The virtue of blushing: assimilating anxiety into shame in Haneke's Cache.
--Roberto Harari (2001)
Anxiety is perhaps the most puzzling (as well as the most promising) affect in Lacanian theory. Is it triggered by fear of loss or by a loss of loss? In her book On Anxiety, Renata Salecl asserts that "Lacan agreed with Freud that anxiety is the subject's response to the threat of castration" (2004, 30). In chapter 4 of On Anxiety, titled "Love Anxieties," she invokes a commonplace notion of anxiety in reminding us that "when we have found a partner and established a love relationship, we are then often anxious that we may lose their love" (72). Yet Salecl also claims that "anxiety is not incited by the lack of the object but rather by the lack of the lack" (51). In other words, anxiety has been taken to be a response to loss as well as to, what would appear to be its opposite, the lack of loss or lack of lack.
In his Anxiety seminar, Seminar X, Lacan clarifies that "anxiety is not the signal of a lack but of something that you must manage to conceive of ... as being the absence of this support of the lack" (5 Dec. 1962). It is not, in other words, the anticipation of a loss, or the loss itself, of an object that is anxiety-producing (as at least a simple understanding of castration anxiety in Freud might suggest) but the lack of lack or lack of desire. Likewise, it is not the absence of the mother that induces anxiety in the child but her potentially horrifying suffocating presence. Extending this explanation, by putting it in terms of representation, Charles Shepherdson writes (in his introduction to Roberto Harari's Lacan's Seminar on "Anxiety") that it is precisely the "failure to register ... lack--its 'foreclosure' or nonemergence--that gives rise to the experience of anxiety." Anxiety surfaces when "the order of symbolization (substitution and displacement) is at risk of disappearing" (Shepherdson 2001, xxxii).
Although from a (rudimentary) Freudian viewpoint, fear of castration causes anxiety, so that what might be lost is unambiguous, in Lacanian theory whether or not anxiety even has an object of loss is a tricky issue. In Being and Time (to shift to philosophy momentarily), Heidegger states, "[t]hat in the face of which one has anxiety is not an entity within-the-world" (1962, 231); in harmony with Heidegger's position that anxiety has no visible cause, although his view may initially seem antithetical, Lacan phrases the idea very deliberately this way: anxiety is "not without an object." He elaborates in The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (Seminar XVII):
What I insist upon when 1 address the affects is the affect that is different from all the others, that of anxiety, in that it's said to have no object. Look at everything that has ever been written about anxiety, it's always this that is insisted upon--fear has a reference to an object, whereas anxiety is said to have no object. I say on the contrary that anxiety is not without an object. (2007, 147)
Then, in a subsequent critical move, clearly aligning his conception of anxiety with Heidegger's (that anxiety is not triggered by an entity within-the-world), Lacan after all fills in the blank of his litotes with "surplus jouissance"--which is "not nameable, even if it's approximately nameable, translatable" (147). That is, Lacan's "object" of anxiety turns out to be an "object" without a name, an overwhelming excess, a surplus--of jouissance, consonant with das Ding. (1)
Keeping the focus on surplus jouissance, as a way of explicating the concept of anxiety as lack of lack, Harari points out that, with anxiety, "Something that should not have been exposed, as something meant to remain hidden [lacking], becomes present" (2001, 56). Lacan, after all, conceives of anxiety as the result of a "lack of lack" rather than simply as no lack--as though "lack of lack" possesses its own ontology. In other words, a lack of lack produces the presence of the hidden or lacking. Putting philosophy and psychoanalysis hand in hand, Shepherdson states that the Lacanian "object" of anxiety is "not reducible to a real, objective threat (an object of 'fear')" and subsequently proposes that, instead, it "brings us up against the void, the negativity, and the absence which have so preoccupied the philosophers in their accounts of the subject, being, and nothingness" (2001, xxv). What was lacking, a void, has emerged, so that paradoxically, with anxiety, it is the void itself that is no longer missing or hidden. The void asserts itself as a Thing!
Further undergirding the idea of anxiety as lack of nothing but lack itself, Joan Copjec's formulation gives the non-object of anxiety a status higher than that of objecthood in claiming that "anxiety is precipitated by an encounter with an object of a level of certainty superior to that of any object of fact, to any actual object." Copjec refers to "the moment of extimacy" as when "we discover an 'overpopulated' privacy, where some alien excess adheres to us" (2006, 99). We may assume, then, that the "object" of anxiety is a non-negligible void, negativity, absence, something (or Nothing) hidden that rises to the surface as an "alien excess." Anxiety occurs when the subject, or perhaps even society, runs up against what is usually missing or set behind the scenes--jouissance--as she or he senses the presence of a stalker, das Ding.
The so-called object of anxiety is therefore not a real, or actual, object but an "object" in the Real. Because of its location in the Real, Lacan characterizes it as "what does not deceive" (Lacan 19 Dec. 1962). In fact, Harari takes the extreme view that anxiety "has a crushing degree of certainty since it is the 'only correction' to the Real, and, as such, constitutes the 'only ultimate grasp ... as such of any and all reality'" (2001, 264). One consequently has a great deal to gain from an eruption of anxiety. Obviously, this affect can be debilitating, as the promiscuous use of anxiety pills these days testifies--people will pop anything into their mouths to rid themselves of the indescribably horrible feeling of anxiety. But what might such an attack open up?
