Sunday, March 13, 2016

Djinn/Theory 4

"Heimlich;   adj.   and   adv.   ...  heîmelich, heîmlich. [...]   
4. From the idea of "homelike," "belonging to the house"... something withdrawn from the eyes of others, something concealed, secret. . . ." [...]   
P. 878.  Heimlich in a different sense, as withdrawn from knowledge, unconscious: . . . Heimlich also has the meaning of that which is obscure, inaccessible to knowledge. . . . 
9. The notion of something hidden and dangerous, which is expressed in the last paragraph, is still further developed, so that "heimlich" comes to have the meaning usually ascribed to "unheimlich."  Thus: "At times I feel like a man who walks in the night and believes in ghosts; every corner is heimlich and full of terrors for him." Klinger. Thus heimlich is a word the meaning of which develops toward an ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich."

Sigmund Freud, "The Uncanny"

"In proceeding to review those things, persons, impressions, events, and situations which are able to arouse in us a feeling of the uncanny in a very forcible and definite form, the first requirement is obviously to select a suitable example to start upon.  Jentsch has taken as a very good in-
stance "doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate"; and he refers in this connection to the impression made by wax-work figures, artificial dolls and automatons.  He adds to this class the uncanny effect of epileptic seizures and the manifestations of insanity, because these excite in the spectator the feeling that automatic, mechanical processes are at work, concealed beneath the ordinary appearance of animation.
[...] This observation, undoubtedly a correct one, refers primarily to the story of "The Sand-Man" in [E.T.A.] Hoffmann's Nachtstücken, which contains the original of Olympia, the doll..."

The main thing to take away from Freud's essay on aesthetics (a philosophical terrain) and the uncanny (of which the psychoanalytical properties Freud deems quite grounded, that is, not strictly philosophical) is the proliferating series of oppositions he finds in the topic: intellectual/external/aesthetical uncanny versus psychological uncanny; the synonymous opposite terms "heimlich" and "unheimlich" (not to mention the similarly contradictory yet semantically interdependent terms - when perceived through an ambivalence - of "animation" and "lifelessness," "inanimateness" and "automation"); the uncanny as "intellectual uncertainty" versus a deeper psychological repression, the very term a conflict and conflation of the fantastic and the ordinary (the Other and the Self, the immanent and the empirical, what we can perceive and what is our perceiving), a dualism with which he marks an interpretive line in the sand: It is not just the supernatural impinging on the real, but the fantastic impinging on the banality of the mind.  It is not just the lifelike doll, but the threat of such fantasies on the human, who is constantly in fear of being robbed of his organs and a particular organicity which keeps the subject from being subsumed into the matters from which it derives its rote biological (and entrenched social) anxieties:

"This short summary leaves, I think, no doubt that the feeling of something uncanny is directly attached to the figure of the Sand-Man, that is, to the idea of being robbed of one's eyes;
We know from psychoanalytic experience, however, that this fear of damaging or losing one's eyes is a terrible fear of childhood... A study of dreams, phantasies and myths has taught us that a morbid anxiety connected with the eyes and with going blind is often enough a substitute for the dread of castration.  In blinding himself, Oedipus, that mythical law-breaker, was simply carrying out a mitigated form of the punishment of castration – the only punishment that according to the lex talionis was fitted for him.  We may try to reject the derivation of fears about the eye from the fear of castration on rationalistic grounds, and say that it is very natural that so precious an organ as the eye should be guarded by a proportionate dread... But this view does not account adequately for the substitutive relation between the eye and the male member which is seen to exist in dreams and myths and phantasies; nor can it dispel the impression one gains that it is the threat of being castrated in especial which excites a particularly violent and obscure emotion, and that this emotion is what first gives the idea of losing other organs its intense colouring."


"To conclude this collection of examples, which is certainly not complete, I will relate an instance taken from psychoanalytical experience; if it does not rest upon mere coincidence, it furnishes a beautiful confirmation of our theory of the uncanny.  It often happens that male patients declare that they feel there is something uncanny about the female genital organs.  This unheimlich place, however, is the entrance to the former heim [home] of all human beings, to the place where everyone dwelt once upon a time and in the beginning.  There is a humorous saying: "Love is home-sickness"; and whenever a man dreams of a place or a country and says to himself, still in the dream, "this place is familiar to me, I have been there before," we may intepret the place as being his mother's genitals or her body.  In this case, too, the unheimlich is what was once heimish, homelike, familiar; the prefix "un" is the token of repression."

