V for Vendetta

I finally saw V for Vendetta, and I thought it was quite good. Despite Alan Moore’s rejection of the film, and his removal of his name from the credits, I thought the film was more faithful to his vision that I could have expected. (Though admittedly it has been a good while since I read the comic).

In any case, V for Vendetta pulls no punches: it doesn’t draw back from its more dangerous initial implications in the ways that high-budget adaptations of comics so often do. The destruction of the British Parliament at the end of the film is the most emphatic such endorsement of subversive terrorist action since Fight Club. More generally, V for Vendetta‘s depiction of a future fascist government is unambiguous: rather than trying to please all demographics, it identifies a deeply religious, homophobic, ultra-“patriotic,” imperialistic surveillance state as the source of oppression. (There is really no discussion of the power of Capital, which probably marks the limits of the film’s vision; but in our current sanctimonious, neocon circumstances, what we are shown will do. The film mediates cleverly between the very British setting — it was originally written by Moore during the Thatcher era — and its deliberate resonances with the current American situation).

Jodi has already written about some of the ways that V for Vendetta actually embodies “key elements of Zizek’s political theory” (even though Zizek isn’t cited here the way Baudrillard was in The Matrix). I think the film does maintain a surprisingly radical stance for a Hollywood movie; but the politics needs to be framed in terms of the formal conceits of the film. I was especially fascinated by the contrast between the ubiquitous face of the dictator (many times larger than life size on an enormous video monitor as he gives orders to his flunkies) and the facelessness of V., always wearing his creepily smiling Guy Fawkes mask (with the implication that there is no face even behind the mask, but only flayed flesh, muscles, etc., as a result of the biological experiments he endured, and his searing in the fire when he destroyed the laboratory/prison and escaped). This opposition is also one of voice: as the dictator speaks in hectoring tones to his flunkies, or condescendingly on gigantic public video screens to the public, his voice tends towards the hysterical, while the obscenely magnified opening and closing of his mouth, together with his far-from-perfect teeth command our visual attention. Meanwhile, we can never see V.’s mouth moving behind his mask; and his pronouncements, often filled with literary allusions, elaborate metaphors, over-polite diction from past centuries, and frequent alliteration, seem to be coming from nowhere on the screen; it’s more like a dispassionate voiceover narration. The unlocatability of V.’s voice, and the never-changing expression of his mask, are in fact the most disquieting things about the film.

I couldn’t help thinking of Mladen Dolar’s recent brilliant discussion of the ambiguities of the “object-voice” (I hope to write about this book in more detail shortly). The voice, Dolar says, perturbs the opposition between physicality (or the body) on the one hand, and disembodied language on the other, since it seems to belong to both and neither. This duality is also expressed in the way that the voice both inaugurates authority (the superego, conscience) and subverts it (an uncanny alterity, a voice that seems to come from elsewhere). Dolar writes about the role of the voice in politics (the fascist dictator on the radio, the deliberate colorlessness of the Communist leader’s colorless voice, etc.) in ways that would seem relevant for V for Vendetta. V. opposes the lies of official authority (the voices of news commentators as well as of the dictator) with the truths enunciated in his own self-consciously distanced and alienated voice; but his facelessness and voice-from-elsewhere also put him in the same uncanny category as that of the centers of power.

This is part of the reason why, at the end of the film, V. abdicates his own (counter-)authority, leaving the political stage open for Evie (Natalie Portman), who must make the decision to destroy Parliament (symbolically challenge the system of power) on her own, as well as for the masses, who come together in order to confront the troops, and to witness the destruction of Parliament, in their own Guy Fawkes masks — and then take them off, revealing a sea of different, but all anticipatory and hopeful, faces. Despite Jodi’s Zizekian reading, this mass action seemed to me rather to figure the Hardt/Negri multitude, singularities unreconciled with one another, yet drawn together in the affirmation of what is common. It is perhaps one of the virtues of V for Vendetta to dramatize, and argue for, this commonness — in sharp contrast to Zizekian/Badiouian universality. This is crucial, because V. has many of the characteristics of a comic-book superhero: close-to-invulnerability, a secret and impregnable hideout, the uncanny ability to do things singlehandedly (make bombs and plant them in locations that are under high security; send hundreds of thousands of packages all over the country without being traced; break into the heavily guarded locations to assassinate powerful individuals; etc) that it is hard to imagine even a well-financed guerrilla group accomplishing. The experiments of which V. was the victim presumably gave him these powers, along with providing him with the motive for his “vendetta” — personal revenge, which needs to be disentangled from the justice, and resistance to fascist oppression, for which he ostensibly stands. From a political point of view it is therefore crucial to move away from V.’s personalistic approach to resistance (this is, I think, what Jodi meant by the “messianic” aspects of the movie) in order to involve the people/the mass/the multitude –of whom Evie becomes the representative, in the sense that she is not irreplacable as V. seems to be, but could be anybody (even if she is unique by having become the one to be — accidentally, at first — chosen by V.). V.’s quasi superpowers are an impossible, comforting fantasy; in Zizek’s terms this means they are what covers up the horror of the Real, and substitutes in its place a bearable “reality.” But — as per Alan Moore’s repeated “deconstruction” of superhero fantasy — the image of V. needs itself to be somehow undone.