According to Heidegger and Lacan, such a seizure has the power to pry open what is most vital. Again in Being and Time, Heidegger proposes that "[a]nxiety throws Dasein back upon that which it is anxious about--its authentic potentiality-for-Being-in-the-world": "anxiety discloses Dasein as Being-possible" (1962, 232). Resulting from the disappearance of Being, Heideggerian anxiety thus ironically indicates Being. From a Lacanian perspective, given that "[w]ithout lack, the subject can never come into being, and the whole efflorescence of the dialectic of desire is squashed" (Fink 1995, 103) and that anxiety appears "at a very primitive level in the constitution of the subject, in a primordial relation to desire," it makes sense (as Shepherdson explains) that Lacan situates anxiety "as the threshold that the subject must cross on the way toward desire and symbolic mediation" (2001, xxxiii, xxxii). It is for this reason that in Seminar I Lacan characterizes anxiety as "the fertile moment" (1991, 188).
Confronting and assimilating one's anxiety, then, rather than fleeing from it, even simply by trying to keep it at bay, has the potential to escort one to a lacking/desiring subjectivity, to a state of vitality predicated on (rather than immersed in or overwhelmed by) the void. Such an experience is apt to disturb a false state of self-sufficiency, unbarred subjectivity, that precludes desire and in turn a measured relation to jouissance. In Copjec's estimation, the experience of anxiety is set in motion by a surplus (= lack of lack) that "provides the subject with an opportunity to break from the grip of the Other, from the intersubjective relations the Other defines and in which it catches us up. And yet, in so far as this surplus evades assimilation by us, it binds us in turn in an even stronger, more terrifying grip" (2006, 104).
Anxiety--a lack of lack that has reached a boiling point--therefore has the potential to carve out a lack and establish a relation (rather than a fusion) with the Real not only in the personal but also in the political arena. In Seminar XVII, Lacan "claims that anxiety is the 'central affect' around which every social arrangement is organized; every social link is approachable as a response to or transformation of anxiety, the affect which ... functions as a counterweight to existing social relations" (Copjec 2006, 106). Likewise coupling social relations with anxiety, Yannis Stavrakakis sounds an alarm over the drive within politics to crush loss, which again is apt to produce anxiety. (No transformation here.) His book Lacan & the Political centers on the notion that "all ideological formations, all constructions of political reality, although not in the same degree or in the same way, aspire to eliminate ... loss, to defeat dislocation, in order to achieve fullness" (1999, 82). Stavrakakis points out that especially the hegemony of nationalism is predicated on such an anxiety-producing exclusion, as is (I would add) that of the society of the spectacle, which fetishistically upholds a fantasy of plenitude. As Kelly Oliver puts it, in her book Women as Weapons of War: Iraq, Sex, and the Media,
The media has fueled the fetishism that confuses reality and fantasy and disavows loss and separation, including the separation or distance necessary to sublimate loss into meaningful forms of signification.... When visual media presents itself as reality immediately accessible and in need of no interpretation, it encourages spectators to fetishize aggressive, violent, and sexual impulses rather than interpret them. And by turning reality into a fetish object[,] we thereby disavow loss and separation. (2007, 93)
But anxiety erupts as soon as an ideological formation is faced historically (again to quote Stavrakakis) "with a situation totally alien to [its] experience of normality ... with unfamiliar hazards [such as plagues, famines, the Crusades]"--and I would add 9/11 as well as suicide bombers--"dislocating [its] constructions of reality," when it, in other words, feels the emergence of the Real (1999, 103), which, I might add, Lacan defines paradoxically as both the lack of lack and the lack produced by the formation of the Symbolic. Radical democracy is then a possibility. Stavrakakis' ideal democratic society, where the whole is missing, since it is crossed or barred "by the impossible real," is ultimately an anxiety-free Lacanian social structure (138). Foreclosing loss rather than being traversed by it, our society of tile spectacle is certainly not anxiety-free in this ideal sense. The question may be whether it is even anxiety-ridden in a potentially ideal sense.
"Shame is Dead"
[M]odern man forgets his subjectivity, forgets his existence and his death. Lacan did not get to the point of saying, 'he watches television," but he mentions crime novels and other diversions.
--Jacques-Alain Miller (2006)
We can study the insidious nature of anxiety in Michael Haneke's 2004 film Cache;. Diegetically as well as non-diegetically, Cache exposes a lack of lack (lack of desire), on both personal and sociopolitical levels. Desire is in fact so crippled in this film that--through the catalyst of an enigmatic, anxiety-producing videotape, itself a symptom of the society of the spectacle--Cache reaches a point of extremity where redemption from that condition can be glimpsed.
