc. (those who are ‘not’ Americans).  The ideology of ‘externalization of enemy’ has qualified him to be the 'first totalitarian leader' in modern America.  His master discourse is successfully resuscitating a false enemy for the American to believe in and combining both the ‘exterior’ and ‘interior’ of the dialectic which can sustain its temporal harmony, for instance, to protect ‘us’ (our economy and society) from ‘them’ (Muslims, Chinese and Mexicans). Can Trump be intelligent enough to see that he has forgotten the borderline concept that creates the spatiality between the above two?  The world is divided into two stable oppositions (light and darkness) and the existential recognition of the enemy is defined against ourselves. The Hegelian dialectic of inter-subjectivity always claims that inner harmony is achieved through a paradoxical (re)position of both inside and outside within the same horizon. The moment that you lose the 'other' is the moment that you lose yourself. America has always been America because of its melting pot that welcomes the Other. Trump is truly against its authentic upbringing of melting down differences and sheltering everyone under the master signifier called American Dream or American Values or way-of-life. What Trump propagates is anti-Americanism at its very best. The true enemy of America has emerged not from China, Latin America or Middle East but from within its damaged liberal capitalist soul itself. When commodity fetishism becomes the material existence, nationalism becomes the spiritual aspect that gives life to capitalism.

There is always an ‘extimacy’ between two competing opposites, for examples, Chinese businessmen and American entrepreneurs. One end depends on the other and both opposites need the recognition of the other. According to Schmitt, ‘The political enemy need not be morally evil or aesthetically ugly; he need not appear as an economic competitor, and it may even be advantageous to engage with him in business transactions. But he is, nevertheless, the other, the stranger; and it is sufficient for his nature that he is, in a specifically intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible. . . . Only the actual participants can correctly recognize, understand, and judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of conflict. Each participant is in a position to judge whether the adversary intends to negate his opponent’s way of life and therefore must be repulsed or foughtin order to preserve one’s own form of existence’ (Schmitt: 1996: The Concept of the Political).  We always maintain an externalized intimate-ness with what is excluded from our existence. At the same time, whatever is excluded (Jews, Tamils, Muslims or Chinese businessmen) from the present moment always 'returns' in a spectral presence in future.  Hence, the enemy is not always evil but an 'ex-timated' instrument that sustains a necessary form of dialectic existence (Jaws by Steven Spielberg). Though Trump may not hear anything rational during his race towards American neo-totalitarianism, let's hope he and the corrupted American souls that follow his command ('enjoyment of the Leader') may understand this basic Hegelian truth before his Presidency and before making America great again!  

Though The Boston Globe was radical enough to publish a mocking front page on the demonic rise of Donald Trump, it is really enough to stop him coming in and snatching the world's most powerful position? So far Donald Trump the tycoon have been able to be influential in almost all the media outlets in America and even those who still believe in universal values find it difficult to avoid him. His campaign mainly targets the anger, rage, racial politics and disappointment of working class people based on also how the system does not address the true needs of the public (read The Guardian report). Doesn't this 'Habermasian moment' represent the failure of the very bourgeois political project itself? Doesn't he paradoxically offer the very Zizekian 'enjoyment' that all the Americans were waiting for? In that context, this symptom surely evidences that his project (as his slogan claims) is not 'to make American great again' but to unearth how miniature its soul has been during these postmodern times...As far as the Americans are concerned that 'revelation' can also be 'a true political act' resulted from Donald Trump contingency.

Before concluding this essay, let's listen to what a Mexican-American 'enemy' had to say some 40 years ago.
         
                   'Let the children have their way
                    Let the children play...
                    Let the children play' (Carlos Santana)




                                                                                                                                                               Cartoon from New York Times                                                                                                                                                                  

Butler, R. (2005) Slavoj Zizek: Live Theory. London & New York. Continuum.

Gabriel, M., Zizek, S. (2009). Mythology, Madness and Laughter: Subectivity in German Idealism. London & New York. Continuum.

Frank, T. (2016). Millions of Ordinary Americans Support Donald Trump. Here's Why. in The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/07/donald-trump-why-americans-support.

Habermas, J. (2000). Religion in the Public Sphere. in European Journal of Philosophy. London. Polity.

Schmitt, C. (1996). The Concept of the Political. London. Routledge.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-elections/donald-trump-uses-language-typical-of-children-under-11-a6936256.html

http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/media/273583-donald-trump-is-american-journalisms-great-failure.
                                                                                                                                   

                                                                                                                                     Mahesh Hapugoda

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Enrique Iglesias, Cultural Totem and Before the Beginning


