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VIOLENCE AND POLITICAL REPRESENTATION. THE POST-COMMUNIST CASE

Boyan Manchev

web | Култура и критика. Ч. IV

This short text presents and tries to exemplify some of the points of my work The Total Body of Pleasure, elaborated in the frameworks of the so-called Post-Communist Condition project of the German cultural foundation, in which leading theorists, critics and artists from the former Eastern bloc, tried to reflect on the political, social and cultural dimensions of post-communism1. The broad horizon of my study of the post-communist condition was the inquiry of the modes of political representation in Modernity. I tried to approach the way in which communism and post-communism modify the basic opposition of Modernity, developed from Hobbes through the Enlightenment to Baudelaire, the opposition between nature and culture. More specifically, I meant to investigate the symbolic economy of the newly established political communities in the former Eastern-bloc countries and their attempts to find and develop proper modes of self-representation. It is clear, that the new official dominant ideological discourse in these societies is the one of Western democracy (and as a natural consequence half of them joined the European community this spring): they appropriated the discourse and the practices of universal human rights, of democratic civil society, of free market. However, what was of much bigger interest for my inquiry, was the unconscious levels of the self-representation in question, its surplus, its excess, its ‘dark’ side. My purpose was to approach the two main registers of this ‘subliminal’ representation, or rather transgression of representation, related to experience of eroticism and violence. At a first glance, erotic pleasure and violence don’t have any direct political value, and their representation - even less; nevertheless, my purpose was to claim that, on the contrary, they are substantially politic - and one could hardly approach some of the most obvious societal and political phenomena in post-communist countries without taking this assumption into account.

What does this conceptual orientation benefit from the attempt to summarize it in the notion of pleasure?And what is the ‘total body of pleasure’? This problematic body could be thought as the (problematic) substratum of the political, but even more as a space of inseparability of political and erotic power. In this perspective pleasure, the paragon of hedonism, would represent the limit point of representation. A point situated on its borders, inside and outside at the same time.

In this short text I will focus mainly on the ‘negative’ dimension, the ‘dark’ side of the pleasurable transgression of representation in postcommunism, that is on violence. My task is to inquire whether the type of violence, which is not violence of State, that is of the monopolist of legitimate violence, should be thought as brutal, pre- or anti-political force, that is as emanation of a kind of hobbesean status naturalis, opposed to political and cultural order. Or, it should be considered rather as a surplus of the order of representation and as unfulfilled constituting power after the revocation of the former order.

Here I obviously imply the Schmittean distinction between constituting power (the power to establish a new political order) and constituted power (the established order itself), related to the discussion of the foundation of law, from Benjamin’s Zür Kritik der Gewalt, through Derrida’s Force of Law, to Agamben’s Homo Sacer and State of Exception. Constituted order is always a symbolic order, or an order of representation (to use the largest and with clearest ontological implications (re-present-ation) notion). If the constituted power is identical to the order of representation, than the ultimate question should be: does it mean that constituting power precedes the order? Is constituting power a natural power, power of body, power of life, that is a violent erotic pre-political force?

(Self)Representations of Community. Communist People vs. Post-communist Crowd

Communism aims at the formation of a total body of the political community - the body of people. Its task is undoubtedly inscribed in the millenary tradition of the ontopolitical project of the Occident, the project for forming a perfect political body upon an ideal preexisting model. Starting with Plato’s ideology of plasticism (expressed in his key ideological verb of plattein), that is of the formation of the communal body of the polis, and leading to the Sadean perverted Enlightenment utopia (perverted in the modes of corporeality and thus disclosing the dependence of the sovereign individual of Modernity, the bearer of Reason, on the communal body of community), this program culminates in the projects of the engineers of human souls and the artists state-builders, who also shape the body of people. As Boris Groys has argued in Gesamtkunstwerk Stalin, this esthetical regime of the political reaches its ultimate embodiment in the Stalinist State. In that sense Stalinist Soviet Union appears, together with Hitler’s Reich, as a radicalization of the modern political-esthetical project.

