Monday, 13 May 2013

Lars von Trier and the Fear of Philosophy

‘Let us recognise the subject’s efficacy in the gnomon he erects, a gnomon that constantly indicates truth’s site to him.’ Lacan, Ecrits.

Lars von Trier and the Fear of Philosophy - Lecture by Scott Wilson

Date: 23 May 2013, 6:00pm to
23 May 2013, 8:00pm
Location: Lecture Theatre E002, Granary Building, Central Saint Martins, London
N1C 4AA1
Fee: Free

This is a paper about the creativity of fear in film and philosophy, focussing on Lars von Trier and Gilles Deleuze. The former is a film maker who has a long history of psychotherapy and psychoanalytic treatment for phobic anxiety which he has used both critically and creatively as material for his films. The latter, we discover from his biographer Francoise Dosse, had a phobia for both milk products and schizophrenics. In this paper, the understanding of phobia developed in the cinema of von Trier will be deployed in order to disclose the link between a fear of milk and the figure of the schizophrenic and offer a different way of understanding the dynamic genesis of Deleuze’s philosophy, particularly his logic of sense. Neither exactly a structure nor a symptom, phobia is a problematic category in psychoanalysis. Here, psychoanalytic, schizoanalytic and neuroscientific accounts of phobia are discussed by way of elaborating a ‘gnomonology’ that articulates a critical and clinical understanding of cultural production, particularly in its engagements with scientific discourse.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

From a Dead Place ...

The words are barely discernible, thin, fragile shapes formed out of the hoarse yet bellicose raging of a desiccated, cadaverous throat, leprous, shredded; its death-rattled breath conveyed by the thundering vibrations of drums breathlessly pummelled without pause. There is no rock ‘n’ roll backbeat here, just a furious cacophony.  Voice smashed and sliced open by explosions of percussion challenging the darkness, buzzing guitar chords rising and falling up the scale, lurching, striving like a swarm of ravenous insects dipping and swerving in the frozen, airless void, defying gravity, seeking the taste of death ...
From Scott Wilson (ed) Melancology: Black Metal and Ecology, Zero Books, forthcoming in 2013.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Melancholia, Messianic Banquets and the 19th Hole

‘It is in the Eschaton that history surpasses its limitations and is seen for what it is’
Jacob Taubes, Occidental Eschatology

‘The earth is evil. We don’t need to grieve for it; nobody will miss it. Life on earth is evil’.
Justine, Lars von Trier, Melancholia.

From the writing on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast to the vision of Ezekiel and the messianic banquets in Isaiah, Luke, even the Last Supper itself, where ever there’s an apocalypse or revelation of the end, there is always it seems an eschatological banquet. Ritual feasts and banquets mark points of personal or interpersonal transition, social change, the movement from stranger to guest, enemy to partner, weaning, weddings, funerals and so on. As such they are like the Eschaton which while enabling the possibility of time and history, is not itself, as Jacob Taubes argues, subject to history since it is its eternal end, condition and point of transformation.
Appropriately dominated by a register of orality and consumption, its mise-en-scene a luxury hotel and golf resort, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is organized around a series of eschatological banquets: a wedding breakfast, an end-of-the-world or death breakfast and the special meal of a meatloaf that tastes of ashes. Along this locus of eating and disgust, the paper will discuss eschatology in relation to Melancholia as an essential fantasy which (again following Taubes) can be seen as both a screen and condition for ideas of freedom, revolution and even self-consciousness. Von Trier’s film depicts what Freud calls in his essay ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ a ‘mental constellation of revolt’ in the context of the voracious orality of a consumer culture whose acme and unsurpassable limit is represented in the film by the luxury golf course and the 19th hole. The prominence of the latter, clearly signalled at the beginning and end of the film, indicates that the film’s register is phantasmatic and symbolic rather than realist, golf now become the pinnacle of (post)human culture, a pointless yet snobbish pursuit that nevertheless seems to sustain desire and negativity at the End of History, in the manner of Alexandre Kojève’s admiration for the Japanese. The film also juxtaposes scientific and religious versions of and responses to the imminent catastrophe of the earth’s demise and these will be discussed in relation to two quite recent eschatologies – the Messianism of Quentin Meillassoux whose ‘hyper chaos’ promises the coming of a God hitherto alien to this world, and the nihilism of Ray Brassier which regards the inevitability of extinction as an essential condition for a thinking of scientific realism without illusion, that is outside of the human-world correlation. 
In contradistinction to the religious and scientific thinking above, however, and in the context of Melancholia’s delineation of an essentially oral ontology, this paper will discuss the locus of the mouth as a site of multiplicity and a power of transformation in the base materialism of the depths that are both interior and exterior to time and history.