 It seems that the totemic sacredness of the Sri Lankan culture has been violated by Enrique’s ‘Sex and Love’ concert in Sri Lanka. Totem is a symbol that serves as an emblem that characterizes or/and represent the spiritual as well as the mythical content that is collectively shared by a particular community, clan or group of people. Behind the recent controversy in which even President of Sri Lanka made a statement to ‘ban’ such concerts in future which may pollute the ‘essence’ of Sri Lankaness, lot of criticism are based not on the nature of such concert but one female fan throwing her bra at Enrique. According to the Sathhanda Sinhala newspaper, these kinds of events are often ‘staged occurrences’ where the event organizers in advance organize such show- bits as part of the flow of the whole event. In that case the ‘staged authenticity’ (I borrow this term from American sociologist Dean MacCannell 1975) has transformed into a more real event than reality. The reality could have been that this particular fan throws her brazier (or any other undergarments) at Enrique out of her own authentic feeling of ecstasy or may be thrilled by his attractive figure and passionate stage personality which transcends freedom of sexuality and so on. The final discourse of this whole event is 'reduced' to a threatening enemy, a female fan who 'conspired' to  steal the harmonious integrity of our society. The Sinhala-Buddhist spiritual essence (the dead primordial father figure is spectrally rejuvenated and reincarnated  through tattoos such as  Sinhale ) that remained unpolluted for centuries even before powerful Indian and European invaders! has apparently been thundered by a female figure who was absolutely 'unknown' before this event.      

I think if the event is a 'staged' phenomenon, this political outcome is far more dangerous than it occurred spontaneously. In a spontaneous movement, a hysterically excited fan may do so out of overwhelming emotions towards the artist. But since this is deliberately ‘staged’ for public display, it is an organized and pre-planned violation of a fundamental taboo of a society.  In this case, ‘they knew what they were doing’ by using a female figure against her own culture (she, as a trans-national fan of Iglesias, may probably not stick to the existing Sri Lankan cultural values).  The spiritual logic of late-capitalism is to overcome the old-fashioned binaries of modernity (Zizek 2011); man/woman; high/low culture; loyalty/betrayal; good/bad; truth/false;  spirituality and materialism etc. and lead the postmodern subject towards a hyper-trophy situation. The tantra of late-capitalism is to perform transgressive outburst of enjoyment for the gaze of the Other (2011: 8).  The offender here is a woman who is held accountable and is to be crucified in compensation for her violation of the taboo.  In this new late-capitalist framework, woman who embodies the ‘inherent primordial loss’ generally breaks away (or forced to, by the market forces) from the basic social bond and stages traumatic events for people to enjoy. She presents the social truth by trying to appropriate the ‘loss’; the Symbolic Order -  or, in other words, lack of common social link between the members of a social group that creates object-love where there is universal identification. What is simply meant by this is that there is no ‘ontic-domain’ (to identify universal comradeship) beyond identiarians such as race, culture, gender etc. to represent authority.  In this context, the hysterized mob identifies with Enrique’s fragile sexual image (behind Enrique’s active sexy performance, he has a passive sexual orientation) where there is no heroic image of universal emancipation for them to look for.   

The totemic element in almost any society involves matriarchal female substance whose existence is elevated to the level of a pure object that is not supposed to be polluted or violated. According to Freud, the totem is identified with our social being or our present existence; how can we ‘be’ of something and ‘be’ beyond ourselves. In other words, totem not only constructs our being in the present but helps formulating our spiritual existence in future. However, an emotional ambivalence is resulted from its dialectic divergence between 'sacredness' and 'uncleanness'.  For example, female figure (mother), on one hand, is considered sacred but, on the other, is treated as a vulgar personality (whore). When woman stimulates man sexually, she, at the same time, possesses menstruation process that restricts such sexual temptation. Totem and taboo invoke and depend on the function of a certain societies' Law. In a primordial context, all the women in the clan are possessed by one father who drives away his sons as they grow up. The jealousy father is later encountered violently by his sons and they finally kill him and devour him (patriarchal horde). And by this act, they accomplish their identification with him. The totem meal, mankind's fist festival, would thus be the most primal commemoration of man's criminal deeds and this is the beginning of all social and moral organizations in human civilization (Freud 1985: 203-4). With the origin of moral restrictions, religion and law resulted from dead- father, Freud reveals that  it is the beginning of the complex constitutes of all neurosis. According to Andrew Roberts,
'The dead father became stronger than the living one had been - for events took the course we often see them follow in human affairs to this day. What had up to then been prevented by his actual existence was thenceforward prohibited by the sons themselves, in accordance with the psychological procedure so familiar to us in psychoanalysis under the name 'deferred obedience'. They revoked their deed by forbidding the killing of the totem, the substitute for their father; and they renounced its fruits by resigning their claim to the women who had now been set free'.

Out of this guilt, according to Roberts, man created two fundamental taboos; namely incest and patricide. ‘Freudian primordial parricide in which the sons, driven out in the cause of the sexual monopoly of the overbearing father, somehow come together and, in their combined strength, kill and eat him’ (Fitzpatrick 2001: 12). It is from this act Freud derives the origin of society and law. The violation of totem is a traumatic encounter and is a Real. The totemic construction of woman and the notion of pollution are primordial ideas and the criticisms against this act emerge from the country’s pre-modern origins. In the generalized perversion in postmodern Sri Lanka, such spectral violation of primordial law is experienced as ‘commanded’ by its enjoyment. The contradiction between ideological individualism (‘I do whatever I want since I have paid 30,000 rupees’) and market oriented standardized enjoyment (Tutt  2010: 3) in which the notion ‘this is how you should enjoy’ is injected (or commanded) to the subject. What is observable in this event is there is a provocative ‘elimination of paternal authority’ in our society (that is why this fan’s father’s position is questioned) and the President Maithripala Sirisena's immediate response to this event is also based on the 'threatened' legitimacy of the paternal figure who is supposed to preserve the essence of the nation. As expected, he clearly confirmed that his government does not allow anyone to destroy the spirituality of Sri Lankanness while also paradoxically representing the Liberal Capitalist structure that sustains obscene transgressions. Capitalism is only possible through such ‘radical’ violations (revolutions!).  

