As the DPRK’s most popular film production of the 1980s, “A Broad Bellflower” earned lead actress O Mi-ran the honorific title “People’s Actor.”
[I haven’t done even half of what I would like to with looking at this film: it is as brilliant as it is cryptic. I thought I would post the base I am going to work from for a more complete view firstly to get feedback, and secondly that there would be something on the internet that doesn’t leave their critique at “it is about loss” or “it is about heart-ache”, which seems to be as far as the 5 or 6 other reviews I read got. ]
“I’m not sure whether there is insurance against diseases”
The third term is the negative mediating agent, the synthesizing moment of objecthood, but not followed through greed but liberation; from lack of option. The determinacy of real action swallowed in the mediation abyss of disease; replacing the possibility of significant action, or life at all. The film opens with a revelation quote foreshadowing the elimination of possibility, the apocalypse. The four angels in the quote foreshadow the four horsemen, the harbingers of the apocalypse; both the four Nazi soldiers who murder the Michal’s wife and son, and those dramatically shot at the very end of the film. The revolutionary partisan leader Michal joins up with sees it clearly when he says, “We’re sinking into a world where all things have become alike, activity and non-activity; cruelty and indifference.” – the world of total objecthood, but rather than a movement through alienation, the alienation is total, inescapable, indeterminate. Later Marian, Michal’s connection to the lab that breeds the disease, gives another hint saying: “It’s time we talked with god, some appeal, some waves, for if all of this means nothing, or only history, only a medieval darkness…” Marian recognizes the real threat of this barbarism, the ideology taking a physical form in the disease, and thus giving us an angle generally missed in approaches to understand the horrors of fascism: the philosophical angle. “It means nothing… the time that is to come will be a time of despair.”
In Hegelian dialectic determinate negation indicates a historical motion where “evil” and transgression of norms have positive aspects, and help to advance history despite that the method employed might be less than ideal. A concrete example could be a revolutionary struggle, or the tragedy surrounding Antigone in Sophocles. Indeterminate negation is when violence and cruelty have no purpose, and advance nothing; an example of this might be modern apartheid situations. “Pity, kindness, and faith cease to exist when blood has been infected” only cruelty remains. The dialectic movement at the heart of Marxist analysis in its corroded Stalinist form (through the example of the Nazi occupation of Poland in the film), and becomes a term of indeterminacy; a motion that drags reality into a diamatic ditch. The heart of motion becomes dogma, and the very thought meant to advance temporally and economically becomes the stagnant cesspool of cruelty. The part-to-whole logic of the ontological scheme of indeterminate negation is grandly effective in this approach, the disease that effects the individual has sweeping social implications. The metabolic relationship of reproduction in a contradiction as an epidemic, which neither resolves nor continues with redefined barriers: the community in parallax.
When Michal returns home he releases all the objects collected in his home constitute his being. The art narrative kept through fire famines and war, the bourgeoisie. Michal’s father is a biological essentialist… Women are determined to bear children at all costs, Michal has his mother’s features, and we observe it in the art object. He wants him to play with him, to escape everything into the timeless games and artwork. He is also obsessed with blood, bloodlines…
“You want to talk to god on equal terms, it’s impossible. You should only ask him silent questions.”
Mistaken identity saves Michal’s life in the beginning, but confusion relating to identity likewise will destroy him by the end. Identity ellipses in the mistake, but what of when this type of ‘mistake’ becomes permanent? The typhus testing is a facade masking and mirroring the real disease, which creates the double. Michal is replaced; the fever is a symptom of alienation. The lice are the physical parasites that help instate the ontological parasite, the clone. The bodies he sees at the end aren’t symbolic devises on the part of the filmmaker, they are real corpses developed through experimentation with a disease designed for mass extermination. The subjects are tricked into helping develop it. The replacement is an indeterminate negation, a subject-void designed to eradicate a population and replace it with object versions of themselves: versions “with no self-preservation instinct”: the death-drive. It is a government extermination program, the same one we see in his later film Possession: but here in its genesis we are given the close to the political origin of the disease. The notable difference between the two films is that lack of the monstrous middle stage.
The disease in this film has a personal aspect not unlike in Possession, Michal experiences attachment to the double of his wife who he doesn’t have access too.
