‘Furies,’ a Horror Novel, Part Three, Chapter 4

Denise put the Pepsi and Fanta bottles on the kitchen counter, then she opened a drawer to get some straws. As she put her hand in to get them, she heard a whisper from behind.

Hello, Denise.

Startled, she spun around to find the speaker. Though the girl she saw looked ghost-like, the face was familiar enough. Denise gawked at that face in disbelief for several seconds, her jaw dropping.

“Alexa?” she whispered.

The ghost smirked.

Then it flew inside Denise’s body.

She gasped, then froze.

Her brain was now thinking thoughts that weren’t her own.

Terrifying thoughts.

Thoughts that couldn’t be expelled from her mind.

The baseball bat in the hall closet. Get it. Get a knife out of the drawer, too.

After getting a steak knife out of another kitchen drawer and putting it in her back jeans pocket, then putting her shirt over the handle to hide it, Denise walked out of the kitchen and into the hall like an automaton, with absolutely no ability to stop herself. She approached that closet with helpless dread.

All the while, she could hear her son noisily playing with his Star Wars toys.

You hate that noise, don’t you? Alexa’s voice rasped in Denise’s ears. You know you want to stop it, and there’s only one way to do it.

Denise couldn’t say no. She couldn’t even think it, as hard as she tried to.

She opened the closet door and picked up the bat.

She closed the door and took the bat with her down the hall to the living room. She couldn’t believe she had no ability to stop, drop the bat, and just return to the kitchen to get the drinks.

But she knew exactly what she was meant to do with the bat.

She couldn’t stop herself. She couldn’t say no to Alexa’s ghost. She couldn’t think any thoughts of objection to the ghost’s plan.

Alexa had total control over her mind and body.

Denise remembered how she’d bullied Alexa back in high school, but she couldn’t muster an apology, as sincere as it would have been. She couldn’t even let a tear roll down her cheek, over what she was being forced to do to her boy.

As she approached little Jameson with the bat, his voice, still imitating light sabre sounds, grew louder and more obnoxious. Her possessed brain was making her hate her son’s noises.

Violence is the only way to deal with anything you don’t like, Alexa’s voice told her. You know that. You’ve known it your whole life. Oh, sure, you’ve tried to suppress your rage against the world, you’ve pretended to be a good, loving mother, but you know, deep down, that that’s not the real you, Denise. Swing that bat. Beat him to death with it. You know you want to.

She was standing right behind him now. He just kept on playing and making those noises. He didn’t know she was there with that bat. He’d even forgotten about the Pepsi.

She raised the bat high over her head.

That noise is really annoying, isn’t it? Alexa asked. Little dorks like him deserve to be beaten, don’t they?

Denise kept that bat over her head, but knew she wouldn’t be able to stop it from coming crashing down on his head. She also knew why the bat stayed up above her head for the moment, why it wouldn’t come down just yet.

She was being made to wait for him to see her.

The waiting was also cruel suspense.

There was nothing she could do to stop it. The alien intelligence controlling her mind wouldn’t let her scream out a warning; it wouldn’t let her weep; it wouldn’t let her feel any affection for little Jameson.

It forced her to feel only murderous rage.

Still making the loud light sabre noises, he finally looked behind, saw her legs, then looked up at her.

He barely had time to frown at the sight of the baseball bat in her hands.

CRACK!!!

After that first blow bashed the boy’s skull to bloody pieces, she brought the bat down again and again, with many more a clubbing of his bones and back to finish him off.

He just lay there on his front, a motionless, bloody mess.

…and finally, she regained control of her mind and body.

She fell to her knees and dropped the bat.

She screamed a deafening wail of grief that went unbroken for the next ten seconds. Then she took in a hoarse breath and screamed again, louder and longer.

“I didn’t do this!” she yelled. “Something else…made me do this! Who?!

Alexa’s ghost reappeared before her, smiling.

“You!” Denise hissed. “You fucking bitch! You made me kill my son! What I did to you back in school was nowhere near as bad as this! I didn’t deserve this! He didn’t deserve this! I went to prison for my crimes! I reformed myself! I paid my dues!”

She picked up the bat and rose to her feet. She swung it at the gloomy apparition, hitting only her furniture as it swept through Alexa’s transparent spectral image. The ghost laughed at Denise’s futile attempt at revenge.

How does it feel to be the weak one, Denise? Alexa whispered. But as you can see, you still have your violent nature. All I did was reawaken it in you.

“I would never have been violent to Jameson!” Denise screamed, no longer swinging the bat in exhaustion. “You made me do that. I should have killed you back in high school.”

You did, Alexa said. You and that prick, Boyd, drove me to commit suicide. But I’m not finished with you yet.

Outside, Denise heard the door of their car shut. Her husband was about to walk through the front door.

One of the first things he’d see was little Jameson’s body in a pond of blood on the living room floor.

Before Denise could say or do anything, she felt Alexa fly back into her body. A cruel look on her face replaced the grief-stricken despair that had been on it just a few seconds before.

She picked up Jameson’s body and took it out of the living room.

Jack opened the front door and stepped in.

“Honey?” he called out as he walked down the hall to the living room. “I’m home. I’m really hungry. Could you please make me a…what the fuck?”

He saw that pool of red staining the living room carpet. He saw some broken things and dents in some of the furniture.

Was there a break-in? he wondered, trembling all over and stepping slowly and quietly into the living room. I thought I heard screaming as I drove in. Is the intruder…are the intruders…still here?

He walked over to the bloody baseball bat and picked it up.

He crept out of the living room and reached the entrance to the kitchen, listening for any sounds that might indicate an intruder. Any time his feet made the slightest creak, or if his breath was at all audible, he got mad at himself.

I must not give away my position, he thought.

No one was in the kitchen. He didn’t want to go in there for fear of his squeaking shoes telling the intruder…or intruders…where his was.

He went back across the living room and to the stairs leading up to the bedrooms. He noticed a few drops of blood here and there, suggesting where the intruder/intruders had gone.

He went up the stairs with painstaking slowness, careful not to make any noise, but slow also out of terrified reluctance to find out whose blood he’d seen on the living room carpet.

He reached the top of the stairs and looked around the hall leading to the bedrooms. No one was there, but a few drops of blood led the way to the bedrooms.

He crept over to his and Denise’s bedroom. He listened at the door. He heard the sound of something knocked over. He took a deep breath in and put his hand on the doorknob. He turned it ever so slowly and quietly.

He pushed the door open with the same slow, silent care. He saw mostly darkness and shadow, for the curtains were closed over the window. He heard a shuffling movement.

As soon as he flicked on the light switch, he felt something knock against his left leg, something that had leapt from the dresser drawer, knocking over a bottle of Denise’s skin moisturizer. It ran out of the room, scaring the shit out of him.

It was their cat.

“Jesus Christ, Snowball,” he whispered as their white cat continued running down the hall to the stairs. Then, remembering he had to be quiet, he put his finger to his lips. He looked down at the hall carpet. The drops of blood hadn’t stopped at their bedroom.

