Representing the time of the postmodern subject in David Lynch`s Lost Highway and The Straight Story ; The psychoanalytic approach (2002 Essay, UvA)

 “…at a certain level, to perceive the subject as the psychological unity of a person is wrong.” (p.23, The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime, On David Lynch’s Lost Highway, Slavoj Zizek) 

Representing the time of the postmodern subject in David Lynch`s Lost Highway and The Straight Story ; The psychoanalytic approach


The cinema of David Lynch has been hailed by Slavoj Zizek as the art of the ridiculus sublime where the uncanny narrative structures of his films present the passive spectator with problems of comprehension and the active spectator with unheard of “side” effects. In this universe of the ridiculous sublime the most ridiculous and pathetic scenes are to be taken seriously alongside the ridiculosly excessive, violent “evil” figures. In “The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime, On David Lynch’s Lost Highway” Zizek “attempt(s) to unravel the enigma of this coincidence of opposites, which is, in a way, the enigma of postmodernity itsef”(p.3)

 The psychoanalytic approach of Zizek clarifyes the presence and the power of symbolic institutions we take for granted. Zizek focuses on how we hug our chains not how we resist them, and so it is in this vein that his interpretation points to the redemptive value of naive cliches. As the properly impersonal bureucratic voice of the symbolic institutions disintegrate on the appereance (to the point of demanding a tone of emotional sincerity from the speakers of institutions which is much more cynical in the eyes of Zizek), their separation from human beings also wayne in many ways. This schitzophrenic disintegration of the boundries has consequences over how the power structures are concieved by different individuals as well as how those power structures manifest themselves in the world. Hence I would like to look at how Zizek through the psychoanalytic method locates the elements of the psychological unity of a character which are external to the subject in Lost Highway, and continue with the analysis in The Straight Story to look at the main characters relation to the external parts (extentions) of himself. 

 Since the representations of time enter a reciprocal relationship with the full scale reality of the main characters in Lost Highway and The Straight Story, the self reflexive logic of the narrative is tied to the very essence of the characters dillemas which gives them (and the films) a unique life and time of their own, or rather a life and time the characters have struggled and worked to make their own. Fred is a musician who starts having delusions after killing his wife and Alvin is a WWII veteran desperately trying to reach his dying brother 600 miles away.


The psychoanalytic approach and Lost Highway


 As oppose to the post-theory, which rejects Lacanian cinema studies, Zizek establishes the transgression of meaning in the surface and deep keys (clues) of narration in film as inherent (transgression). This is to say that instead of conflicting clues appealing to different interpretations of different spectators, the clues actually appeal to the two types of interpretation within the same spectator. This idea of the split spectator links to the psychoanalytic terms of the opposition between the symbolic Law (Ego-ideal) and obscene superego (Ideal-ego). The symbolic Law is only interested in keeping/saving appearances in the public domain, leaving the superego to go on with its dirty imagination. Alas, psychoanalysis is not interested in some repressed content but the essential character of appearance, which in this case means that “…these unintended, perverse by-products, far from effectively threatening the system of symbolic domination, are its inherent transgression, i.e., its unacknowledged, obscene support.”(p.7)

 Zizek reads Lynch, through the Lacan of the Real/ the Real of Lacan. The Real forms the traumatic underbelly of our fantasized reality. The violence of the Real appears to exist as a prerequisite for the invention of collective fantasy. This is an on going process of protection from stimuli through delay and diffusion in the everyday and also in the historical existence. In Lacan`s definition of the mind The Real is the first of the triad of concepts. The real, the imaginary and the symbolic form the subject by firstly binding/bounding the surges of energy from the Real (could be literally read as the entire sense data bombardment of the brain by the nervous system) in an imaginary identification process, which either through mimicry or reflection binds the body from parts to a whole in an image, separating the area of control, the image of the body from the image of things. And secondly by montaging this bounded surge within the algorithm of an external symbolic order (separating the I that has formed, from others in an externally imposed mode of differentiation). The manifestations of externality are firstly the imaginary identification with an image fundamentally alien, unknowable to the self, secondly  at the symbolic level where the existence of others surface (images which are like me although I can never be sure) and the place of the “I” amongst them “other(s)”. Again this position of the I  is a given, although for the fantasy of communication to work the participants should accept the givens of communication unquestioningly otherwise they will be labelled uncommunicable or insane. This is to say that in the experience of reality, fantasy appears as both the ultimate support of our sense of reality and as defence against the Real.

 The impersonality and externality of the sociosymbolic law forms the basis of fantasmatic projections which are trying to represent the Real which is beyond representation. Hence this inconsistency is embedded in the order of fantasmatic projections which formulate bridges to the Real (full experience of life) through impossible sublime objects of desire, (i.e. the ultimate man or the ultimate woman which Zizek portrays through the haunting image of an ape copulating with a cyborg). Sublime objects, though not sublime in themselves, occupy the structural place of the humanly preferred full experience of life; jouissance.

 The two components of the unity of our experience sustained by fantasy, of de-sublimated drab everyday reality and the fantasmatic support in all its obscene cruelty, disintegrates in Lynch`s Lost Highway, endorsing a metacommentary function on the opposition between the classic and the modern noir femme fatale, occupying the two structural ends of an impossible sublime object of desire. Since the structure of the inherent transgression can be broken by means of the ACT, the feminine act in this film allows for the externiation of inherent impossibilities through the progressing narration. Fred and Renee whose marriage is doomed for internal reasons (impotence) transforms to the relation of Pete and Alice who are doomed by external reasons; the wrath of the Mr. Eddy occupying the structural place of the name of the father; the enforcer and gatekeeper to the external sociosymbolic law. Children are admitted to the world of adults through castration. Their sense of dominating importance for the world of the mother is destroyed through the realisation that the mother adheres to an external system and not only to the demands of the child. The film therefore traverses fantasy of the sublime object totally and not just as a male fantasy.

