V for eVent: Post-Mortal Kombat

I have made some remarks in the comments to Jon’s post on V for Vendetta, but I want to clarify and expand on some of these ideas here. Jodi Dean takes a Zizekian line and argues that some elements of the film line up with key elements of Zizek’s political theory. Steve Shaviro stakes out why he is not happy with this Lenninist/Zizekian line and points to a more Spinozist reading:

In any case, it is hard to reconcile this process of (imposed) “subjective destitution” with V.’s later (unacknowledged) quote from Emma Goldman about needing a revolution in which one can dance. The latter, I guess, would be more the Hardtian/Negrian revolution of the multitude, that takes place with Spinozian joy rather than Lacanian sacrifice. Not that I really believe the latter is a tenable process in our current environment either.

“Subjective destitution” is Zizek’s concept that Jodi uses to describe the end point of the imprisonment and torture process that Evey undergoes. What this concept does not pick up on, and what makes the series of events in the film make much more sense, is taking into account V’s justification for his acts in torturing and imprisoning Evey in terms of setting her free from her fear. Her fear is a fear of always being afraid. The transformation that Evey undergoes enables her to be worthy of the revolutionary, but mostly incorporeal events set in motion by V. It is an Epicurean awareness of the post-mortal; a letting go of the anti-productive Oedipalisation that subjectivates according to the will of the State or of Capital. As Massumi has been investigating and V says, “Fear became the ultimate tool of this government.” (In the graphic novel it is expressed as the “jail of society.”) Evey has to become worthy of the event. The event is not the masked man, but in the incorporeal ideas that the masked man (and later Evey) comes to embody.

V: Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. There is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.

One connection that has not been made is the similarity between V the character, his desire to resuscitate a particular day of celebration (Guy Fawkes Day), and the various V-Day celebrations that already exist. V-Day was for a long time VE-Day (VE :: EVey?) or VJ-Day, and has recently become a feminist V-Day (on the 14th of Feb). Although history recognises victories as occuring on a particular day (Chronos), the event of victory occurs according to a different time frame (Aion). Just as particular days or historical dates may not line up with the actual event of victory, the victors can not be located on a particular side or another. The event of a victory makes demands of both those who ‘fail’ and those who ‘succeed’. That is, the event of victory is the precipitation and expression of actions and passions from the victors and losers alike. The losers are as much part of the event of victory (perhaps more so), than the victors. The losers are more a part of the event of victory precisely because the victors are the ones who get to write history. Like the suspect who becomes a convict at the prenouncement of “Guilty”, the ‘losers’ undergo an incorporeal transformation (or a whole series of them) where they cease to exist according to national or ethnic narratives or whatever and are subsumed by the ‘truth’ of the ‘victor’. There are many such incorporeal transformations in the graphic novel. The complexity of the complicated relations and implications of alterity in the graphic novel far exceeds that of the film. I don’t merely setting up the far-right Norsefire as being fascist by representing various minority groups as opppressed. In the graphic novel the ‘dominant’ characters are also implicated in such relations on a much more intimate level. Anyway, following this line of argument, V is not so much an actual person, but a codename for a threat to the government and the impetus of a day of revolutionary celebration. V as event. As an event, on a simple level, ‘V’ exists on a number of registers. As a codename, V is already an ‘order-word’ within the governmental collective assemblage of enunciation. Guy Fawkes day is embraced by the (incorporeal) revolutionary spirit that animates V and later Evey and later still the masses of crowds. V utilises the fiction-machine of the government, ie the TV station (which in the graphic novel was a radio station, and the Voice of London was the Voice of Fate).

Evey: My father once told me that artists use lies to show the truth, while politicians use lies to cover it

The greatest change from the graphic novel is in the end of the film there is a massive spilling over of people through the ranks of the army stationed to protect the various architectural embodiments of ‘order’, while in the graphic novel Evey has assumed the mask (‘the lies’) of Guy Fawkes/V and has brought a young man to the Shadow Gallery. For all intents and purposes it seems as if she intends to trigger the same act of transformation that she underwent. The seriality here is interesting. I described it as an inverse of the Phantom in a comment on Jon’s blog. The Phantom is also a superhero-event that is differentially repeated along a familial patriarchial linegage. The purpose of the Phantom is ambiguously both colonialist and postcolonial. The ambiguity of V/Evey is such that his/her actions are ambiguously individual and collective. In the graphic novel V is much less ‘superhero’. In the below extract we see V being shot by Finch while at the same time the scorned wife of a memeber of ‘party faithful’ has just shot and killed the Norsefire party leader, Adam Sutler. It is where V says what I think are the crucial lines of the graphic novel and which have been repeated in slightly changed form in the film: V for Vendetta Ideas are Bulletproof There are a number of subplots added (involving Creedy) and removed (too many to mention) that were and were not in the graphic novel, but I think one comment on the IMDB page for the film summed it up:

I was a fan of the “V for Vendetta” graphic novel, and Alan Moore disinheriting the film was a bit discouraging. But he’s always been a little crazy. The film version is everything I could have possibly hoped for – gripping, chilling, intense, exciting, heartbreaking. It gets Moore’s music if not his exact words; elements are slightly different, subplots removed. But the idea – as V himself would be so proud to say – remains the same.

