Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00

MIRACLES AND TRAUMAS OF COMMUNICATION 1

 Mario Perniola
Miracles and Traumas of Communication

Torino, Einaudi, 2009

Introduction

Impossible, yet real!

      Rarely, and only in very recent times, humanity has asked itself  the question of the sense of what it lived individually and collectively:  a vast majority of human beings, in the past have been absorbed by the concern to be able to survive and possibly live with less effort and more available goods. The sense of individual and collective life was not a problem, because the answer was already provided by the social condition in which it was born, and from handed down knowledge and  from the rituals.
       Still, since the modern times, especially in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, in the West, especially by the classes that had reached the well-being through the exercise of administrative, commercial and industrial, the tendency to look also at the unfolding of individual and social life of the existence of rational principles developed, or even more,  the laws, that or similarly to what happened in the sciences, would have allowed not only to understand what happened, but even to foresee what would have happened without resorting to divination and magic arts. The great flowering of literal fiction and historiography in the nineteenth and twentieth century responded to the pretension to grant a new and original sense to the lives of individuals and communities in order to insert them in a development plan that could identify, with relative reliability, the signs of progress or regress in the conduct of personal affairs, family, institutional, economic, political, social and cultural rights in order to allow the possibility of a capable action that could intervene effectively on the course of events.
    All this immense work of private and collective rationalization of life on which Western civilization is founded and that has ensured the world`s conquest,  it worked well enough until the end of II World War, finding its fulfillment in the victory over nazifascism and in the enslavement of a great culture that was able to subtract it self from the Euro-American colonization, the Japanese one. Despite the countless horrors, murders, massacres, genocides, and various disasters, which punctuated this period of history, there are a number of explanations for these events, different and even opposed to each other, which provide a plausible  key to the reading.
        The generations that grew up after the end of the II World War did not inherit this idea of  the world based on the vital importance of individual and collective action and on rational and progressive nature of history: such conception has become more alien to them as  their birth was leaving the end of the II World War.  They were witnesses of unpredictable events, whose significance is still opaque and indecipherable as long as it uses the concepts and notions that have dominated the first half of the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries. These generations are therefore now in the condition that they have not yet understood anything about the events they have lived and in which,  sometimes, they have even considered playing  a leading role.

       Since the end of the II World War, four unpredictable events  happened in the West , that have surprised, even the most informed public: the French ”May” 68, the Iranian revolution of February 1979, the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the attack to the Twin Towers in New York in September 2001.  In relation to these facts, the vast majority of people have made of their property a phrase by French writer Georges Bataille, impossible  et pourtant là,  <<impossible, and yet here>>.  In fact, many predicted that the revolt of the Parisian students would have led to the largest wildcat strike in history? What a monarchy supported by the strong American support and a ruthless repressive system was overthrown in a few months after a popular uprising led by clergy? That a regime built on a dense  network of police informers and spies would dissipate quickly? What, at the end, nineteen suicide bombers would be able to successfully carry out a devastating attack on American soil?
Its known that contemporaries are not the best experts of their present: most people do not live in actuality, and even the most informed can be wrong. The example of Lenin became proverbial, that a few weeks before the outbreak of the Russian revolution, he said to the  Swiss workers that it would have died before it would have taken place.  In principle, the sense of what was experienced individually and collectively, was discovered at the end. It has always been difficult to predict the future: nevertheless, the subsequent events to the year Sixties of the Twentieth century have a more refractory aspect to the interpretations of that apply from modern historical and ideological categories.
        These events appear to be more like miracles as fulfillment processes for which you know the performance or achievements of utopias, more like traumas that like tragedies or disasters of which it is possible to elaborate the mourn. Certainly, its when human society seems to become more rational, thanks to the extraordinary scientific technological inventions, burst in to the individual experience and historical facts that seem to belong on the horizon characterized by irrationality that belong to the religious and scientific horizon more than to the scientific and philosophical, more to psychotic syndromes than the explosion  of contradictions or to crisis that can be overcome.
       If you look at the real truth of things, the four facts that have been discussed are less important than they seem at first sight. In 1968, after the wildcat strike, everyone went back to work. The Iranian revolution did not spread itself to all of Islam and remained confined to a single country. The socioeconomic status of East Germans is still much lower respect to the West Germans. The damages caused by the attack to the Twin Towers were, from a military point of view, insignificant. These facts, taken one by one and isolated from their consequences is something ironic. About the French ”May” 68 a philosopher said: le sang n`a pas coulè,, donc rien s`est passé (<< blood has not poured, then nothing has happpend >>).  In the Iranian case of blood, a lot has poured, but the revolution has not achieved what was proposed. As to the fall of the Berlin Wall, a famous aphorism, made by Stanislaw Lec,  is considered  ”A better tomorrow does not  give the certainty of an  even better the day after  tomorrow.” As for the twin towers, it is still Lec that helps us: <<Who knows? Perhaps the walls of Jericho collapsed because of too much trumpeting inside?>> It is tempting to share the ironic attitude that the German historian Jakob Burckhardt had against the historical process.
    But yet, who can deny the imaginative and emotional impact that these four events have unleashed?
   We must deepen the notions of miracle and trauma to understand how they are far from sensitive and philosophical categories, political and social of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth century. For Bataille,  the miracle defines the experience of sovereignty that appears when we can get away from the world of utility and access to a full experience of present. This occurs, according to Bataille, in a series of events that include art and the sacred, laughter and tears, sexuality and death. The meeting with these events generates a kind of exhilaration, a miraculous sensation, the entrance into an extraordinary condition that emancipates from the  everyday life chains. Therefore, the end must not be considered with exclusive reference to transcendence. For Bataille, the words miracle and miraculeux are considered in a literal sense:  From Latin mirus, which means wonderful, amazing and surprizing. The context to which  Bataille refers to in the miracle, is connected with the etymology of mirus that has affinities with the Indo-European root from which the greek  μειδιώ  which means smile, from which the 11lish smile. Moreover, only  the human beings  smile. If in other books, Bataille was the founder of erotic anthropology, which saw precisely the distinctive character of human beings in  eroticism, here the direction seems to go towards a smiling  anthropology: in fact, the miraculous instant is when waiting ends in nothing!  Bataille seems to repeat Kant`s famous definition, that laughter is a condition resulting from a tense expectation, which all of a sudden  vanishes. The French expression impossible et pourtant là,  there is a peculiarity of the French language which is very significant. It affects primarily the fact that the French là  is equal to the italian qui . For example, the expressions Que fais-tu-là?  means <<What are you doing here?>> ”Les faits sont là, means<< These are the facts>>. Impossible et pourtant là! This French expression is untranslatable into other languages, but it expresses very well the strangeness of these four events. It implies a certain shift, a décalage,  a shift compared to the real truth of things. Because in French you use  là instead of ici? The French adverb there is ambivalent, it implicates together presence and distance. It is a very important nuance. In fact, it refers to another that does not end with the fact itself, but involves a vastly wider variety of memories and expectations, illusions and interests. So it is not wrong to attribute to these facts a paradigmatic meaning that transforms and divides the four different epochs: the age of communication, deregulation, of chall11e and finally of  assessment.
 