Communism, as its name says, is a project for community, or to put it more drastically, a project for relocating all political potential to the site of community. Thus the communist state of political existence would in the first place mean the annihilation of the structure of the State, the incarnation of the Spirit. Communism should destroy State for the sake of the People, or community. In that sense the ultimate political project of Modernity manifests the limits of the political. It aspires to step beyond the political as such, or to redefine it radically. Its duty is to end up with ideology, to close the era of history and political existence. The ambivalent position of communism towards the opposition nature/culture, or people/state (if we homogenize the two oppositions in the line of Hegel for whom the people without the state is nothing but a raw mass, that is, nature) has its proper solution: its violent political esthetics, the attempt for total figuration of the reality of State as representation of the body of people has the ultimate goal to annihilate the very structure of representation in order that the pure immanence of body and its organics remains the only horizon of existence. We attest at this point the structural double bind of aesthetics, the paradigmatic discourse of Modernity: its aspiration for inorganicity, for the artificial in opposition to the natural leads at the end to a purified nature, to a pure immanence.

The end of communism naturally meant the desagregation of its main ideological figure, the figure of ‘people’. People lost itself because the order of representation which was producing it, collapsed. It collapsed because this order centered on the figure of the ideal people could not support anymore the resistance of the unrepresented, unthinkable - unimaginable - body of the immanent people here and now, or, in other word, of the ‘crowd’. The vision of the purely immanent community, of the final (in some way millenarist) community of communism, turned to be, on its own turn, a transcendental construct, a product of the regime of representation. At the end this ideal communal body remained nothing more than a mechanic reproduction on posters and screens, a self-referential image. Communism, who had in its origins the vision of community and of communal body, of common and organic body of people - body, which was supposed to make the final step beyond the ontopolitical esthetics of representation, finally turned to be a super-represented body, a body, resulting of a regime of super-representation.Thus the organics aspiring to the annihilation of the order of representation turned to be a corner stone of representation itself - its border-line figure, which, at the very limit, as a limit, that is as a frame, guarantees the possibility of representation. A Trojan horse of the Eternal Return of representation.

Is there a genealogical link between post-communist ‘community’ and communist people? Is the former a vestige of the failed sublime body, of the ruined transcendence of the latter - and at the same time a mutation of its hyper-organics? Or it is a new body, opening a new site of political experience? What is sure is thatthe symbolic decapitation of the monarch opened a space where previous order was symbolically annulated, or at least put into question. Or, it opened the possibility of a new constituting moment, in which people would appear as subject of a new order of representation - or, may be, of an attempt to step beyond representation? (But this means that post-communism gives the truth of communism itself.) What is a political body, which transgresses the political order? What is the orgiastic body of crowd, which lacks the sacred mystery of ritual? Undoubtedly, it is an obscure rival of the sacred body of people. If the eroticism of the latter is sublimated in the fusion and the erasure of borders, in the formation of an absolute esthetical body, the former represents a pure erotic power resisting any sublimation. And here logically follows the question: how does the ‘crowd’, the post-communist crowd, represent itself - if it, of course, represents itself at all? What is the representation of a body which transgresses the structures of representation?

Representation of Violence, or Violent Representation

Violence is one of the ordinary attributes describing post-communist societies. It is clear that violence is the point of excess of the normal political and social order. At the same time, as I tried to claim, it is violence not only against some given order, but also against the order of representation itself. It appeared as epidemics of internal corruption and desegregation of this order. The first symptom of this corruption was the obsessive presence of the topos of violence within the order of representation. The post-communist media in general and the new tabloids in particular became natural topoi of representation of violence. Through the symbolic order of representation the new media did nothing less than positing violence as end for and in itself.