He continued his slow, quiet steps over to Jameson’s bedroom. He saw blood on the doorknob.

Oh, please, God, no! he thought as he opened the door, the bat in his other hand ready to swing.

This room was similarly dark and shadowy, the curtains also closed; but he could make out a short, small silhouette of a human being lying on the bed.

Please, let him be OK, he thought as he reached for the light switch. He turned it on.

Jameson’s body lay there, grotesque and disfigured from the beating he’d received, blood staining the bedsheets.

Jack’s eyes and mouth agape, he could produce no sound other than a hoarse gasp. He just stood there, frozen and stupefied.

Denise flew out from behind the opened door with that knife. She dug it deep in his gut.

The pain of the stab was nothing compared to the shock he felt from seeing the inexplicable malevolence in his wife’s eyes. He dropped the bat and fell to his knees.

“Denise…why?” he grunted as he looked up at her and her hateful expression.

He fell to her feet, surrounded in his blood.

She regained control of herself, then screamed at the top of her lungs again. “What am I supposed to do now, Alexa?”

You have the knife, the grinning ghost said. Use it on yourself.

She did.

***************

A few days later, the local newspaper reported the double murder/suicide, Denise’s naked body found in the bathtub filled with bloody water, her wrists slashed.

How such a family, known all over their community to have been so happy and loving, could have ended so tragically seemed a mystery to all…until a little research dug up her criminal past. It was assumed that her old violent ways had never been fully extinguished.

Analysis of ‘Memento’

Memento is a 2000 thriller film written and directed by Christopher Nolan, based on a pitch by his brother, Jonathan, who wrote the 2001 short story, “Memento Mori.” The film stars Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Joe Pantoliano.

The film’s non-linear storyline presents one set of events backwards and in colour, giving the audience a sense of the anterograde amnesia of its protagonist, Leonard Shelby (Pearce; in the short story, the character’s name is Earl). A black-and-white sequence of events in chronological order is presented in scenes that alternate with the reverse-order, colour scenes. The reverse scenes and chronological ones meet at the climax of the film, with the black and white switching to colour.

Memento was critically acclaimed for its non-linear structure and themes of memory, perception, and self-deception. It received Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. It’s widely considered one of Nolan’s best films and one of the best films of the 2000s.

Here is a link to quotes from the film, here is a link to Jonathan Nolan’s short story, published in Esquire, and here‘s a link to him reading his story.

“Memento Mori” gives the reader the sense of Earl’s inability to form new memories differently from the film’s back-and-forth, reverse vs chronological order: the short story instead presents scenes with large gaps of time between them to disrupt continuity. And instead of the film’s use of “Teddy” (Pantoliano) and Natalie (Moss), who both help and manipulate Leonard, in the short story, the narration shifts back and forth from first to second to third person, leaving the reader to wonder if all three are the same person (my guess), or if someone else is actually helping Earl.

There’s a sense of depersonalization, of derealization, in Earl’s switching from I to you to he to us within the space, often, of just a few paragraphs. Given the extreme disorientation he feels from his condition, such a confusion of identity is perfectly plausible.

The short story directly and indirectly references Hamlet. Given the dominant theme of revenge for the murder of a loved one, such allusions are fitting. Apart from the “to be or not to be” quote, Earl also discusses how the passage of time can weaken one’s resolve for revenge, something Claudius discusses with Laertes in Act IV, Scene vii, lines 108-123:

I know love is begun by time,
And that I see, in passages of proof,
Time qualifies the spark and fire of it.
There lives within the very flame of love
A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it.
And nothing is at a like goodness still.
For goodness, growing to a pleurisy,
Dies in his own too-much. That we would do,
We should do when we would, for this “would” changes
And hath abatements and delays as many
As there are tongues, are hands, are accidents.
And then this “should” is like a spendthrift sigh
That hurts by easing.—But to the quick of th’ ulcer:
Hamlet comes back. What would you undertake
To show yourself in deed your father’s son
More than in words?

After the contemplation of this need to act on revenge, Earl finds the motivation to do it. In the film, however, Leonard is, if anything, much too motivated for revenge, since he kills again, and again, and again. Leonard’s revenge truly “dies in his own too much.”

The short story begins with Earl waking up, looking up at a ceiling in an all-white room–a colour suggestive of innocence–in a mental institution. His innocence is that of one, in his oblivion, not knowing what’s happened to him. As his lacunae of lost memories are filled in through his notes and photos, the surroundings get darker: first, yellow, from having almost knocked over a lamp of incandescent light that floods the room with yellow, a symbol of jaundice, his bitterness over his predicament; then, he’s in a dark room where a tattoo artist is inking a message on his arm: I RAPED AND KILLED YOUR WIFE.

In contrast to the ‘innocent’ beginning of the short story, the film begins with Leonard already demonstrating his vengeful nastiness, shooting “Teddy” from the (as we later learn, mistaken) belief that he is his wife’s rapist and killer. A clue to who the real culprit is, however, can be gleaned from that tattoo just mentioned on Earl’s arm. Of course, Leonard’s changing of “I” to “John G.” simply demonstrates Leonard’s propensity for projection.

The movie’s beginning of the story with the film going backwards establishes the idea that the coloured parts are presented backwards, to help with audience comprehension. This retrograde motion also represents how what we perceive in the film is the other way around from what’s really happening.

Indeed, those characters we find trustworthy turn out to be untrustworthy, and–even more significantly–those we assume are bad turn out to be largely good. In this connection, the casting of Pantoliano–an actor we tend to see playing villains–is important in how this casting reinforces those prejudices in the audience, for later, we learn that he isn’t so bad after all.

Knowing that Leonard has written “DON’T BELIEVE HIS LIES” on the photo for “Teddy,” combined with his toothy grin (which hardly establishes trust), blinds us to the fact that “Teddy” is largely the only real friend Leonard has in the movie. He even openly admits that his real name isn’t “Teddy” but John G., for Gammell. His only dishonest moments are getting Leonard to kill some criminals for him, such as Jimmy Grantz (another “John” or “James G.”, played by Larry Holden), making Leonard think these guys are each the “John G.” he wants to get revenge on. “Teddy” just wants to get his hands on the money in the trunk of Jimmy’s car.

The fact is, undercover cop “Teddy” acts as a kind of psychoanalyst for Leonard, trying to get this forgetful fellow to engage in a bit of ‘know thyself.’ As we learn by the end of the movie, all of Leonard’s distrust of “Teddy” and “his lies” is really just an analysand‘s resistance.

Leonard’s search for his wife’s killer and rapist centres around finding a man named “John G.” or “James G.”, a name so ridiculously common that, convenient for forgetful Leonard, the anterograde amnesiac can keep searching for, killing, then searching for and killing again, and again, and again. One of my brothers is named John G. (in my posts about my family, I refer to him by the initial letter of his middle name, as I do for many of my family members): that’s just how common the name is, that my brother will remain essentially anonymous.