The acrimonious, continuously bickering main married couple of the film is numb. Georges Laurent withholds his hunches about their video crisis from his wife, Anne, telling her that "It's not her concern." She in turn complains that theirs is not a "sound relationship" since there is "no trust" between them. Inadvertently spreading the word of Guy Debord, who defines the spectacle as "the opposite of dialogue" (Debord 1994, 17), diagnoses Western culture as suffering from a "generalized autism" (153), and announces that self-emancipation will remain impossible "until dialogue has taken up arms to impose its own conditions upon the world" (154), Anne inquires rhetorically of a friend, "People talk to each other, don't they?" Conversation between affectionless husband and wife has crumbled. Desire is dead.
Cache exhibits a microcosm devoid of "living desire" within the broader context of the (in this case, French, racist) society of the spectacle, in which the main couple survives and which they support. Absence of "living desire" is an emphasis of Debord, who in The Society of the Spectacle attributes such a deprivation to the "commodity's mechanical accumulation [that] unleashes a limitless artificiality in face of which all living desire is disarmed" (45). In the film, a comatose Georges drives a BMW and moderates a TV talk show (which has to be clipped upon becoming "too theoretical") whose surrounding shelves are filled with fake books. After his tragic visit to Majid's apartment (the home of an Algerian man who was once Georges' adoptive brother), Georges has the audacity to emerge from a movie theatre. Georges' mother has befriended her remote control, and his son's room is plastered with a typical teenager's society-of-the-spectacle rubbish. The conspicuous, chic family living room contains a large, centrally located television (in the place of any windows), on which violent news items, about, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the (ongoing) American war with Iraq, run as background noise. Georges seems as insensitive to Arab-Western relations now as he was as a six-year-old boy. The tomb-like spaces the Laurents inhabit reinforce Debord's point that the society of the spectacle fosters a "false consciousness of time"--history and international relations, actually all relations, are out the window.
One of Lacan's most striking points in his Anxiety seminar is that "anxiety is framed," which idea he metaphorizes as a "painting [rather than a TV that] is placed in a window frame." The point is not to perceive more vividly what is in the painting; that would be an "absurd technique," but "whatever may be the charm of what is painted on the canvas, not to envision what can be seen through the window" (Lacan 19 Dec. 1962). Keeping this window closed, so to speak, and thereby producing an eruption of anxiety, the video camera in Cache is devoid of "tracking shots, close ups, pans, or cuts," as Kalpana Seshadri has written about its technique. Seshadri observes further that, in fact, this "camera does not even focus on any particular object. Objects pass in and out of the camera eye, and the pure contingency of what is filmed suggests the camera eye here is not exactly staring...but is a dead eye. And this certainly adds to the overall sense of the videos as harbouring a vague menace" (2007, 36). From start to finish, from the opening frozen shots of the Laurent neighborhood to the last prolonged shot of Pierrot's school, Cache self-consciously foregrounds its frames, creating a visual sense of haunting claustrophobia. The film's lack of music, too, enhances its eerie, timeless, traumatic, very chilly feel.
But why even consider interpreting a film so apparently resistant to interiority, so insistent upon surfaces, psychoanalytically? Most glaringly, its title, Cache, presents the initial invitation, luring us to discover what lies "hidden" beneath its thin veneer. The title (like anxiety) teases us with the prospect that something sequestered is about to become present. The main character, Georges, undergoes two unignorable nightmares: one devastating, of young Majid approaching young Georges with an axe; the other from which we never see him awake. Georges' unconscious reels with tempestuous activity, unmistakably catalyzed by the videotaping. It might even be assumed, insofar as the tapes and drawings appear to be a function of Georges' unconscious, that Georges is the videotaper. From who else might originate the two childish drawings that recur throughout the film--one of a round face from whose mouth blood pours forth and the other of a bloody chicken? These are images that spring from young Georges' lies about young Majid, as they seem to surface fully realized in Georges' adult flashbacks and nightmares. Who else might be aware of young Georges' lie to his parents about young Majid's tuberculosis and his lie told to, and acted on by, little Majid that Georges' father wished for him to chop off the rooster's head?--lies that return to haunt Georges through the drawings attached to the tapes. It can seem that only Georges' unconscious could be privy to such disturbing detail.
If we look hard, in other words, the psychoanalytic dimension of the film is impossible to miss. There is also a curious and complicated disjuncture between Georges' childhood--which is presented mainly in terms of a classic Imaginary rivalry with Majid for the attention of the mother--and the political effects his childhood misdeeds produce. Here we have a split, worth analyzing, between a psychoanalytic episode
and the political content of the film that it generates. Rather than the political eclipsing the psychoanalytic, psychoanalysis and politics in Cache are intertwined. In addition, the words "Nothing" and "Nobody" are repeated to the point that negativity, lack, the Real becomes a background motif, pressuring the hermetically sealed film to allow it some breathing room. The first words of the film are "Well?" (spoken by Georges) and then "Nothing" (Anne's response). Relatedly, the anxiety-producing, mysterious videotaping that gives Cache its cachet remains enigmatic to the end. As James Penney observes, in a smart essay titled "'You never look at me from where I see you': Postcolonial guilt in Cache," the missing camera is paradoxically "included within and banished from the film's diegesis"; the video footage within the film "incites our desire as viewers to solve the perplexing enigma of its 'impossible' hidden camera" (forthcoming). And, while Cache tempts the viewer to regard it as a moral tale--as a didactic allegory that reveals French guilt over its colonization of Algeria, and in particular over the 1961 FLN massacre and all its horrific effects, especially the orphans of the roughly two-hundred corpses that floated down the Seine--the film finally does not reward such an obvious reading. This assertion, however, is absolutely not to insinuate that these political atrocities are peripheral. Psychoanalytically, Cache has something, concerning them, much more disturbing, opaque, and inarticulable in mind.