Oedipus is only mythical a law-breaker because his crime reaches, with its implications, back into the primordial soup, that is, of a transgression of family.  Freud's rigidity has since been questioned: what is the "modern primordial" in the age of "modern family"?  In the age of the mediation of the material, the absence of gods and Freudian edicts, the banality of intersection no longer inter-familial but international?  What is killing a family member now?  The myth is exploded upon entrance into a modern world.  Djinn is bracing enough to perform such an explosion, the modern world defined by an ancient one that holds none of the same values it was previously perceived to have held (Djinn blasts all held beliefs, all dichotomies, of its mythical beings, of religions, of the East, of the West; it rails against its modern conditions by not discerning them - this could have been a Catholic horror film, like the risible The Conjuring, if it had nothing at all to say). The equation of Oedipus and Salama is an evocative one, the inconsistencies in the match communicating an uncommonly and genuinely modern and irreverent "update" to those essentialist mythic stories (also in line with Hooper's Platonic view of the sexes).  The idea of Salama enacting an act of self-castration (the child is Freud's designated fill-in for the female's lack of the male member) signals an audacious lapsed fealty towards any traditional view of Freudian "myth" and gendered formalist tragedy. 

"Where the uncanny comes from infantile complexes the question of external reality is quite irrelevant; its place is taken by psychical reality... We might say that in the one case what had been repressed was a particular ideational content and in the other the belief in its physical existence... An uncanny experience occurs either when repressed infantile complexes have been revived by some impression, or when the primitive beliefs we have surmounted seem once more to be confirmed."

 "Whereas for me the uncanniness of the ordinary is epitomized by the possibility or threat of what philosophy has called skepticism, understood (as in my studies of Austin and of the later Wittgenstein I have come to understand it) as the capacity, even desire, of ordinary language to repudiate itself, specifically to repudiate its power to word the world, to apply to the things we have in common, or to pass them by. [...] (An affinity between these views of the ordinary, suggesting the possibility of mutual derivation, is that both Heidegger’s [a much more Romantic concession of the uncanny as the unity of man and gods, of which Hooper's modern concerns respond to less than to Cavell's flux conception of the ordinary - e.g. ordinary language philosophy - as dialectically engaged with uncanniness, manifested in either our desire to repudiate the ordinary's relation to the uncanny, that is, our ability to "word the world," or our acknowledgement of our habits and the subsequent breakages between the ordinary and what out there is to be fully expressed] and mine respond to the fantastic in what human beings will accustom themselves to, call this the surrealism of the habitual — as if to be human is forever to be prey to turning your corner of the human race, hence perhaps all of it, into some new species of the genus of humanity, for the better or for the worse."

Stanley Cavell, "The Uncanniness of the Ordinary"

"Wittgenstein says in the Investigations, "When I talk about language (words, sentences, etc.) I must speak the language of every day.  Is this language somehow too coarse and material for what we want to say?  Then how is another one to be constructed? And how strange [merwürdig] that we should be able to do anything at all with the one we have!"... Now listen to words from two texts of Heidegger’s, from the essay “Das Ding” (“The Thing”) and from his set of lectures Was Heisst Denken? (translated as What Is Called Thinking?), both published within three years before the publication of the Investigations in 1953. From “The Thing”: “Today everything present is equally near and far. The distanceless prevails.” And again: “Is not this merging [or lumping] of everything into [uniform distancelessness] more unearthly than everything bursting apart? Man stares at what the atom bomb could bring with it. He does not see that the atom bomb and its explosion are the mere final emission of what the atom bomb could bring with it. He does not see that the atom bomb and its explosion are the mere final emission of what has long since taken place, has already happened.” What has already happened according to Heidegger is the shrinking or disintegration of the human in the growing dominion of a particular brand of thinking, a growing violence in our demand to grasp or explain the world."