The likeness of Marta and Helena is uncanny of course (as the two women are played by the same actress), Michal explains to Marta: “When I’m looking at you, I feel I’ve got another chance to experience what I’ve already experienced in a wrong way.” And when the feverish image of Helena approaches while he is in bed with Marta: “You mustn’t come here, I don’t want to see how your both alike. Everything happens in the same places and with the same words…” to which his Helena’s apparition responds “No, words are always new.” The relationship isn’t repeating directly, as the experience with his first wife is still in his memory, qualifying it. “I’ve been finding you again” Michal says, and Helena responds “Yes, in other people who aren’t us. “. The personal quality helps to draw up the problems of systemically confused cultural production, besides that it leads simply to death.
The structure of the film as interlaced with flashbacks, complicated by the current and remembered relationship to the two women. The film intentionally distorts the viewers perception, to confuse and complicate the narrative, and mirror Michal’s confusion between the Marta and Helena. There is a complicated sub-narrative relating to the sin of adultery, and further the relationship between how an adulterous relationship is navigated with an alternate version of oneself— the difference between Michal’s first act of adultery with Helena, and then against a version of himself? Do Marta and Helena actually look the same, or does the alienated subject project viciously grasping at a semblance of his former life where none is to be found, as with Helena’s first husband and the women at the diner? Doubles, projection, mimesis as relationship functions.
The movie concludes with the shadowy figures of the four horseman of the apocalypse, a sign that the end of the world is at hand as the disease grows out of control. The government is trying to keep it in control by killing those who are fully infected, thus why they come and kill Michal’s family, and why they were after Helena’s husband even before they mistake him for Michal. Their ideological position, fascism or Stalin’s diamat, become the third part, the third term, the arrest of the dialectic process that freezes it into static and visceral cruelty.
“Lord, don’t leave us that we may not be lost in your wrath”.
“We are no longer alienated towards the others and through others, but toward our multiple virtual clones.” - Baudrillard
Far from being a simple communication medium, Facebook has qualitative and concrete effects on the growing places dominated by its use. The social mode surrounding the ubiquitous nature of Facebook coercively influences the possibilities of the social. The problems generated aren’t relative, but ontological; they are new and intensive problems of alienation. Alienation in the Marxist sense refers to externalizing parts of ourselves. Originally Feuerbach claimed people did this by inventing gods, who exist only as an abstract subject containing the elements that humans project onto. This abstraction eventually caused humanity to be relative to a creature of its own making, whether it took reified form in icons or not. The value of the abstraction is wholly social: there is nothing, outside of the collective delusion, that grants its value. The most severe manifestation of the problem is that the question of subjecthood becomes confused. Where is the essence actually located? To what extent does the abstraction form a cultural identity that naturalizes the alienation process?
In Marx, the alienation concept is applied to the process of labor in the creation of commodities which represent externally the value that should be attributed to a concrete use-value; the commodities produced actually embody the labor appropriated from the laborer. This of course leads to the role alienation plays in the capitalist mode of production, whether monopolized or in the modern disseminated, post-Fordist format. This is one of those pesky internal contradictions Marxists are always raving about, and the sort of canned response to this is”Well why don’t you just not buy them?” The unfortunate part is that commodities aren’t simply left to that vacuous sphere of buying/selling, but actually have massive distorting influence over the way humans interact at all. They form the social element of the capitalist mode of production, a space that by necessity is under constant assault from capitalism for the creation of new use values. In this way the commodity is posed as a tool for gaining validity, and identity… but not just a tool, rather the only possible tool. There are of course other venues, but there is no music scene, cultural identity, or high-school that isn’t targeted by corporate entities in a way that actually qualifies the possibilities of their interactions. It’s obvious to anyone that capitalism has become the only game in town, the naturalized frame constituting the only available terms of debate, while Marxism’s profound challenge has been reduced to conflations with Stalinism, and prepackaged answers that don’t even approach critical thought (“Well communism is a good idea in theory…”). Fortunately we aren’t deterministically doomed to perpetually mediated life, because there is a dialectic element to our historical model: humans have the agency to interact with their economic situation, and alter the conditions of their lives, though this change remains qualified by the preexisting conditions. The problem of subjectivity has a particular ailment under capitalism, an existence that leads to severe mental trauma, and usually to some degree of self-deferral and displacement. The deferral process leaves the individual (or collective) straining for the type of identity community should provide—an easy target for those selling identities. Subjectivity is at risk because there are those who can profit from filling that space in for you. This isn’t to totally deny all agency, but to look at those who are particularly vulnerable, and at how even agent choices are effected, such as the “choice” to use Facebook. Like Hegel, I think the problem is not what we desire, but what we desire to desire.