Haneke's film is a post-9/11 tour de force in which the main male, French figure, Georges, believes he is being terrorized by Algerian Arabs videotaping his private life. No doubt the majority of spectators takes a moral perspective on Cache, interpreting it as a condemnation of chiefly Georges" but also French society's unwillingness to accept responsibility for its brutally racist mistreatment of Algerians. In this reading, the videotaping lays bare French insensitivity, aloofness, and culpability--to stamp the French as guilty. This perspective might even embrace the false hint, given at the end of the film when the two sons chat affably together on the steps of the school, that Majid's son and Pierrot shot the videos as a way of redeeming the sins of the fathers.
Such an interpretation would have the ostensible advantage of transforming something bizarre (another term that gets reiterated, in significant tones, in the film) into a false sense of what is knowable--or, anxiety into guilt. In an essay titled "May '68: The Emotional Month," Copjec points out that "The guilt-laden, anxiety-relieved subject still experiences jouissance, but this jouissance is characterized by Lacan in Seminar XVII as a 'sham', as 'counterfeit'" (2006, 109). Copjec stresses that Lacan wants us to relinquish "our satisfaction with a sham jouissance in favour of the real thing," which can never be "dutified" or "controlled, regimented: rather, it catches us by surprise, like a sudden, uncontrollable blush on the cheek" (110).
Copjec's reference here to a blush is, I am guessing, an allusion to the "flush" of the boy from Bologna whom Giorgio Agamben writes about in Remnants of Auschwitz. This is my speculation especially since soon after referring to "a sudden, uncontrollable blush on the cheek," Copjec invokes the topic of shame, which Agamben exemplifies through Robert Antelme's Italian boy who blushes upon realizing that the SS are on the verge of shooting him--upon registering, in other words, his own desubjectification. To Agamben, Antelme confirms that shame is distinct from guilt, having "a different, darker and more difficult cause" than a bad feeling over surviving in someone else's place. Antelme recounts that when World War II was on the brink of ending, as prisoners were being transferred from Buchenwald to Dachau, with the Allies on their way, the SS extinguished anyone impeding their progress as well as anyone they randomly felt like eliminating. When the SS summons the boy from Bologna, he flushes pink. The boy "is not ashamed for having survived"; his rosy color is the consequence of his certain realization that he is about to die. Agamben writes that "it is as if he were ashamed for having to die, for having been haphazardly chosen--he and no one else--to be killed" (2002, 104), exemplifying Agamben's ontological (and, for many, counterintuitive) conception of shame.
Likewise, Copjec privileges shame over guilt since shame, which entails the interplay between subjectification and desubjectification (in Agamben), to her holds open a gap, whereas guilt stifles enigma with firm knowledge. Copjec reminds us that the superego, to Lacan, dissolves or blocks "the disturbing enigma, the enigma of being, which jouissance poses" (2006, 109). While anxiety overwhelms one with surplus jouissance, guilt stamps real jouissance out. Yet another Lacanian reader of the film concurs. Also ranking shame as superior to guilt, James Penney reads Cache as exploring "through the character of Georges how intuitions of guilt work as a defense against the uncomfortable visibility that lies at the root of the affect of shame."
Georges finds it easier to wallow in guilt and the denial of guilt, the one being inseparable from the other.... What renders the encounter that Georges orchestrates with Majid so traumatic is therefore Majid's refusal to accuse, his insistence that it is not from his perspective ... that Georges appears guilty. Equally important, of course, is Majid's refusal to exonerate Georges. (forthcoming)
Cache tempts the spectator to consider it in terms of French guilt; but that would reductively transform the enigma of anxiety into something knowable and controllable. The much less stifling way to read the film is in terms of shame, which (I contend) assimilates the anxiety that suffuses the film--in bearing witness to the trauma of Algerians--in a way that has the further huge benefit of challenging the society of the spectacle, which resists being punctured. Cache opens up Copjec's gap, maintains the bizarre, and revives the "enigma of being"--all for broad ethical and political (anti-racist) reasons. It is necessary, as Agamben argues, to expand the ethical field to life beyond the limit of dignity. Agamben champions "a new ethics, an ethics of a form of life that begins where dignity ends." Remnants of Auschwitz insists on this point--and Cache italicizes it, especially in its gentle presentation of Majid's depression, the hole into which he sinks--that "it is possible to lose dignity and decency beyond imagination," but "there is still life in the most extreme degradation" (Agamben 2002, 69). Cache demands that we look there, into the abyss that prompts the boy from Bologna to "flush" and Majid to commit suicide.