Near and far, negated or made one by a concept of "distancelessness," is another dialectical opposition added to the series of oppositions and contradictory equations that make up the uncanny, which is both the strange and the ordinary, or, more precisely, as Cavell entreats, the stacked nature of each insinuating about the other.  The uncanny is an acknowledgement of a duality, and, in philosophy, the phenomenon of skepticism: the act of denial of our ordinary acts, such as our habits, our language, to express or read the mind of the Other. "Then how is another one [a more accurate wording] to be constructed?" In its lack, it may slowly give rise to a grasping: our realizing that we repudiate the ordinary to grasp the world. The violence of rather banal situations characterizes Djinn.  Also, take for instance a small moment excised for the released cut of the film, in which the father Nasser, after perusing the new apartment, then finally making his way to his wife gifting a set of religious talismans to their daughter, flips over a charm and cracks, "Made in China!"  The world has compressed into a tiny mass of total density, and what does it take now to express it?

"For the moment I turn to the other material I mentioned that is apparently antagonistic to ordinary language and its philosophy... Jacques Lacan’s controversial and perhaps too famous study of Edgar Allan Poe’s tale “The Purloined Letter.” Lacan’s professed reason for taking up the Poe story is its serviceability as an illustration of Freud’s speculations concerning the repetition compulsion in  Beyond the Pleasure Principle, an illustration suggested by the narrative feature of Poe’s tale that a compromising letter, stolen by one person who leaves a substitute in its place, is restolen and returned to its original position by another person who leaves another substitute (or construction), in turn, in its place. Fastening on the shifts of identification established by this repeated structure of thefts or displacements of a letter, Lacan in effect treats Poe’s tale as an allegory of what he understands psychoanalytic understanding to require — the tracing and return of displaced signifiers. This understanding, together with the special art by which the letter is concealed, also constitutes the tale as an allegory of writing... it also forms at least as exact and developed an allegory of ordinary language philosophy. The sense of this application is given in Poe’s tale’s all but identifying itself as a study — and hence perhaps as an act — of mind-reading."


Djinn drops the linguistic philosophy and is itself a story of displaced signifiers (babes, wives, mothers, family members).  The allegory becomes one of the modern, globalized world (as ordinary as ordinary language, wrought in cinematography the way language is wrought in literature), transposing the meta-literary short story of substitution and trickery and the declension of the term "odd" with the meta-representational cinema of substitutions, more doubling, trickery, and its own sense of visual and narrative repetition; it is the imperfect allegory for the uncanny act of perceiving, filmically, its demons and changelings.

 "The narrative comes to turn on the fact that a purloined letter was hidden by being kept in plain view, as if a little too self-evident, a little too plain to notice, as it were beneath notice, say under the nose, and then moves to an examination of competing theories of the way to find the truth of hidden things. Now of course a reader of Wittgenstein’s Investigations may well prick up his or her ears at the very announcement of a tale in which something is missed  just because obvious. One remembers such characteristic remarks from the Investigations as these:

The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and [ordinariness, everydayness]. (One is unable to notice something — because it is always before one’s eyes.)[§ 129]

 Philosophy simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything. — Since everything lies open to view there is nothing to explain. For what is hidden, for example, is of no interest to us. [§ 126]"


A lesson to be learned by literally every other horror film out there.

"Philosophy in Wittgenstein turns out to require an understanding of how the seriousness of philosophy’s preoccupations (with meaning, reference, intention, pointing, understanding, thinking, explaining, with the existence of the world, with whether my behavior consists of movements), its demand for satisfaction, its refusal of satisfaction — how this seriousness is dependent on disarming our sense of oddness and non-oddness, and therewith seeing why it is with the trivial, or superficial, that this philosophy finds itself in oscillation, as in an unearthly dance. (It was my sense of this unearthly oscillation that led me, early in my interest in Wittgenstein, to compare his writing with the writing of Beckett [for whom the extraordinary is ordinary] and with that of Chekhov [for whom the ordinary is extraordinary], who thus inescapably court the uncanny.)"


"He [Wittgenstein] speaks to us quite as if we have become unfamiliar with the world, as if our mechanism of anxiety, which should signal danger, has gone out of order, working too much and too little.
The return of what we accept as the world will then present itself as a return of the familiar, which is to say, exactly under the concept of what Freud names the uncanny. That the familiar is a product of a sense of the unfamiliar and of the sense of a return means that what returns after skepticism [this is not at all the typical definition of the word, which can be easily and erroneously applied to Djinn's portrait of modernity and superstition; rather, it is the much more profound definition previously described, of the philosophical inclination to repudiate the ordinary's ability to describe the true nature of an Other] is never (just) the same. [Cavell stakes his claim that the ordinary, even in its failing to grasp, commits a transformative effect that creates the uncanny.] (A tempting picture here could be expressed by the feeling that “there is no way back.” Does this imply that there is a way ahead? Perhaps there are some “back’s” or “once’s” or pasts the presence to which requires no “way.” Then that might mean that we have not found the way away, have never departed, have not entered history. What has to be developed here is the idea of difference so perfect that there is no way or feature in which the difference consists [I describe this by saying that in such a case there is no difference in criteria] — as in the difference between the waking world and the world of dreams, or between natural things and mechanical things, or between the masculine and the feminine, or between the past and the present. A difference in which everything and nothing differs is uncanny.)"