It isn’t just that Leonard forgets having gotten his revenge; it’s the very seeking of it, forever and ever, that satisfies him. The seeking is what gives his life meaning and purpose. Seeking revenge is Leonard’s objet petit a, the unattainable object-cause of desire, only this is not a desire of the sex drive of Eros, but one of Thanatos, the death drive.

The non-linear narrative, splitting up the continuity of the film into alternating colour scenes in reverse order and black-and-white scenes in chronological order, is symbolic of Leonard’s psychologically fragmented perception of the world and of himself. An investigation of what’s really happened to him, leading to the unified narrative at the end, puts the pieces of the puzzle together to reveal Leonard’s real problem.

The crucial element, in working out exactly what Leonard’s problem is, is in another man assumed to have anterograde amnesia: Samuel R. “Sammy” Jankis (played by Stephen Tobolowsky). Leonard’s job, originally, was investigating insurance claims, and Sammy, after being tested, is believed to have a psychological, rather than physical, reason not to be able to make new memories, according to Leonard.

As it turns out, though, “Teddy” in his all-too-blunt honesty tells Leonard that Sammy was simply a faker. Leonard’s ‘memories’ of Sammy repeatedly giving his wife insulin shots, one immediately after the other because she wants to test his memory, and leading to her death by overdose, are really projections of Leonard, after his diabetic wife’s rape and his knock on the head, giving her such a series of insulin shots, killing her.

This raises an important question: is Leonard the one whose inability to make new memories is for psychological, rather than physical, reasons? Has he, inspired by Sammy’s fakery, deluded himself into thinking that the knock he got on the head gave him anterograde amnesia? If so, why?

I’m guessing that he couldn’t bear to see his wife’s suffering, the pain on her face, after the rape. He couldn’t bear to remember her post-rape life, so Sammy inspired him to use his knock on the head, actually not strong enough to have caused brain damage, to give him an excuse to believe he can’t make new memories.

Added to this, his wife’s despair over what’s happened to both of them–from the intruders in their home–has made her suicidal. There’s the trauma of her rape, compounded by the fact that her husband is no longer the man he used to be. He, deep down in his unconscious, wants to put her out of her misery, too…and conveniently for him, he’ll ‘forget’ it. Of course, his repressed guilt that he’s his wife’s real killer drives his delusion of having anterograde amnesia even further.

For if his inability to make new memories is physical, we are left with a number of unanswered questions. He should remember nothing from when he got the hit on the head knocking him unconscious. How does he even know he has his “condition”? Every time a set of memories goes, he should feel as if he’s just woken up, with no idea of how he got from being knocked out in his bathroom after trying to stop his wife’s rapist, to wherever he is at the moment. He has no memory of anyone telling him he has anterograde amnesia.

Another thing: he speaks of how “everything fades” when the memory of a new moment vanishes from his mind. If he doesn’t remember any of these new memories, how does he know that they fade?

To go back to Jonathan Nolan’s short story, it also makes little sense how Earl, forgetting everything approximately every ten minutes, could ever get his revenge off the ground. Even with help, he’d have to spend every one of those ten minutes or so reviewing everything, and then how would he be able to use his, presumably, ever-so-few remaining seconds to advance his plot of revenge…only to have to write the new things all down, then have to spend more of that ever-so-little time reviewing more and more notes? Leonard would have comparable difficulties with his short periods of consciousness.

So, anterograde amnesia in this film should be understood as a metaphor for repression. Leonard isn’t really forgetting all these post-rape experiences: he’s simply pushing them deep down into his unconscious mind. As with all repressed material, though, the new experiences resurface in forms that are unrecognizable to him.

He speaks of a condition that he can’t possibly remember being told he has. He speaks of all new memories fading, when he shouldn’t even be able to remember the fading. What he calls ‘fading’ is really just the process of repression.

The unrecognizable form of his memory of giving his wife the all-too-quickly repeated insulin shots is his projection of that memory onto Sammy, when he has no way of knowing anything about Sammy supposedly giving the excessive shots to his wife.

Other little slips come out, suggesting that deep down, Leonard is remembering more than he lets on to. His angered, paranoid reaction to finding “Teddy” hanging out in the passenger’s seat of his car (Jimmy Grantz’s, actually) suggests that Leonard remembers how “Teddy” has reminded him of the uncomfortable truth that he killed his wife with the insulin, not her rapist, and that it wasn’t Sammy who overdosed his wife.

Leonard appears at Natalie’s house with a photo of Dodd. His asking her, angrily and full of suspicion, about who Dodd is suggests that he has a trace of the memory of her taunting him about how she’ll manipulate his inability to form new memories, of how she spoke abusively about what a “retard” he is, and about his “whore” of a wife, provoking him to hit her and put that cut on her lip.

In fact, when Natalie taunts him by saying his “whore” wife must have gotten a venereal disease from sexual contact with so many men behind his back, and that his getting the disease from her could have caused his anterograde amnesia, he finds this especially triggering. We can connect this trigger with his sticking of a phallic needle into his wife’s thigh, close to her own genitals; his giving her the excessive shots in this way, leading to her death, can be seen as a symbolic rape. This fact dovetails with that tattoo on Earl’s arm: he reads those words himself–I RAPED AND KILLED YOUR WIFE. Remember that Earl is both I and YOU.

Indeed, it’s interesting how, after Leonard kills Jimmy Grantz, he puts the body in the basement of the abandoned building, this basement being symbolic of Leonard’s unconscious; this placing the body there is symbolic of repression. Leonard also puts on Jimmy’s suit and takes his car, symbolically identifying himself with the man he imagines is his wife’s rapist and murderer. We see Leonard in that suit for the vast majority of the coloured sequences in the film, implying that he has been the real killer all along.

Leonard gets triggered when he hears dying Jimmy whisper Sammy’s name; it shouldn’t otherwise matter, since as “Teddy” points out, Leonard tells everybody about Sammy. The implication behind him telling everybody about Sammy is that it is a circuitous kind of confession of his own guilt in killing his wife.

There’s no reason to believe “Teddy” is lying about everything he reveals to Leonard about what really happened to him and his wife, she who survived the attack and therefore wasn’t killed by the intruder in their home. “Teddy” has nothing to gain by lying about any of that; in fact, the ugly truths he reveals, too painful for Leonard to face, ironically cause Leonard to write “DON’T BELIEVE HIS LIES” on his photo for “Teddy,” which in turn ultimately leads to Leonard killing “Teddy.” The fact is, Leonard is the real liar, and he’s projecting his mendacity onto “Teddy.”

The real reason none of his photos or notes can adequately replace his memory is that they’re static: they don’t flow with time, since reality is fluid, not static, so they lack the crucial context needed for their meaning to be correctly interpreted. This lack of context, nonetheless, is convenient for Leonard, since he doesn’t really want to remember, anyway. His notes and photos fool him into thinking he’s remembering what’s essential, but this of course is nonsense. He talks about “facts” being better than memory, but static facts without context are useless.

That ending of the film, when he consciously decides to forget the ugly truth that “Teddy” has told him, is representative of what his unconscious mind does after every so many minutes of each new, post-rape experience. He forgets new things not because he can’t remember them, but because he doesn’t want to. This last scene simply presents that unwillingness to remember–an unwillingness that pervades the whole film–in its most blatant, naked form.