All of this leads to the crucial, and disturbing, sequence in which Evie is apparently captured by the authorities, her head shaven, tortured, pressured to confess or reveal information about V., and then sentenced to be shot by a firing squad when she refuses — but then we discover that this has been entirely staged by V. himself. This is the process of what Jodi (following Zizek) calls “subjective destitution” as a precondition for revolutionary action. When Evie no longer fears death, when she rates the cause of overthrowing the dictatorship as higher than her won life, she as conquered fear and (V. tells her) is (for the first time) free. Presumably, then, V. subjects Evie to so horrific a process for her own good (as well as for the good of the cause). One can never will one’s own subjective destitution, it has to come somehow from outside. And, despite her initial anger, Evie does come to accept the whole process as vital and necessary, and this means both that she is indeed dedicated to the revolution as she hadn’t been before, and that she loves V. All this is quite difficult to take, and such difficulty is responsible for much of the power of the film. Although V. describes himself as an artist, like Shakespeare or the great novelists, who uses lies in order to get at the truth (in contrast to ruling politicians and their media flunkies, who use lies in order to conceal the truth), the cynicism, or coldness, of the whole sequence of Evie’s imprisonment and torture leaves a bitter aftertaste. It is hard to reconcile this process with V.’s later (unacknowledged) quote from Emma Goldman about needing a revolution in which one can dance. I have often wondered about what seems to me the hollow romanticism of Zizek’s glorification of “subjective destitution” as being the psychoanalytic cure and to the precondition for revolutionary action; I think V for Vendetta exposes the deadlock behind such romanticization.

I still have a lot to think about with regard to this movie. Since I seem to be only getting more and more confused, I will leave my comments here for now.

I finally saw V for Vendetta, and I thought it was quite good. Despite Alan Moore’s rejection of the film, and his removal of his name from the credits, I thought the film was more faithful to his vision that I could have expected. (Though admittedly it has been a good while since I read the comic).

In any case, V for Vendetta pulls no punches: it doesn’t draw back from its more dangerous initial implications in the ways that high-budget adaptations of comics so often do. The destruction of the British Parliament at the end of the film is the most emphatic such endorsement of subversive terrorist action since Fight Club. More generally, V for Vendetta‘s depiction of a future fascist government is unambiguous: rather than trying to please all demographics, it identifies a deeply religious, homophobic, ultra-“patriotic,” imperialistic surveillance state as the source of oppression. (There is really no discussion of the power of Capital, which probably marks the limits of the film’s vision; but in our current sanctimonious, neocon circumstances, what we are shown will do. The film mediates cleverly between the very British setting — it was originally written by Moore during the Thatcher era — and its deliberate resonances with the current American situation).

Jodi has already written about some of the ways that V for Vendetta actually embodies “key elements of Zizek’s political theory” (even though Zizek isn’t cited here the way Baudrillard was in The Matrix). I think the film does maintain a surprisingly radical stance for a Hollywood movie; but the politics needs to be framed in terms of the formal conceits of the film. I was especially fascinated by the contrast between the ubiquitous face of the dictator (many times larger than life size on an enormous video monitor as he gives orders to his flunkies) and the facelessness of V., always wearing his creepily smiling Guy Fawkes mask (with the implication that there is no face even behind the mask, but only flayed flesh, muscles, etc., as a result of the biological experiments he endured, and his searing in the fire when he destroyed the laboratory/prison and escaped). This opposition is also one of voice: as the dictator speaks in hectoring tones to his flunkies, or condescendingly on gigantic public video screens to the public, his voice tends towards the hysterical, while the obscenely magnified opening and closing of his mouth, together with his far-from-perfect teeth command our visual attention. Meanwhile, we can never see V.’s mouth moving behind his mask; and his pronouncements, often filled with literary allusions, elaborate metaphors, over-polite diction from past centuries, and frequent alliteration, seem to be coming from nowhere on the screen; it’s more like a dispassionate voiceover narration. The unlocatability of V.’s voice, and the never-changing expression of his mask, are in fact the most disquieting things about the film.