"The guiding thought of Heidegger’s essay “Building Dwelling Thinking,” a companion essay to his “Das Ding,” is that dwelling comes before building, not the other way around... If you take Edgar Allan Poe (together with Nathaniel Hawthorne), on some opposite side of  the American mind from Emerson and Thoreau, also to be writing in response to skepticism, then it becomes significant that they too write repetitively about dwelling, settling, houses; about, call it, domestication. Since their tales, unlike the scenes of Emerson and Thoreau, typically have other people in them, they think of domestication habitually in terms of marriage or betrothal. And habitually they think not about its ecstasies but about its horrors, about houses that fall or enclose, ones which are unleavable and hence unliveable. I said that the new philosophical step in the criticism of skepticism developed in ordinary language philosophy is its discovery of skepticism’s discovery, by displacement, of the everyday; hence its discovery that the answer to skepticism must take the form not of philosophical construction but of the reconstruction or resettlement of the everyday. This shows in its treatment of skepticism’s threat of world-consuming doubt by means of its own uncanny homeliness, stubbornly resting within its relentless superficiality... It stands to reason that if some image of human intimacy, call it marriage, or domestication, is the fictional equivalent of what the philosophers of ordinary language understand as the ordinary, call this the image of the everyday as the domestic; that then the threat to the ordinary that philosophy names skepticism should show up in fiction’s favorite threats to forms of marriage, namely in forms of melodrama and tragedy.
This takes me back to Heidegger’s “Das Ding,” in which the overcoming of our distancelessness, of our loss of connection, or rather our unconnectedness, with things, our being unbethinged, unbedingt, that is, unconditioned (hence inhuman, monstrous, figures of a horror story), is expressed   by Heidegger in terms of “the marriage of sky and earth,” of the “betrothal” of “the earth’s nourishment and the sky’s sun.” One might have imagined that this image is only accidental in Heidegger’s essay, but it is essentially what goes into his extraordinary account of the thinging of the world as requiring the joining of earth, sky, gods, and mortals in what he calls “the round dance of appropriating” (der Reigen des Ereignens); and when he goes on to say “the round dance is the ring” that grapples and plays, he can hardly not have in mind the wedding band... something confirmed by his speaking of “the ringing of the ring” (das Gering des Ringes), where what he seems to want from the word Gering is both the intensification of the idea of being hooped together and at the same time the idea of this activity as slight, trivial, humble; it is the idea of diurnal devotedness. Thus does the idea of the everyday, which Heidegger has apparently disdained, recur, repeat itself, transformed, as the metaphysical answer to that empirical disdain."


("The passage is from the concluding sequence of a film called Woman of the Year (directed by George Stevens in 1942, with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy), a relatively minor member of a genre of movie I have called “the comedy of remarriage” and that I define through certain movies from the Hollywood 1930’s and 1940’s. The woman in Woman of the Year is a world-famous, syndicated  political journalist, the man a lower-class sports reporter on her house newspaper... there is a final sequence in which the woman appears about dawn at her estranged husband’s apartment and while he is asleep attempts, with hopeless incompetence, to cook breakfast for him. He is awakened by the noise of her incompetence, interrupts her pitiful efforts, and is treated to a humble declaration from her which begins, significantly for the genre of remarriage, “I love you, Sam. Will you marry me?” He treats this outburst from his wife with a mocking tirade of  disbelief, to which she replies: “You don’t think I can do the ordinary things that any idiot can do, do you?” He says no; she asks why not; upon which he delivers a long remarkable lecture which begins, “Because you’re incapable of doing them,” and ends by saying that she is trained to do things incompatible with the training that doing those ordinary things demands. All I call attention to here is that this proves to be all right with him, with both of  them; that for example in this genre of movie if anyone is seen to cook it is the man, never the woman (or never without him); that, uniquely in this genre of comedy, so far as I know, the happiness of marriage is dissociated from any a priori concept of what constitutes domesticity (you might also call marriage in these films the taking of mutual pleasure without a concept —whether two people are married does not necessarily depend on what age they are, or what gender, or whether legally). Marriage here is being presented as an estate meant not as a distraction from the pain of constructing happiness from a helpless, absent world, but as the scene in which the chance for happiness is shown as the mutual acknowledgment of separateness, in which the prospect is not for the passing of years (until death parts us) but for the willing repetition of days, willingness for the everyday (until our true minds become unreadable to one another).")