To get back to Jonathan Nolan’s short story again, the narrator, just before the end, says something significant: “Time is an absurdity. an abstraction. The only thing that matters is this moment. This moment a million times over.” In the paragraph before this quote, he says, “Time is three things for most people [i.e., past, present, and future], but for you, for us, just one. A singularity. One moment. This moment.”

These passages remind me of how Buddhists speak of the eternal NOW as the only one time that has any real meaning or existence. The past and future are just mental constructs with no material validity. If we could just ground ourselves in the NOW, and not ruminate over our unhappy pasts or worry about our futures, we’d be happy–we’d have peace.

That Earl would speak of having only the present to live in, with no sense of moving time, always forgetting the (recent) past, he seems to be living a perverse version of this Buddhist wisdom. Of course, neither he nor Leonard will ever, or can ever, attain peace of mind.

Now, his past isn’t completely in a state of oblivion–he still remembers everything up until his wife’s rape, and as I’ve explained, it’s not that he’s forgetting everything after her rape, but rather he’s repressing the post-rape memories–and this lack of complete oblivion makes all the difference. These voids in his mind, from her rape onwards, are repressed traumas that make up the undifferentiated, inexpressible psychic world of what Lacan called the Real.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, the Real–or Bion‘s O–can be traumatic or blissful, depending on one’s attitude towards it. The Buddhist experiences the oblivion of past and future, focusing on the present, as blissful because he lets of of his ego. Earl/Leonard, on the other hand, experiences this oblivion of the Real as traumatic because, apart from not completely forgetting the past, he’s still attached to his egoistic experience of the world.

After all, the whole point of attaining bliss, peace of mind, is to extinguish desire, craving, attachment; but Earl/Leonard is doing the opposite. Our forgetful protagonist not only desires revenge, but is perpetuating the seeking of that revenge by creating an unsolvable mystery… the ever-elusive identity of “John G.” His murderous objet petit a can never be extinguished, because it can never be attained.

In fact, the key to ending his trauma is precisely to remember it, to recall it in all of its excruciating brutality. Yet Earl/Leonard is really just an extreme version of all of us. None of us wants to remember what has hurt us, so we conveniently try to forget our traumas, or we only selectively remember them, cherry-picking what’s comfortable for us and discarding what isn’t.

Our therapists tell us we’ve got to feel the pain in order to heal it…but who wants to do that? Leonard certainly doesn’t want to; that’s why he burns those photos of himself (smiling upon achieving his revenge…or so he thought) and Jimmy. He burns them in the fire of a desire he never wishes to blow out, because Thanatos is his new life.

Not to be, that is his answer.

‘Furies,’ a Horror Novel, Part Three, Chapter 3

Denise Charlton, 38, had gone through quite a transformation over the years. Had she, at the age of eighteen, seen what kind of person she’d become twenty years later, she’d have never believed her eyes.

Still, the transformation did occur. It occurred out of sheer necessity. There was simply no way she could have sustained herself by continuing with her juvenile delinquency. Her violent ways had to stop.

It had all started with her abusive drunk of a father, an ongoing problem she’d known as far back as she could remember. As a little girl, she’d had to endure seeing that piece of shit get pissed and beat her mom; little Denise would get plenty of hits from him herself.

Now, when he attacked her, her trauma response wasn’t freeze, as was the case with her timid mother. She hated the way her mom was too afraid to fight back, so Denise was resolved never to deal with her dad in that way. Though the beatings she’d get were far worse than those her mother got, and though Denise always lost her fights with her old man, at least she made sure that bastard got a few dents on his own body, too.

Her fight response became her way of dealing with everybody. She was determined to let the whole world know she wasn’t going to take shit from anybody, and if anybody was stupid enough to give her shit about anything, she’d fuck him up good and proper.

Because of her attitude, she got into a lot of fights in the schoolyard…and no, she wasn’t afraid to fight boys, either. She’d fight with people at school, on the streets, and at any part-time job she ever-so-briefly had. She was a potential menace–Denise the Menace, everyone called her–to anyone who had the bad luck of crossing her path, and she was damned proud of that.

She started getting in trouble with the law, typically charged with assault and battery, at around the age of fifteen. Sometimes she’d get caught vandalizing–throwing rocks in windows, spray-painting rude words on buildings–or there was the occasional petty theft. But usually it was her and her gang of bad girls beating people up, out of sheer boredom.

Well, one night, months after the disappearance of Alexa, Megan, and Tiffany, Denise took her violent ways too far. That night, she and her gang assaulted a middle-aged woman and put her in the hospital. Denise was the ringleader, and the one who gave the woman the worst of the beatings, so she got the harshest punishment: five years imprisonment.

During her first year in prison, she stewed in a rage, angry at how unfair the world had always been to her. She got into plenty of fights with the other female convicts. But early into her second year, after a nasty fight that got her face bloodied and her ass in solitary confinement for a week, she found herself forced to rethink her life.

Though the preaching of the prison priest only made her roll her eyes, he did say one thing that made her reflect: “Anger is the enemy. Anger is a poison. If you don’t cure it, your hate will kill you one day.”

Indeed, she thought as she sat all alone in that room and sulked. Look at where my hatred and anger have led me. I have to stop fighting all the time. Maybe Mom was right to have been such a wimp.

She resolved, once she got out of solitary confinement, to make efforts to control her hostility to the world. Naturally, it was hard at first: she got into a few fights after getting out, but they were fewer, and she was pulling her punches for the first time.

After a few months, she was surprised with herself how rarely she was being even verbally abusive. The others in the prison were even more surprised, and after another year and a half of good behaviour on her part, she was considered for early release.

She had a parole hearing, and after making it clear how sincerely remorseful she was for not only having beaten up that woman, but also for all the hurt she’d needlessly caused others, she was released halfway through the fourth year of her sentence.

She found work–menial labour, but it was enough to get by. Her parole officer never had any complaints about her. She continued to be amazed at her transformation.

A few years later, she met a man, Jack Drew, a nice man, totally the opposite of her father. Jack was gentle, he never drank, and he managed to revive a belief in her mind that there actually are good people in the world. After two years of dating, they got married.

She was thirty when she gave birth to their son, Jameson. She lay in bed at the hospital, and when the nurse put the newborn baby in her arms, and her husband was standing by her, tears ran down her cheeks. She’d not only escaped the hell of hate and anger; she’d entered the world of love.

Notions of wanting to hurt people had become alien to her on this first gazing into her baby’s eyes. Now she felt only nurturing instincts, the drive to help, to give comfort, to remove hurt.

Again, she was amazed at how much she’d changed.

Years went by, and she was a dedicated mother. Taking care of little Jameson was a joy. Even when he was difficult, and outright annoying–which was not infrequent–her first instinct was almost always patience and kindness, rarely anger. He’d have to have been an extraordinary brat to make her as much as raise her voice.

So one morning, 38-year-old Denise was with her eight-year-old boy in the living room while Jack was at work. He was playing with his Star Wars action figures while she was watching TV.

