Vanishing Point: The Vicious and Virtuous Circle
/SECONDS, The Online Journal of Contemporary Art and its Research
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/SECONDS NO.9 – VANISHING POINTS: (VIRTUOUS AND VICIOUS CIRCLES)
‘For us, tired hedonists of this end of the century…’
[Alain Badiou, The Century]
‘We have discovered happiness,’ say the Last Men, and they blink.’
[Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarasthustra]
What do we learn of happiness from B-Movies? How to ‘faire faux’? Make things worse to make them better? Spit on the grave of convention, the family?
The original cult road movie, Vanishing Point by Richard Saratian  starring Barry Newman as the nomadic, sexually jaded ex-policeman Kowalski, fugitive driver of a 1970 Dodge Challenger, is betrayed in the1997 version remake as American hero, family man, whose wife is having a baby, a mutilation of the spirit of subversion, the vicious parasite to the virtuous host. The original, in contrast, surpasses many lukewarm imaginaries of the [death] drive and the impossibility of love. An amphetamine-fuelled flight from the law, it celebrates the violence of the system in the visual beauty and freedom of the ‘dromoscopic’ desert, shot at speed, it approaches an Imaginary Real, a ‘vanishing point’. To transform the delirium of rebellion from the ellipse of cinematic space, the drive concentrates our attention upon a vanishing point. Discipline and focus is required of the nomadic. Vanishing Point provides a desacrilised after-image of disenchantment, angelic message turned to sour fact, and is at its very best an inspired gesture of the futility of love, or of the parasite’s wildness at the heart of the anti-heroism, unnerved in the face of death and psychosis. Freedom is gauged in the will to an accelerated suicide. We encounter something spirited, like wild horses, in Saint-John Perse [from his poem Anabasis, 1924] of ‘[…] an assertion that seems especially obscure today: that of the superiority of nomad greatness over happiness. This is pushed so far as to cast doubt on the very value of happiness. The expression ‘the gelded words of happiness’ [recalling that a gelder is a specialist castration of horses] seems to indicate that for a man of anabasis, even where language is concerned, the obsession with happiness constitutes a mutilation […] for it holds that the desire for happiness is what prohibits greatness.’ [Alain Badiou, Anabasis, from The Century]. Paul Virilio gauges the greatness of the ‘rush’ as incalculable by discipline of the senses; ‘The depth of the landscape rises to the surface like an oil spot on the surface of a painting. Inanimate objects exhume themselves from the horizon and come bit by bit to impregnate the sheen of the windshield. Perspective comes alive. The vanishing point becomes a point of assault projecting its arrows and rays on the voyager-voyeur.’ (Paul Virilio, Edward R. O’Neill, Dromoscopy, or The Ecstasy of Enormities)
‘[…] Some recent films reveal interesting parallel, and elliptical tendencies. Protagonists are frequently presented as having sexual problems that nevertheless give them a lot of ‘pleasure’. Whether squirming in the uncomfortable fit of their identity-as in The Closet, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, L.I.E., or ‘on the road’ in the youth cult movie Y Tu Mama Tambien-or languishing as a kind of impotent, alienated ghost- as in The Sixth Sense and The Others-several things emerge which bespeak the two meanings of ‘vanishing point’: ‘a point at which receding parallel lines seem to meet when represented in linear perspective’; and ‘a point at which something disappears or ceases to exist.’
[From Mott, G. (2004). The Vanishing Point of the Sexual Subject: The Closed, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Psychoanalytic Review, 91:607-614.]
Cinema has nurtured the perverse voyeur-voyager from within conventional narrative, coinciding ‘vicious’ and ‘virtuous’ circles with anti-narration. Imaginaries of the Real, as set out in catastrophe and abundance, contradict their libidinal economies by intersecting and spiraling axes. These stories are narrated at the same time as they are ‘disnarrated’ e.g.The Game [David Fincher, 1997] by detours, wayward arrows, butterfly cusps, intersecting dimensions of reflexivity, chance and hallucinated deception, at the vanishing point of difference. Janus-faced paranoia feeds these virtuous and vicious characteristics into affects. Derived from the originality of works by writers / screen-writers such as Michel Butor, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Philip K. Dick the ‘mis-en-abime’ spaces of ‘erotic’ transformation ofThe Game immerse and dissolve their automatic subject into the forced occupation of the host body, Capital.
The virtue of the corporation, in Vanilla Sky [Cameron Crowe, 2000] is to be ambiguous as redemptive: the virtuous parasite entering the vicious host, and vice versa, with technical support software, to be infinitely reversible, since we all live inside the dream constructed of the corporate and we ‘control’ the dream as it controls ‘us’. However the background sequences of Claude Monet’s paint box confectionery ‘vanilla’ skies, signal the irreversibility of having clicked on a ‘window too far’, the clue in the persistence of the image’s virtual afterlife: the background noise becomes the message in a forever-bright eternal circling sky, for if the gods are truly dead, so are we. The ‘generosity’ of the host coerces the dreamer of ‘freedom’. The guarantee of security from ever reaching his vanishing point i.e. ceasing to exist is exchanged with its absolute value. Who wins in this game of destruction between the virtuous and the vicious? The thought to re-ascend the slope? What if the rebel is now the law? What if the act, the thought, perverse in rebellion is normal in law, and so obscenely commands generosity in ‘democratic’ acts? Nomadic ‘greatness’ filtered through capital expenditure – eros to thymos – now turns celebrity to something of the aesthetic order of the repulsive, and of Terror.
Recall the cinematic logic of Luis Bunuel’s mathematically perfect choreography in The Exterminating Angel, realigning and breaking Dante’s 9th Circle of Hell of Betrayal with impeccable manners. Although broken by a ritual, the vanishing point of the last remembered moment before ceasing to exist, is reenacted yet useless, only to be soon after again reinscribed, in another place.
‘…The parasite becomes the host… ‘
The grass was greener
The light was brighter
With friends surrounded
The nights of Wonder
[Michel Serres Parasite]
Black and Blue
And who knows which is which and who is who
Up and Down
And in the end it’s round and round…
[from The Division Bell, Pink Floyd, 1994, Capitol]
‘Us and Them’ [from Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd, 1973, Capitol]
‘…No.9, no.9, no.9, no.9, no.9…’ Revolution No.9’ [from The White Album, The Beatles, 1968, Apple]
- Project for a Revolution in New York; a novel, Alain Robbe-Grillet, novel, 1972
- Passing Time, novel, Michel Butor, 1954
- Ubik, novel, Philip K. Dick, 1969
- Abre los Ojos, film, Alejandro Amenábar 1997
- Vanilla Sky, film, Cameron Crowe, 2000
- The Game, film, David Fincher, 1997
Edited by Peter Lewis, designed by Graham Hibbert
/seconds acknowledges support from Leeds Metropolitan University