 Marek Wieczorek highlights in his introduction Zizek`s articulation of Lynch`s ontology as the discordance between reality observed from a safe distance and the absolute proximity of the Real. Lynch`s universe is one where the Real eerily invades daily existence presented through his technique of juxtaposing the two incompatible realms of symbolic representations and the Real side by side where they are allowed to invade one another. Lynch thus allows for the mutual existence of reality and fantasy on the same horizontal plain rather than one vertically supporting the other. “…a crucial ingredient of Lynch`s universe is a phrase, a signifying chain, which resonates as a Real that insists and always returns – a kind of basic formula that suspends and cuts across time: in Dune, it is “the sleeper must awake”; in “twin peaks” the owls are not what they seem”; in Blue Velvet, “Daddy wants to fuck”; and, of course, in Lost Highway, the phrase which is the first and last spoken word in the film, “Dick Laurant is dead,” announcing the death of the obscene paternal figure (Mr. Eddy).”(p17) In Straight Story  the returning signifying chain is the talk of (and actual act of)  looking at the  sky, also a musical tune we first hear when Rose watches outside a window at a boy playing ball, plays again and again during the film at sentimental moments. 

 Through the circular narrative in psychoanalytic practice appearances of an external threat (the symptom) are traversed, whereby the limits and inconsistencies which appear at first as paranoid and external to the subject, come to be understood within the individual reality of the subject from a different perspective. Alvin Straight has as one of his early memories looking at the sky with his brother whom he has not seen  


 Trauma and scope of subjectivity


 In this universe of the ridiculous sublime the most ridiculous and pathetic scenes are to be taken seriously alongside the ridiculously excessive, violent “evil” figures, since the cliques of action and conversation (banal/common basis of intelligible communication) is in a sense only able to exist through the acts of symbolic institutions. Mr. Eddy represents the law of the father, trying “to enforce some elementary “fucking rules” in this otherwise crazy universe.”(p.18)By mediating and reflexivising evil, Lynch, generates an immediacy and naiveté, laying bare the substantial force which resists our grasp, in all its life energy and violence (and banal stupidity).

The New age reading of the film misperceives the level in which to take the film seriously precisely by taking the subject as the sole limit of the psychological unity of a person, encouraging us to indulge in the audio-visual texture and the full ambiguity of the film. The dimension of the symbolic institutions which gets excluded in such an interpretation, form the core of Zizek`s political agenda/reading, particularly with regards to the increasing psychologization of social life blurring the line of separation between private and public discourse, concealing the ideological dimensions of proposed political policies, i.e. through “sincere” and psychologically believable appearances of politicians feeling sorry for declaring war. Although the dimension of the symbolic institutions only exists when subjects believe or act as if they believe in it, symbolic institutions can hate and kill in the name of the unquestioning subject, like canned laughter which laugh for the spectator in sitcoms. In a sense to focus on the way in which we hug our chains rather than how we resist them is also how we can forget about our chains as external and treat them as a part of our own being and identity.


Synopsis of Straight Story


The film opens with the shots of harvest in the fields, an idyllic small town, Laurens, and a house. As the next door neighbour who is sunbathing outside goes into her house for snacks we hear someone falling. Alvin is discovered only later when a friend expecting him at the bar decides to go looking for him. His daughter Rose gets him to go to the doctor. He is nervous and does not accept the doctor’s proposals for a hip operation, to give up smoking, tests, x-rays or a walker. Although he agrees to use another walking stick.  Back at home when Rose asks how it went he replies by saying that the doctor told him he would live to be a hundred. After which he goes out to mown the lawn and when the engine doesn’t start he hits his lawnmower with his walking stick. Alvin fixes the machine and they get back inside as a storm is coming. As they are watching the rain the phone rings and Rosie passes the message that Alvin’s brother had a stroke. Next day he and Rosie start getting supplies and building a trailer to hook at the back of his machine, to hit the 600 mile road to his brother whom he had not seen in 10 years in Mount Zion in Wisconsin. As Alvin is at the gas station in town getting peculiar supplies, his friends, possibly recognizing he is about to embark on a risky journey, ask him what they are for, to which he replies dismissively. First time Alvin tries to leave he goes through town with his construct and the gas station manager not able to follow him at his pace says “he will never make it past Grotto” (the next town), funnily enough Alvin makes it past him and other worrying elderly friends. Nevertheless as Alvin is approaching a signpost that reads Grotto five miles, a truck passes dangerously close by, hooting its horn and his hat flies off. After he stops, fetches his hat and gets back, the engine does not start. Getting a lift from a bus to Grotto he gets back home with him on his lawnmower on top of another truck. Once home he gets his double barrel rifle and shoots the lawnmower which is a Rehds as we learn later on when Alvin goes to a John Deere dealer to buy a better machine. He buys a small machine made in 1966 with a Kohler engine for 325 dollars. All set, Alvin leaves for the second time. By the end of town limits Alvin ducks when he notices a truck overtaking him, but unlike the first time the truck passes by with consideration. Alone for the first night on the road, Alvin gathers wood for fire using his grabber, all at his own pace. The second night by the fire, a hitchhiker approaches who couldn’t get a ride and didn’t hail to Alvin shunning his machine. She later call it a hunk of junk. She is a runaway, five months pregnant without the knowledge of the father or her family and friends. Alvin starts to talk about his family, ending with a story about how the family resembles sticks which are harder to break when tied together. We learn that his wife Frances who died in `81 had 14 babies, 7 of which lived and that Rose had 4 kids but there was a fire when someone else was watching them and the second boy got burned. The state stopped her seeing them as she was considered slow and possibly unable to cope with her son’s fate. Alvin wakes up to find the girl gone and a bundle of sticks tied together on the ground. The next time on the road the sound of a tractor passing by is succeeded by the sound of a large group of cyclists riding in the wind, whom Alvin later meets at their campsite in the evening. The third encounter is with a woman who overtakes him only to hit and kill a deer. She asks “Where do they (the deer) come from?” and says “He is dead and I love deer!” and drives off. Apparently Alvin is more interested in the deer than her as instead of leaving the carcass on the road, he cooks and eats it by his campfire. Next Alvin has trouble stopping the machine down a hill and he is saved by his brakes just before a serious accident. Danny Riordan, the man who saves him allows Alvin to stay until his broken machine is fixed by the mechanics. We learn that he has been on the road 5 weeks. He phones Rose to post him his social security check, rejects an offer by Danny to drive him to Mount Zion. Then he goes to have a drink with an elderly man who was there when Alvin almost crashed. They talk about WW2, which they both participated in, and exchange stories. At the Twins, the mechanics, Alvin is overcharged and he haggles the price down to a reasonable sum. He leaves Danny’s house in the morning. Next, at night he camps by the side of a church graveyard. The priest brings him dinner and they talk about Alvin’s brother Lyle, whom the priest had seen in the hospital but does not know about his present condition. We learn that his brother never mentioned Alvin to the priest. Next Alvin stops at a bar in Mount Zion, and has a beer, finds out how to get to Lyle’s. Once there they talk little and when Alvin confirms that he had ridden a lawnmower across state lines, they both go silent and look up at the sky. The End.


