The Dark Fall or Badiou into Žižek

25Jul08

It would be hard not to notice the numerous rapid descents in the Dark Knight which, while uncommon for filmic representations of superheroes, seem particularly frantic and well done. I would argue that this is indicative of the film’s content as well as its form: the Dark Knight is not so much the recognizable ‘descent into madness’ but more the repetitive chaos that threatens the apathetically sane post-capitalist world. [Spoilers Follow.]

The Dark Knight, regardless of intent, manages to present a politco-ethical knot and two approaches/causes/effects of that knot in all their ineffectual being. Batman and The Joker represent the attempt at truth and the attempt to display the juggernaut of meaninglessness or, at the risk of ridiculousness, the formalism and purity of Alain Badiou and the reckless refusal of Slavoj Žižek.

There is simultaneously a huge gap and a minimal difference between the manically Slovenian and the somber French cerebrate. This is mirrored particularly well in the origin of Batman versus the Joker – for Batman it is a question of superseding the material origins and becoming a symbol, something more than a man as it is depicted in the first film. The Joker, on the other hand, purposefully warps and shifts the story of his origin (this mimics the competing versions presented by various authors) because it doesn’t matter, in the end, what is important is that his origin served as an example that nothing matters.

The Joker is by no means a naive nihilist nor is the dark knight an inebriated idealist – both highly contextualize their differing forms of madness. From an ethical point of view it would seem that the Joker has the upper hand – Batman constantly teeters on the edge of the precipice of pure desire but always remaining within desire whereas the Joker is firmly established in the (dys)function of the drive. While both are grating to the official Law, Badiou/Batman is less likely to step into the realm of violence.

Following Lorenzo Chiesa’s reading of Lacanian ethics – Lacan’s ‘do not give up on your desire’ has frequently been glaciated and transformed into an injunction thereby corrupting the ethical and dragging it into the realm of the super ego. Chiesa’s point that the ethical must be a transgression of the transgression (the superegoic injunction) is pointing out that the underside of the law, the function of the pervert, must be rejected as well as the official Law. Batman enacts the underbelly of the Law – officially disavowed and hunted by the police yet necessary to their function as a superegoic fiat of ‘justice!’ The Joker then, represents the ethical act in that he, instead of trying to constantly replay the moment of pure desire, the moment of the act where the cause of one’s desire becomes just another object (the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents becomes one injustice among many which must be stopped) attempts to embody the drive, the constant motion of enacting (spreading chaos) which has no goal and is an end in and of itself.

To bring this back to Badiou and Žižek – the manhunt is on for Badiou as evidenced by a slurry of attacks by one of his stronger defenders – Adrian Johnston. Johnston’s recent text”‘Alain Badiou, The Hebb Event, and Materialism Split from Within” denouncing Badiou’s haphazard rejection of the biological sciences. Johnston’s central critique, which falls in line with Ian Hamilton Grant’s comment in “Being and Slime” is that Badiou assumes a materiality of mathematics where there is none.

At the end of the film Batman says that more than truth there is faith – thus he identifies with the formalism of the subject and that the various contexts of the trace of the event. This seems unsurprising in that Batman, unlike Badiou, has no tolerance for the ‘strategic’ waiting of pre-Evental time. Thus, Batman becomes a Badiouian subject without a pursuing the truth of a particular trace and the Joker attempts to corrupt the rules of this pursuit, the tenements of faith via a constant reintroduction of the ex-nihilio of being itself.

The question becomes whether there is any alternative between this deadlock – between a contextualized yet overly-patient idealism and a chaotically effective field clearing but ultimately non-constructive erraticism. Ultimately, it becomes a contrast of being something (having direction but contextualized in such a way that creation is possible) and being nothing (repeating the a meaningless violence hoping that, out of the ruins, something new might emerge). In Badiou’s terms Batman represents his later turn towards subtraction whereas the Joker represents the political move (present in Theory of the Subject) towards destruction.

The difference is that the Joker cannot maintain himself – there cannot be a figure of chaos because, as is evidenced by Lee Edelman’s flawed but interesting text No Future, once one solidifies the drive in a figure (such as Žižek’s use of Bartleby) narcissism creeps in, the image-function of that being becomes imaginary (in the Lacanian sense) that is, one simply becomes obsessed with what is in them more than them self – their own capacity for chaos and this is Two Face. Two Face becomes the image of meaningless by introducing chance over chaos but, as Quentin Meillassoux has shown, chaos and randomness are not the same. Two Face exists in a world of chance yet when where the options are limited by his own narcissism, whereas the Joker (literally) has destroyed his face.

This is the true danger – it is not the hero becoming the villain (as Harvey Dent says) it is the subject being nothing which purports to be something, it is the apathy which allows one to say that I am something wonderful, great, but that is something that is forever hidden, that I am just misunderstood, ‘I have a pain or a treasure you cannot understand.’ Two Face exhibits this logic at its worse where the subject appears as obviously split, as a monster and as a human, but where, instead of deciding which one wins at what time, it is given up to chance yet a chance which is a draw from a deck stacked by our own narcissism.

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3 Responses to “The Dark Fall or Badiou into Žižek”

  1. 1 Brandon Butler

    I see Two-Face as in fact BEING the super-ego; in fact, the super-ego run completely rampant. Whereas the Joker is complete Id and fulfilment of all outlandish desires of the body for pleasure, Two-Face is the super-ego personifed: will devoid of bodily desires rather than just narcissism.

    The reason for this is not that Two-Face cannot quite distinguish between two outcomes: he can. And it is not that he does not care what the outcome is: he does (to an extent). But as he says, this is not actually about what he wants as a person with an Id of his own, which he has completely over-ridden. It is that it is much more important for Two-Face that action be taken; what the action is and what its results are, are less important than something being done abotu a situation, that there be a response. The horror of it all is that he forces action on major subjects and renders it to a cynically simple concept. But this is in itself an ultimate “J’accuse”: it’s an inditement on how people refuse to make choices, moral or otherwise, and by not doing so default to allowing circumstances to decide instead — all the while claiming to themselves they’ve had a hand in what transpires.

    So in a sense it’s not a notion of claiming to be “good” as the Joker portends. The Joker wishes people to be brought down to his level. Two-Face is much more interested in punishing people for not reflecting a different one: not one of moral goodness per se, but one of choice whose results you stand by.

    Two-Face is the ultimate nightmare of those who govern thier lives by Id and allow it — or worse, menial circumstances — to override moral choices (just as the Joker is the nightmare of the converse). The Joker comes for who you might become, a person of sadism and taking joy in the greatest of abhorritions. Two-Face instead comes for who you ARE; whatever he gets out of it, it would not be precisely called joy. Batman has always had, I think, a greater affinity for the Super-Ego, and Two-Face is this aspect run to incredible degrees, where every hesitation is an accusation and every hypocracy a death sentence; whereas the Joker will neither kill you because you’re a hypocrate nor refreain from doing so if you are not one.

  2. 2 D

    This is really fun & interesting.


  1. 1 Jason Eckardt: The Dark Fall or Badiou into Žižek (via Google Reader) | Pink On Brown

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