I couldn’t help thinking of Mladen Dolar’s recent brilliant discussion of the ambiguities of the “object-voice” (I hope to write about this book in more detail shortly). The voice, Dolar says, perturbs the opposition between physicality (or the body) on the one hand, and disembodied language on the other, since it seems to belong to both and neither. This duality is also expressed in the way that the voice both inaugurates authority (the superego, conscience) and subverts it (an uncanny alterity, a voice that seems to come from elsewhere). Dolar writes about the role of the voice in politics (the fascist dictator on the radio, the deliberate colorlessness of the Communist leader’s voice, etc.) in ways that would seem relevant for V for Vendetta. V. opposes the lies of official authority (the voices of news commentators as well as of the dictator) with the truths enunciated in his own self-consciously distanced and alienated voice; but his facelessness and voice-from-elsewhere also put him in the same uncanny category as that of the centers of power.

This is part of the reason why, at the end of the film, V. abdicates his own (counter-)authority, leaving the political stage open for Evie (Natalie Portman), who must make the decision to destroy Parliament (symbolically challenge the system of power) on her own, as well as for the masses, who come together in order to confront the troops, and to witness the destruction of Parliament, in their own Guy Fawkes masks — and then take them off, revealing a sea of different, but all anticipatory and hopeful, faces. Despite Jodi’s Zizekian reading, this mass action seemed to me rather to figure the Hardt/Negri multitude, singularities unreconciled with one another, yet drawn together in the affirmation of what is common. It is perhaps one of the virtues of V for Vendetta to dramatize, and argue for, this commonness — in sharp contrast to Zizekian/Badiouian universality.

This is crucial, because V. has many of the characteristics of a comic-book superhero: close-to-invulnerability, a secret and impregnable hideout, the uncanny ability to do things singlehandedly (make bombs and plant them in locations that are under high security; send hundreds of thousands of packages all over the country without being traced; break into the heavily guarded locations to assassinate powerful individuals; etc) that it is hard to imagine even a well-financed guerrilla group accomplishing. The experiments of which V. was the victim presumably gave him these powers, along with providing him with the motive for his “vendetta” — personal revenge, which needs to be disentangled from the justice, and resistance to fascist oppression, for which he ostensibly stands. From a political point of view it is therefore crucial to move away from V.’s personalistic approach to resistance (this is, I think, what Jodi meant by the “messianic” aspects of the movie) in order to involve the people/the mass/the multitude — of whom Evie becomes the representative, not in the electoral sense, but in the sense that she is not irreplacable as V. seems to be, but could be anybody (even if she is unique by having become the one to be — accidentally, at first — chosen by V.). V.’s quasi superpowers are an impossible, comforting fantasy; in Zizek’s terms this means they are what covers up the horror of the Real, and substitutes in its place a bearable “reality.” But — as per Alan Moore’s repeated “deconstruction” of superhero fantasy — the image of V. needs itself to be somehow undone.

All of this leads to the crucial, and disturbing, sequence in which Evie is apparently captured by the authorities, her head shaven, tortured, pressured to confess or reveal information about V., and then sentenced to be shot by a firing squad when she refuses — but then we discover that this has been entirely staged by V. himself. This is the process of what Jodi (following Zizek) calls “subjective destitution” as a precondition for revolutionary action. When Evie no longer fears death, when she rates the cause of overthrowing the dictatorship as higher than her own life, she has conquered fear and (as V. tells her) is (for the first time in her life) free. Presumably, then, V. subjects Evie to so horrific a process for her own good (as well as for the good of the cause). Indeed, one can never will one’s own subjective destitution, it has to come somehow from outside. And, despite her initial anger, Evie does come to accept the whole process as vital and necessary, and this means both that she is indeed dedicated to the revolution as she hadn’t been before, and that she loves V. All this is quite difficult to take, and such difficulty is responsible for much of the power of the film.