He was imitating light sabre noises as he had Rey and Kylo Ren fighting. Really getting into it, he was also getting really loud.

“Keep it down, honey,” she said. “I can’t hear the TV over you.”

He kept at it at the same volume.

She sighed and said, “Fine.” She picked up the remote and turned up the volume. He made louder light sabre noises.

She sighed again, but before she could open her mouth to tell him to play quieter, a commercial came on. She decided to get a drink from the kitchen.

Before she got up, though, she looked over at Jameson. The sight of her cute little boy, so happy playing with his toys, disarmed her annoyance at his loudness. She got up and walked over to him.

“Look out!” she said playfully, her tickling fingers poised for attack. “The Emperor is going to zap you, Rey!”

She got her fingers on Jameson’s little belly and began tickling. He screamed and giggled, dropping his action figures.

“Stop!” he yelped. “Mom, stop!” He giggled and screamed some more.

She stopped, then gave him a big hug and a kiss on his chubby left cheek. “Want a Pepsi from the fridge?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said, nodding with enthusiasm.

“What’s the magic word?”

“Please.”

“OK, one Pepsi, coming right up.” She got up and went over to the kitchen. He returned to his loud light sabre noises.

She stood by the fridge, and as she opened the door, she looked back, with a smile, into the living room at her boy.

“I love you,” she whispered, then reached into the fridge for a Pepsi, and she got an orange Fanta for herself.

Someone else was gazing at her boy, and at her, but this person was frowning, not smiling. This person was invisible to Denise and Jameson, but were they to have seen this person, they’d have seen disheveled hair, pale skin, red eyes, and a tattered black dress.

Analysis of ‘Gesang der Jünglinge’

I: Introduction

Gesang der Jünglinge (“Song of the Youths”) is a 1955-1956 electronic music piece by avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. It was realized in the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) studio in Cologne. The vocal parts were sung by then-12-year-old Josef Protschka. The piece is exactly 13 minutes, fourteen seconds long.

Ryan Simms called it “the first masterpiece of electronic music,” and Pascal Decroupet and Elena Ungeheuer called it “an opus, in the most emphatic sense of the term.” The work has influenced such musicians as the Beatles (“Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Revolution 9“; Stockhausen’s face is also seen on the Sgt. Pepper album) and Frank Zappa (check out his own electronic sound montage experimentation on We’re Only In It for the Money).

Gesang der Jünglinge is also an early example of the use of spatial effects in music; it was originally meant to be played in five-channel sound, but this was reduced to four, then mixed to mono and later to stereo for commercial recording release. Similarly, it was originally meant to have seven sections, but it was truncated to six due to time constraints.

Here is the composition (with Kontakte, from the record I bought in my late teens, introducing me to Stockhausen’s music), and here is the analysis of Gesang der Jünglinge by Samuel Andreyev, to whom I owe a huge debt for my own analysis of the work.

In 1954, Stockhausen wanted to compose a mass for electronic sounds and voices. He was hoping to have the piece played in the Cologne Cathedral, but his request for permission was refused on the grounds that having loudspeakers in a church would be inappropriate. So instead of composing the mass, Stockhausen created Gesang der Jünglinge.

II: Sound Continua and the Unity of Opposites

The three types of material used to make the electronic sounds are sine tones, impulses or “clicks” (i.e., short, staccato-like sounds), and filtered white noise. Paralleled to these electronically generated sounds are three kinds of sound made with the recorded voice of the boy soprano: vowels (corresponding with the sine tones), fricatives and sibilants (corresponding with the filtered noise), and plosives (corresponding with the impulses). Each of these goes on a continuum ranging from the purest or simplest to the most complex.

What’s particularly fascinating about Stockhausen’s meticulous manipulating of these sound continua (structured statistically) is how he managed to make seamless links between vocal and electronic sounds, as well as seamless links between, on the one hand, the electronic sounds–from sine tones to impulsions to filtered white noise–and, on the other hand, the vocal sounds–from vowels to fricatives/sibilants to plosive consonants.

Gesang der Jünglinge, therefore, demonstrates in musical form the unity between the opposing worlds of electronically generated sound and the sounds of the human voice (as recorded and manipulated in the manner of musique concrète). Added to this unity in diversity is Stockhausen’s total organization of all the other musical parameters, total serialism, which is an expansion of Arnold Schoenberg‘s twelve-tone technique (the serializing of the twelve semitones) to a formal ordering of such elements as frequencies, durations, timbres, etc. To hear such music, it might sound chaotic, but nothing could be more precisely organized; thus, through his use of total serialism, Stockhausen also achieved the paradoxical unity of “chaos” and order.

III: Catholic Mysticism

Now, a discussion of the unity of opposites as manifested in this composition can only meaningfully be approached through an acknowledging of Stockhausen’s sense of Catholic mysticism. This means addressing the text sung by young Protschka, which is derived from Song of the Three Children, verses 35-51, from the Apocrypha. In the Bible, the entire set of verses is meant to follow the Book of Daniel, chapter three, which tells the story of three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who are thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to bow to a giant, golden idol of King Nebuchadnezzar; God saves them from the flames, so they sing praises to Him.

Original text in German: 

Preiset (Jubelt) den(m) Herrn, ihr Werke alle des Hernn—
lobt ihn und über alles erhebt ihn in Ewigkeit.

Preiset den Herrn, ihr Engel des Herrn—
preiset den Herrn, ihr Himmel droben.

Preiset den Herrn, ihr Wasser alle, die über den Himmeln sind—
preiset den Herrn, ihr Scharen alle des Herrn.

Preiset den Herrn, Sonne und Mond—
preiset den Herrn, des Himmels Sterne.

Preiset den Herrn, aller Regen und Tau—
preiset den Herrn, alle Winde.

Preiset den Herrn, Feuer und Sommersglut—
preiset den Herrn, Kälte und starrer Winter.

Preiset den Herrn, Tau und des Regens Fall—
preiset den Herrn, Eis und Frost.

Preiset den Herrn, Reif und Schnee—
preiset den Herrn, Nächte und Tage.

Preiset den Herrn, Licht und Dunkel—
preiset den Herrn, Blitze und Wolken.
Original text in English: 

O all ye works of the Lord—
praise (exalt) ye the Lord above all forever.

O ye angels of the Lord, praise ye the Lord—
O ye heavens, praise ye the Lord.

O all ye waters that are above heaven, praise ye the Lord—
O all ye hosts of the Lord, praise ye the Lord.

O ye sun and moon, praise ye the Lord—
O ye stars of heaven, praise ye the Lord.

O every shower and dew, praise ye the Lord—
O all ye winds, praise ye the Lord.

O ye fire and summer’s heat, praise ye the Lord—
O ye cold and hard winter, praise ye the Lord.

O ye dew and fall of rain, praise ye the Lord—
O ye ice and frost, praise ye the Lord.

O ye hoar frost and snow, praise ye the Lord—
O ye nights and days, praise ye the Lord.