The general response to this issue when actually addressed is the problematization of any type of “natural” self. Any degree of socialization will call identity into question. Even without the alienation we have discussed, the “private” self is always qualified by the social; before you move or think you’re already in a world with developed rules, language, and practices. Of course, upbringing and social circles are factored in. It is absurd to make any claims toward “naturalness”: the self is a dialectic self. A self develops and is developed by the world it exists in; it accounts for the factors that obscure it, and exists in state of becoming, rather than any tangible or fixed place. When we consider ourselves involved in this state of constant oscillation and development, we can understand how susceptible our identities are to a system that stands to produce capital from channeling that process. I will refer to the hijacking of becoming as “mediation,” assuming a negative context.
Possession as Mediation.
The laborer under capitalism is presented with the commodity as an external object containing their alienated labour power. The surplus value relationship is idealogical, but must take a concrete form -outside and against the laborers who invested in it- to be realized as value for the capitalist. In Żuławski’s film Possession these complications likewise take a concrete form, but in a more immediately sinister version: as a virus developed by an ambiguous government agency or corporation which replaces people with identical versions of themselves. There is a long history in literature and psychoanalysis regarding the terror of confronting one’s double, perhaps most notably in Dostoyevsky’s novella, “The Double”. The vulgar version of this fear is that others might think the double is you, so if it does some evil you might be blamed, but there is a far deeper and more disturbing quality to it; the question really becomes what constitutes being “you” at all. In Żuławski’s film the protagonist Anna secretly spends her time protecting the growing double of her unaware husband Mark, who we watch progress through intensive stages of the negation of his subjecthood. Not only does she protect it, she feeds the creature (who looks somewhat like an inside-out octopus as it develops): she labors for it. Anna herself has reached the furthest stages of alienation due to her own double already being completed. Only later in the film do we retro-actively see Anna advancing in her own process of negation, when a mysterious film shows up at Mark’s door, in which Anna speaks into the camera, documenting her growing neurosis. “You’re looking at me as if to tell me that I need you to fill me up, as if I’m an empty space, but I love you too but…I can’t exist by myself, because I’m afraid of myself, because I’m the maker of my own evil. Goodness is only some kind of reflection upon evil. That’s all it is…” The void left by the negation of one’s subjecthood is experienced as a unfillable void. Recognizing what was once herself in the double, she begins a process of labor for it, a master/slave dichotomy that transcends Hegel’s hopeful hypothesis of negating negation: it is a pure alienation. In the film the disease spreads, eventually erasing the majority of the population. It ends with the sounds of sirens and bombs dropping; the end of the world. Like commodities, the doubles are incapable of production, existing only as reified abstractions, which is why they require the labor of the former subjects. As with the alienation and projection of essence onto a godhead, the double can only contain subjecthood projected onto it: in reality, the double is only an object. This is perhaps why Mark at one point almost casually remarks “God is a disease”. The result of this negation process is un-dialectic, since it is only a process of mediation. In the Hegelian dialectic, negation is an element in a creative process; he even suggests that negation is a necessary element to our understanding of time itself. Negation, however, must be enacted by subjects toward objects, at least until, in Hegel’s discourse, we reach a point of reunion of subject/object through the aforementioned “negation of negation”. The god-disease constructing the doubles represents the mode of production, the only fully “agent” element in this process. The negation it incurs is what Hegel would call an “indeterminate negation”, one that halts instead of aids movement.. The human (labor/subject) and the double (object-of-labour/object) are directed by its course. However, once it has achieved total mediation, there are no longer any subjects to maintain the production, and everything falls to pieces. Rather than a unification, it is the totality of the object. The double in the film takes a physical form, but what if, like alienation, it could also assume the form of the abstract? Or somewhere between the two?
“When they said to the being’s image: I love you (but what about me? Me? Why not me as well? Why only my portrait?)” -Lispector; Profile of Elected Beings.