Culture, Politics, Eschatology: A Symposium

Department of English & Creative Writing, Department of History, Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion,Department of Sociology, the Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts and the Journal for Cultural Research.

The symposium’s theme is the continuing cultural and political relevance of eschatology. In recent years, diverse contemporary commentators have attended to eschatology. The symposium takes its cue from the work of three in particular, Jacob Taubes, Giorgio Agamben and Michel Foucault. Originally published in 1947, Taubes’ Occidental Eschatology (2009) is a classic study of the legacy of Judaeo-Christian eschatological theology for radical politics in modernity. His The Political Theology of Paul (2004), published posthumously from lecture notes, remains a highly influential recuperation of the radical implications of Paul’s theology. Agamben’s The Time that Remains (2005) continues Taubes’ project with a stunning reading of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in relation to the messianic thinking of Walter Benjamin. His more recent The Kingdom and the Glory (2011), a genealogical study of the contemporary polity and its operation on an economic model, contests Foucault’s own, influential analysis of the same polity and its mode of operation by recovering their theological foundations. Foucault, for his part, maintained that ‘the new historicity of raison d’etat excluded the empire of the last days; it excluded the kingdom of eschatology. Against this theme, which was formulated at the end of the sixteenth century and is still with us today, counter-conducts develop that make it a principle to assert the coming of a time when time will end ... an eschatology in which civil society will prevail over the state’.
Storey Institute, 21-22 September 2012, Lancaster UK
Confirmed Speakers:
Gil Anidjar, Columbia University
Agata Bielik-Robson, University of Nottingham
Ward Blanton, University of Glasgow
Kathleen Davis, University of Rhode Island
Ziad Elmarsafy, University of York
Yvonne Sherwood, University of Glasgow
Scott Wilson, Kingston University

Confirmed respondents:
Arthur Bradley, Bulent Diken, Michael Dillon, Charlie Gere, Paolo Palladino, Thomas Rohkrämer and Yoke-Sum Wong.


Saturday, 14 July 2012

Melancholia and the cinema of depths

Now, the history of depths begins with what is most terrifying: it begins with the theatre of terror whose unforgettable picture Melanie Klein painted.

Gilles Deleuze, Logic of Sense

There’s a resemblance between the two planets and Justine’s tits. Can you see that? ... when they were kind of getting very close. That’s a very important point.

Lars von Trier, Criterion Forum.
As its soundtrack suggests, Melancholia is a romance, but a romance between two sisters and two planets, apparently ‘good’ ones and ‘bad’ ones, set in a Kleinian cinema of terror. Appropriately dominated by a register of orality and consumption, its mise-en-scene a luxury hotel and golf resort, the film is organized around various scenes of eating: a wedding breakfast, an end-of-the-world or death breakfast and the special meal of a meatloaf that tastes of ashes. This paper will argue that the film depicts what Freud calls in his essay ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ a ‘mental constellation of revolt’ in the context of the voracious orality of a consumer culture whose acme and unsurpassable limit is represented in the film by the luxury golf course and the 19th hole. The prominence of the latter, clearly signalled at the beginning and end of the film, indicates that the film’s register is largely (or simultaneously) phantasmatic rather than realist. Here I will suggest that deliberately or not, the film’s narrative tells a very Kleinian story of psychic development from the earliest sadistic/oral, paranoid-schizoid phase of the infant’s relation with the mother’s breast through the ‘depressive position’ that enables the process of ‘identification’ (in Justine’s case with the planet) necessary for the passage to ‘symbolization’. The latter figured, no doubt, by Justine again in the erection of the ‘magic cave’ that provides the space for the ironic ‘happy ending’ of the sisters’ reconciliation and successful fulfilment of maternal responsibility. But beyond this simple allegory, my paper will consider whether Melancholia, through its technical means, seeks to produce a ‘kleinmatic’ cinema of depths.
Ashes to Ashes: The Ethics, Depths, and Image of Melancholia
Panel Proposal for the 2012 Film-Philosophy conference with Felicity Colman and Richard Rushton