O ye light and darkness, praise ye the Lord—
O ye lightning and clouds, praise ye the Lord.

IV: Garbled Words

Now, you wouldn’t know that this text was being sung (apart from the obvious refrain, Preiset den Herrn, or “Praise the Lord,” which is heard at least once in all six sections of the piece) to hear how it’s presented in the recording, with neither the printed text in front of you nor fluency in German. These varying levels of comprehensibility vs incomprehensibility–seven, to be exact, which range from the one extreme to the other– are due to Stockhausen’s having cut up the text into such fragments as scrambled words, scrambled syllables, and even scrambled phonemes.

His clever use of such permutations of vocal sounds was the result of his study of phonetics with Werner Meyer-Eppler at the University of Bonn. The vocal sound permutations, recall, have been placed on continua paralleling analogous electronic sounds, to get that seamless sense of transition from the former kinds of sounds to the latter, and vice versa. So in the juxtaposition of fragmented words, syllables, and phonemes with these seamless transitions between vocal and electronic sounds, we have yet another instance of the unity of opposites in Gesang der Jünglinge, here a unity of brokenness and smoothness.

V: The Unity of Opposites in the Biblical Story

To explore further this idea of the unity of opposites, let’s recall the story. The three youths have angered the king by refusing to bow before his idol, so he has them thrown into the fiery furnace to be burned alive. Their faith in God, however, saves them, and so though they’re engulfed in the flames, they are completely unscathed. They emerge praising God in the manner shown in the text above.

What’s interesting about them being thrown into a fiery furnace is how the image immediately invites comparison to being thrown into hell, into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:20, 20:10, 20:1415, and 21:8). Damnation by faith in God, or salvation by blaspheming, as it were, the Neo-Babylonian god-king? Deliverance from the flames while sitting among them? These paradoxes of heaven in hell, and of hell in heaven, are pregnant with meaning.

Connected with these paradoxes in the story is one manifested in the vocal harmony at one point in the first section of Gesang der Jünglinge. We hear the recordings of Protschka singing a dense chord of the word Ihn (“Him,” referring to God). This chord is sustained for a while, though some of the notes fade in and out, at the end with only two left in the interval of the tritone. Stockhausen would have known that the tritone is the diabolus in musica, the “devil in music,” and he therefore at least unconsciously had Ihn, for God, represented musically this way. Is God the Devil? I’m sure he never meant to blaspheme the object of his religious devotion, but my point is that, in this moment, Stockhausen the mystic was acknowledging, if only unconsciously, more spiritual paradoxes. Like heaven in hell, it’s more of the unity of opposites.

It shouldn’t be too shocking to speak of God having both good and evil sides. After all, Isaiah 45:7 says, “I form the light and create darkness: I make peace, and I create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” We can connect this verse with the last part of the text Stockhausen uses in Gesang der Jünglinge, which says, Preiset den Herrn, Licht und Dunkel, or “Praise the Lord, light and darkness.” In the text, the three youths sing of how everything God has created should praise Him. Such elements include the light and the dark…symbolically, good and evil.

VI: Resolving the Paradoxes

We must now try to make sense of these paradoxes, to sublate the dialectical contradictions of heaven and hell, God and Satan, salvation and damnation. To do this, we must be able to imagine the mental state of the three youths as they are being taken to the fiery furnace.

They may have righteousness and conviction of their belief in God, but none of this means that they’re going into the fiery furnace with smiles on their faces and relaxed heartbeats. We mustn’t assume they’re in a state of total blissful calm. They have faith in God…but is their faith sufficient to please Him? They have no way of being sure of this, and as Paul wrote, “he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)

There’s always some doubt, even among the most faithful. Just as all of the sounds used in Gesang der Jünglinge are on continua, so are faith and doubt on a continuum. The three youths would have feared that any doubt in their minds, however small, might have been enough to cause God to abandon them in the flames. Contemplation of such a possibility must have been terrifying to them; such terror is part of the true test of faith.

This fear would have been their hell in the flames; and yet when they realized that God wasn’t letting the fire burn them, they’d experienced heaven in the metaphorical hell of the fiery furnace. Danna Nolan Fewell said, “we hoped for deliverance from the fire; we had not expected deliverance within the fire […] God doesn’t extinguish the fire but joins them in it.” (Danna Nolan Fewell) So in this moment, we have heaven in hell, salvation in damnation, and even God in Satan’s (metaphorical) dwelling. Recall that among the trio of singing youths is a fourth “like a son of God,” suggesting an angelic presence in that hellish dwelling.

VII: Stockhausen’s Suffering

Stockhausen was inspired by these Biblical texts because he found himself identifying with the three youths. Just as they suffered and prevailed, so had he, though of course in very different ways.

WWII under the Nazi regime was difficult for young Karlheinz in many ways. His mother, having suffered from mental health issues, was deemed a “useless eater” by the Nazis, and therefore forcibly euthanized by them through Aktion T4. Later, his father, as a soldier during the war, was killed. Perhaps most traumatic of all, as a youth during WWII young Karlheinz had to do work as a stretcher bearer in Bedburg; he found himself often in close contact with cadavers!

Apart from these trying experiences in the war, Stockhausen would later have to endure negative receptions of his experimental, and therefore challenging, music. Still, he grew from all of these difficulties and became a stronger man, in his estimation, because of them. In these ways, he could be said to have gone through his own fiery furnace, and since then his faith in God grew stronger, and he sang to God, in his own way, through not only Gesang der Jünglinge but also such other mystical musical works as his gargantuan opera cycle, Licht, of which a full performance requires no less than 29 hours.

VIII: Heaven in Hell

To get back to my point about the paradox of heaven in hell, one way we can interpret the meaning, or lack thereof, in Stockhausen’s cutting up of the text into fragments of words, syllables, and phonemes is to think of the resulting extents of incomprehensibility as showing the difficulty, or impossibility, of verbalizing a traumatic experience. As I said above, even though the three youths are physically unharmed, they are still terrified by the possibility of being so harmed.

This inability to put trauma into words is part of what Lacan was talking about in his conception of the Real. The psychology of the Real is an inexpressible experience of non-differentiation. Gesang der Jünglinge achieves, by means of those sound continua I described above, a fluid sense of unity, a sense of non-differentiation between vocal and electronic sound.

Now, as I’ve written elsewhere, the non-differentiated unity that Lacan called the Real is not necessarily all hellish and traumatic. Like Wilfred Bion‘s O, this unity can be a heavenly, blissful experience, depending on one’s attitude to it. The difference lies in whether or not one is capable of, or willing to accept, a giving up of one’s ego. The three youths, as I see it, could and would give up that attachment, and so they were saved.

Still, it was a terrifying experience for them, as Stockhausen’s experiences of WWII were for him, so even though the youths are singing God’s praises through the harmonized chorus of Protschka’s angelic, overdubbed voice, the voice of a child (recall Luke 18:17), the recent terror of the fire makes articulation of those praises next to impossible, save Preiset den Herrn.