Lacan himself regarded shame as an antidote to our image-driven, image-mediated society, diagnosing it in pronouncing, "There is no longer any shame." "[S]hame is dead" (Miller 2006, 15). As Miller, ventriloquizing Lacan, writes in his essay "On Shame," "the disappearance of shame alters the meaning of life ... because it changes the meaning of death" (18). To Lacan, when shame vanishes, "the ethics of psychoanalysis is called into question" (19): the ethical possibility of the second death--the point at which "the false metaphors of being (l'etant) can be distinguished from the position of Being (l'etre) itself" (Lacan 1992, 248)--drops out. (2) Instead, one merely "kicks the bucket." According to Miller, Lacan's "fundamental debate" was not with ego psychology or his colleagues but (as is evident in The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, Seminar XVII) "has always been ... with civilization insofar as it abolishes shame, with the globalization that is in process, with Americanization or with utilitarianism" (Miller 2006, 26). In accord, then, with both Agamben's philosophy and Lacan's psychoanalytic theory, Cache deploys anxiety (lack of lack) to restore shame. Cache blushes, and in doing so, it hopes to cause the spectator to do the same.
Agamben as well, in Means without End, promotes blushing as a kind of strategic gesture that resists the society of the spectacle. Blurring "the shame of the camps, the shame of the fact that what should not have happened did happen" with the shame we experience today, Agamben regards shame as a politically effective way of responding when we are "faced by too great a vulgarity of thought, when watching certain TV shows, when confronted with the faces of their hosts and with the self-assured smiles of those 'experts' who jovially lend their qualifications to the political game of the media." He celebrates "such a shame" as constituting "the beginning of a revolution and of an exodus of which it is barely [possible] to discern the end" (2000, 132). Flattening the subject, to the cool dimensions of a contemporary TV screen, robotizing him/her, the society of the spectacle keeps us from taking in suffering beyond the pale.
My reading is paradoxical, reflecting the duplicitous nature of the affect it discerns (anxiety)--a lack of lack with the potential to generate lack. In Cache, what is caused by anxiety or lack of lack (the video, an alien excess that looms large as a strange symptom of the society of the spectacle) as well as, in turn, causes anxiety (again, the video, which becomes, like das Ding, a stalker) can be said ultimately to generate shame. Anxiety, in Cache, brought to the limit of its lack of lack produces a symptom, the taping, which serves as a witness at, and of, the intersection of subjectification and desubjectification--chaos that it, in part, brings about. (3) Various scenes shot by the video--which at times, and eventually, becomes indistinguishable from the film itself (4)--emblematize and stage the incomprehensible or in other words bear witness to "a new ethical material" being "touched upon in the living being" (Agamben 2002, 104). Might we not look at the uncanny authorless videotaping, then, as being finally in the place of shame--or Agamben's remnant--which does not take on the knowability and responsibility of guilt but sustains the inarticulable and thereby speaks back to the seamless and flat society of the spectacle, insofar as shame carves out a lack, acknowledges desubjectification, death?
Shame, it must be clarified, as Agamben and also Lacan conceive of it, is unrelated to wrongdoing. Agamben regards it as an experience of intimacy. Referring to the boy from Bologna, Agamben contends that "certainly the intimacy that one experiences before one's own unknown murderer is the most extreme intimacy, an intimacy that can as such provoke shame." The Italian boy experiences shame as he confronts death's threshold that he is about to cross. Agamben stresses that in shame the subject "has no other content than its own desubjectification; it becomes witness to its own disorder, its own oblivion as a subject." The Bologna boy's "flush" is for Agamben "the remainder that, in every subjectification, betrays a desubjectification and that, in every desubjectification, bears witness to a subject" (2002, 112). Agamben's key idea here is that "in shame we are consigned to something from which we cannot in any way distance ourselves" (105). The boy from Bologna is forced to face what he is not--to which he is nevertheless consigned. Shame, according to this strictly ontological definition, entails "being consigned to a passivity that cannot be assumed" (110); in idea of Prose, Agamben characterizes it as "the index of an unheard of, frightening [shuddering] proximity of man with himself" (Agamben 1995, 84).
Interestingly, Lacan suggests, in Seminar XVII, that the analyst's task is to induce shame. To translate this into Agamben's terminology: the analyst strives to put the analysand into relation with what cannot be assumed. To his seminar members who question such a use of shame, thinking, "[i]f that is what the other side of psychoanalysis is, we don't want any," Lacan replies, "'You've got enough to open a shop.' If you are not yet aware of this, then do a bit of analysis, as they say. You will see this vapid air of yours run up against an outlandish shame of living" (2007, 184). Shame--"not a comfortable thing to put forward...not one of the easiest things to speak about"--is to Lacan "the hole from which the master signifier arises." Consequently, shame is not "useless" for subverting, or even just rotating, the master's discourse (189). In fact, Lacan has been attempting to produce this very affect in his seminar interlocutors: he concludes Seminar XVII with the bold assertion that he has tried to make his seminar members "ashamed, not too much, but just enough" (193)! The videotaping in Cache and in turn the film itself are situated in this same position, in the place of the analyst or objet a, i.e., the gaze in the register of the visible, the Real--similarly able to effect a fundamental shift, through an inducement of shame.
