JiscMail Logo
Email discussion lists for the UK Education and Research communities

Help for EAST-WEST-RESEARCH Archives


EAST-WEST-RESEARCH Archives

EAST-WEST-RESEARCH Archives


EAST-WEST-RESEARCH@JISCMAIL.AC.UK


View:

Message:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Topic:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Author:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

Font:

Proportional Font

LISTSERV Archives

LISTSERV Archives

EAST-WEST-RESEARCH Home

EAST-WEST-RESEARCH Home

EAST-WEST-RESEARCH  September 2003

EAST-WEST-RESEARCH September 2003

Options

Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Log In

Log In

Get Password

Get Password

Subject:

Slavoj Zizek: Learning To Love Leni Riefenstahl

From:

"Serguei Alex. Oushakine" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Serguei Alex. Oushakine

Date:

Wed, 24 Sep 2003 11:17:44 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (123 lines)

By Slavoj Zizek | 9.10.03

Learning To Love Leni Riefenstahl

http://www.inthesetimes.com/print.php?id=359_0_4_0

The life and work of Leni Riefenstahl, who died on Monday at age 101, seems
to lend itself to a mapping of a devolution, progressing toward a dark
conclusion. It began with the early “mountain films” of the 1920s that she
starred in and later began directing as well, which celebrated heroism and
bodily effort in the extreme conditions of mountain climbing. It went on to
her notorious Nazi documentaries in the ‘30s, celebrating bodily discipline,
concentration, and strength of will in sport as well as in politics. Then,
after World War II, in her photo albums, she rediscovered her ideal of
bodily beauty and graceful self-mastery in the Nuba African tribe. Finally,
in her last decades, she learned the difficult art of deep sea diving and
started shooting documentaries about the strange life in the dark depths of
the sea.

We thus obtain a clear trajectory from the top to the bottom: We begin with
rugged individuals struggling at the mountain tops and gradually descend,
until we reach the amorphous teem of life at the bottom of the sea. Is not
what she encountered down there her ultimate object, the obscene and
irresistibly thriving eternal force of life itself, what she was searching
for all along? And does this not apply also to her personality? It seems
that the fear of those who are fascinated by Leni is no longer “When will
she die?” but “Will she ever die?” Although rationally we know that she has
just passed away, we somehow do not really believe it. She will go on
forever.

This continuity of her career is usually given a fascist twist, as in the
exemplary case of the famous Susan Sontag essay on Leni, “Fascinating
Fascism.” The idea is that even her pre- and post-Nazi films articulate a
fascist vision of life: Leni’s fascism is deeper than her direct celebration
of Nazi politics; it resides already in her pre-political aesthetics of
life, in her fascination with beautiful bodies displaying their disciplined
movements. Perhaps it is time to problematize this topos. Let us take Leni’s
1932 film Das blaue Licht (“The Blue Light”), the story of a village woman
who is hated for her unusual prowess at climbing a deadly mountain. Is it
not possible to read the film in exactly the opposite way as it usually is
interpreted? Is Junta, the lone and wild mountain girl, not an outcast who
almost becomes the victim of a pogrom—there is no other appropriate word—by
the villagers? (Perhaps it is not an accident that Bela Balazs, Leni’s lover
at that time who co-wrote the scenario with her, was a Marxist.)

--------------

The problem here is much more general; it goes far beyond Leni Riefenstahl.
Let us take the very opposite of Leni, the composer Arnold Schonberg. In the
second part of Harmonielehre, his major theoretical manifesto from 1911, he
develops his opposition to tonal music in terms which, superficially,
anticipate later Nazi anti-Semitic tracts. Tonal music has become a
“diseased,” “degenerated” world in need of a cleansing solution; the tonal
system has given in to “inbreeding and incest”; romantic chords such as the
diminished seventh are “hermaphroditic,” “vagrant” and “cosmopolitan.” It’s
easy and tempting to claim that such a messianic-apocalyptic attitude is
part of the same “spiritual situation” that eventually gave birth to the
Nazi final solution. This, however, is precisely the conclusion one should
avoid: What makes Nazism repulsive is not the rhetoric of final solution as
such, but the concrete twist it gives to it.