Doesn’t it come down to the question of power and responsibility? Although V. describes himself as an artist, like Shakespeare or the great novelists, who uses lies in order to get at the truth (in contrast to ruling politicians and their media flunkies, who use lies in order to conceal the truth), the cynicism, or coldness, of the whole sequence of Evie’s imprisonment and torture leaves a bitter aftertaste. What authorizes V. to inhabit the superior perspective from which he is able, indeed, to torture Evie for her own good? It is precisely his superhero status, the fantasy that needs to be demystified, that grants him this authority. And I’m inclined to argue that this is what is wrong with Zizek’s Leninism, his glorification of the revolutionary act, as well. It’s precisely a fantasy, but the one that Zizek himself is not willing to traverse and to give up (or recognize the meaningless contingency of). (I am not sure I am getting the Lacanian/Zizekian terms right here, but I hope my basic point is getting through anyway). I think that V for Vendetta exposes the deadlock behind the romanticization of “subjective destitution” (perhaps achieved by subordinating one’s own opinions and desires to the dictates of a revolutionary party?) as being the precondition for revolutionary action (not to mention the psychoanalytic cure).

In any case, it is hard to reconcile this process of (imposed) “subjective destitution” with V.’s later (unacknowledged) quote from Emma Goldman about needing a revolution in which one can dance. The latter, I guess, would be more the Hardtian/Negrian revolution of the multitude, that takes place with Spinozian joy rather than Lacanian sacrifice. Not that I really believe the latter is a tenable process in our current environment either. But perhaps V for Vendetta does a better job than either Hardt/Negri or Zizek of focusing on the impasse of radical action today, of rejecting (as k-punk always puts it) the tale told us by Capitalist Realism that “there is no alternative.”

This is perhaps a place where Bataille is still relevant. We cannot do without positing some position of sovereignty, but the sovereignty must “expiate itself” (which is what V. does at the end of the movie). I take “subjective destitution” seriously, but I feel squeamish about the dialectic in which Zizek places it, and in which V. enacts it for Evie. Can sovereignty expiate itself in a way that rejects both Leninist/Zizekian universality and the deconstructionist cheap shot according to which everything is merely “undecidable”?

I still have a lot to think about with regard to this movie. Since I seem to be only getting more and more confused, I will leave my comments here for now.

31 thoughts on “V for Vendetta”

  1. I’d like to propose an alternative reading of the film, which is markedly different from yours, and I’d appreciate any criticisms as to where I go astray.

    It strikes me that the popularity of V for Vendetta shows, in some ironic and interesting ways, how the desire for revolution can appear to be sated with the image of revolution. This happens both within the logic of the film and in the logic of the audience’s relation with the film.

    The ordinary English men, women and children within the film want radical social change, but their desire is satisfied, within the logic of the film, by watching a spectacular light-and-sound show as Parliament is destroyed. (Why destroying Parliament is supposed to symbolize the end of fascism isn’t quite clear.)

    And the popularity of the film suggests that the audience’s (and I should really say our) desire for social change is also satisfied by watching a spectacular light-and-sound show: the film V for Vendetta itself.

    The take-home lesson of the film is therefore: here’s an image which tells you that your desires can be satisfied by images.

  2. To: Dr. S

    From: the other Dr. S

    D’oh!

    Sorry that’s all I can muster right now, I must get back to watching TV.

  3. Dr. Spinoza,

    Of course what you say is right in a way, but right in a way that would have to be true of any movie or aesthetic observation whatsoever, which to my mind makes it a not very useful comment.

    Overall, I reject the idea that images are somehow not real, so that “the image of revolution” is not real, or has nothing to do with actual revolution. Images are as real as anything else, they are a big part of what we live today as the social, so of course images of revolution are as important as anything else. The fascist leaders are killed in the film before Parliament is blown up; but it is necessary (for the narrative and for the revolution being narrated) for Parliament to be blown up as well. Symbolic power, and the symbolism of monuments, imposing buildings, etc., is an incredibly important componet of how power works. We shouldn’t make oppositions between “merely” symbolic power and “real” power.