The anonymous, mystical videotaping, I am suggesting, is the product of the anxiety of the society of the spectacle, a symptom of its lack of lack, lack of desire, and dedication to instant gratification, even as it is productive of anxiety--the Laurent family deteriorates due to its surveillance. Moreover, Cache deploys this menacing invisible eye to unveil the incomprehensible--hardship, blood, forms of desubjectification, suicide, death, all disavowed by the fetishistic society of the spectacle--again, to witness "new ethical material" covered over by contemporary society. As Debord reveals, the society of the spectacle puts commodities and images in the place of the lack that constitutes living desire. It fetishistically plugs that gap. The carving out of such a gap, an encounter with the gaze, enables the film's transformation of anxiety into shame. That aim backfires for Georges, who becomes only more callous, but it can operate at the level of the spectator.
While Georges resists his unconscious memories, just as the society of the spectacle attempts to shrink psychic life to zero, Cache clears a space for the psyche--by revealing the terror of the demise of psychic life. What is most terrifying in the world of Cache is certainly not the gentle Algerians--the only figures in the film with integrity, as well as a polite and compassionate wish to connect, which contrasts with the rampant lying that seems customary among the French (Georges lies to Anne repeatedly throughout the film, as he also lies to his mother; it is intimated that Anne in turn betrays him with Pierre, and lies about that betrayal to her son Pierrot, who senses it). Georges is outrageously off-track in referring to Majid's "campaign of terror" and in accusing Majid's noble son of "terrorizing" the Laurent family with his "stupid tapes." (Moreover, the tapes are hardly stupid.) "You terrorize my family," Georges obtusely reiterates to Majid's well-raised son, using post-9/11 diction robotically. What is terrorizing, instead, is the sheer exteriority, the complete lack of intimacy in the vapid secularized, capitalistic, imperialistic, anti-mystical world of Cache. This is the terror that Cache points to as the cause of distrust and loss of "living desire" between Georges and Anne. Lack of intimacy is the terror that leads as well to the cruel erasure of Majid from the French family that once adopted him.
That the political turmoil of the film, as it relates to the Laurent family, stems from an Imaginary rivalry between two six-year-olds vying for the attention of the mother is perhaps our first major hint that Cache points to a cause deeper than what we normally think of as politics to explain its inhuman relations. Such an origin, in other words, grounds the film's political content in a psychoanalytic register. Majid complains to Georges that he talks as though they are "strangers," testifying to Debord's notion that the society of the spectacle is the very "expression of estrangement, of alienation between man and man" (Debord 2006, 151). To mollify that estrangement, Majid quite deliberately invites Georges to witness his suicide, an "authentic act," (5) pronouncing to him, as Georges enters the flat, "I wanted you to be present," just prior to slitting his throat with a knife and thereby spraying blood all over the wall. Georges regards his disastrous childhood experience with Majid as a mere "interlude," refuses to take "responsibility" for it or to compensate Majid for it, and, what is far worse (I am suggesting), resists being "present"--or perhaps I should say "absent"--at the event of Majid's death. That is: Georges declines a vital encounter with the desubjectification that witnessing Majid's suicide shamefully would have offered him. He turns away from the gaze that Majid's demise might have provided for him, the site of his constitutive lack that, had he engaged it, could have enabled a transformation. Like an analyst at the end of analysis, Majid vanishes, but Georges fails to experience this loss. He remains impervious to the death that had the potential to move him to a state of desire predicated on Nothing. Sandwiched between two stagings of the gaze--the static, invisible camera that shoots this suicide scene and the suicide itself--Georges doubly fails to take advantage of this awesome opportunity to expand his spectacular racist, robotic selfhood, imbricated with images and objects, founded on the repudiation/fetishization of the Arab Other.
Instead, Georges proceeds to take sleeping pills and to climb into bed, where he is haunted by his second nightmare--of young Majid being violently wrestled away from his adoptive home. (Georges goes naked to bed but manages not to feel exposed, not to recognize his nakedness as something he cannot flee, defying Levinas' sense that nakedness brings shame since we are unable to cloak what we wish to remove from the visual field.) Unlike the boy from Bologna who exhibits a shameful flush, Georges refuses to budge in relation to chaos, to this suicidal scene of utter turmoil and despair, Majid's literal desubjectification. Totally defensive, Georges maintains an absolute denial, refusing even one moment of reflection. Georges boasts to Majid's son, "You'll never give me a bad conscience." He states fatuously, "I am not to blame." He asks Anne to turn off the lights in their bedroom, and like the screeching bats that hover over their Paris domicile, he remains blind. Georges will have no part in Majid's death, far less claim it as his own. Although he is seized with anxiety, Georges rejects the shame through which he could have put his anxiety (rather than himself) to bed--by engaging das Ding, rather than running from it, in a way that would have called up genuine jouissance (the kind without which psychic life cannot thrive, rather than the sham jouissance generated by anxiety) and thereby forged a relation with the abyss and, in turn, with raw and struggling life beyond the limits of the ethics of dignity as well as beyond the stupidity of the spectacle.