The degeneration of institutional archetypes and schizophrenia in Straight Story


The present-day margins of the symbolic institution’s historically accumulated dimensions of duty and law also have negative and positive representations in the film. For the representations of the negative aspects; Alvin fighting in the trenches at WW2, Rose being forbidden to see her children and the driver who hit the deer are unhappy about their forced experiences. The driver is hysterical telling Alvin that this is the thirteenth deer in 7 weeks and after recounting all the precautions she had taken and failed, she says she has to drive 40 miles back and forth to work every day to make a living. On the side of the representations of positive aspects, the social code appears tolerant towards Alvin’s quest and his mobility, despite his errors. He doesn’t have the doctors approval as he is ill, or the approval of the two John Deere dealers he meets for the use of the machine (the first actually calls Alvin not smart referring to mad), or the approval of his daughter and friends. As Alvin is at the gas station in town getting peculiar supplies, his friends, possibly recognizing he is about to embark on a risky journey, ask him what they are for, to which he replies dismissively or rather he can reply dismissively as this is the USA the absolute unit of the individual, the consumer, has absolute privacy.

 How we can forget about our chains as external and treat them as a part of our own being and identity can distort our relationship to objects. The manifestations of the symbolic institutions in the Real is not limited to office buildings of the government or the schools and hospitals. The everyday machines and objects we use are generally the product of a bigger whole and carry the hallmark of symbolic institutions. Our receivership of these items like their production is a specific set of political relations such as capitalist consumption. So when Alvin goes out to mown the lawn, the engine doesn’t start and he hits his lawnmower with his walking stick, the inanimate object  becomes more than a punch bag for relieving stress (also for that purpose one can hit a real punch bag), it becomes communicatable for Alvin (for violence can be considered as a form of communication).

 This I will assume as the negative edge of the loss of power of the institution; schizophrenia in negative appearance. Another scene that can clear doubts, is after his first failed attempt to leave, once home, Alvin gets his double barrel rifle and shoots the lawnmower. This is self destructive for Alvin as he could have traded the Rehds for his John Deere machine, and is thus pointless, mad. Attachments to objects can reflect the imaginary shifts in the postmodern psyche. The shop owner does not want to sell his own grabber to Alvin says it is his and a darn good grabber, hard to come by, and would take time to get another order in. He flags up the price to 10 $ and is genuinely sorry (he strokes it putting it on the counter) when Alvin accepts his offer. Also another clue is how the objects are referred to in speech. When Alvin is invited to stay by Danny he replies by saying “awfully generous of you, and I am sure my machine here is agreeable with that too.” His machine there is broken and apparently needs a rest.

 Schizophrenia in positive appearance could be considered as the unresisted complete integration. From the big truck to the small truck, what is the difference? Where do I stop and where does it begin? In the entire landscape of Iowa cornfields at harvest time Alvin appears on his lawnmower with the trailer like the needle head of an LP, playing the tune of the land. He rides and lives on the road for more than 2 months, so much so that he is identical to the road. He even feeds off of road kill, hanging the horns of the deer at the front of the trailer. The night before his first attempt to leave, at their backyard, Alvin says- Listen to that grain elevator and Rosie replies “its harvest time”. They can hear a particular but essential (grain) production of the system in action at their back yard.  When Alvin almost has an accident, 5 weeks away from home, the first thing Danny Riordan says, even before his name is that he had worked for John Deere for 30 years and that he needs brakes for his trailer. The land that Alvin is playing like a record is in tune with his machine so to speak.




