Anyone familiar with my commenting habits on Facebook will already know that a) I love Christopher Nolan’s films, especially the Batman trilogy and Inception; and b) for some reason, Slavoj Zizek* really gets on my intellectual nerves.
Right now, of course, these two affective spheres overlap with one another through the figure of The Dark Knight Rises. And it’s not an entirely happy meeting of worlds, as my attachment to the first exacerbates my impatience with the second. On the other hand, thinking the two through together has helped me clarify some points that I believe are also at the heart of my current research project on the relationship between narrative structure and the pursuit of democratic or liberatory performance practices. So instead of setting this train of though aside in the name of focus, I’m going to indulge the obsession for a bit, and see what happens.
Specifically, I want to go through a recent essay by Zizek posted on SimonGros.com titled: “Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Gotham City.” As I mentioned on Facebook, this essay has prompted a powerful urge to try to expose the limits of Zizek’s political imagination on the topic of The Dark Knight Rises. I freely admit this is partly because I feel that, if I actually had a conversation with Zizek, my point of view would be dismissed as that of a “bleeding heart liberals” rife with intellectual cowardice in the face of violence necessary to the establishment of social justice. As a result, I think my goal is largely to call Zizek on his habit of assuming that truly radical thought and the refusal to legitimize revolutionary violence are mutually exclusive possibilities.
Ok, so let’s take a look:
In the opening line, Zizek declares that “Hollywood blockbusters are precise indicators of the ideological predicament of our societies.” I’m already on my guard. Fiction isn’t necessarily a precise indicator of anything–especially if we think about fiction as a complex scene of interpretation that is, by definition, processual and contextual. This is a minor point–but it subtly indicates that Zizek simultaneously is (talking about the film as a Hollywood blockbuster) and isn’t (by reading it as a sociological indicator) interested in genre and the rhetorical-slash-aesthetic framework through which the film operates. So, that caveat is already on the table.
Next, Zizek offers a plot summary of the film, which I find really effective–so effective, in fact, that I wish some of the points raised in it were dealt with later in the essay. For example, Zizek chronicles the love affair between Miranda Tate and Bruce Wayne, as well as the transfer of corporate control of Wayne Enterprises to Tate after Bane’s manipulations of the stock market essentially bankrupt the company. Unfortunately for me, Zizek never gets around to interpreting the political significance of this relationship, or the broader parallels between their characters. From my point of view, the juxtaposition of Tate and Wayne is crucial to understanding the politics of the film. A key question might be: how does Tate become Tate (a figure bent on using power to wipe the social slate clean, as it were, and start from scratch) and Wayne become Wayne (a figure who wishes to invest in the “good” that he believes exists)? Both have the personal resources to “escape” from the prison (an escape which is clearly symbolic, begging the question of what liberty has been achieved by means of the transcendence); both either have or have acquired access to financial power as a lever of philanthropy and/or social engineering; both have suffered profound trauma through the violence of existing social structures–specifically, the loss of parents. So what is it, then, that can account for the most striking difference between them: seeing destruction as salvation versus seeing renewal as salvation?
Interestingly enough, Zizek does discuss the significance of Bane’s “unconditional love” for Tate when interpreting what he characterizes as the specter of OWS raised by the film, reading it through the reference made to Sydney Carton’s demise in A Tale of Two Cities at Bruce Wayne’s funeral. Zizek makes the case for the necessary unity of “love and sword” (via the Gospels, a reference that I will comment on again later), implying that the film is modeling a knowable trajectory of love’s social imperatives. But when read through the Tate/Wayne relationship, it seems that the problem is precisely that love is a double-edged sword, operating in unknowable-in-advance ways that are difficult even retroactively to expose and to explain.
[…I’ll take a break here, and return with continuing thoughts later.]
*My apologies for the lack of diacritical marks! I can’t figure out how to make WordPress cooperate on that score…