Like Caryl Phillips and Philip Roth in the domain of Anglophone literature, or Paul Gilroy and Sander Gilman in the realm of cultural theory, they spell out the ongoing connection between subjectivities brought into being by these different strains of modern violence with admirable clarity. Permitted to reside and work in the polis of Athens, the metic could nevertheless never hope to attain citizen status, from which he was precluded by an irreducible foreignness.
Athenian metics could hail from Asia, Africa, other parts of Europe, and other regions of Greece itself: all were equally excluded from fully belonging to the State, comrades in their shared, officially decreed marginality. Metics could be whipped for misdemeanours but, unlike the case for slaves, limits were set in place by the law regarding the extremity of the violence meted out. For a fuller analysis of this category in the ancient world see D.
The waves of immigration to France from Africa and the Maghreb would not begin in earnest until after the s. Italian peasant immigration was concentrated mostly in Provence. If pressed, members of the baying crowd would no doubt not take long to specify Jews as their particular target, and indeed European history of the thirties and forties would earmark this obscurely defined group for special attention. Herein lies its fascination. I want to work with this vague category of political being, the contours of which are so infuriatingly blurred, in order to investigate, through expressions of contemporary francophone culture, the current terms of its modern perpetuation.
Allen, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, What might the analysis of such a space teach us about the ongoing categorizations of superiority and inferiority?
The second half of the thesis is, in many ways, a far more pessimistic account of metamorphosis. The potentially liberating theoretical insights of the first two chapters find themselves in the final two chapters put into increasingly despairing and desperate practice. Chapter Three looks at some narratives by the Haitian author Marie Chauvet. The final chapter, on contemporary French novelist and playwright Marie NDiaye, takes this destabilization of the redemptive power of metamorphosis even further. What kind of ethics of metamorphosis can be derived from such an apparently downwardly spiralling trajectory?
This remains largely a question of priorities. If I have chosen to use these films, novels and plays to foreground a quite specific agenda generally based on the possibility of personal survival and immediate political intervention , this has, needless to say, been at the expense of other concerns that I have deemed to be of less urgency.
Nothing prevents the tales of metamorphosis that unfold — and that I try to allow, through detailed synopses at the beginning of each chapter, to stand on their own terms — from being utilized in a different order, and with a different project in mind. I would even go so far as to exhort the reader to make use of the narratives I have provided in ways and forms that deviate radically from the arrangement upon which I have reluctantly settled.
It would be encouraging to imagine that bleakness, disillusionment and despair in the face of unthinkable metamorphosis need not emerge, predictably, triumphantly, as the only reasonable conclusion. The just-employed Spanish maid Maria halfheartedly keeps their home tidy. The nameless rat appears to exert a mysterious influence: upon caressing it, each member of the family goes into a brief trance, from which he or she emerges fundamentally changed.
Fresh-faced, conventional Sophie jumps out of a window, becomes paralysed from the waist down, and turns into a listless sadist, forcing her macho boyfriend David to become her canine gimp. He calmly complies, cooking his beloved pet in the microwave before devouring its blackened carcass. Sophie, having miraculously crawled out of her wheelchair, saves her mother by stabbing the monster to death, whilst Nicolas and David ineffectually look on. They cannot find their way out of the woods, however, since their tracks have been covered over by enormous footprints.
The Law is on their trail, however: Alice is shot dead as she attempts to turn the rifle on the police, and Luc, caught in a stray rabbit trap and resigned to his punishment, is thrown into a police van. Sobbing with fury as he watches the arrested ogre outside the van being kicked to the ground by the gang of gendarmes, he eventually stops to gaze, with enraged lucidity, at the camera.
Habel novel, Dib, Habel is a young North African immigrant in Paris, having been driven away from his own country by a vengeful and authoritative older brother. Habel often goes missing for days on end. He repeatedly visits the crossroads where a car recently very nearly killed him; he is waiting for something to be revealed to him, obsessively going over the circumstances of his brush with death, but finding no answers to the enigma that it poses.
At the same crossroads, an area frequented by a large group of anonymous young boys and girls, Habel is picked up by an old man, Le Vieux, who turns out to have two other identities: that of a woman known as La Dame de la Merci, and that of a well-known writer named Eric Merrain. His succession of bewildering experiences takes him further and further to the brink of leaving his body.
Le Vieux takes him to a gay orgy at a house in the country, where a naked young man castrates himself before the assembled throng, and Habel vomits. La Dame de la Merci takes him back to her house, where she strips him, engages him in a sexual act, and pays him. Furious at this final humiliation, Habel contemplates murder, but instead steals the manuscript the writer has been working on. Eric Merrain is later found dead at his home. Since this Father was both a hated and worshipped figure, the totem which, following his murder, is established as a law-giver in his place, is invested with qualities of both attraction and repulsion, and comes to be perceived as both sacred and taboo.
This totem, usually an animal, binds the clan together, providing it with a myth of origins and a set of behavioural codes, functioning as a kind of primitive god. At certain times, Freud tells us, it can be killed and eaten in a sacrificial ritual. For the animal-fixated neurotic, the animal occupies a role of positive stimulation and appalling repugnance.
The fantastically over-determined beast must absorb highly contradictory feelings that spill out of the confines of psychic acceptability. Animals become the vessels for disturbing, non-retainable, and often deeply destructive, desire. How might engagement with the intruding animal figure lead us on a path towards total rupture with the very social and psychological processes that produced it in the first place?
And why might this be, or why might this not be, a desirable objective?
