Fatalism, Utopia and the big Other

August 31, 2009

Somewhere Zizek quips that Hollywood has an element of the soft left in it. I think two recent examples are The International with Clive Owen and Peter Jackson’s latest offering District 9. Both suffer from liberal individualism. In The International this translates into fatalism and in District 9 this translates into an escape into the “big Other.” In the former, Clive Owen confronts a once-idealistic East-German Communist about his aiding and abetting a global bank that directly invests in war mongering. (Another weakness of the film is that in it capital’s evils are reduced to its military investments and actions, rather than seeing that the system itself is exploitation and destruction.) The communist momentarily revives his past idealism and tells Owen that he will help him bring down the bank, but that he (Owen) will have to step outside legal limits in order to make real change.

This immediately reminded me of Lukács’ “Tactics and Ethics” in which he argues that a communist should not be worried about whether their tactics were legal or not. However, Clive Owen’s response is an individual one in both its execution and its aim: He alone must go out and try to gather information that will lead to the collapse of the bank (i.e. gaining the ability to undermine the military investment that lies at the centre of the film’s plot and thereby destroy the bank). He is unable to gather the info, the current head of the bank is assassinated in front of Owen, and then we get a final montage of newspaper articles describing the success of the bank and the increase of war in Africa. Instead of a mass movement directed at the system as such, the one option that was exercised failed (and even if the one bank around which the film centred had fallen, the many others like it referred to in the film would have remained) and we get a fatalistic ending rather than a change in tactic.

It seems to me that this fatalism might in this way be considered a flight into the ‘big Other” – capitalism is taken as a large, impenetrable well functioning system that can’t be stopped.
District 9 revolves around the plight of 2 characters: a human who discovers the evils of the government he works for, and a (presumably) leader of aliens who also suffers at the hands of this government and society. What is most striking is that this alien has not organized those aliens around him to achieve his goals (returning to his ship) but instead does so on his own (though with the help of his son and a sidekick). The reasons for this may be because of the social divisions of the aliens themselves – one supposes the inevitable sequel will answer these questions: the aliens appear to be prisoners or soldiers in the ship that brings them to earth, and not the ships operators. It is only after seeing the gory experiments conducted on his fellow aliens that he decides that he needs to save them. I.e. the enemy of his enemy is his friend (only Aliens will exploit aliens! Again, speculation). Whatever the reasons for his failure/lack of desire to organize his fellow aliens, the alien leader escapes in his ship to return from whence he came before coming back to save them. That is, the film ends with the assertion that there is something out there in the unknown that will free them. This, too, is an escape into ‘the big Other’ and a failure to assume collective responsibility for what is happening, though in the opposite direction as seen in The International: here it is not fatalism but an escapist utopianism. ‘When He returns to earth we will be free’ (perhaps the Christological implications could be taken further….)

In the final chapter of Marx’s Theory of Alienation Meszaros argues that utopianism is the result of a partial view of reality (he argues this fighting against the liberal notion that quality education would redeem the evils of capitalism). In both of these cases we get partial views on capitalist reality that result in a relation to the world and solutions to it that return to the big Other. Is there a link here to Lacan/Zizek’s argument that fantasy covers the lack in the big Other? Would they argue that a complete/dialectical analysis would reveal the incompleteness of the big Other? That is, does the end of analysis come with a complete re-construction of an analysand’s history? Does such a history reveal the lack in the Other?

To put it more succinctly, what is the relationship between ‘constructions of analysis’ and the dissolution in the belief in the Other?

My stock answer is the transference – feeling the antagonism revealed in the construction, and not merely knowing it. So I guess the question is, what does it look like when this feeling goes wrong? Perhaps the beginning of the answer were my brief reflections on Marx, Hegel and “Moses and the profits” (i.e. “W(h)ither Lenin and the State”)…

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One Response to “Fatalism, Utopia and the big Other”

  1. colin said

    completely disagree………although The International may be somewhat fatalistic, it paints quite an accurate picture of the era of globalized or globalizing capitalism in which we all reside. Yes it may be geared towards a specific western audience or sociocultural bourgeois but despite this or better yet, actually, “because of this” ( because the movie is part of a mass-bourgeois culture / social conglomeration ) I feel it is a very positive movie, who knows, it might wake up some of those people sitting in the movie seats or there living rooms who need to seriously switch off the Glen Beck and pick up a fucking book, preferably something from the frankfurt school or a good ole copy of Grundreisse.

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