Vanishing Point: The Vicious And Virtuous Circle

Peter Lewis

'For us, tired hedonists of this end of the century...'

Alain Badiou, The Century

'We have discovered happiness,' say the Last Men, and they blink.'

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarasthustra

What do we learn from B-Movies? How to 'faire faux'? Make things worse to make them better? Spit on the grave of convention?

The cult road movie, 'Vanishing Point' by Richard Sarafian [1971] starring Barry Newman as the sexually jaded ex-policeman and fugitive driver Kowalski of a 1970 Dodge Challenger] personifies the [death] drive, an amphetamine-fuelled, ecstatic flight from the law, to celebrate [against] the violence of the system. In the visual beauty of the sexualized figure of the 'dromoscopic' desert, we sacrifice the injunction to be happy; to integrate familial thought, at this speed, is impossible. The delirium of rebellion at its extreme velocity, at the ellipse of an 'inhuman' speed of thought, is set to intensify the discipline required of the hyper-nomadic.

Kowalski is guided by Supersoul, a blind DJ with a police radio scanner and a feverish distaste for authority. Like a crazed evangelical messenger, the spirited, disembodied voice of an angel of the airwaves, provides him a desacrilised echo of disenchantment. Turning sour, Supersoul inspires futility. The delirium of Kowalski's anti-heroism pacifies any fraught decision between death and control. Freedom is gauged in the will to an accelerated suicide.

'[...] We encounter in Saint-John Perse [from his poem 'Anabasis' 1924] an assertion that seems especially obscure today: that of the superiority of nomad greatness over happiness. This is pushed so far as to cast doubt on the very value of happiness. The expression 'the gelded words of happiness' [recalling that a gelder is a specialist castration of horses] seems to indicate that for a man of anabasis, even where language is concerned, the obsession with happiness constitutes a mutilation [...] for it holds that the desire for happiness is what prohibits greatness'.

Alain Badiou, Anabasis, from The Century

'The depth of the landscape rises to the surface like an oil spot on the surface of a painting. Inanimate objects exhume themselves from the horizon and come bit by bit to impregnate the sheen of the windshield. Perspective comes alive. The vanishing point becomes a point of assault projecting its arrows and rays on the voyager-voyeur.'

Paul Virilio, Edward R. O'Neill, Dromoscopy, or The Ecstasy of Enormities

Cinema has nurtured the voyager- voyeur, as the 'larvae' of novelty from within narrative, coinciding vicious and virtuous circles in anti-narration. Imaginaries of the Real, as set out in catastrophe and abundance, contradict their libidinal economies by intersecting axes. These stories narrated at the same time are 'disnarrated' e.g.The Game [film, David Fincher, 1997] by detours, wayward arrows, intersecting dimensions of reflexivity, chance and hallucinated deception, at the vanishing point of difference overlapped, Janus-faced, exhibiting virtuous and vicious characteristics. Derived from the work of writers such as Michel Butor, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Philip K. Dick the 'mis-en-abime' spaces of 'erotic' transformation ofThe Game immerse and dissolve their automatic subject into the forced occupation of the host body, Capital.

'[...] Some recent films reveal interesting parallel tendencies. Protagonists are frequently presented as having sexual problems that nevertheless give them a lot of 'pleasure'. Whether squirming in the uncomfortable fit of their identity---as in The Closet, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, L.I.E., or erotically, on the road in the movie Y Tu Mama Tambien---or languishing as a kind of impotent, alienated ghost--- as in The Sixth Sense and The Others---several things emerge which bespeak the two meanings of 'vanishing point': 'a point at which receding parallel lines seem to meet when represented in linear perspective'; and 'a point at which something disappears or ceases to exist.'

From Mott, G. (2004). The Vanishing Point of the Sexual Subject: The Closed, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Psychoanalytic Review, 91:607-614.

'[...] Sex is, to put it in Derridean terms, the condition of the possibility, and of the impossibility, of love.'