  4. Oh this was good! Thanks for writing on this movie, that’s basically your obligation as an intellectual to say something interesting on something that people take as a heady issue. And its funny that this movie is taken as such a political statement, whereas other action movies are not interpretted in this manner most of the time.
    3 things i want 2 say:

    1 I took this as an exposition of the paranoid fantasy of government gone wrong in the same way The Island does a paranoid fantasy of technological utopia/dystopia. We are really freaked out by a huge talking face, by bias in the media, by corruption and backroom deals, by military rule, by big tv screens, by curfews? I guess these things are really scary. Objectively scary.

    2 if the political question is whether it’s ok to break some eggs to make an omelet, the obviously tempting (+edgy + taboo) answer is YES PLEASE. But the reason this movie in 2006 in america is exciting is that its about a terrorist who is a good guy (we play pretend it is a question _if_ V were a good guy). So saying yes to breaking eggs seems like an illicit pleasure bc it makes you indulge terrorism, but the only terrorism based on the decree of the silent majority (the people watching tv) whose aim is the overthrow of bad, lying, genocidal regimes is America’s current warthing.

    3 really edgy editing! wow!

  5. I was very ambivalent about this film; partly that ambivalence reflected my general attitude towards Moore. (Incidentally, as I understand it, Moore hasn’t specifically removed his name from this film; it is something he does in relation to all film adapations of his work. Not a bad move in relation to From Hell or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, less necessary in the case of V for V though lol…)

    Steven has already highlighted one of my main worries: there is no purchase on capital AT ALL. It seemed to me, in fact, that the film highlights the anarchist nostalgia for authoritarianism – for a corrupt cabal who hide the truth from people, if only we could get rid of them everything would be alright… The ridiculous ranting John Hurt character doesn’t have much relation to the sanctimonious blokishness of Blairite power in Britain (he doesn’t seem to quite have mastered the art of spin to say the least) – but I wondered if it even had much to say about Bushism. Bush’s bumbling seems to me to be crucial to his success; if he did rant and berate like the Hurt character, it would be hard to see him continue to get elected.

    The one section I did unequivocally like, predictably, was the ‘subjective desititution’ one. Perhaps coz I’m teaching Existentialism and Humanism at the mo, I saw this more in terms of Sartrean abandonment than of Zizek, though the parallels with Z are clearly there. Steven, aren’t you making two separate arguments against V for V/Zizek: i.e. 1. you’re rejecting the idea that subjective destitution is a precondition for a revolutionary act/psychoanalytic cure (I believe Z is right here, and I’d be interested to hear your objections to this claim in more detail) and 2. you’re arguing that what V does (torturing Evey etc) is morally unacceptable. These two ideas are related but the one doesn’t entail the other.

    On the universalism thing – surely the appeal of the universalist concept is that it is so empty and abstract. It precisely doesn’t depend on our having anything in common with other animals. It is an a priori ethical commitment, not a response to the banal empirical fact of difference!

  6. Mark,

    these are excellent points. Expanding on what I did say in my original posting, I agree about how the face of Power in the film (& the comic) is not the right one: that Blair and Bush both give us “soft” authoritarianism, rather than the hard authoritarianism dramatized by John Hurt’s dictator in the movie — and that this requires other strategies, other ways to think power and opposition, than Moore or the filmmakers provide.

    As regards subjective destitution: thanks for the clarification. I would definitely say that what I found problematic in the film was 2 (the moral objection, i.e. I question V.’s authority to treat or cure Evie in this way) rather than 1 (the imperative of subjective destitution itself). Though I think it is crucially important that it happens this way — which is why I was trying to move from this episode to the way that V. de-authorizes himself at the end, or defuses/deconstructs the way that he has in effect made himself into the idol of a charismatic cult. The only answer to the moral objection that doesn’t also entail a rejection of subjective destitution altogether in favor of some sort of existential fullness is one in which, as I wrote quoting Bataille, the authority behind the act “expiates itself.”

    The difficulty is that subjective destitution is not something that I, as a subject, can will for myself. Nor is it a state anyone can attain, for it is not a state at all, but an experience. Albeit a paradoxical experience, since the subject who “has” the experience is disqualified by it — and here I return to Blanchot and Bataille in preference to Lacan. How subjective destitution might be related either to the actual practice of psychoanalysis, or to revolutionary practice, is another question (or group of questions) about which I still feel very uncertain: but where I am deeply suspicious of what seem to me to be the idealisms and idealizations of both psychoanalysis and Leninism as forms of actual practice.