Those who staged this event by transgressing a fundamental taboo of the society, by the time this article is written, have publicly apologized for certain technical issues in the show but have not expressed anything with regard to this controversial scene. This whole show became a public concern not because of ticketing issues or artist's delay and the like. The organizers (a firm owned by Mahela and Sanga) who belong to a successful business category in Sri Lanka carefully avoids the politico-cultural controversy of the event (the postmodern de-politicization). The liquid global capital from which they immensely profit stands above national politico-cultural boarders. Such silence is understandable under the new pervert philosophy which seeks temporal and alternative heroes such as Enrique Iglesias who is sustained on our inability to reach jouissance. However, rather than holding one particular female responsible for historical patriarchal failure in politics, Sri Lankans should understand this event as a producer of truth that we desire to suppress. In the Zizek-Badiou debate, what Badiou claims is truth is a discourse that is resulted from an Event (Badiou 2006). According Badiou, 1917 Red Revolution or French Revolution or 9/11 are such events where truth is produced as post-evental phenomenon (2005). The contemporary discourse that identifies this particular female figure as a destroyer of our society (in this event) has largely forgotten  to take into account what the next step should be by doing so. Are we going to invite the primordial authoritarian master to come back, purify and save us from modern evils? Though this precise event is not universally collective political action, the outcome and the impact always exceeds the situation itself. It is true that she has broken a totemic rule in her own pervert manner but the violation of Truth-Event forces us for a new beginning. This new beginning should not be based on some nostalgic return to the past  whose fragile ideological framework is comfortably exploited by the totalitarian master.

Let's conclude this short essay by identifying the symptom that floats between the spaces of the benevolent master and totalitarianism (the one who promises to save us from modern evil). In a pervert global order where there are no true heroes but pre-Oedipal masters who demonically execute banal barbarity across globe, I will quote few lines from Enrique's song 'Hero',
  'I can be your hero, baby
   I can kiss away the pain
   I will stand by you forever
  You can take my breath away' (Enrique Iglesias).
You can hear the hysterical murmur demanding subjectivity to the command of the benevolent master who temporarily promises to take all your pain away and cure your historical wounds. Benevolent Master always promises a degree of surplus enjoyment and becomes a slave of the instrumental enjoyment of late-capitalism (Iglesias plays the role of the master and the slave at the same time). The surplus enjoyment of the whole Iglesias event is derived through 'something more than the musical experience' itself. More than the musical experience is publicly supplemented by this fetish sex symbols-objects such as female undergarments. This particular female fan merely became the object of this 'staged' Iglesias subjectivity of the unconditional command towards transgressive enjoyment that you cannot resist. But by rising above the traditional decent feminine role (let's say this event is organized behind-the-scene), she has staged a manipulated 'excessive outburst of passion' (Zizek 2011:114) which can be termed as an Event that epitomized the negativity with which Sri Lankans' politico-cultural harmony is maintained (Truth).  From the present indifferent hypocrisy towards our own political failure and crucifying a woman as a homage (Badiou terms this situation as 'subjectivity' in the following diagram) we must move towards a new being/appearance; a new form of politics that truly changes the present hysterical-pervert status quo.  In her own gross and enigmatic subjectivity at the threshold of the benevolent master, in a Zizekian sense, she has slapped her neighbor! (2011:119)  Isn't her intrusive gesture a wake up call for a new beginning? 


Further Readings:
1. Badiou, A. (2005). Being and Event. (trans. Oliver Feltham). London. Continuum.

2. Badiou, A. (2006). Truth Producer in Politics (Lecture delivered by Badiou). in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alain_Badiou#/media/File:Badiou-an_original_drawing.jpg

3. Fitzpatrick, P. (2001). Modernism and the Grounds of Law. UK. Cambridge University Press.

4. Freud, S. (1985). Totem and Taboo. in ‘The Origin of Religion’ (Vol. 13). London. Penguin.

5. MacCannell, D. (1975). The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class. USA. University of California Press.

6. Sathhanda Weekend Newspaper. (2015. 12. 27). Change the Channel if You Cannot Stand to See the Bra being Taken Off. in http://sathhanda.lk/news/ideology/1375-2015-12-26-04-27-00.

7. Tutt, D. (2010). Oedipus and the Social Bond in Zizek and Badiou. (Vol.8-No.1). in International Journal of Zizek Studies.

8. Roberts, A. (2010). Totem and Taboo: Extracts from Sigmund Freud. (retrieved from http://studymore.org.uk/xfre1913.htm). 


9. Zizek. S. (2011). Living in the End Times. London and New York. Verso.


                                                                                                                                   Mahesh Hapugoda