Monday, 19 July 2010

I Stand Alone

Every once in a while you come across an incident in the media so bizarre it bores into your consciousness in such a way that you're forced to think about it more than you'd like to. The case I am referring to, for me at least, seems to reinforce the "new naturalism" in films such as Gaspar Noe's I Stand Alone. While for some the interest probably amounts to little more than forensically second guessing the complexities of a mental illness, that is not what interests me. No, my regard for the film in question is bolstered by recollections of other rare, sensational incidents, in which armed, naked men act out their desperation in public, leading me to recall Aihwa Ong's insightful discussion in Neoliberalism As Exception:

"Following Weber, we have long assumed that the economic ethic--or a calculative and methodical attitude toward the acquisition of skills, competitive gain, and market activities--is a fundamental necessity for participation in the capitalist environment. But Weber did not live to observe the incredible dynamism of contemporary capitalism that can exclude some categories of calculative actors. Increasingly, their skills are unmarketable if they do not include neoliberal elements of manipulatability, and therefore they cannot be equally valued in fluid market conditions" (p174).

Taking this further, I find myself agreeing with Joel Whitebook in his Perversion and Utopia, which quotes Adorno to the effect that the dissolution of the principium individuationis seen in schizophrenia does not constitute a form of enlightenment or emancipation. To be sure, Adorno acknowledges that, "the identifying principle of the subject is itself the internalized principle of society", but he still maintains that any regression into madness merely marks a passage from domination by society to domination by nature. In other words, the relinquishment of the calculative rationality Ong describes cannot be automatically construed as an endorsement of Lacanian or Deleuzian cultural critique (p151), and I would equally resist the temptation to characterise I Stand Alone in such terms. I instead reserve an interpretation of film and the real life male amok runners alike in terms of the new naturalism. Without progressive, collective support, a body without manipulatability risks regression to the point where it can only mutilate inert flesh- as per the redundant butcher in Gaspar Noe's film, who is poised on the brink of implosion.

A number of years ago, the media reported how one of these naked guys entered a packed church, brandishing a samurai sword. Moreover, I'll never forget a friend telling me about someone he knew who was fishing at a quiet spot with some workmates, when they too were set upon by one of these amok runners. The details are very unpleasant, so I think I will stop now, and leave it to a viewing of I Stand Alone to do the talking for me. I don't see these individuals as exerting any more agency than the "mouthpiece" for the Construct Council in Perdido Street Station. Although much unforgettable, grotesque imagery, features in that book, it offers a more rounded portrait of human relations than I Stand Alone, which at least affords some relief.

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