 “In a first approach (to Lost Highway), one should absolutely insist that we are dealing with a real story(of the impotent husband, etc.) that, at some point (that of the slaughter of Renee), shifts into psychotic hallucination in which the hero constructs the parameters of the Oedipal triangle that again make him potent – significantly, Pete turns back into Fred, i.e., we return to reality, precisely when, within the space of psychotic hallucination, the impossibility of the relationship reasserts itself, when the blond Patricia Arquette (Alice) tells her young lover, “You’ll never have me!””(p.15)   “The logic here is precisely that of Lacan`s reading of Freud’s dream, “Father, cant you see I’m burning?” in which the dreamer is awakened when the Real of the horror encountered in the dream (the dead son’s reproach) is more horrible than the awakened reality itself, so that the dreamer escapes into reality in order to escape the Real encountered in the dream.”(p. 17) So is it the reassertation of the impossibility of the relationship or the impasse of the Oedipal triangle itself which scares Pete back to Fred (to reality)? If so what would be the representation of this impasse in the film?

It is actually the Mystery Man who points the gun at Mr.Eddy, though once the shot is fired it is Fred who is holding the gun. So unlike Mr. Eddy the Mysterious man lives on with Fred. As such one is also inclined to think of the Mystery Man as the finitude (of Fred). Zizek writes “…, the fantasmatic figure of a pure and wholly neutral medium-observer, a blank screen which “objectively” registers Fred`s unacknowledged fantasmatic urges. His timelessness and spacelessness (he can be at two places at the same time, as he proves to Fred in the nightmarish phone conversation scene) signals the timelessness and spacelessness of the synchronous universal symbolic network of registration.”(p.20). But is not the role of the Mystery Man a unique perspective (to Frank) within the universal symbolic network of registration? And as this network is synchronous, does this not mean that he has already had “objectively” registered Frank? Since “…the images of utter catastrophe, far from giving access to the Real, can function as a protective shield AGAINST the Real.”P34 I would like to suggest that the Mystery Man is a necessary projection for the parameters of the Oedipus complex.

  “The split between Eddy and the Mystery Man is thus rather the split inherent to superego itself: the split between the exuberant jouissance of life-substance and the asexual symbolic machine of Knowledge” (no26, p. 46) Fear from a thing that could know my subjective kernel asks the question why would I be afraid from the knowledge of my own reality unless my own death that I am facing is alien/external rather than just unknowable. Of course there is the very element of his presence, why should the asexual machine of knowledge be represented at all, why than is he not portrayed as a machine? (Like the two dimensional puppet at twin peaks p.22)  This in turn begs the question whether the mystery man is just anonymous evil or does he have the hallmark of the finitude of the symbolic order at his very being.

The finitude of the symbolic order would be the disintegration of the boundaries between me and the thing (between me and others, between supermarkets and libraries, prisons and factories…!) It is in this light that Alvin Straight resembles the Mystery Man. The biggest difference is that Alvin is not a unique perspective within the universal symbolic network of registration, rather Alvin is playing the universal symbolic network of registration (finitude), locally, with all its contradictions, while simultaneously witnessing it mile by mile. Alvin’s individual mission is in a sense caused by the taxing demands of the symbolic institutions (a drunk trying to forget the horrors of the trenches quarrels with his brother), and at the same time facilitated by the symbolic institutions (as an individual consumer minding his own business, no one can stop him). His individual memory encompasses both poles of the American dream; a strong nation protected from the world mostly as a military superpower  and a liberal structure where you can have a relative say on the shape of your individual finitude (where you can drive, or as in Leaving Las Vegas drink, yourself to death). This is also to say the two poles of forced movement at the tie of the draft and absolute freedom of mobility in peacetime. Like the needle head of the long player, Alvin is cyristal clear to the history of the land he is playing, as his individual memory is in line with the foundational horrors and contradictions of History.

 The psychoanalytic approach, provides a possibility of a standpoint, unlike the deconstructionist ironist’s pessimism of its own practice of constant interpretation for alternatives (political or otherwise), by stating that “the fantasmatic support of reality is itself necessarily multiple and inconsistent” (p.41) rather than an assertation that people have relative/multiple realities. This stand point is almost ethical in its Levinisian assertation of fundamentals of human communication and political in the alternatives it presents; to mark repeatedly the memory of a lost cause in all its appearances (in film and particularly in cyberspace) to signal the impossibility of all totalising ethics and morals, leaving the individual free to act out his presuppositions of his individual memory and history. If the coincidence of opposites form the enigma of postmodernity, then through marking repeatedly the memory of a lost cause in all its appearances, the portraying of naive clichés, unravels the enigma through this redemptive quality. The redeeming quality of Lost Highway lies in its achievement to encompass both poles of reality and fantasy to explicate desire Alvin unlike Fred is successful in carrying through the signifying chain and settling his individual history within the symbolic history without recoursing to psychosis. In Straight Story therefore, there is redemption in mobility itself, in the face of ever encompassing archetypes.

Course “Representations of Time”, Lecturer Dr. Bernadette C.M. Kester, essay by Alphan Vardarlı



The films Lost Highway and The Straight Story directed by David Lynch


THE ART OF THE RIDICULOUS SUBLIME, On David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Slavoj Zizek. Walter Chapin Simpson Centre for the Humanities, Seattle: University of Washington Press 


Review of “THE ART OF THE RIDICULOUS SUBLIME, On David Lynch’s Lost Highway” by Slavoj Zizek. (Walter Chapin Simpson Centre for the Humanities, Seattle: University of Washington Press xiii+41pp., references,current information on the writer) For the “Anthropology of the Wild in the West” Course, Lecturer Prof. J.Verrips, by Alphan Vardarli


Different Conceptions of Progress and Temporality by Early and Reformist Christians, Carl Schmitt and Bataille (2002 essay, UvA)


Different Conceptions of Progress and Temporality by Early and Reformist Christians, Carl Schmitt and Bataille



  Where could one start? The finitude…

 There are as many explications of the structure of historicity and temporality as there are philosophers willing to give an opinion. Nevertheless one could identify within the philosophies of temporality different positions for the subject against his certain mortality such as theologies which see a divine intervention/salvation in human essence, philosophers who articulate ideologies or structures based on conseptions of divinity(religious or secular) and further on philosophers who accept a primal tragedy in existence. In this perspective the tragedical position of the subject to his existence, that is his mortality is eternal. 