But Haneke's attentive film zooms right in on Majid's suicidal act, as do we, to acknowledge this heightened moment of potential shame in which pure intimacy takes place (like that between the boy from Bologna and his murderer, although the roles here are switched, Georges being in the place analogous to the murderer and Majid in the place analogous to the murdered). At this point, Cache sets up our (the spectator's) stark encounter with Majid's shattered subjectivity: Georges is moved off screen for a short time, leaving us alone to face Majid's ruin. Earlier, when Georges demands of Majid, "Tell me what you want," Majid replies, "Nothing, nothing." Now Majid achieves that Nothing and gives it in turn as a gift (a Derridean gift of death) to Georges--and to us--wanting him and us to be present at this absence, to move into the space of lack so as to transfigure anxiety through the shame of an encounter with death.
Instead, George recoils, illustrating the "false consciousness" and "breakdown in the faculty of encounter" that Debord perceives the society of the spectacle imposing "at every moment on an everyday life in thrall to the spectacle" (Debord 1995, 152). Georges is Debord's Homo Spectator: "the consciousness of the spectator can have no sense of an individual life moving toward self-realization, or toward death. Someone who has given up the idea of living life will surely never be able to embrace death .... The social absence of death is one with the social absence of life" (115). Georges' refusal of Majid's invitation to experience his death ruins Georges' chance to detach from the images and consumer objects fetishized in the society of the spectacle and to open up a psychic space of lack/desire. Witnessing Majid's suicide, moreover, had the potential to remove Majid as the founding Other on whom Georges bases his superiority. Cache suggests that the raced Other is woven into Georges' collapsed psyche in a way that enables Georges to establish his (false) sense of rotten self-sufficiency. Had Georges permitted himself to visit the shameful space on which his subjectivity rests, and is filled, through the subjugation of Majid, then no doubt the coordinates of his racist, unbarred subjectivity--subjectivity devoid of lack and so plagued by anxiety--could have been reconfigured.
However, by filming the Laurent family, the video in Cache, and undeniably Cache itself, both produce for the audience the potential for a missing "privacy, an interiority unbreachable even by ourselves" through shame, which is "a flight into being" and so "does not sacrifice jouissance's opacity, which is finally what 'keeps it real'" (Copjec 2006, 111). Located both inside and outside the society of the spectacle, the video in Cache, again like Lacan's analyst or objet a, has the power to provoke extreme anxiety and is thereby able to instill in the specular register a lost dimension by opening up various aporiae wherein subjectification can encounter desubjectification and desubjectification can contact subjectification, thus generating shame. For shame is "what is produced in the absolute concomitance of subjectification and desubjectification, self-loss and self-possession, servitude and sovereignty" (Agamben 2002, 107). (6)
Cache's enigmatic videotaping--vehicle of the stalker das Ding, the excess that fills in the lack, only to explode it--serves as the index of the film's shuddering proximity to itself, thereby opening up a strip. It keeps us from forgetting that we are consigned to various things we cannot assume. Cache gives birth to the video as a way of bringing the lack of lack of the society of the spectacle to a crisis point of anxiety, which affect is assimilated in the film, as the video and in turn the film itself (as it becomes identified with the enigmatic video it contains) feature material threatening to the hermetically sealed spectacular society. Of course, I have in mind here primarily the ghastly scene of Majid's suicide that rips open the society of the spectacle. But we can add Majid's weeping (which the video camera tapes for more than two hours after Georges departs from Majid's apartment); Georges' nightmares and weeping; the haunting, dark, unmoored snippets of little Majid coughing up blood; the creepy postcards as well as the videos marked by images of blood; and the relentless bitterness and distress between husband and wife as well as between parents and child. All of these things, as they are presented as constituting the turmoil in Cache, chisel cracks in the seamless society of the spectacle as well as release the raced Other from the space of the subject's lack, the site of the subject's "not-I."
After staging intersections between numb bourgeois life and the inner disruptions that life generates but then immediately disavows, Cache is in a position to witness those crossings* Acknowledging "new ethical material" being "touched upon in the living being," it thereby turns into the remnant that works against robotization and its accompanying racism, on behalf of what is becoming more and more terrifyingly fragile and rare--subjectivity and the psychic life on which it depends. Cache conveys that only upon reclaiming our desiring subjectivity--that is, only upon reseizing our sense of ourselves as unknown to ourselves--will we be able to bear witness to the Other's pain and hence no longer subordinate him or her in the dehumanizing role of the Other.
Agamben, Giorgio. Idea of Prose. Trans. Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt. Albany: SUNY P, 1995.
--. Means without End: Notes on Politics. Trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino. Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P, 2000.
--. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. New York: Zone Books, 1999.