Marriage, the past and the present, betrothal of earth and sky, this is what it takes to be "bethinged" again, to perceive actually, and to acknowledge the ordinary and uncanny-bringing skepticism, the acknowledgement of which is key to the world.  The modern, globalized world is what is being bethinged here in DjinnDjinn, unlike Cavell's comedies of remarriage, though, is a tragedy.  No union is allowed its perfect reunion, none its harmony with the world bethinged.

"Earth and sky, divinities and mortals - being at one with one another of their own accord - belong together by way of the simpleness of the united fourfold.  Each of the four mirrors in its own way the presence of the others.  Each therewith reflects itself in its own way into its own, within the simpleness of the four.  This mirroring does not portray a likeness.  The mirroring, lightening each of the four, appropriates their own presencing into simple belonging to one another.  Mirroring in this appropriating-lighting way, each of the four plays to each of the others.  The appropriate mirroring sets each of the four free into its own, but it binds these free ones into the simplicity of their essential being toward one another.
The mirroring that binds into freedom is the play that betroths each of the four to each through the enfolding clasp of their mutual appropriation.  None of the four insists on its own separate particularity.
This appropriating mirror-play of the simple onefold of earth and sky, divinities and mortals, we call the world...
The fouring, the unity of the four, presences as the appropriating mirror-play of the betrothed, each to the other in simple oneness.  The fouring presences as the worlding of the world.  The mirror-play of the world is the round dance of appropriating.  Therefore, the round dance does not encompass the four like a hoop.  The round dance is the ring that joins while it plays as mirroring.  Appropriating, it lightens the four into the radiance of their simple oneness.  Radiantly, the ring joins the four, everywhere open to the riddle of their present.  The gathered presence of the mirror-play of the world, joining in this way, is the ringing.  In the ringing of the mirror-playing ring, the four nestle into their unifying presence, in which each one retains its own nature.  So nestling, they join together, worlding, the world.
Nestling, malleable, pliant, compliant, nimble - in old German these are called ring and gering.  The mirror-play of the worlding world, as the ringing of the ring, wrests free the untied four into their own compliancy, the circling compliancy of their presence.  Out of the ringing mirror-play the thinging of the thing takes place."

 Martin Heidegger, "The Thing"

 (If it is so, that tragedy, in the classical sense, is receptive to the uncanny, is Djinn indeed an iconoclastic story of female castration anxiety?  Does its allusions to The Sand-Man - a fall from a tower, a childhood fear revisited through threat to one's organs and sanity - or to Oedipus, to Elektra - in a form of matriarchal competition - or Medea, mean that Djinn may be one of the most interesting works of intellectualized uncanniness we have seen in a long, long time?)

The djinn have appropriated the modern world.

"The question then becomes whether our arrival home can be held.  We still have to learn to become at home, that is, sustain our belonging to the appropriated fourfold, and learn to dwell there.  That is the next step... We need to begin to become at home in our homecoming-arrival.  As a way to hold it in mind, homecoming here shows itself as the arrival home, where home means 1) our own essence (and the proper essence of all, each in its own homecoming); 2) saying, thinking, and thing, which each in its own way gives worlds to us; and 3) the mutual appropriating of divinities and mortals, earth and sky.  Through these passages, we arrive, past being and beings thought separately, past even the duality thought in difference and belonging, at our belonging to appropriating-granting.  And so to a further radical possibility - the giving which is named Ereignis [Appropriation].  Appropriation is often thought of as event or happening; but it would be more originary to take it as the gathering-giving of belonging-together which also means the grant of what is proper to each in the belonging together).  In coming home to Ereignis as giving, we are given our belonging.  We are gathering into it.  Thus, Ereignis is the grant of homecoming."

Heidegger and Homecoming: The Lietmotif in the Later Writings by Robert Mugerauer