Cultural franchise-event, differential repetition anyone? V as event internal to the (diegesic) exegesis, but as a cultural commodity it is another form of event. I think Jodi captures this feeling well describing her relation to the film as: “a sucker at the great media teat, I fell completely for the movie.” This fall for a commodity is discussed by Adorno in his now much-maligned work on the culture industry. For all his insightful pessimism I think he wasn’t quite ready for how much things would change from being determined by production (‘labour’) value to the experiential event-based use-value of the commodity, that is, as Mario Lazzarato describes it, the ‘world herald by the commodity’, mapped back onto the commodity as the ‘spectacle’. What Adorno fails to take into account, simply because they didn’t really exist at the time he was writing (I go into this in much more detail in my dissertation), are the multiple markets and scenes commodified as markets between which there are resonances and dissonances. It is between the gaps that creative anti-capitalist enthusiasms sprout, and it is from the sprouting that the commercial interests over-code desire (that is, induce a particular order through order-words and ‘sloganeering’). I should note at this stage I attended a fundraising screening of V for Vendetta for the Green Left Weekly, a.k.a. Resistance. They all laughed at the revolution-must-have-dancing comment, as did I. Jon quotes J Hoberman’s Village Voice review of V for Vendetta:

If The Matrix betrayed the Wachowskis’ acquaintance with Jean Baudrillard, V for Vendetta suggests they’ve been perusing political philosopher Antonio Negri—both the old ultra-left Negri of Domination and Sabotage and the new Michael Hardt–collaborating Negri of Empire and Multitude. (The latter book even name-dropped The Matrix as an example of how Empire feeds on the creative “social productivity” of the ruled.) V’s dictum that “people shouldn’t be afraid of their government, the government should be afraid of its people”—is a Cracker Jack box restatement of Negri and Hardt’s notion of democracy for all. And the theorists would surely approve of V as the antithesis of a Leninist revolutionary elite. 

The ‘should’ of the movie quote is instructive. Is V suggesing that the ‘people’ wield the same fear as the totalitarian fascist government? Does ‘fear’ have a qualitative dimension beyond the intensity/capacity of Massumi’s affective modulation? Whatever the case, the governement does not ‘fear’ the people, it only ‘should’. Does V speak to an actual fear or a capacity for being afraid, which would imply a capacity for fear mongering. Do the ‘people’ (multitude) have such a capacity? Just as Deleuze notes the paradox of scale between singularities and events in the Logic of Sense, the event of V is not merely a process of identification (i.e. Evey becomes V) but of a becoming-together of those who make themselves worthy of embodying the incorporeal dimension of the event.

Finch: Who was he? Evey: He was Edmond Dantés. And he was my father, and my mother. My brother, and my friend. He was you…and me. He was all of us.

This is where I think the multitudinous becoming-together at the end of the film version of the masses all under the ‘mask’ of the event of Guy Fawkes/V/Evey is more successful than the gritty end of the graphic novel. The final series of frames in the graphic novel show Evey demasking V and coming to the realisation that she must assume his role. The very last couple of frames sees her assume the gesture of the ‘maddening smile’ chesire cat-like. The graphic novel encourages a much more ‘corporeal’ reading of the film, that is, it is more about actual people embodying ideas, rather than the film’s focus on the V-event (the ‘mask’) as it spreads throughout London. Others (such as Jodi) read a Zizekian line into the messiah-sacrifice of V. I am not convinced. Mainly because V has a ‘viking’ funeral and for all intents and purposes, in the graphic novel at least and perhaps the film-universe as well, the ‘people’ think V is still alive. The Viking ship ‘burials’ (fact or fiction) are meant to symbolise the continuance of life. Similarly, we have V being ‘buried’ as the charges in the train go off, yet the V-event is continued (differentially repeated) in Evey and dispersed throughout the ‘people’.

Oh, and if you have the graphic novel check out some of the annotations of literary, historic, and artistic references in Alan Moore’s Graphic Novel, V For Vendetta, posted here.