The increasingly pervasive “social” network of Facebook is constructed by users with carefully selected pictures of themselves, square grid patterns of portraits, lists of interests, and even a box for beliefs. Daily attention and labor go toward Facebook avatars. Nearly every interest imaginable is accounted for, as within its parent form capitalism. It can absorb all interests and identities because it is only a reflection of those pouring their being onto it. The veritable horde of users perhaps unknowingly contributes a great portion of the Facebook corporation’s labor, constantly advertising and getting others to join. After the first time meeting someone, the ubiquitous phrase “I’ll friend you” feels almost a threat. The word, “friend”, one of the most important words in our vocabulary, has been redefined. The promise of connectivity and identity end up being the very form which alienates (in both the Marxist and non-Marxist sense). The in-substantive, shallow, and abstract nature of a Facebook friendship has for its users shifted the way we as a society interact with one another. How many of your Facebook friends are people you actually talk to or care about, or have even met face-to-face? Interacting in this abstract sector doesn’t take place from human to human, subject to subject, but is mediated by a corporation that hosts the user’s identity. The discursive nature of the post-modern condition could not construct a more apt tool.
On a more intensive level, the nexus of culture itself is beginning to struggle with identity. Which reality is more real?  It is not difficult at social events to find people snapping pictures, their social reality existing only to feed their Facebook with the experiences they’ve captured, at events probably populated through Facebook in the first place. Aside from the more-difficult-to peg-down social effect of Facebook, our individual attention spans are infected by its mediation. People often no longer have the capacity to critically engage with things longer than a sound-bite, as communication is being developed into pure consumption. This culminates most densely in Tumblr, a site where media regurgitation reaches unprecedented levels. In reaction to these criticisms, people often emphasize one’s agency in simply choosing not to use these tools; but for those who create art, theory, or anything that requires a degree of attention and engagement, it is becoming culturally impossible to find an audience that will interact with something longer than 150 characters, let alone the social impossibility of making contacts, or finding out about events. This illusion of choice is a classic tactic of capitalism; it claims the poor are lazy, the criminals choose crime, and the consumers chose the major corporation. It completely dismisses the reality of coercion, and the fact that a homogeneous cultural mode leaves very little room for those who want to act outside of it. Once again, the other “choices” have been replaced. The reproduction of capitalism requires extensive dissemination of capitalist relations in the social realm of the laborer/consumer, who is the machine it requires to function. The structure of Facebook likewise forces the processes which sustain it; this abstract entity is carried into reality by the coerced movement of individuals. This coercion is easy to locate, as anyone without a Facebook amidst a group that uses it will be able to explain. On a personal level, simply meeting new people has become difficult without submission, giving me the, perhaps paranoid, but eerie feeling that I might be the only real person in the room.
It seems that when people are defending Facebook they obsessively refer to notions of accessibility and connection, but it’s a fatal error to assume that this mediated medium promotes engagement before pure consumption. On the internet people rarely take time to chew: all the information goes down so smoothly, and generally gets regurgitated before the person has learned or gained anything from it. Experiencing only flashes of information allows no opportunity to commit anything to memory. Abstracted from the process of obtaining information, the information collected will always remain unsubstantive, and uncommitted. The internet conceptually leaves plenty of space for engaged information and horizontalism. My intent isn’t to pose technological regression, but rather to question why we choose the major corporations over open source projects, a choice as simple using search engines that won’t feed the FBI and advertisers whatever they want. Filtering our primary communicative mode through billion dollar corporate entities should be a frightening concept, but even radicals aware of these issues go out of their way to defend internet use. People seem almost excited to provide free labor for companies like Google and Facebook, companies that barely need to sell their good-guy image since people are really ready to believe them based solely on the service they host. If you don’t think this is significant, consider a recent event in Germany: people who didn’t want their house photographed by Google World (an ominous title) had their homes vandalized, finding notes that read “Google’s cool”. (I direct skeptics to look into the few documents the government has released regarding their use of social networking sites, as well as into some sources of Facebook’s funding.  )
This isn’t an attempt to locate all the conditions of post-modernism as if they were coming from a single place, or even to claim Facebook as the most pervasive element (which would of course be capitalism itself), but rather to draw to light some of the particular social problems connected with the use of Facebook, and problematize some of the shallow defenses in its name (“I just use it to keep in touch with people I wouldn’t see otherwise”). I’ve jokingly described pulling the plug on my own Facebook in 2008 as akin to one of the first scenes in the Matrix, where a person wakes up for the first time in a hellish alien world, pulling long tubes from his mouth and the back of his head. A friend described his brief time on Facebook saying “I felt like I was living in a Wal-mart.” The similarities are striking in some ways: the rational efficient method of categorizing, the profit incentive, the white sterile backdrop… There is also an obsessive form of egoism driving the construction of these identities which are wholly public, where thoughts and conversations are always accessible to all other users. This is the farthest thing from a community: it is the best expression to date of the cult of the individual. As Hegel says, “The simple compactness of their individuality has been shattered into a multitude of separate atoms”.