 Progress is an important factor in the orginization of the temporal relations of the subject in the world and for how the subject realizes time itself. Very few philosophers are  without hope for some accumulative  progress or  historical salvation. To accommodate diverse projections of progress and thus temporality I would like to propose a division between the nature and the register of progress in relation to the subject. Progress here should be understood as a positivity or sole possibility for the subject. By nature of progress I mean  the subjects relation and position with regards to a proposed conception of progress which in turn can show how the subject is supposed to know/realise it . I also take nature. And by register of progress I mean where a proposed conception of progress accummulates /resonates. The register of progress clarifies for the subject the structure of temporality by pointing at the nature of origin or meaning. Although the register is always the “world” when the structures of the registers wary so do their world and what can be registered. In short where is the subject in progress and where is the progress in the subject. With this suggestive distinction different propositions of progress could be investigated for the subjects mode of resposibility to himself and others as a private or political subject. I shall seek in the following to enlist different propositions by early and reformist Christians, Carl Shmitt, Bataille regarding their consideration of the nature and register of progress. I will also try to schematize their conceptions of temporality to probe deeper into their structures of progress.

 What is this, progress? After all and for all we know, by placing the location of the earth as rotation around the sun rather than the center of the universe, by evolution of the species and by the unconciousness in the human subject Freud , Darwin and Copernicus have respectively nailed our position (and thus our pride) in this immence universe to a speck of dust; a chance of a chance… Does the fact that we are symbolic beings and that we can structurally and culturally orginize for and of certain signs and their signifiers call for a possibility of progress in the face of eternal death or is there a divine will? What is the importance of where any kind of progress  registers? What progressive possibilities do different registers themselves hold?


St. Paul and Augustine; reasoning out of history


 The Early Christian conceptions of time and universe present a strict distinction between the God and the world forbidding any possible direct and non mystical relation between the two realms, apart from the only exception  of course; Jesus. At the source of christian thought, even before the gospels lies St. Paul, a man with complex thoughts and ideology.The ambiguity St. Paul brings is that the living man obeys to the rules around him although he is free from even the simplest restriction of going to the church if he truly believes in christ; “Do not be conformed to this world”(Paul, Romans 12:2, A history of Political Thought, J. Coleman, p 305) Thus to live and accept living with the law outside and being saved inside. This view of the subject ,although does not negate a concept of external material progress /accummulation, it does not recognise the external as its register. The spirit of the subject is the true register for progress or in other words, for salvation from christ. St. Pauls distinction of the sprit and flesh should not however be confused with the nosticists who see an eternal polarization between spirit (good) and matter (evil). Flesh which is not the body and spirit which is not the soul, together bound mankind until the resurrection of Christ.(T. lecture notes, September 13, 2000 ) 

 Augustine presented the Paulinian dynamic relationship between man and church/state, with the assumption of definitives through the future finality of history. Thus life as we live it now is uncertain and no political body in its concreteness is definite.(T. lecture notes,1 November 2000)  It could be argued that St. Paul and Augustine respectvely tried to formulate a structure which reasoned religious orginization out of time. (Tough one could argue that this in the end became possible by contaminating everything else with the religious ). On the one hand the sole possibility of progress/salvation for humankind has come already in the form of christ and to believe in him is to be saved. On the other hand, the only way the subject can know of Christ is the church. Thus the nature of progress is revealed in the church or rather in the mystery of the ritual of baptism. But what is revealed veals itself in the subject. For the truth of the subject , his faith in christ, his register, his mark is known only to himself and God. This ambigious position of the christian subject as a civilian in the Roman empire was increasingly stabilised with the progressive hold of the Church in the realm of religious and political.


A shift in the temporal claims of the Catholic Church


 The split of the church to the two cities of Rome and Constantinapolis (Istanbul) and consequently to Catholic and Orthodox paths could be thought to present different paths of orginisation in the relations of the Church with the State as well as differences of religious doctrine. The orthodox church, maybe with a primary acceptance of the inevitable interrelation of the church (which should be protected) to the state (which is infinately fallible), presented a more tolerant (hence more separate and distant)  relation with the pagan  structures and families of the old Roman Empire and later on with the Ottoman empire, whereas in Rome the Papacy presented a strong claim to the state.