The focal point, the organizing center of representation, the figure of post-communism thus became the criminal - the embodiment of an archaic kratos, the brutal pre-political natural force (that is, sovereignty, opposed to the polis), through which he tried to impose himself as political subject. Thus the criminal, the embodiment of bia, violence, and kratos, brutal force, without dike, justice, was invested with political implications and became, paradoxically, a central topos of the new regime of political representation, or counter-representation, produced by the people (or induced to it from the new popular media) in opposition to the weak ideological discourse of the new political ‘elite’. It is not by chance if the figure of the criminal was (con)fused with the figure of the new politician. The ongoing discourse on the fusion of political class and mafia, of the criminalization of the state was, its adequacy put aside, a symptom of the new mode of political (counter)representation. But this doubling was at the same time a sign of the remaining violence, or disorder, of the social disconnection, not sublimated in the new political order. The series of assassinations in the period of the ‘gangster wars’, related to the initial accumulation of capital, were experienced on a deep intuitive level as sublimational redemption of the excess of violence in the ‘crowd’.

Anyhow, the representations of criminals as anti-political subjects, as embodiments of social disconnection, couldn’t be but week substitutes, to the extent that kratos, the brutal pre-political violence is precisely what basically lacks representation. How could than the brutal ‘natural’ force complete the function of self-representation of the unpresentable crowd, if it is the unpresentable in itself? The ultimate ‘incarnation’ of this having-to-incarnate-nothing spiritless mass becomes, paradoxically and logically at the same time, the dead corpse of the big criminal - apparently intuitively considered as an ‘emanation’ of the formless, organic and spiritless terrifying force, the waist, or the reminder of all political representation. The corpse, and at the first place the dead body of the big criminal thus started to function as the ultimate presentation of the archaic kratos, which posited itself as obscure political subject. Not the sublime dead body of the communist leader (Lenin or Dimitrov lying in their mausoleums) dominated the symbolic order anymore but the violated, crooked, obscene, disintegrated corpse of the criminal who could have paradoxically all rights to pretend (if it were able to do so) to make present, in its impossible and formless image, the ‘truth’ of the crowd. It paradoxically brings to light the obscure and resisting to representation violent raw mass.

The Violent Body and the Political Foundation

We could consider the transition from the sublime body of the leader to the infamous corpse of the criminal as personification of the transition from the sublime body of communist people to the obscure formless post-communist crowd.An outstanding personification of this transition is to be discovered in the fate of Causescu: the Romanian dictator was judged by a ‘revolutionary’ trial and sentenced to death as a big criminal. What we shouldn’t at any rate forget is the fact that the trial and the execution of Causescu were filmed and later shown on the television. Unlike the ‘simulated’ corpses in Timishoara, about which Baudrillard wrote in The Illusion of the End, this was not a ‘simulation’. At the same time, although there was a real corpse, a real dead human being, this representation functioned as simulation par excellence - it was a representation of the logic of representation itself. It put into light the violent origins of political order, that is of representation - and in that way constructed, within the framework of representation, the fiction of the constitutive moment, of the origin of the political order. This origin was presented, according to the archetypal logic of politics, as a radical caesura, as an interruption of the preexisting order, and at the same time - as establishment of a new legal order in the very revocation of the former. What only remains to be done is the conclusion that ‘bare life’ is in fact produced from the machinery of the political2, that is to say it is a fiction, which is simulated as ‘nature’ and is invoked to posit the order of representation as primordial. However, the paradox, the excessive point of this logic, is the fact that the fiction excretes a corpse, that is, executes a sacrifice: transgresses the border-line of nature and culture.

The topology of this constitutive simulacrum was remarkable. All its elements - consciously or not - functioned in the archetypal logic of political. The trial and the execution itself took place in an unclear, secret, ‘anonymous’ place, a kind of underground cave or bunker, which as if was supposed to provide the image of the unimaginable dark womb where the new order is being born. However, this dark gothic - if not de Sadean mise-en-scene, the scene of what-could-not-be-seen, was presented from inside. There ‘penetrated’ the all-witnessing eye of the camera (although, of course - and this is the moment of the fiction - it was there before the scene itself had taken place: it was there to produce it), functioning in an ambivalent register - on the one hand, as a perverse voyeurist eye, and on the other as an instrument of the piercing light of the representation, tearing apart the dark veil of the invisible underground, and thus proving the victory of representation over the darkness of the unpresentable infamous brutality of organics, of the violent state of nature. As if this staging repeated the archetypal topology of Hegel’s narration on the esthetical becoming of Spirit, according to which the bright Olympian gods of reason suppressed the ancient generation of formless, chthonic, telluric divinities.