    In other words — what does it mean for me to say that subjective destitution is a necessary precondition (for either a “revolutionary act” or a “cure”), when I have not actually undergone such a process? (Has Zizek? I don’t mean this as a snide ad hominem argument, but only as a doubt as to whether having undergone psychoanalysis can really be equated to such a limit-experience).

    I think that this all has to do with the Lacan/Zizek distinction between desire and drive, which I still don’t feel I adequately understand, except that desire/negativity/lack/transcendence is the side of Lacan that Deleuze & Guattari object to, while drive as radically immanent/repetitive is closer to what they mean by desiring-machine or agencement. So a turn to drive rather than desire, to immanence rather than the dialectic, might have something to do with the question of universality vs. the common as well (at least in the way I am trying to privilege Blanchot — though not Levinas — over Lacan, and Kant over Hegel — but this is something I still feel hazy about, and will have to return to in future posts).

  7. Steve,

    I figured that what was sticking for you was ‘authorization.’ I read Zizek as emphasizing that revolution (as well as the outcome of analysis) cannot be authorized in advance–precisely because the destitute subject is not the same as the subject who went into the process/was a victim of it in the first place. And this seems important for politics as we acknowledge that the outcomes of political engagements change those who undertake them in ways we cannot predict and that the more extreme the engagement the potentially more dramatic the change.

    This issue of authorization is of course an old one in political theory–Rousseau worries with the kind of transformation necessary for the social compact as he imagines it to function; it requires the ‘legislator’ to enact it and of course those upon whom he enacts it are different from those his enactment produces.

    To my mind, it is vital not to get constrained by the terms of authorization and authority–too much of our political and psychic lives exceed these terms.

  8. Jodi,

    Thanks. I think that I agree with everything you say here — including that I am getting too hung up on issues of authority and authorization, since as you rightly say, “too much of our political and psychic lives exceed these terms.”

    I think that all this is crucial: the unknowability of the future, and the way that one is unavoidably changed by the engagements one undertakes, so that the “I” that results from the process cannot be identified with the “I” that entered into it. All this is true of writing, and it is all the more true of experiences and events that affect the foundations “I” take for granted more directly or vividly than writing does.

    But I also think that I know why I find it difficult to let go of my questions about authority and authorization. I feel uneasy about, or dissatisfied with, the terms in which these necessities are currently being posed. I can say that I agree that we need to think the Event as the production of something New, but that I find Badiou’s description of the event too… well, too Jacobin/Maoist, in a way that arouses all my Kantian suspicions about the dangers of “enthusiasm.” And similarly, I agree that some process of “subjective destitution” is crucial, but that I find Zizek’s evocation of this both too Romantic, and (in its psychoanalytic formalization) too constraining. My objections, thus expressed, are (I know) hopelessly vague; I need to work through the issues quite a bit more.

    Can I also say that I had already found the question of the Event in Deleuze, and that of subjective destitution in Bataille and Blanchot (though they don’t use this phrase), and that what Badiou and Zizek bring to the discussion seem to me to detract from the discussion, rather than add clarity, focus, or range & depth to it? Again, just listing the names here is insufficient; I’d have to write a lot more to explain (or work out to my own satisfaction) what I mean. But take the names as a sort of signpost of where I am looking for alternatives.

    It would be too simple to say that Deleuze (or Hardt/Negri) offers an anarchist/spontaneist alternative to Zizek’s Leninism; this is one case where I have difficulty with both alternatives. But part of what I am trying to do, both in this blog and in my more formal academic writing, is to think through how works like V for Vendetta (either the comic or the film) themselves theorize such issues, in ways that might provide a slightly different perspective. And that is the sense in which I am looking at V.’s superhuman abilities as a revolutionary agitator, and his harrowingly educational or psychoanalytical role vis-a-vis Evie, and his deliberate self-abdication towards the end, as raising all these questions in a disturbing and potentially revelatory way.

    I am not sure whether this is answering your comment any more at all, but the narrative of V. for Vendetta might be profitably juxtaposed with that of The Spook Who Sat By the Door (I am thinking of Sam Greenlee’s original novel; I have yet to see the movie adaptation, though it is supposed to be good). This novel also raises the question of revolutionary strategy together with that of what involvement means affectively, and with that of the authority of the (almost superhuman) instigator (who also dies at the end, not willingly, but after explicitly opening up the question of the revolution’s continuing vitality beyond his personal involvement).