 The transcendental claims of the Catholic Church which were limited to a memory of Jesus and Baptism with St. Paul and Augustine  by the X century  extended to include the mass. This is a shift in the temporal claims of the Catholic Church. The temporal state of the Body of Christ is represented in the idea of a Mystical Body in the Catholic doctrine. Christianity rests with the the basis of the loss of a body, the Christ. Body of Christ in heaven is to ascend to Earth at the end of time. So as Christ is expected back, the arising question of how to make him present was answered with the ritual of Eucharist, practiced as a remembrance of Christ and his suffering. Although the Church could not claim a meaning (or a body for that matter) as of itself and its essential claim to temporality  could only be sustained with Christ as the head of the mystical body in heaven and on Earth, debates arose within the Catholic Church from the IX to X century about the reality of the signs of remembrance of Christ in  Eucharist. What was the relation of the body of Christ in heaven to the body of Christ on Earth? Maybe they not only shared similar qualities but were identical.This problematic portrayal of the relation between the sing and what it refers to resulted in the conception of transsubstitution; a merger between  the mystery practiced in the church with the reality of the sing(res-the residue?- bread and wine became conceived as the real flesh and blood of Christ) This change in the concept of mystical, in the final stage resulted with the Church becoming the body of Christ opening the way for future institutional and individual projections for the meaning of history. The nature of progress was revealed to the subject with increasing mysteries and miracles; the mass ceremony where the church touched the heavens with its flock, was added to the already practiced baptism. Thus the nature of progress was intertwined with the register which now not only endorsed faith but also gave the church a mission in history to realize the heaven on earth with the guidance of Pope, the vicar of Christ. This earthly mission was quick to take the appearance of a state with an expanding law. Thus constantly re-articulating, and redefining its final form in time, whirling onto its own history until the end of time. The space for individual faiths appears in an negative coloration to the expanding law and puts the collective register of church above individual faiths.

Time scale 1+2

 It could be suggested that the dual nature of what expected from the christian subject in relation to faith and obedience is coherent with a Christian history which is fragmented on a Church level and strongly interrelated on the level of intellectual, bureaucratic and commercial infrastructure. Thus if, in the pagan non-Christian Roman world religion had touched everything, the distinction between the sacred and the secular was to become an essentially Christian one.( A history of Political Thought, J. Coleman, p 309, the italics on the my addition) The Christian origins of the infrastructure (by this I mean state as such) could be thought to be forgotten or disguised with the Calvinist and Lutheran movements reacting to the taxing political demands and theologically unsustainable claims of the Catholic Church. The disguise  (if I may say so), is one of blasting open the dynamic of faith and individual responsibility within Christianity at the same time disassociating any (negative) responsibility and relations of the church as a political and social institution from its surroundings (at least on the formal presentation of its identity to the public.)  Although the reformation presented the idea of the church as a spiritual body not a political one, the Lutheran church for example could not escape becoming a political tool during the reign of Nazis .

 Reading Carl Schmitt`s Political Theologies, one could argue that we are presented with a theological bridge between the sense of historical mission in Catholicism and the dynamic of individual faith in Protestanism. As Schmitt replaces the omnipotant God with an omnipotent law giver, his claim to temporality breaks with the claim to a relation with God in Catholicism whilst embracing its sence of a historical mission. Schimitt argues that the self declaration of philosophical autonomy in Kant is limited with the theological origins of that claim. Instead of claiming an empty (neutral) ground on which to posit an autonomy, Schmitt embraces the contaminating relation of the law to the lawgiver and further sthreghtens this relation by tieing up all responsibility, and thus the additional role of the executioner, to one man who holds the exception. As oppose to a positive theory of the state this approach opens the decision making process to the dynamic of self determination. The actual presence of an all responsible ruler as oppose to courts where faceless judges sit where decision emmanates from nothingness, does not however mean that the ruler is full of (or the whole of) meaning like a mesiah. He is more a judicial form; “In the independent meaning of the decision, the subject of the decision has an independent, meaning, apart from the question of content. What matters for the reality of legal life is who decides” (Carl Schmitt, Political Theologies p.34) Thus the nature of progress for the subject is primarily realised in C. Schmitt by becoming/being a citizen (of a dictatorship) . The state itself appears as the shape of the political, this grand response to singular limits of human finitude(one here could recall the image on the cover of Leviathan by Hobbes, which depicts a giant ruler formed by the totality of his subjects) . This register of progress, the state, in turn registers itself onto an (otherwise empty) history giving it meaning.

 Time scale 3

 Bataille; an optimist

 With his elaborate discussions C.Shmitt almost defers us from his conception of power and thus the fascist subjection’s that underlies his system. One of the strong dynamics of fascism for both the ruler and the ruled is the singularity of authority, which is authority defined as and in terms of authority over others. Bataille on the other hand, who is more optimistic about human finitude and the subjects position in terms of his/her singular and tragic position against his finitude,  defines mans authority as the challenging of himself. He does this by giving value and authority solely to inner experience. Yet one could notice an interesting similarity of the dynamic of challenging both for C.Shmitt and Bataille. The singularity of power in C.Shmitt also becomes the constant challenge the ruler has to face, i.e. to stay victorious and not perish as a dictator. Thus the conception of a constant re-establishing and self finding/defining of the ruler drives the shape of the state. A man who knows where he is going cannot go very far (Mosley); This declaration against the critics of the policy impoverished fascism finds its echo in Bataille who is positioning himself against dogmatic presuppositions on experience saying …he who already knows cannot go beyond a known horizon. (Batatille, Inner Experience,p.3)

 Inner experice is surely not everybodies cup of tea but this is a far cry from making subjects of the people under an authoritarian regime. If anything Batailles suggestion for the formation of communities orginised around their own rituals is a call for disreputing authority as subjection to impersonal rule (or personal if one can still dare to call a dictator that). The ritual practices around (an) inner experience ( which may contain relations of subjection and domination) are not bridges to it .The contract of binding  suggested by Bataille is agreed on the basis of free association (or rather) through each individual subjects revelation of an ocean (Bataille, Inner Experience pg 27) defining him/her at once as one/individual and all/nothing.