      As known, for Bataille, the sovereign moments for excellence, in which an unexpected thing occurs, and hitherto considered impossible, those are the ones in which death and sexuality approach until they merge with each other. But here we are dealing with facts that regard, not only private experiences but also collective ones, as to say ”the story”. Certainly, also for Bataille, the story was the subject of a constant and persistent reflection: yet he thought the sovereignty almost always with reference to ancient times in space or time. It`s the Anthropology and antiquity that provide references and examples of public sovereignty, not the world of his time: the potlatch, the pyramids, the sacrifices, the great art of the past. Capitalism and communism, the two models of society that are opposed in his time, for him they remain  submissive to the slavish logic of labor and of utility, and therefore inaccessible raid of the impossible et pourtant là.
    Bataille dies in 1962, a few months later, the world`s order of the victorious powers of the  II World War seems to give some sign of abating. Because of the installation of missile bases in Cuba, where Castro had established a communist regime, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union seemed on the verge of an irreparable rupture. The third world war seems imminent, but it does not occur! However, instead of the logic of economy and work, which was the subject of criticism of Bataille, on the horizon appears the aesthetics of consumerism and entertainment.  The homo ludens, who had been placed into the corner by the homo laborans from Nineteenth-century rationalism, makes his big return, and expects its well-being from the goddess Fortuna: the miracle takes the place of the programmatic plan, the expectation of the unexpected, the wonderful of the interesting.  Surrealism has no longer reason to exist, because it is fulfilled: what is wonderful is available to all.
    Western society slowly begins to be pervaded by a miraculous mindset, which spread to a vital contribution and it is given by the development of a techno-science seen as a science fiction about to take place, significantly accompanied by a decline in the main part of the population of the elementary scientific and technical knowledge. A more important contribution to the advent of miraculous mindset is given by the means of mass communication that just since the early sixties play a much greater role than in the past, for the spread of television and the feedback effect exerted on those that acted: impossible et pourtant là to say there are not only spectators but also actors in the events, which are the first to be amazed at the emphasis placed by the media for their performance and interest with which they follow the developments. Their words and their communications immediately become an essential part of the events influencing in a very relevant way its development, the real effectual  truth of what is submerged and disappeared under a huge amount of words and images broadcasted all around the world.
      The mediatic miraculousism generates in everyone an absolute out of proportional excitement respect to the effective weight of the events that occur and that are often actually unheard of, but hides an historical situation that has stopped at the end of the II World War. They are however, the winners of the second the II World War that firmly keep in their hands the destiny of the world through the polling station votes, with the right of veto, at  ONU occupying and a dense network of financial, economic and military that are transparent.
           When this balance seems to be endangered, it is more or less promptly recovered. For example, in 1971, in a period of great financial uncertainty because of the collapse of the international monetary system established at Bretton Woods in 1944, the ONU polling station votes with the right of veto occupied by Taiwan is given as an American initiative to China. Similarly, in the years after 1991 it is  in the interest of the other four great powers to avoid the collapse of the Soviet Union should lead to a civil war and permit Russia to return to be a great nation. Considering all, even in that way it went wrong! The Cold War never became hot, the conflicts remained local, the successes of Islamist terrorism, soaking America and Europe into a climate of fear, have so far prevented the movement alternative globalization (Seatle in December 1999, Genoa in July 2001, London and hundreds of other cities in the world in February 2003) achieved a real political significance, creating uncontrollable scenarios and letting into the game other countries and continents.