ill. 1I will introduce as a remarkable critical artistic response to that staging and its topology the political plays of the Bulgarian theater director Javor Gardev. His projects Bastard (after Shakespeare, Durenmatt, and Adso of Moutier-an-Der) and Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade presented a radical artistic investigation of the same fundamental logic of politics addressed in this text. At the same time, unavoidably, and in a more or less direct way, they had to deal with their concrete political context, with the political reality of post-communism. On the level of political archi-topology, they present striking parallels with the staging of the execution/assassination of Causescu. Bastard took place in an underground cellar and the audience was put into a voyeurist position par excellence: it stayed on a moving platform, which followed the secret action in the dark corridors and corners of the archi-political crypt. In this way the infamous action was exposed to the view. The stage design and the costumes were not surprisingly maintained in a gothic esthetics (in the sense of the ‘gothic novel’, ill. 1). The very title of Bastard posed the crucial problem of the foundation of political order. If genealogical link represents the reproduction of political order par excellence, than the bastardization of the political - which lies in the act of putting into the very heart (or womb) of political the figure of bastard, of the natural son, of the one who undoes the artifice of politics - discloses its hidden dark ground. The substitution of the Bastard for the legal (transcendentally guaranteed) sovereign not only destroys genealogy and consequently political order, but also manifests its point of excess, its surplus. The bastard is the figure of the general economy of politics, and as such he is also the exemplary figure of post-communism. The bastard is aiming at the end of the political order and consequently at the return to the natural state - through a limitless transgression, where he would remain as the total monopolist of pleasure. At the same place where the dictator was killed as a criminal, the antipolitical, anomic figure of the bastard came to the stage: but the stage was already there, as well as the all-penetrating light of the camera. So the story had to continue with the beginning.

This is the insurmountable double bind of the order of representation: it produces by itself its own constituting moment - the monstrous and formless pure potency -, but only through this production it starts to represent. Thus the post-communist mode of representation of political community provides an outstanding symptom of the functioning of the regime of representation in which the secret of sovereignty lies: it represents nothing but the very condition of possibility of representation - the crowd as bare life, to borrow from Agamben’s jargon, which replaces the representation of the sovereign perfect body of people. So this and only this is the truth of the unconscious attempts for self-representation, for ‘bringing into light’ of the impulses of the crowd, in which it does not simply recognizes itself but has its origins. The sovereign acephallic crowd as a constituting power appears in the sovereign operation of positing of the representative order, in the constituting violence. The blind natural force does not precede representation - it is also its product. The ‘state of nature’ itself is a necessary fiction - produced by discourse - in order to make it possible the order to appear. And post-communism, precisely as an ‘exemplary case’ allows the symptom to manifest itself in so purified form.

Or, the post-communist mode of representation is to be read as symptom, conceived in the images of the dead body of the leader-dictator, in the same way in which Agamben considered the events in Yugoslavia as symptom of the new world (dis)order3. In the same way the post-communist world is symptom of the world today, bare life is symptom of representation. As I write this essay, every news clip on Euronews or CNN starts with that same shots from Baghdad or Palestine - the shots which make us imagine the unimaginable in the very heart of politics.

Post-communist logic is not logic of exception. It is logic of symptom.

Interruption of Representation: Life

ill. 2Javor Gardev’s Marat/Sade radicalizes this exploration by sharpening its concrete political implications. Before all, it presents a radical critics and expression of the disillusions after the failure of the revolutionary project. The deconstruction of revolutionary discourse creates impressive allegory of the state of post-ideology, without any nostalgia to the lost revolutionary utopia. Nevertheless, in opposition to Bastard, in Marat/Sade as if appears a ray of hope, of week messianic promise (messianic in the sense of Derridean messianicité sans messianisme).