Slavoj Zizek, Violence, p31

What had appeared interesting in Jean-Luc Godard's films of the period [1970s], for example, was that he consistently put forward a cinematic problem, from what seemed to obsess him most sexually. In the end this obsessing itself ultimately degenerated to a vicious circling designed to prevent the artist's conscious control 'ceasing to exist'; like celluloid, or videotape, Godard failed, intentionally, to something outside his cinematic control. A new generation of formats rose Phoenix-like in the ashes, without the need of an auteur subject and the critical assembly of cinema's historical idea and moment. Godard has written clearly on the variegated differences implied in these objects' incompatible currencies and paradoxically of the virtue of a depressed apparatus of late knowledge in fragmentation.

'[...] Michel Houellebecq [in his novels] depicts the morning-after of the Sexual Revolution, the sterility of a universe dominated by the super-ego injunction to enjoy. All of his work focuses on the antimony of love and sexuality: sex is an absolute necessity, to renounce it is to wither away, so love cannot flourish without sex; simultaneously, however, love is impossible precisely because of sex: sex, 'which proliferates as the epitome of late capitalism's dominance, has permanently stained human relationships as inevitable reproductions of the dehumanising nature of liberal society; it has essentially, ruined love'.

Nicholas Sabloff, 'Of Filth and Frozen Dinners', Common Review, Winter 2007, p50

'[...] If an object is to remain an economic value, its value must not be raised so greatly that it becomes an absolute.'

Georges Simmel

What aesthetic economy is ever ruined or ever really 'ceases to exist'? Has the millionaire who can afford to risk the absolute aesthetic to find again love, via the illusion incarnate given of a lucid dream program, whilst in cryogenic suspension, [played by Tom Cruise], really 'died' in the movie 'Vanilla Sky'? The virtuous dream of disenchantment and suicide [of the success of technological rationalization and 'anal' capitalism] is the dark sign of excess in systemic violence that now consolidates global, corporate modernity in its virtuous aesthetic circulations. Or when gold, as Marx named 'lord of commodities', of misrule and chaos, is at the vanishing point of its absolute value, then does it follow that the [financially rewarding] symbolization of absolute passivity, the vicious, in apotheosis as the victorious, is therefore the rule of law, virtuous? So, at oblique angles to this horizon, Michel Serres writes, of the parasite.

Freedom, love, sex, or thought in another way, the discipline necessary of the nomad, has advanced rebellion by self-justification as a sacrificial moth to a flame. Yet its vanishing point is exchangeable, as morbid expenditure, 'ceasing to exist', that robs the logic of the rebel, merely expropriating it to capital. The selfless act is of value to capital as expanding sovereign exchange, and assuring ascendancy [power] by self-negation, also the theft of thymos if defined as the soulful, or spirited, by those who want it, do not possess it and will 'sacrifice' wealth for it. What is the 'it' if not precisely pure desire, without object?

'[...] The sovereign self-negating gesture of the endless accumulation of wealth is to spend this wealth for things beyond price, and outside market circulation: public good, arts and sciences, health etc. This concluding sovereign gesture enables the capitalist to break out of the vicious cycle of endless expanded reproduction, of gaining money in order to earn more money...furthermore, the capitalist thus accomplishes the shift from eros to thymos, from the perverted 'erotic' logic of accumulation of success, public recognition and reputation [...]'

Slavoj Zizek, Violence, p20

Who wins in the roulette game of self-destruction between virtuous and vicious desire without object? The discipline of thought required as Saint-John Perse writes 'to re-ascend the slope'? What if the rebel is now the law? What if that act, not perverse in rebellion -- but perverse in law, obscenely commands generosity by democratic acts, humanitarian benevolence through expenditure -- eros to thymos -- that less than secretly celebrates something of the aesthetic order of the repulsive, and of terror? Something acceptable.

Recall the cinematic logic of Luis Bunuel's cine-mathematics. In 'The Exterminating Angel', haute bourgeois manners act out the literary whimsy of a reminiscence of Dante's 9th Circle of Hell, Betrayal, to be disordered, broken, by a ritual in order to escape eternal incarceration. The reenactment of a vanishing point, i.e. the last remembered moment before death, and ceasing to exist, is performed to re-inscribe the usefulness of memory to a specific time and place. It, unfortunately, only hastens its exact recurrence, ad infinitum, 'elsewhere'.