IX: Heaven and Hell in the Music

Another way to sublate the thesis (heaven) with its negation (fiery furnace as metaphorical hell) is to consider a number of ascending and descending electronic motions in the piece, as well as combinations of such ascents and descents. Samuel Andreyev, in his analysis (link above in the introduction), mentions these at around 30:00-31:08 in his video.

These ascending/descending impulse complexes can be seen to symbolize movements up to heaven or descents to hell (literal or figurative). Section A of the piece, going from 0:00 to 1:10, begins with an ascending impulse complex, a swarm-like flurry of impulsions of varying pitches, but nonetheless moving in an upward path.

At the apex of this ascension, arriving at heaven, so to speak, we hear the angelic voice of the boy soprano singing jubelt (“exalt”), the two syllables sung in a descending perfect fourth. Immediately before this word, though, we hear two soft impulsions of an ascending tritone–again, the diabolus in musica juxtaposed with an angelic exalting of God.

Next comes a chorus of overdubs of the boy’s voice, quite unintelligible except for the word alles, and interrupted twice by electronic sounds. Then we hear jubelt Ihn (“exalt Him”), the syllables sung in an ascending minor third (or is it a microtone between that interval and a major second?) and a descending minor ninth. Section A ends with that dense chord in which the sustained Ihn is sung, as discussed above: such a complex chord with notes fading in and out, and ending with a soft fadeout of the aforementioned tritone. Ihn–God, that is–is a complex, mysterious being, requiring no less than an extremely complex mass of sound to represent Him.

Early in Section B, we clearly hear Preiset den Herrn (the singing of Herrn ending with a descending tritone…that diabolus again!). We can also make out the word Scharen (“hosts”). Preiset den Herrn is soon heard again, with the same notes as before…including that tritone, and bear in mind that obvious instances of repetition are rare in Gesang der Jünglinge.

X: Juxtaposed Opposites in the Text

Though it is uncertain if the apocryphal Biblical text, on which Stockhausen’s German translation is based, was originally composed in Hebrew or Aramaic, since what exists of it is only in Greek, Syriac, or Latin translations, it does nonetheless have the hallmarks of ancient Hebrew Biblical poetry, namely, its use of parallelism (e.g., the “praise ye the Lord” refrain; also, “sun and moon” with “stars of heaven,” “O every shower and dew” with “O all ye winds”; and parallels of opposition, such as “fire and summer’s heat” with “cold and hard winter,” “dew and fall of rain” with “ice and frost,” and “nights and days” with “light and darkness”). [See also Carmi, pages 58-59.]

These oppositions are of particular interest in how they support my interpretation of Gesang der Jünglinge as a musical, mystical unifying of opposites. Sometimes, such pairings of opposites can be deemed merisms, meant to express the idea of not only the two extremes, but also everything in between. Noteworthy Biblical examples of this are in the early chapters of Genesis (e.g., “God created the heaven and earth,” meaning He created the whole universe; or “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” meaning knowledge of everything, that is, from the best to the worst). It would thus be reasonable to assume that the text’s references to extreme winter and summer weather are merisms for all the seasons of the year, from hottest to coldest; and “light and darkness” includes all the tints and shades in between–unifying continua of opposites.

These unifying continua of opposites in the text are, of course, paralleled in those in the musical structure and in those ranging back and forth between vocal and electronic sound. For this reason, it’s logical to regard the pairs of opposites in the text as merisms.

XI: The Electronic Sounds as Fire

Now, if Protschka’s superimposed vocal recordings are meant to represent the three youths, then it’s reasonable to hear the electronic sounds as symbolic of the boys’ surroundings: remember that the four speakers playing the music surround the audience, making them feel as if they are with the three youths in the fiery furnace.

These surroundings that the electronic sounds represent include the metallic casing of the furnace (i.e., some of the electronic sounds suggest the resonant ringing of voices bouncing off the metal–see 2:28-2:32 of this recording for a brief example of what I mean). The resonance of the boys’ voices inside the furnace can also be heard through the use of reverb on Protschka’s voice from time to time. And, most importantly, the electronic sounds can represent the sound of the flames.

Now, the electronic sounds don’t generally imitate the crackling sound of fire; I’d say, instead, that they simply represent it. As for those ascending and descending impulse complexes, they do tend to have a bubbling sound, suggestive of boiling liquids, and therefore associative with scalding heat.

To bring out this association more clearly, recall how, in the middle of the piece (about 6:20-6:40 in this recording), Protschka’s voice, one voice alone, sings the disjointed syllables of Kälte und starer Winter (“cold and hard winter”), with largely no electronic accompaniment at all (especially from und onwards), suggesting the loneliness and desolation of winter. No heat.

XII: On the Unity of Opposites…Again

The opposites of Sonne und Mond (“sun and moon”) are heard clearly, as are those of aller Regen und Tau (“every shower and dew”). These are the opposite lights of nights and days (Nächte und Tage, heard later; and while the moon isn’t technically a light, back in Biblical times, it would have been regarded as a “lesser light“), and of great waters above (rain) and lesser waters below (dew).

We can also clearly hear the opposites of Feuer und Sommersglut (“fire and summer’s heat”), as against the above-mentioned Kälte und starer Winter. Tau und des Regens Fall (“dew and rainfall”), as opposing Eis und Frost (“ice and frost”), are also heard clearly; melted vs frozen water. I can make out Dunkel (“darkness”) but not Licht (“light”); still, in all of these opposites generally, we have plenty of their implied unity via juxtaposition.

Now, another point should be made about this unity of opposites, be it implied or explicit. Though Christianity is generally understood to be dualistic in nature (a more moderate dualism than that of Gnosticism or especially Manichaeism, but sufficiently so in a general sense), none of this precludes the possibility, at least, of unifying these dualities while remaining essentially Christian. Stockhausen’s Catholicism could allow this without him having to make any syncretist forays into, say, Eastern mysticism. There are the dualisms of God vs Satan, good vs evil, and the spirit vs the flesh, but as George K Haggett says in his blog post on Gesang der Jünglinge, “In Catholic theology, the soul–a person’s incorporeal essence–is not as dichotomized from the body as it might be in popular imagination.”

Recall that Christ came and died in the flesh; the more radically dualistic Gnostics and Manichaeans were the ones who could not accept His having been crucified, and so they followed an alternative tradition of someone else being substituted for Him on the Cross, a tradition that even appeared in the Koran (see also note 663 in Abdullah Yusuf Ali‘s translation). Furthermore, at Mass, one takes Communion, eating the transubstantiated body of Christ.

In the concluding paragraph of Haggett’s blog post, he says, “the body and the soul are a one-ness, the more-than-integrated sacred and profane; they are sanctified flesh and blood, both breathed into life and breathing through it.” Recall that God breathed a very physical breath into Adam, and he became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)

XIII: Conclusion: What Can This Piece Mean for a Secular Audience?

The unity of body and soul can be extended to a unity of materialist and idealist dialectics, too. This leads our discussion in a new direction: the religious, spiritual meaning of Gesang der Jünglinge has been dealt with; but is there a way this piece of music can be relevant to a secular audience? I believe there is.