Another popular conclusion of this kind of analysis, closer to Leni, is the
allegedly fascist character of the mass choreography of disciplined
movements of thousands of bodies: parades, mass performances in stadia, etc.
If one finds it also in communism, one immediately draws the conclusion
about a “deeper solidarity” between the two “totalitarianisms.” Such a
formulation, the very prototype of ideological liberalism, misses the point.
Not only are such mass performances not inherently fascist; they are not
even “neutral,” waiting to be appropriated by left or right. It was Nazism
that stole them and appropriated them from the workers’ movement, their
original site of birth. None of these “proto-fascist” elements is per se
fascist. What makes them “fascist” is only their specific articulation—or,
to put it in Stephen Jay Gould’s terms, all these elements are “ex-apted” by
fascism. There is no fascism avant la lettre, because it is the letter
itself that composes the bundle (or, in Italian, fascio) of elements that is
fascism proper.

Along the same lines, one should radically reject the notion that
discipline, from self-control to bodily training, is inherently a
proto-fascist feature. Indeed, the very term “proto-fascist” should be
abandoned: It is a pseudo-concept whose function is to block conceptual
analysis. When we say that the organized spectacle of thousands of bodies
(or, say, the admiration of sports that demand high effort and self-control
like mountain climbing) is “proto-fascist,” we say strictly nothing, we just
express a vague association that masks our ignorance.

So when, three decades ago, kung fu films became popular, was it not obvious
that we were dealing with a genuine working-class ideology of youngsters
whose only means of success was the disciplinary training of their bodies,
their only possession? Spontaneity and the “let it go” attitude of
indulgence belong to those who have the means to afford it—those who have
nothing have only their discipline. The “bad” bodily discipline, if there is
one, is not the one of “collective training,” but, rather, jogging and
body-building as part of the New Age myth of the realization of the self’s
“inner potentials.” (No wonder that the obsession with one’s body is an
almost obligatory part of the passage of ex-leftist radicals into the
“maturity” of pragmatic politics: From Jane Fonda to Joschka Fischer, the
“period of latency” between the two phases was marked by the focus on one’s
own body.)

--------------

So, back to Leni: What all this does not mean is that one should dismiss her
Nazi engagement as a limited, unfortunate episode. The true problem is to
sustain the tension that cuts through her work: the tension between the
artistic perfection of her practice and the ideological project that
“ex-apted” it. Why should her case be different from that of Ezra Pound,
William Butler Yeats, and other modernists with fascist tendencies who long
ago became part of our artistic canon? Perhaps the search for the “true
ideological identity” of Leni Riefenstahl is a misleading one. Perhaps there
is no such identity: She was genuinely thrown around, inconsistent, caught
in a cobweb of conflicting forces.

Is then the best way to mark her death not to take the risk of fully
enjoying a film like Das blaue Licht, which contains the possibility of a
political reading of her work totally different from the prevailing view?


Slavoj Zizek, a philosopher and psychoanalyst, is a senior researcher at the
Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities, in Essen, Germany. Among
other books, he is the author of The Fragile Absolute and Did Somebody Say
Totalitarianism?

Top of Message | Previous Page | Permalink

JiscMail Tools


RSS Feeds and Sharing


Advanced Options


Archives

August 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002
January 2002
December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
August 2001
July 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
March 2001
February 2001
January 2001
December 2000
November 2000
October 2000
September 2000
August 2000
July 2000
June 2000
May 2000
April 2000
March 2000
February 2000
January 2000
December 1999
November 1999
October 1999
September 1999
August 1999
July 1999
June 1999
May 1999
April 1999
March 1999
February 1999
January 1999
December 1998
November 1998
October 1998
September 1998


JiscMail is a Jisc service.

View our service policies at https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/policyandsecurity/ and Jisc's privacy policy at https://www.jisc.ac.uk/website/privacy-notice

Secured by F-Secure Anti-Virus CataList Email List Search Powered by the LISTSERV Email List Manager