'...The parasite becomes the host... '

Michel Serres Parasite

The parasite will always win, for the producer has always lost in the vicious circle. There is no production. An admission of virtue subordinated to the value of vicious pragmatism, sets the rule of the law of the virtuous corporation, positioning, marketing, energising, reproducing the quasi-object, information, founded on a bond, a vow taken to virtue, to personal happiness. Is it not precisely, since too generous a gift, too informative, therefore a falsification? The proof lies in the publicity of charity bestowed from the basis of its systemic violence, disguised, in Zizek's 'liberal communism' in the virtuous circles of business.

'...Of the fox and the wolf, which is the better, the stronger, or the smarter? [...] These species have disappeared, leaving man alone to play this game of destruction...'

Michel Serres, Parasite

There can be imagined, if it is to be at all desirable, a state beyond the sacrifice dynamic of the host/parasite, as greater than the exchanged virtuous/vicious, which subordinates the unassailable desire for happiness? Who is [sacrificing] whom? Who is speaking? No one. The dead? The gods? The nomad is the unimaginable, a suicide without tribute or trace.

The beginning of a vicious, globalised 21st Century marks the cynical coincidence of a second Restoration, at pains to distance its position from the proximity of the Monstrous [Real] with its blind numbers and repeatable laws for abiding, safe from the dread of novelty, of the imaginary real of virtue. Vicious begins with certainty in securing the individual's happiness, and its human rights, the fear of the slippery slope, the 'happy' symptom of terminal melancholia. All end in inertia, collapse, and happiness, in a smile and a whisper. Like the decaying narcissism produced of its actors, e.g. Dennis Hopper reporting excitedly to Martin Shiel on hearing Marlon Brando's own reading as Kurtz, in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, of T.S. Eliot's The Hollow Men, in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, we just mime to it.

In the narration of catharsis and redemption, 'The Game' produces a 'happy ending' for its protagonist. Awkward, resistant, confused [working through the 'dream' as game-event, unlearning something, enjoyment as not-enjoyment] it is to his advantage to commit suicide, if he wants to be saved by the family, the corporation, meaning. Catharsis, reincorporation and redeemed identity. His mourning is not for his father, but for the loss of his desire for the Father, the absolute value, posing a threat to the happiness, and the virtue of the society positioned in disequilibrium. Balance must appear to be restored, of the invisible imbalance. The 'automatic subject' is in all these cases, unspoken.

These trajectories to the personality's vanishing point may be considered again as not literally perverse, yet variants in representations of the anti-heroism of the 'passion for the real'. [Its most extreme example, Alain Badiou cites certain examples in The Century, found in the sense of 'becoming-revolutionary'. Yezhov, Stalin's principle organizer of the 1937 Terror, in which thousands were murdered, was a refined intellectual whose passion for the 'hard core' of the real was also to lead many others into the secret service, and its police ranks. For another example he recalls the British secret service recruitments during the Cold War, from the intelligentsia of Oxford and Cambridge Universities]. A vicious, perverse circle inscribes the will to conformity from a retrospective point of radical virtue.

Something virtuous disappears in virtue, to reappear as vicious. Catastrophe theories pose a question of perverse behaviour appearing at a moment of sudden change or of the passion for the real taken to extreme, emerging like the sun's green ray, precisely at its vanishing point, to illuminate momentarily an invisible, potentially treacherous, middle ground. A figure such as a butterfly's cusp is folded in such delirious complex patterning of number, that it might be sprung as the seed of something libidinal, vivid, and yet cruel to its symbolization. The cruelty of a fact, at once producing abundant variation amidst catastrophe is the signal of the monstrosity in the midst of things poisoned in abundance. 'And the name of the star is Wormwood'. [St.John, Book of Revelations 8:11].