         Also on the horizons and prospects of individual lives, it is worth asking whether if what happened was really important: the life of the individuals was worth very  little in the past, and it is worth much less today. The great ideologies of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth-Centuries  gave to those who made it theirs an heroic aura, those that refused would have received from this refusal a surplus of grandeur. The mediatic miraculousism has instead made futile and empty the individual lives and relationships of kinship: they are no longer the subject of novels, but no more than little stories. The so-called <<sexual revolution>> has turned out to be a hoax. The social and economic mobility is much lower today than it was in the years following the end of the II World War. The disintegration of the educational institutions makes recognition impossible for  merit and excellence. All in all, it did not end up badly! We love and hate a lot less; the place for passions has been taken by small attractions that do not have the power to bind people to the life and death and small envies which have not the str11th to kill. You live dangerously just for fun or for money. The law of survival of the fittest does so that he has the taste of miraculous self-destruction without undesirable external interference.
    Certainly, understanding, feeling and acting, have suffered, as to say the possibility of human experience as a whole. Not that there have not been great thinkers, mostly French and Germans, that have opened new essential horizons, for the understanding of the actual world, but their transformation into stars of the show and the impossibility to have a real influence over their followers have done so that their personal lives ended up to an existential failure: who went in conflict with their own supporter and was so disturbed from it to die for it, who killed his wife, who was the victim of fatal addiction, who has thrown himself out of the window, who ended up to be a caricature of himself, who, having written and talked incessantly for decades all over the world, next to die has the impression of being totally misunderstood. What is surprising, is the huge disparity between the world notoriety and the lack of real influence that can affect the lives of listeners and readers. The artists have rapidly understood the futility of mediatic miraculousism and have driven it well, especially if Americans. Some religious leaders and personalities of the jet set have not been as less.
          The other side of the miracle is the trauma that, in its collective dimension, has been reserved for the states of Latin America, Asia, Africa and Balkans. The  Latin American military dictatorships of the seventies, the Red Khmer regime in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, the many  African civil wars succeeded to the decolonization,  the massacres in the Balkans in the nineties, as well as the wars in Afghanistan, the first and second part of the war in Iraq have been an enormous trauma, different from massacres and genocides of the past. They are configured as events over which it applies the same expression that we use in relation to miracles: <<impossible, but real!>> for many of these terrible events which fall outside the view of the dramatical rationality of history, many kinds of explanations can be adopted.
       What is striking, however, not so much that they have taken place, but that their perpetrators have had impunity and above all they have not been chased by a thirst for justice by the survivors, as for example has occurred for the Shoah. It has not been enough that the major world powers have not demonstrated interest towards it, which have been largely complicit in these killings, or the occult protections enjoyed by the killers to explain the ease with which they have largely managed to escape unharmed from the consequences of the massacres of which they were the authors, in spite of so many journalistic investigations have shown to the whole world the atrocities and supplying evident proof of it. It remains something incomprehensible in the absence of effective reactions by those who have suffered them. Not only in respect of what happened, but also what has not happened, the expression returns: <<Impossible, but real!>> It seems that some  journalistic report and judicial actions, without efficiency have been considered sufficient to rescue and redeem the horrors that occurred. There is the so-called <<goodism>> and <<forgiveness>> something that belongs intimately to the world of communication and futility in which the real truth of things, even more atrocious, has sunk.
        The concept of trauma, seen as a psychic wound caused by external violence, which cannot be psychically elaborated and therefore then passed over  through an analytical work, it seems the most suitable to describe the condition that, together with the miracle, has characterized the ways of  feeling from the Sixties onwards. The trauma remains in the psyche as a foreign body of which you cannot find a logical and convincing explanation, exactly how it occurs in the case of the miracle, generating a state of powerlessness and frustration that you cannot overcome. It is something not interpretable and that cannot be assimilated as long as you remain in a purely subjective horizon

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