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The question remains, though, how might this be achieved outside the narrative framework of fantastical film? How might we really stop ourselves investing our desire in fetish objects that blind us to the real problem of how to live together in relative harmony? If the only way to break into a properly new dimension of being is through our own metamorphosis, how might this be achieved without our falling into a pit of madness and horror? I want to begin by considering at length — if ultimately to reject — the possibility that Sitcom proposes its animal, the rat, instead of a totem to authority, paternity and origins as suggested by Freud, as a mysteriously subversive tool with which the hypocritical and oppressive structures of social relation laid out in the first section of the film can be anarchically undermined.
These characters exhibit a desperate need to filter experience through some kind of established or authoritative discourse. What the figure of the rat seems to 10 This reading of Sitcom as a film that simply revels in the proliferation of multiple and perverse sexual identities seems to be the only existing critical position at the moment. As should become clear in due course, I feel this somewhat simplistically queer critical position demands further complication.
Although they often seem to belong to a more intellectual and insightful register of thought, they are equally ill equipped to deal with the ultimate horrors that ripple through the reality they want to represent. The ensuing combination of silence and embarrassed laughter underlines the absolute unsuitability of the intra-diegetic audience: Abdu — complete with over-the-top tuxedo and eager-to-please deference — is simply transformed into a kind of quaintly authentic African tourist guide, who might as well be speaking about anything.
Poverty, racism, homophobia — all the things which make the world we are watching such a grotesque one — are just so much 11 Each banality uttered encapsulates a very different means of somehow sanitizing an identification with which society at large clearly remains uncomfortable, yet all seem equally ludicrous and inept. Psychoanalysis too, the film implies, fails to confront, or even locate, the intricate modern human realities it purports to explain.
Quite able to approach, discuss, and pontificate about mother-son desire within the safe confines of the now routine oedipal myth, Freudian psychoanalysis is revealed to be impotent in the uncomfortably close face of real, non-theoretical incest. Must we end up accepting the unconventional logic that the film puts forward, a logic that appears to insist on the concrete power of an influential rat?
These theoretical texts provide, I suggest, an important avenue to pursue at this point, even if it is to be later rejected, since my task right now is to explore the implications of reading the emerging textual animal as something more than purely structural. But how far can this challenge to do something else with the rat take us?
Analogously, its sequel Mille Plateaux elaborates a refusal to tolerate any reading of texts which is incapable of accepting on their own uncategorizable terms the legion of forces — be they animals or whatever — which drive these texts. Kanzer and Glenn, Northvale: Jason Aronson, The animal may not be in itself a force for progression, or authenticity, or any other such similarly idealistic concept of humanistic liberation, but the process by which its emergence can potentially engage subjects in modes of radical transformation is, for Deleuze and Guattari, one which, instead of being labelled as either impossible or insane, is one which actually needs to be pursued.
A comparable divide between outside and inside takes place in Sade, an analogous regulation of the visitors allowed to penetrate the interior of the space of exception. As she takes the rat in her arms it appears to offer her the glimpse of an unprecedented kind of rapport, sending forth the unrepresentable promise of a weird new animal-son-lover.
Sitcom, then, there would appear to be a genuine attempt to investigate communion with the rat as the pursuit of rupturing forces outside a restrictive bourgeois social arena. Rather than exploding from shock, rage, or fear, it merely takes in these new factors and carries on as normal. The rat only appears to take the characters to a place outside the social machine; what it actually does is operate as a fetishistic fantasy channel very much within the existing ideological structure of the family, diverting would-be transgressive desiring energies directly back into this machine, which happily swallows and absorbs them.
It quickly becomes apparent that exactly the same silent frustrations glimpsed in the family at the start of the film carry on existing in the post-rat pact family members. Over this miserable scene continues to hover, with apparently harmless benevolence, the enigmatic, unthreatening, tolerant, vacant figure of Jean.
It is small wonder that transgression proves so impossible for the various family members: there seems to be no law or limit in place for them to transgress. These dutiful drives may just have been easier to spot in the father, king and God-fearing atmosphere of times past. The rat is his pet, it comes from his work place, and he is the one who insists that it stay in the house.
Nicolas and Sophie, despite their protestations to the contrary, never give up their unconscious attachment to a lawgiver. They locate this lawgiver, in remarkably conventional fashion, in the figure of their mild-mannered father, and they explore their relation to him via his agent the rat. The less overtly the father expresses the structure of the law his children expect of him, the more powerfully it operates within their unconscious. We do not just find the rat functioning as an instrument of the law in the strictly psychoanalytical sense. The rat would appear to be linked neither to repression nor to transgression so far as sex is concerned, but rather to the simple production of coherent sexually deviant identities, easy enough for both parents to label, out on display for the calm gaze of both father and rat.
It may be the one behind bars, but they are the ones functioning as the true laboratory rats — a role the pet white rat has in fact been liberated from — performing for its amusement and judgment, somehow always exposed to the seemingly panoptic power of its demonically red eyes.
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Under its surveillance the family — an institution which is, according to Foucault the ultimate breeding-ground for discipline — begins to invent new self- regulatory regimes, constantly examining themselves in mirrors and spying on one other through key-holes. If we consider that the rat might not be an entity opposed to the working of the regime, but rather one in league with it, its aggressive behaviour towards Abdu, for example, starts to be less enigmatic.
Their collusion with the rat allows for all this.
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But this is clearly not the end of the story. III Becoming rat, becoming real? It is only once the horrifying emptiness or lack around which these scenarios spin becomes revealed that the fantasies held in place by desire get unhinged.
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This is the point at which the unmoored subject begins the journey away from desire towards drive. The psychoanalytic process is already inscribed and thematized, as we have seen, within the text of Sitcom. That is, the rat, hitherto stroked and caressed but never discussed, is finally perceived and acknowledged as the object that has been motivating them to behave as they do. Yet — and this is crucial — they are equally ready to affirm it fully as that which, contrary to all rationality, has structured their entire being thus far.
The film allows him to reach drive, the impracticable stage beyond analysis and beyond desire itself.