Now, before I go into my secular interpretation of the piece, it should be acknowledged that Stockhausen was essentially a liberal; he was no staunch leftist by any stretch of the imagination. His controversial remarks about 9/11 may have angered conservatives, but his quip that the attacks were “the greatest work of art that exists for the whole Cosmos” was misunderstood (as a work of art of Lucifer, he meant a great evil work of art). Still, his hostility to Nazi imperialism is enough, I think, to warrant the interpretation below; for even if he himself wasn’t an anti-imperialist in his life, this piece in itself can easily be seen as such.

If we consider Nebuchadnezzar and his idol as representative of imperialism, and the ancient Judaeans in the Babylonian captivity as being oppressed under that imperialism, then the three youths’ refusal to bow before the idol is an anti-imperialist, revolutionary act, rather like any country today that refuses to bow before US/NATO imperialism (e.g., Russia, China, Venezuela, Bolivia, etc.). Remember that the idol is golden, sixty cubits tall (Daniel 3:1); as such, it is a symbol not only of the imperialist authority of a king, but also of the wealth of the ruling class, be this class the ancient slave-masters of such civilizations as the Babylonian empire, or the subsequent feudal landlords of Europe, or the capitalist class of today.

Anyone who dares challenge the authority of imperial rule, be it past or present, will be put to the test, as the three young men are, and will suffer persecution. When they are put to this test, though, they must not lose their nerve. Though the three youths are afraid, as they’re tied up and thrown into the fiery furnace, they keep their faith in God, just as the anti-imperialist of today, regardless of his or her religious beliefs (or lack of them), must keep faith in the eventual achievement of the revolutionary cause.

Just as the religious may have doubts that God will intervene and save them, so do secular-minded revolutionaries have doubts that they’ll succeed in overthrowing the ruling class. When in doubt, they should recall Rosa Luxemburg‘s words: “Before a revolution happens, it is perceived as impossible; after it happens, it is seen as having been inevitable.”

So, just as the three youths sing their praises to God while surrounded in flames that don’t touch them, so were the Russian workers and peasants in 1917 thrilled to be rid of tsarist rule, and rid of continued involvement in WWI; so were the Cubans in 1959 rejoicing over having removed that butcher Batista from power; and so were the Vietnamese joyful over having ousted the French colonialists.

Of course, just as the rejoicing three boys continue to be surrounded in flames (and the Judaeans continue to be held in Babylonia), so did the RSFSR have to fight off the capitalist White Army during the Russian Civil War; so has Cuba had to endure the cruel US economic embargo; and so did the Vietnamese have to confront the US army. Still, all three prevailed in these struggles, and while times are particularly dark for anti-imperialism now, we can listen to Gesang der Jünglinge, and the recordings of that boy’s sweet, angelic voice, for inspiration as the flames of oppression draw closer.

‘Furies,’ a Horror Novel, Part Three, Chapter 2

Tess ran and stumbled through the grass, bushes, and fallen twigs in the forest. She fell to the ground a few times and got some mud on her jeans and jacket.

“Oh, shoot,” she whispered when she saw the mud on herself. “Mom and Dad are gonna be mad about that, for sure. Oh, well…”

She heard the shot of a rifle farther off.

“That must be Daddy!” She ran in the direction of the gunshot.

**************

Boyd frowned as he saw the deer run away.

“Shit,” he whispered. “I hate it when I miss.”

Indeed, Mr. Marksman, as had been his nickname ever since high school (in fact, long before he’d even hit Alexa in the face, just under her left eye, with that bottle-cap in his slingshot), almost never missed. Each miss, as rare as it ever was, wounded his pride terribly.

He shuffled through the grass in the direction that deer ran in. He looked all around, but couldn’t see it, or any other deer, anywhere.

“Dammit!” he whispered. “I’ll find you, deer, soon enough.”

***************

Tess had been running and running, falling in the mud again and again, knowing full well her dad and, especially, her mom were going to be really mad at her for getting her clothes so dirty. Still, she was giggling the whole time.

She didn’t care what punishment was coming her way. She was having fun.

She was going to meet with Daddy, and they were going to play some more. Her spirit guide promised her.

She heard another gunshot. It was louder and closer.

That was Daddy again, she thought. I must be almost there. I’d better be really quiet. I want to surprise him.

She crept in the direction of the gunshot, careful to make as little noise as possible, then hid in the tall grass and bushes.

***************

“Goddamn it,” Boyd whispered as he watched another deer run away. “I missed again.” This was two misses in a row. As rare as missing a target was for him, two consecutive misses were especially rare…and in his opinion, humiliating.

He went after that deer, being as quiet as he could.

I never miss like that! he thought. Those two opportunities I just had were easy hits. I had my target locked, both times. It doesn’t make any sense that I missed them. You’d think there was an evil spirit out here making me miss.

Actually,…

He now saw a deer feeding off of the leaves of a bush not too far off. It didn’t look like the other deer (or two) he’d shot at and missed, but it was a deer, all right. A rather small one, a particularly sweet and innocent-looking one, the kind that normally aroused his sense of compassion and mercy.

But with his wounded pride, mercy was the last thing on his mind at the moment.

Sorry, sweetie, he thought as he brought up his rifle to take aim. But I’m hitting you. And nothing…and I mean nothing, is gonna make me miss this time.

***************

Tess looked through the leaves of the bush she was hiding behind. She saw her dad in profile, aiming his rifle to her right, about ninety degrees from her position. He was clearly aiming at a deer out there somewhere; she looked out far to her right to see if she could see the deer.

She couldn’t find it anywhere out there, no matter how hard, or how far out to the right, that she looked.

Where is it? she wondered. Daddy seems to be aiming at nothing, if it’s a deer he wants to shoot. I guess the deer is too far out there for me to see.

She could see him keeping his aim and staying perfectly still.

Why doesn’t he just shoot? she wondered. Surely he’s aimed long enough. I wanna jump out and surprise him so badly. She was about to rise.

No! her spirit guide whispered in her ear. Don’t move at all. Wait for him to take his shot, then surprise him. If you startle him, he’ll miss the deer and get mad at you.

“OK,” Tess whispered.

Dammit, Boyd thought. The deer moved a bit, right when I was about to shoot. Good, it’s still again. Don’t move, you: I don’t wanna miss again.

He had the deer’s head right in his sights. He took a few slow breaths. The deer was perfectly still.

This is it, he thought.

He pulled the trigger ever so slowly.

POW!

Blood splashed from the head in all directions.

But it wasn’t the blood of a deer.

Not one second after the bullet struck did he see the brown fur of the deer change into Tess’s brown jacket.

Not one millisecond after he fired the shot did she see him change, from firing ninety degrees to her right, to firing straight at her face.

“What the–?” he whispered, with a chill going all the way up his spine to his head. He went closer to get a better look.

The bullet hit her just under the left eye.

“Jesus Christ!” he screamed.

He fell to his knees, just a few feet by his daughter’s bloody body. He shook for several minutes, his eyes wide open to see what they couldn’t possibly have believed they were seeing. