A Revolution in Gotham?: Žižek on The Dark Knight Rises

by Andrew Loewen on August 9, 2012One comment

Žižek incites jazz hands at Zuccotti Park

Commentators have had much to say about the reactionary, anti-OWS politics of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. The best of the Batman Kulturkritik I’ve seen is Gavin Mueller’s take at the Jacobin. (Mueller argues Jonathan and Christopher Nolan’s vision is more monarchist than fascist or capitalist.) And now the diacritical Ž-meister has a sustained reading of the blockbuster (with footnotes!) up at the blog of a Portuguese publisher. (My Facebook feed sings with leftist grad students, if you must know.)

With an expensive tome on Hegel just published, and another book complete (read an excerpt here), the twitchy beardo makes it tough for Žižekophiles to read as fast as he types. Žižek puts the latest batman in dialogue with Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, while also calling on the book of Matthew, Che Guevara, The Phantom Menace, Mark Twain, and John Ford. No Kung Fu Panda though. The essay’s full of spoilers — outlining the whole storyline — and too long to paste, but I’m feeling swell so I’ll give you the gist. Žižek makes a routine hermeneutic move to those familiar with psychoanalytically informed cultural criticism: an “immanent” critique or reading of a popular text (film or novel) looks beyond its obvious (and intended) politics to tease out the ghost or trace of repressed desires, and for Marxists the specter lurking in the text — what a close reading can detect — is class struggle and revolution, even in a reactionary story. Here’s the opening sentence and last two paragraphs of Ž’s piece.

Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Gotham City | Slavoj Žižek on The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises attests yet again to how Hollywood blockbusters are precise indicators of the ideological predicament of our societies.

[… entire essay…]

Here we get the first clue – the prospect of the OWS movement taking power and establishing people’s democracy in Manhattan is so patently absurd, so utterly non-realist, that one cannot but raise the question: WHY DOES THEN A MAJOR HOLLYWOOD BLOCKBUSTER DREAM ABOUT IT, WHY DOES IT EVOKE THIS SPECTER? Why even dream about OWS exploding into a violent takeover? The obvious answer (to smudge OWS with accusations that it harbors a terrorist-totalitarian potential) is not enough to account for the strange attraction exerted by prospect of “people’s power.” No wonder the proper functioning of this power remains blank, absent: no details are given about how this people’s power functions, what the mobilized people are doing (remember that Bane tells the people they can do what they want – he is not imposing on them his own order).

This is why external critique of the film (“its depiction of the OWS reign is a ridiculous caricature”) is not enough – the critique has to be immanent, it has to locate within the film itself a multitude of signs which point towards the authentic Event. (Recall, for example, that Bane is not just a brutal terrorist, but a person of deep love and sacrifice.) In short, pure ideology isn’t possible, Bane’s authenticity HAS to leave trace in the film’s texture. This is why the film deserves a close reading: the Event – the “people’s republic of Gotham City”, dictatorship of the proletariat in Manhattan – is immanent to the film, it is its absent center.

Note: An academic I know speculates that this essay is fake, since it’s so predictably, paint-by-numbers Zizek it’s as if it was spit out by a software emulator. Its authorship is difficult to verify in this unruly blog age.

One comment

Nick Glossop on August 9, 2012 at 11:46 am. #

Well…crap. Anybody got a spare copy of Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism kicking around?