  9. The Pinnochio Theory and Steve Shaviro are a study in how relative deterritorialization works in practice. Thanks for that. The revolution will not be territorialized or televized, though, mother fucker. Like that? One day, while you are eating green mints and complacently staring at video images of struggle and pain, my hand will reach out of your television set and grab you by the throat… You’ll be snickering about “affect” one minute, and the next minute, your snicker box will be gone. Do I get an F in my undergrad snit fit now ? Or is that a V I’ll get for real vendetta? Thanks for that, too.

  10. Haven’t seen the film yet. One question: does Hurt as dictator in any way recall Hurt as Winston Smith, in the film of 1984? An alternative title for V, it seems to me, would be A World of Hurt, vendetta being the relationship between tortured persons and their torturers (or, in Evey’s case, between the tortured and her torturer’s torturers)…

  11. Steve,

    Thanks for your reply. As you know, I am painfully ignorant when it comes to Blanchot and Bataille and only very slightly less so when it comes to Deleuze. It makes sense to me, though, that you have worked through in other settings questions that Badiou and Zizek pose and that you find these posings unhelpful. (Actually, I feel pretty weird trying to engage our discussion given the comment preceding this one, but I’ll go ahead…) Anyway, I don’t know The Spook Who Sat By the Door–so will look for it on Netflix!

    You say you look to V to Vendetta and such works as they themselves theorize such issues. It seems to me that what you do is theorize through them and this I find valuable (so I think you are understating the extent of your intervention).

    I wonder, then, again, about your initial point regarding ‘commonness’ through the mask as opposed to a Zizekian or Badiouian universality. And commonness seems to require, for you, unreconciled singularities drawn together by what is common. How different is that from the partisan assertion of the universal truth of the situation where the universal cuts through singularities (not reconciling or resolving them) to posit something else, namely, this new collective that can in no way be reduced to the singularities which have constituted it? When the masks are taken off in the end of the movie we see the individual faces–and we know what each has given up and sacrificed in adopting the mask and in joining in struggle; the faces are in a way traces of what was there before; they aren’t the same singular persons they were prior to donning the mask.

  12. Jodi, I need to think more about commonness and universality. Actually my preferred starting point is neither Hardt/Negri nor Zizek, but rather Deleuze’s sense in which singularity and universality communicate without mediation (and in contrast to the hierarchies and mediating categories of particular and general). I am not sure at this point how Deleuze’s sense of the singular/universal relates to Zizek’s sense of universality, just as I am not sure how Deleuze’s notion of the Event relates to Badiou’s.

    I am generally inclined to think that, in the face of the neoliberal “revolution” of the last thirty years, and the concomitant hypercommodification of everything (to the extent that, as Glen/Disambiguation says in his excellent posting on V for Vendetta, even Adorno “wasn’t quite ready for how much things would change from being determined by production (‘labour’) value to the experiential event-based use-value of the commodity”) — in the face of all this, the theoretical differences between, say, a Deleuzian and a Lacanian approach somehow seem less important, less absolute, than they did back in the 1970s.

    Glen, thanks too for citing me in your response; I like the way you frame the film in terms of Deleuze’s sense of the Event — that and the emphasis on fear, via Massumi, help me to work through a bit more of my generally celebratory, but still ambivalent, reaction to the movie. I really must reread the comic one of these days.

  13. I have enjoyed this conversation very much, especially the working through the fine distinction between Zizek’s ‘subjective destitution’ and Deleuze/Hardt/Negri’s more joyful and affirming becoming-political.

    Your mention of Blanchot made me think that in fact Zizek and Lacan are closer to his writing of a limit-experience than Deleuze. It seems the distinction lies in the radical affect of an immanent break that renders the subject desititute. It is something that happens that doesn’t happen, much like trauma in the psychoanalytic discourse and with Blanchot the ‘time of time’s absence.’ Isn’t Zizek’s critique of Deleuze focus around the potential aestheticization of becoming by a subject that hasn’t really undergone anything? In other words, if their is no subject to undergo the radical affect of an immanent break, how is the ‘something other’ to be assumed?

    I do think the question surrounding V’s rightful authority to subject Evie to torture is very interesting. No doubt, he assumes the right of the Master — but is this assumption in line with Lacan’s ‘the ethics of psychoanalysis?’ I don’t know.

    While I liked the film very much, for the reasons Shaviro states, I wanted to add one more criticism to go along with the remarks about the absence of any mention about Capital and how the demonic appearance and voice of John Hurt actually further buries the former omission. The government’s killing of 80,000 of its own to galvanize unity by means of fear is wonderful fodder to a growing conspiracy movement in this country that 9/ll was rigged by Bush and his boys.
    I find this to be such an impoverishment of thought (here evil intentions replace an analysis of global capital and the effects of colonization) and a symptom of impotence for well meaning ‘radicals’ (here the passage to the act consistently forecloses the lacanian act).

    So, regrettably, the non-mention of CAPITAL, the paranoid and demonic chancellor, as well as his perverse second hand man, coupled with this crucial sub-plot does have the effect of elevating the film to the level of a fetish. We enjoy the thrill of a transgression, without that enjoyment in any way altering the status quo, or the law as it stands.

    Nonetheless, I am guilty — i enjoyed it! And while perversion may not be as politically revolutionary as subversion, in the spirit of Hardt/Negri, it may be enough to stir a line of flight.

  14. If it were possible to get a line of flight out of torture, or even from images of torture, does that make torture or images of torture just to that extent an okay kind of thing? Or is it just too obvious, boring and old hat for you sophisticates to worry about that sort of thing?

  15. I came to your reading of V for Vendetta a little late, but I also felt the connection with Fight Club and with Hardt and Negri’s politics of the multitude to be the guiding politics of the film. I felt that the politcs were somewhat contained at the end, but it is a surprisingly radical film.

  16. So I just read this, having just seen the movie (and posted on it). A couple of things to add to your great post: there is some attention to capital, since the way John Hurt & Tim Pigot-Smith make money is through the cure to the viral plague they unleash. Viodoxxin, I think it’s called. And the relation of voice to presence is something Blanchot talks about, most beautifully in Au moment voulu.

    Also I think the masks are not the same throughout, which makes them an interesting image of the series of still faces that concatenated together make up the moving image. And to continue my purely aesthetic response, the relation of editing to the representaiton of Evey’s torture is as interesting as Sixth Sense — I’ll want to say something about this.

    I think though that Valery’s scroll makes a difference to some of what you say, the fact that it was real. And also the fact that some of those who unmask at the end — I love what you say about that — are people already dead in the movie: the return of the individual in the multitude itself.

  17. Also, in passing, I am so no longer enchanted by Zizek — have been for a really long time, while still enjoying reading him. But his latest LRB piece was silly beyond belief, a bit of political maneauvering, of the most transparent bourgeouise liberal kind, to be the leader of the theoretical left.

  18. I apologize that this has nothing to do with the current conversation, but does anyone have V’s extravagant alliteration?

  19. ‘V’ was always one of Moore’s most immature and simple-minded works. Its popularity during the Thatcher years was probably due to its relentless pose of gloom – like a lot of other sci-fi/comix at the time. David Loyd’s art is what made the strip…
    The film, in trying to ‘sex it up’ breezes by like a shiny car advert. Its neatly packaged nostalgaic ‘rebellion’ as arcane as the legion of bands who think crap haircuts, shouting ‘Oi’ and playing angular guitar licks makes them ‘radical’ and ‘cutting edge’. At least ‘The Matrix’ (not its sequels) attempted to engage with millenial concerns (and how innocent they seem now!).
    After watching ‘V’, ‘Batman Begins’ seems better and better. At least it engaged with a world of capital and brute force that is not only at war with ‘the people’ but also itself (Batman as metaphor for the schizophrenic agenda of capital and miltary force? – see also The Sopranos)
    As for Zizeck and his microwaved version of the Frankfurt school ….His pretensions to ‘leadership’ seem to be partly facilitated by the endless attention he recieves ftrom armchair philosophers like yourselves… KILL YR IDOLS

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  21. I love this movie! It was amazing. I went with my friend and I didn’t think that I would like it, but I turned out loving it!

  22. What an amazing and interesting conversation. I have recently posted my thoughts on the film on my blogsite, thank you for all the conversation, and the introduction of new terms that i now need to read up on.

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