My friend D. sent me a little CD the other day. It had the Rage against the Machine song on it, Killing in the Name of. D. is an old Metallica fan, from before they had an on-call psychoanalyst. Myself, I love noise, but I am not a metal person. I particularly hate the voices that a lot of metal music features, in which some singer has to assume the precise sound that would be made by the Cowardly Lion on meth – a fake monster voice, full of empty volume and scatchiness.
All of which gets me, by a detour, to today’s topic: La Salamandre and Nietzsche.
A couple of days ago I saw Alain Tanner’s La Salamandre. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. It was made in 1971, and Tanner had obviously seen his Godard, his Antonioni. It has the political language of Godard, and it has the dissipative structure (minus beautiful dresses and garden parties among statuary) of Antonioni. But the political language – exchanged by two down and out writers, one of whom makes his real money as a part time house painter – is all quoting the quotation. In fact, in the 80s, when I was a grad student, this had come to be the default style. Language inspired, distantly, by Marx, or Adorno, bantered about and at the same time made into an elaborate in joke. Being taught how to analyze, with the old male elegance, the oppressive structures that one hadn’t a chance of overturning or gaining the slightest bit of power over. And the dissipative structure wasn’t about the vanishing of purpose so much as the omnipresence of impromptu – each character making things up, including jobs and ends, as he or she went along. There was, of course, a firm sense in La Salamandre that after the trente annees glorieuses a form of capitalist paradise had been established. But all the characters were well aware that this was a predator’s paradise, and they were prey.
The plot of the film is simple. A young woman, maybe twenty, is accused of shooting her uncle in the shoulder with his army rifle. The scene is set in Switzerland. Two writers are paid to write a screenplay for tv about this fait divers. Both writers sleep with Rosamunde, the woman, played by Bulle Ogier. Rosamunde is the name of a sylph, and Ogier’s face alternates between lighting up, beautifully, to show the sylph, and plunging into sallow and slack darkness, the sylph turned tree, or at least like the trees in Dante’s infernos, the bark over the suicide. Rosamunde had a wild hair in high school, then got jobs like the first one we see her doing: working on the assembly line in a sausage factory, holding the skins that are filled with sausage meat shot from a tube.
Rosamunde is prey. While the two writers have a certain intellectual distance from predator’s paradise, or at least pride themselves on it, Rosamunde is pure prey. And… and this is what I like … and she responds to being prey by quitting frequently and listening to the 1971 equivalent of metal. Just noise, although recorded without the modern technology. She bobs her head, turns up the record player of the juke box, becomes vacant.
That’s the prey deal. We can do little to deny the predators. They have the power to occupy our desires, our hours, our minds. Their photos, films, demands, schedules, signatures on our paychecks, politics and wars go on whether we want them to or not. But Rosamunde can choose to be invaded by noise.
Which is where I thought about Nietzsche. Particularly that Nietzschoid saying that lept from the page right onto the walls of innumerable public toilet walls: that which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. There is a certain fate to grafitti, because that saying is all about shitting in a public toilet. That which doesn’t kill me isn’t what is outside me. It is what invades me. The site for the mythical invasion is just that encounter of the asshole and the public toilet plastic seat. The myth about getting disease here is really about something aberrant in this glitch in the system, since Americans are generally so careful about their hygiene. But let down your pants once and the Alien crawls right into your gut. That is what the predators do. The mimicry of that act, and the momentary release from it, is to fill oneself, to let oneself be invaded by noise. Rosamunde, nodding her head with a totally vacant look to the wordless electric guitar sounds, wrung my heart. This is, in a sense, what we do at LI. Every post is, essentially, noise. Meaningless noise, boom boom boom. But it brings a small relief, it produces a gap between invasions of the predators, who rule and who will always rule, with maximum greed, lust, and callousness the little paradise they’ve trapped us in. Their pictures, their politics, their celebrities, their gossip, their cars, their restaurants, their money, their businesses, their porno, their church, their gods,. their bozo leaders and bozo adulations. It is a joke to think that the prey will have any effect on this, but somehow every invasion – if I can choose it, if I can turn the volume up -- makes me feel stronger.