Marquis de Sade is not only the protagonist of the action, in his quality of director of the revolutionary play which takes place in the asylum; he is also the subject of the political representation, of the omnipotent total all-penetrating sight. Gardev discovers an impressive means to reproduce not only the structure of the society of control (according to the concept of Foucault) but of political representation in general. A camera attached to the body of de Sade transmits, during the whole representation on the screen (twice larger than the stage itself), either what he sees or his own face, augmented twenty times on the screen, - the face of the big subject of politics and representation (ill. 2). Where does than the ray of hope irradiate? The messianic opening is pending at the end. It transpierce a hole in the tissue of representation, it tears apart its veil. It suspends the end, and thus suspends - if not revokes - the vicious circle of representation. This suspension of the end means before all suspension or rejection of the basic sacrificial logic of political: Marat, the political hero, inscribed in the order of representation (that is in the gaze of its big subject de Sade) gets revolted against it and refuses to commit ritual suicide. The apocalyptic Dies Irae at the end of the spectacle remains without a catharsis. The sacrificial crisis does not acquire a resolution.

ill. 3Thus, in Marat/Sade the omnipotent gaze reaches its limits. The end of the play proposes a remarkable scene: Marat, the ‘desisting’ revolutionary subject, the big heroic subject of Modernity, who made the sovereign decision to depose his (charismatic) political power, abstaining from the ultimate self-sacrificial gesture of the suicide, took at the end of the play the victory over the total order of representation: he/she (as Marat is interpreted by an actress, Snezhina Petrova) entered, naked, having undressed his/her red mantle, in the WC, his knife still in his/her hands (unclear why), and closed the door after him/her (ill. 3). "No input is detected on video" was the response on the screen. No response, no answer. Representation failed. But it didn’t fail before the sublime unrepresentable subject, the monopolist of his excessive pleasure of his own. It failed before a weak, vulnerable, exposed to pain and suffering body, whose excess is an excess of insufficiency. The active all-penetrating masculine gaze of representation failed before a silent female body - body, which suspended its activity and in this way manifested its potency, its pure power of life. Life broke through the vicious circle of representation. The all penetrating eye-camera of de Sade bankrupted before the closed from the new sovereign door - the sovereign, born in the nakedness of life, as a pure force of resistance, as power to suspend representation. Thus the final moment of Marat/Sade is messianic par excellence.

This is the way in which a pale non-represented - unsacrifiable - body steps beyond the homogeneous body of community. Paradoxically, in this stepping beyond community, a new possibility of community is opened. This new possibility provides the horizon of hope for post-communism and world after the fall of big ideologies; let its uncertain promise than draw the final opening of my text.

 

 

NOTES:

1. In less theoretical way some of the theses of this text are exposed in Roland Schenke, "Body Politics - Postkommunistische Ästhetik des Politischen. Ein Interview mit dem bulgarischne Kulturtheoretiker Boyan Manchev", in Springerin, 1, 2004. [back]

2. As Agamben himself writes at the end of L’état d’exception : « Il n’y a pas, d'abord, la vie comme donnée biologique naturelle et l’anomie comme état de nature, et, ensuite, leur implication dans le droit par l’état d’exception. Au contraire, la possibilité même de distinguer vie et droit, anomie et nomos, coïncide avec leur articulation dans la machine biopolitique. La vie nue est un produit de la machine et non quelque chose qui lui préexiste. » (L’état d’exception, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 2003, pp. 147-148). [back]

3. See Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer, op. cit., 38. [back]

 

 

© Боян Манчев
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© Електронно издателство LiterNet, 12.08.2004
Култура и критика. Ч. IV: Идеологията - начин на употреба. Съст. Албена Вачева, Йордан Ефтимов, Георги Чобанов. Варна: LiterNet, 2004-2006.