Those who use Facebook have an ambiguous degree of agency, as we have already discussed, but I don’t want this argument to take the form of a polemic against the user. I can understand why someone would “choose” Facebook, given the first form of alienation we discussed. Feeling disempowered and lonely are a part of the daily life of capitalism, a system forged from individualism and competition. The wounds inflicted by this system work seamlessly with anything that claims to mend them. Friendship becomes measurable by a number, and connection likewise by the amount of messages one receives (a severely impoverished form of communication in itself). A housemate and comrade of mine who recently committed Facebook suicide described her experience of using it as a form of addiction: the temporary highs of receiving recognition need to be constant, and are never rewarding in the long run. This feedback loop of endless need is another classic tactic used by capitalism against the consumer. Trying to found a “social network” through such rationalized and unsubstantive means appeals directly to the capitalist logic of production, and instead of forming community, I believe it causes us as a culture to be more dispersed. This “logic” is the crux of what I want people to understand: the forced naturalization of dispersed, unsubstantive, consumerist tendencies, which detrimentally mediate our ability to form real communities and meaningful lives.
Positive Production and the Use-Value of Relationships
Marx distinguishes our relationship to commodities as either use-value or exchange-value. Use-value is determined by the actual implementation of the object (what it does for us, physically), whereas exchange-value is a pure abstraction, understood only through social construction. Exchange-value, in other words, is a relationship to an object which is mediated by society (i.e. money). Under capitalism, exchange-value becomes the dominant way we can form relationships to things outside of ourselves, subordinating material and constructive use to abstract use. A social network formed under these conditions will inevitably carry this abstractness. Defining a relationship itself as an abstracted social value alienates us even further from reality. While abstraction of material in the form of commodities distorts our interaction with objects, abstraction of the actual relation between human-beings through mediation is impossibly more complex and disturbing. It may seem a conflation to directly relate these two processes, but really the main difference is the way a human relationship itself is looked at as something abstract. Whereas letters, cell phones, and even e-mail to some degree replicate human interaction, their function is different than the social network which replaces interaction. It forms an entire new realm of the social. In this sense it can be seen as the abstract form of relation, where material interaction is replaced by images, or the mere language of interaction. This is a form of labor subject to capitalism which is similar to the labor of commodity construction, though without the positive aspect of actually bringing the people exploited together, as in the factory; rather it attacks the very foundation of their ability to interact. However, the creation of affective communities which are not mediated through abstraction can be viewed as a positive production, akin to growing one’s own food. Creating positive affective community outside mediation also generates a social climate that allows others even the option of desubjugation.
Forging meaningful relationships requires a productive process. The simple upkeep of Facebook messaging is the microwave dinner of friendship. What makes a meaningful, lasting, and solid foundation for relationships (let no one mistake this for an advocacy of monogamy) is time, and effort: process. Inter-personal relationships, like subject-hood, should be founded on dialectic, something that can’t be captured in clicking a friend button at someone, and them clicking back. To build an affective friendship, let alone an affective politic, we should found our relationships on substantive effort and meaningful actions. The beginning of revolutionary politics must be material interaction, a concrete communicative mode. Of course we can’t move backward technologically, but anything we build from our historical position will be hopeless if not done on our own terms; as Marcuse put it: “What is at stake is not the undoing or the curtailing of science, but its liberation from the masters whom science itself has helped to set up.”
Addendum: This was written before the events that transpired around Egypt, for some information on Facebook being used against the protesters rather than as an organizing tool: http://serbianballerinasdancewithmachineguns.com/post/3427846413/egypt-technology-and-thoughts-on-how-to-organize-a
1. “More than 500 million active users. 50% of our active users log on to Facebook in any given day. Average user has 130 friends. People spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook” - http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics
2. (a.)“Facebook’s first round of venture capital funding ($US500,000) came from former Paypal CEO Peter Thiel. Author of anti-multicultural tome ‘The Diversity Myth’, he is also on the board of radical conservative group VanguardPAC. The second round of funding into Facebook ($US12.7 million) came from venture capital firm Accel Partners. Its manager James Breyer was formerly chairman of the National Venture Capital Association, and served on the board with Gilman Louie, CEO of In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm established by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1999. One of the company’s key areas of expertise are in “data mining technologies” – Matt Greenop; globalresearch.ca
4. Andrew Feenberg. Essential Marcuse: Selected Writings; Remarks on a Redefinition of Culture
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