The authority of the inner experience is derived from the infinity of the present not of the past and future. Hence  History (like God) is not present in Bataille. But neither is it empty awaiting marvellous victories by heroes to give it meaning. The dead tools of history and god can give us means to inner experience by the very fact that they provide for a certain shape of the present, but they cannot give us inner experience. This shape of the present apears self reproducing, changing (as Descart would say progressing) within the framework of its own project. On the one hand Bataille does not comform to what the shape of the present means with its self referring signs on the other he advocates resonating with the present. In a sence conforming with  the shape of the present to the point where the everyday project is not able to contain the subject in inner experience; the everyday project is only pointing to what the inner project is not, as such it has a role as negation. “It is no longer a question of salvation: this is the most odious of evasions. The difficulty -that contestation must be done in the name of an authority-is resolved thus I contest in the name of contestation.”(p.12) “Experience is, in fever and anguish, the putting into question(to the test) of that which a man knows of being …If I said decisively: “I have seen God” that which I see would change. Instead of the inconceivable unknown- wildly free before me, leaving me wildly free before it- there would be a dead object and the thing of the theologian- to which the unknown would be subjugated,…”( p.4)

 Here we have arrived from the grace of God in Augustine (which forms the essence of being) to the presence of absance in Bataille (which during inner experience encircles the subject who dreams being). “Augustine not only extended the domain of belief at the expence of knowledge, but he came to insist that belief itself was not something that men could autonomously and self sufficieantly achive…The autoritative teaching of the church, one described by Augustine as providing ‘Plato for the multitude’ was to be replaced by the hoped for action of God’s will. The ordinary Christian was now no further away from grace than the erudite or the ascetic. For both, imperfection is the inescapable condition on earth and in historical time. Humankind, after Adam is a mass of sin. The gulf between God and man could not be bridged through self knowledge. It could be mediated only by grace.”(p.326, A History of Political Thought; From Ancient Greece to Early Christianity, Coleman, J.)  

Conclusion; Your very own heaven and hell

  Bataille liberates the two (defined, stagnant, dead…) cities of Augustine, which became the possibility of hell on Earth at the hands of Schmitt, as two versatile projects. Hence the relationship of inner experience to history secularized by Schimitt, attains a further horizon with Bataille when he subjectifies (individualise`s) it. “…it (philosophy) finds itself to be no longer anything but the heir to a fabulous mystical theology, but missing a God and wiping the slate clean.”(p.9) In this tragedical position of the subject Bataille sees hope, he is no longer the sinful worshipper or the responsible civilian but the wild child of the wild universe.“It is the separation of terror from the realms of knowledge, of feeling, of moral life, which obliges one to construct values uniting on the outside the elements of these realms in the form of authoritative entities [church, state,…] when it was necessary not to look afar; on the contrary to reenter oneself in order to find there what was missing from the day when one contested the constructions.[Time Scale 4b-Augustine- constant presence of the non-negotiable boundaries of the realms of  heaven and hell] “Oneself”is not the subject isolating itself from the world, but a place of communication, of fusion of the subject and the object.”(p.9)

Here lies the difficulty in asserting what is progress for Bataille. Although the immediate scope of the register is clear enough, the individual subject, what is registered as progress and how the nature of such progress is revealed remains ellusive. The secular and individualistic arguements of Bataille outlined above puts him apart from all thinkers who try to put a niche on the world by allowing for an institutional exception. He also dissolves his writing as a reference point by a solid claim to non-knowledge, which Hegel jumped over so willingly, and in turn constitutes his corporeal being as a possible source of much mischief and responsibility(as a constantly political agency). So there could be nothing which could point to the nature and origin of progress for Bataille; maybe only ‘nothing’ that the project is and the individual is not could. As to what is registered as progress, in the realm of his/her inner experience, the present(Time scale 4a), the subject is dissolved and soon becomes past (Time scale 4) . However, this past is not history as nothing can be brought back from inner experience. It is hence a fading and in the case of the moment of inner experience, a little bit of dying where the microcosm that the subject constitudes meets the other /macrocosm through dissolving in its magnitude .


Time scale  4+4a+4b

One could also point to the negation of the register of the everyday project as a possible path which need not be destructive but would certainly appear fragmentary if one is to allow for the secret societies of Bataille and other collective of freely associated people to leave their mark on history through their inner experience (Time scale 4c). Though Bataille would not agree that anything could be brought back from inner experience, the fact that it further disengages  the subject, who has lived (died?) an inner experience from the project of eveyday, would also mean the other subjects who are paticipating in the circle of the inner experience would form a collective and due to their immediacy a collective mark; their own heaven and hell, their own two projects.

Time scale  4c


The Politics of Temporality: Philosophical, Theological, And Literary aspects
Lecturer: Prof. Hent DeVries


Augustine, The City of God

Janet Coleman, A History of Political Thought: From Ancient Greece to Early Christianity

Carl Schmitt, Political Theology

Bataille, Inner Experience


A unified time of life v.s. The reality of the real as death

A unified time of life

The reality of the real…
Without intentions or relations
The moment appears as a moment without
The flow itself is a moment
Between the dream and the
Micro to macro
Millions to billions we pulse together and
And each life with its span, yearning and desires
Have commons afloat pulsing together up-against each other
How we communicate life with it or without
Not only does not filter out, what might be lived without
There is the alien and not even the other
The metal the tool the machine, dinosaur bone clad
Analogue now extinct to digital, a partition,
Meridians of time and space, slaves to the human hand
Yet not a slave when in content it finds collaborators and defenders and help
The genesis here is the medium and how we found and developed it
Never forget though the aspirations it might have
Metal to metal a resonation you accept
But where be the reaches of the flow
Worldwide to satellite bound to planetary chatter to suns crown to Milky Way’s Brown
Maybe hopping on a Supercluster to ride this young train
Plant a plant and another side by side, read them flowers and Keats
And monitor how they pulse every day when you read and read and read
And send one to space let it revolve around earth in orbit
And monitor as the one in space responds when the terrestrial is read
Flowers and Keats

21 Kasım 2014

Poetry / Şiir (2012 – 2016)

Grimes; A spy in the house of love


Who is that girl? And all the rest…

as is love

Private jets and castles built in her name and her palm and her forehead reads like any biosphere’s reality. An unsocial her, is calling for a symbiotic “we”. Friends she finds in the horizon, in foreign tongues and familiar utterances stars come alive by her fire.

Surpassing the man’s world by a million miles is not easy or safe in any culture. Yet they dance and sweat to her revolution! So welcome to sustainable capitalism; a chance of a chance that we know for sure will not strangle us in the dead of night. Here we have a free girl, a women, also there is another one who is hanging out by this fire.

A stateless state, when you want money, when you want fame, and you let me go!

L’viv; love you, love you, love you



Aslanlı Şehirden Merhaba!

“The Lion and The Monkey”, Alphan Vardarlı, Acrylic on wood board, L’viv, 2017

Durumsalcılar faşizm iki insan arasında başlar der. Kadına layık olmaya çalışan bir erkek, olgunluğu arayan ve yetişkin olmayı isteyen bireydir aslında ve içindeki ve dışındaki iki türlü faşisti ve faşizmin hayaletlerini tespit etmeli ve onları yok etmelidir.

Kalıplaşmış ortaklık söylemleri üzerinden hak iddiaları bir hayaletidir faşizmin ve bu hayalet yarattığı roller ve güç ilişkileri üzerinden kişinin içini boşaltır ve ona aidiyet ile birlikte bireyselliğin sorumluluklarından kurtulmayı satar. Tabi içimiz asla unutmaz ve kendimizi hissetmek isteriz ve hissedemediğimizde kendimizi bulduğumuz durumların uçurumlarından yani rollerin ve iddiaların bizi götürebildiği absürt sonlardan kendimizi aşağı atabilir pekala cinnet geçirebiliriz, sadece hissetmek için kendimize ve etrafımızdakilere zarar verebiliriz. Bütün bunları da uyurgezer bir şoför gibi yapabilir ancak döngüsünden kurtulamayabiliriz.

Ve… trafikte, ki kuantum hareketinde olduğu gibi tüm yük en iyi ve ayık şoförlerin omuzuna düşer, başkalarının hatalarına rağmen ve onlarla beraber var olur iken onlar sizin ustalıklarınızdan edilgen olarak sadece beslenir ve hatta uykularının derinliklerine göre size daha da yaslanabilirler.

Ancak durumlar tarafından bakmak daha acayip ve zordur, çünkü durumun farkında olan hemen herkes bir film sorgulamasındadır ve filmi yaşayan başkaları ise rollerini, rolü, tiyatroyu bilmeden büyü bozmaktadırlar. Trajedi, büyüyü ve korkuyu, yaradılış yerine köken hakkında konuşan felsefeci devlerin sırtlarında ve herkese açık bir sahnede yendi, açıklanabilir dünyanın açıklamasının, prospektüsünün, kütüphanesinin bir hayatta bitirilemez oluşu ve aynı zamanda bu bilginin hala ölümü yenememiş olması, hatta teknoloji adı altında kullandığımız tüm eşyanın hayatımızda yeri olduğu kadar nasıl çalıştıkları, üretildikleri ve geliştirildikleri ile ilgili orta çağı aşan cehaletimiz dahi sürdürülebilir bir dünyadan kopartıldığımız görülemez alanları belirliyor.

Kadın hem kendi hem de çocukları için iki kere bilgedir. Yani hem kendi geleceğini hem de çocuğunun geleceğini düşünmek zorunda, düşünmese bile dünya ona bunu unutmayan beden gibi hatırlatmakta, çeri çöpten ayırmak zorunda, vaatlerdeki yalanları içten içe en iyi o bilmektedir. Vaat diyorum çünkü bu bir erkek egemen dünyadır ve dünyanın sürdürülebilirliğinden çok yaşananın kalitesinin dünyayı yakmaya değip değmeyeceği ile ilgilidir. Kadının batıllaşmasına sebep arayanlar nükleer bombalarla nasıl bir gelecek vadettiklerini düşünmelidirler. Yani erkekteki gelişim, olgunlaşma, yetişkinlik içerideki duygusal dalgalanmanın dışarıdaki durum ile ilişkisini kurduğu zaman ortaya çıkmakta ancak bu ilişkiyi çoğu zaman kendini kaybettikten sonra kurmaktadır.

before the spacecraft we have the conditions for it, before ai we have cinema


I have moved to L’viv Ukraine and will be here a couple of months. I am painting and am very happy with the results; particularly with intensity of color.

Got all my art supplies from a local art store and I have chosen to paint with acrylic on small boards of 15cm x 15 cm as they looked well made and looked like small icons. Another reason was to be able to carry my paintings with me. I chose acrylic as it is easy to handle in limited studio capabilities.

The beginnings;



A photo posted by Alphan Vardarlı (@alphanvardarli) on




A video posted by Alphan Vardarlı (@alphanvardarli) on




A photo posted by Alphan Vardarlı (@alphanvardarli) on

The kitchen where I work on my paintings;


Some of the more recent paintings;

 And some music I have been playing;