Saturday, 12 May 2012

MOUTH (coming soon)

The broached year
with its mouldering crusts
of delusion bread [Wahnbrot].

Drink from my mouth.

Paul Celan

Celan’s unnamed poem that begins ‘The broached year’ might be approached as a condensed iteration of his famous holocaust poem Todesfuge or Deathfugue where the command given is to drink the blackmilk of daybreak. The figure of the mouth appears in Celan as the last site of pleasure, and indeed of ethics, in a post-apocalyptic world. If the broached year only offers delusion bread or literally ‘crazy bread’, then drink from another’s mouth. Thus Celan inverts Adorno’s infamous dictum, no poetry after Auschwitz. From now on, there is only poetry, only the figure of the mouth. Edia Connole and Scott Wilson in MOUTH follow this ethical demand, drink from my mouth, as the only possibility of love. We are sure you will love what they offer to you if you manage to open your mouth and hear them…

Simon Critchley & Jamieson Webster

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Number and the Beast

Quentin Meillassoux’s follow up to After Finitude, Le Nombre et la sirène (2011), seeks to ground his idea of the absolute in the secrecy of numerical code in an elaborate commentary on Stéphane Mallarmé’s (1895) ‘Un coup de dés’ (1895). Through a painstaking task of counting and re-counting the words of the poem, Meillassoux lights upon the number 707 which he finds is both a cipher for the future of poetry and a figure for chance itself. Poised between the ‘7’ that is the sign of chance and the ‘7’ of the classic French alexandrine meter is the 0 that symbolizes the abyss that yawns open in the absence of God, giving way to the eternal contingency of hyperchaos.

Given the question raised by the poem concerning ‘LE NOMBRE’ of the ‘ultérieur démon immémorial’ and its existence, and whether or not it is an hallucination éparse d’agonie, and moreover notwithstanding Meillassoux’s painstaking attempts to count it, this intensely symbolist poem is no doubt also referring to another literary demon. Indeed, not simply a demon but the apocalyptic beast of the sea that is encoded with another number that its author calls on the reader to enumerate: ‘Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666’ (Rev.13:18). A dice throw that did not abolish chance might be one that came up six after six after six, for as Meillassoux insists absolute chance – contingency – has nothing to do with probability (see Meillassoux, 2008: 105). 666. These were the numbers that came up for Francesco Petrarch the poet, with devastating effects. The code for all blasphemy, persecution and evil, for hatred and the apocalypse, is also the code for love and the love of perfection, for Divine form. Is this pure chance?

With reference to Meillassoux’s text, Mallarme’s and others in the canon for whom the numerological drive is central (Dante, Petrarch), this paper speculates on the form and affects of numbers as a particulate system heterogeneous to language. As such it will consider the essential meaninglessness of numbers, whose enigmas yet inflame the amorous intensities of poets, mystics and psychotics. It will also consider how far away this is from the claims made for mathematical knowledge of the universe and its laws, as if algebraic formulae were likewise the means through which God speaks to scientists in His own language. In the absence of God and indeed faith in science, yet giving up on neither perhaps, we can no doubt take number 666 as another sign – not necessarily of contingency, but of that base matter that inhabits the horror of its Idea.

Abstract for ‘Thinking the Absolute: Philosophy, Speculation and the End of Religion’ conference, June 29 – 1 July, Liverpool Hope University, UK. You can register here