Beugnet, Marine. "Blind spot." Screen 48.2 (2007): 227-31.
Copjec, Joan. "May '68, the Emotional Month*" Lacan: The Silent Partners. Ed. Slavoj Zizek. London and New York: Verso, 2006.
Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: Zone Books, 2006.
Fink, Bruce. The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995.
Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Trans. James Strachey. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1961.
Haneke, Michael. Cache. France, Austria, Germany, U.S., and Italy: Sony Pictures Classics, 2006.
Harari, Roberto. Lacan's Seminar on "Anxiety": An Introduction. Trans. Jane C. LambRuiz. New York: Other P, 2001.
Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.
Kristeva, Julia. Intimate Revolt: The Power and Limits of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Jeanine Herman. New York: Columbia UP, 2002.
Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book I: Freud's Papers on Technique: 1953-54. Trans. John Forrester. New York: Norton, 1991.
--. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis: 1959-1960. Trans. Dennis Porter. New York: Norton, 1992.
--. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book X: Anxiety: 1962-63. Trans. Cormac Gallagher from unedited French typescripts. Norton, 2002.
--. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book XVII: The Other Side of Psycho-Analysis. Trans. Russell Grigg. New York: Norton, 2007.
Miller, Jacques-Alain. "On Shame." Sic 6--Jacques Lacan and the Other Side of Psychoanalysis: Reflections on Seminar XVII. Eds. Justin Clemens and Russell Grigg. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2006.
Oliver, Kelly. Women as Weapons of War: Iraq, Sex, and the Media. New York: Columbia UP, 2007.
Penney, James. "'You never look at me from where I see you': Postcolonial guilt in Cache." New Formations 70 (forthcoming).
Salecl, Renata. On Anxiety. London: Routledge, 2004.
Seshadri, Kalpana Rahita. "Spectacle of the Hidden: Michael Haneke's Cache." Nottingham French Studies 46.3 (2007): 32-48.
Shepherdson, Charles. "Foreword." Lacan's Seminar on "Anxiety": An Introduction. Roberto Harari. Trans. Jane C. Lamb-Ruiz. New York: Other P, 2001.
Stavrakakis, Yannis. Lacan & the Political. London: Routledge, 1999.
Zizek, Slavoj. Welcome to the Desert of the Real. New York: Verso, 2002.
(1) Actually, it is Freud who (and here I quote from Beyond the Pleasure Principle) assumes that fear "requires a definite object of which to be afraid," whereas anxiety might be due to the expectation of or preparation for an unknown danger (1961, 6). So, although Freud's concept of castration anxiety indicates an object to be lost, it turns out that later Freud associates anxiety with an indefinite, unknown object; and Lacan's view likewise shifts from the assumption of an object of anxiety to that "object" being the amorphous das Ding. Freud's conception of anxiety is a complicated topic, obviously, beyond the scope of this paper.
(2) Lacan takes up the concept of the "second death" in The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (Seminar VII).
(3) Agamben defines "the remnants of Auschwitz--the witnesses" as "neither the dead nor the survivors, neither the drowned nor the saved. They are what remains between them" (2002, 164). The flush of the boy from Bologna likewise is a renmant of Auschwitz that acts as "a mute apostrophe flying through time to reach us, to bear witness to him" (2002, 104).
(4) Seshadri offers this succinct explanation: "There are several moments in the film...where we simply do not know what we are looking at (whether it is the video, a dream, a memory) if only because the shots lack a point of view or purpose" (2007, 34). The reader should also consult the essays in Screen dedicated to Cache; since they tend to touch in similar ways on the technique of the film, underscoring its depthlessness. I found especially noteworthy the distinction Martine Beugnet makes in her piece " Blind spot" between the dream sequences and the film otherwise: "It is images from a different visual regime that suggest that the events are having a deeper effect on Georges: the dream sequences, the only moments where the past--memory or fantasized reminiscence--resurfaces, are conveyed with the depth of field and visual lyricism that is denied to the rest of the film" (2007, 227).
(5) In Welcome to the Desert of the Real, Slavoj Zizek defines the "authentic act" as a gesture that draws the line, that indicates a refusal to participate. He proceeds to explain, drawing from St. Paul and Plato, that "this 'No!' designates the miraculous moment in which eternal Justice momentarily appears in the temporary sphere of empirical reality" (2002, 116). An "act" can aid one in breaking out of a vicious cycle insofar as it touches the Real and thereby has the potential to alter "the very co-ordinates of the conflict" (128). It always "involves a radical risk, what Derrida, following Kierkegaard, called the madness of a decision: it is a step into the open, with no guarantee about the final outcome--why? Because an Act retroactively changes the very coordinates into which it intervenes" (152).
(6) While I use both Agamben's and Lacan's conceptions of shame, I do not consider them to be identical. Facing one's constitutive lack, the gaze, produces shame in Lacan, whereas in Agamben the interplay between subjectivization and desubjectivization is key, implying a perpetual motion, without a gap.
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|Title Annotation:||Michael Haneke|
|Author:||Restuccia, Frances L.|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
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