Does the governing system, the host, by incorporating the parasite, thereby expand the circle of its repeatability? Cadavers, as meals for parasites, are a typical literary, and painterly subject of catastrophe that posits the systemic violence of the host beyond utility's consuming pleasures for parasites; in leftovers flowering for example in the painted beauty of the vanitas or nature morte to coincide cruelty and the impassiveness of a fact. As non-relation, or disequilibrium, art therein is produced to support the conditions for social relation by perverse manners and disordering of numbers. It is now the joker in the pack, that proclaims disorder, by the civility or accepted taste for it, that collapses society to the dimension of economic absolute value: the flatness of the circle. Do we uncover the larvae of novelty, gorged on the host body, dead? Disorder no longer provides the order and regulation in the exception of the system.

'On Abuse without use, subjects without an object...'

Michel Serres, Parasite

Note: Jean-Joseph Goux, in Symbolic Economies: After Marx and Freud argues that in four domains, Gold is the general equivalent within the domain of commodities, the Phallus in the domain of objects, the Father within the domain of subjects, and Language within the domain of signs, which, in each, acceding to power, governs the evaluations of the set from which it has excluded itself.

The modern exception is the invisible middle ground. The Subject. A flat aesthetic, by for example absolutely overlapping the planes of a painting; as arguably serial music invokes by phasing, in its overlaying of repeatable numbers; or as video disnarrates Form by looping 'envelopes of time', is synonymous with the imaginary of 'Rorschach' tests. What is presented as necessarily flat, lays its claim to an empirical objectivity in equal measure to arbitrary subjectivity. What you see is what you see, or what you hear, you hear, in the space and time between, the inexistent middle ground, the space of the subject.

Do we hear 'something else' in this message, of a disembodied voice in the ordinary virtues of popular songs? Does the voice break-up in the white noise of our collective unconscious, from an arrival point in mutual synchronicity? The Subject and the Same?

Sound that connects up temporal circles [the virtuous noise and vicious message that Michel Serres poetically terms angelic], are unknown as white noise, to what common sense determines for us, as something symmetrical, between the indistinguishable and intolerable. Heard outside, or inside, what if the noise is the message? Coincidence is therein at once lucid, ungraspable, and paranoiac; feeding premonition, a third space and time opens up. The mediation between spaces- their vanishing point, records the perspectives of another time as a transfer, like Rorschach, as a claim of really happening only by a subjective occurrence.

Acuity of listening and timing alerts at a position that is precisely relative, moving in between, interrupting, the circle. Heard from one side, cacophony; from the other, depth of field in another; an eventless harmony, sensory deprivation, unbearable flatness. We strive the middle ground [ascend the slope] from the point of perspective's catastrophe.

'[...] We simple blind people, simplistic, short-sighted, have not imagined implication, inclusion, fold; we have never known what a tissue is, never noticed or listened to women, never known what a 'mĀŽlange' might be, and never understood, or even imagined, time...'

Michel Serres

In the mindset of contemporary culture, we are constituted by hunger and thrive or not. Who is to be parasite, what is sacrificed [there is always the necessary sacrifice] and of whose body, to whom is it assigned host? And with the forgotten, at vanishing point, or blind spot, what witness?

The virtue of the corporation, in 'Vanilla Sky' is to be the virtuous parasite to the vicious host. As provider of technical support software that is also reversible, we have choice, and already live inside a dream of the corporate, offered the [limited] option to leave. However the background of Monet's paint box 'vanilla' skies, signals the irreversibility of having clicked on a 'window too far', the clue in the persistence of the image's virtual afterlife: the background noise becomes the message in a forever-bright eternal circling sky. For if the gods conjured by these cinematic variants of Hollywood reverie, by the avatars of Frederick Nietzsche, are truly dead then probably, so are we.

The grass was greener
The light was brighter
With friends surrounded
The nights of Wonder

'High Hopes', The Division Bell_, Pink Floyd, 1994

Black and Blue
And who knows which is which and who is who
Up and Down
And in the end it's round and round...

'Us and Them' from Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd, 1973, Capitol

...No.9, no.9, no.9, no.9, no.9...

'Revolution No.9' from The White Album, The Beatles, 1968, Apple

Passing Time, novel, Michel Butor, 1954

Ubik, novel, Philip K. Dick, 1969

Abre los Ojos, film, Alejandro Amenábar 1997

Vanilla Sky', film, Cameron Crowe, 2000

The Game, film, David Fincher, 1997