Friday, May 15, 2009

Mantras












The bourgeoisie have far more interesting lives than the members of the socialist state apparatus. Members of the socialist state apparatus are desperately, helplessly enthralled by the goings-on of the would-be bourgeoisie (or the "creative class"), so much so that when they lean forward, fascinated, with headphones on, surveilling, they must bolt upright like good commie German workers when their subordinate comrade comes in to take over on the shift. The socialist state apparatus lies and deceives by repeating mere truisms and demanding adherence. The socialist state apparatus destroys the spirit of its people. The socialist state apparatus cracks because of the good or guilty consciences of some of its number, who have heard the call of the demos and must respond in earnest. (The liberal democratic capitalist state does not lie, cheat, steal, or demand fealty.) Deep down, Man wants Freedom. You cannot chain the human spirit.

More shallow, less nuanced, but more honest, more intelligent in its superficial operations: another film about the threat of home invasion, Panic Room.

The Lives of Others has the negative virtue of avoiding certain cliches about the Iron Curtain: that all life behind it took place in grayscale (it's a visually pretty, bold-colored film), that one was constantly at the mercy of all amenities that are in short supply. (An old instructor of mine once pointed out how a scene in Tarkovsky's Mirror is in fact a joke at the expense of Soviet plumbing...) In The Lives of Others, our central victim-characters go to parties, have friends over, they have sizable book collections, roomy apartments, smoke and drink. Indeed, this negative virtue is simultaneously an added bonus. For how better to communicate the threat of devilish Stasi surveillance in 2006 to Western arthouse audiences than to make the sympathetic characters put-upon creative class types? (Keep in mind, too, that our present decade sees '80s retro in vogue.)

8 comments:

Jake said...

I completely agree with this assessment. It's a shame how its historical inaccuracies are so easily passed for truth. Poor sensitive artists being stifled by Orwellian police state!

If you don't mind me asking, what's your political orientation ZC?

ZC said...

I am interested here in the representation of life in the Communist states by liberal societies in a 'post-Communist' world. Competing systems of government & economics (and this remains true whether one things of communism or fascism as 'variants' on liberal democracy or enemies of it) are, in lib-dem worlds, represented as being oppressed lib-dem mini-worlds stifled by a quotidian existence constituted entirely by and through The State.

I of course have no sympathies for the Stasi, no deep personal investment in murderous regimes of any political persuasion (including militant liberalism). But the lib-dem demonization of its competitors, the forms of its denunciation, seem to me to be, at the same time, protestations where the lady doth protest too much.

My political orientation is not one thing; I do not have a single wellspring from which all my opinions flow. I continue to try to adapt my judgments to the terms & circumstances of the question being asked (when my opinion is asked at all). That said, if you're still curious, and because I don't like to dodge clear and honest questions, you could go much more wrong than to consider me a communist of decentralized, syndicalist, libertarian leanings. This isn't "me," but it describes an aspect of myself and my political sentiments.

Jake said...

I didn't mean to pigeonhole you of course, I was curious. Not many people can be completely and wholly devoted to a single ideology, I think. As for myself, I have a tendency to wander around from centrism all the way over to Marxism-Leninism -- I'm probably more of a social democrat if anything.

Alex said...

What's also interesting is that the arthouse audience, while it applauds such fare as The Lives of Others, ignores such things as Chabrol's Comedy of Power or Morretti's Il caimano.

Alex said...

"But the lib-dem demonization of its competitors, the forms of its denunciation, seem to me to be, at the same time, protestations where the lady doth protest too much."

I think you're being a bit too easy on yourself here, however. All three forms of regime here under discussion (Communism, neoliberal democracy and syndicalism) are all equally predicated on a foundation of a violent revolution, which means that all three's existance vitally depends on at least some period of violent opression of some people. The same is true of all modern states - ALL modern states (i.e. all states that are founded on a social contract) necessarily require a revolution.

ZC said...

The same is true of all modern states - ALL modern states (i.e. all states that are founded on a social contract) necessarily require a revolution.Yes, but the point at hand has not so much to do with foundational, institutionalizing violence (as well as its function as political myth), does it? It is instead the nature of characterizing or recognizing ongoing, i.e. present violence and coercion, in one state form or another. Liberal democracy has painted a great many pictures of fascist or communist states as ones in which the state has virtually total, tyrannical, and horror-villain-like control of its society and citizens, at all levels, while 'naturalizing' the yearnings that its own citizens presumably enjoy--free from coercion, fear, surveillance. Hence 'the lady doth protest too much'--its part of our political myth I'm pointing to.

Alex said...

"Hence 'the lady doth protest too much'--its part of our political myth I'm pointing to."

I do actually agree with you, but our picture must be more balanced than that. (For example, just because Xenophon was not particularly fond of the Athenian state did not mean he was blind to the faults of Sparta).

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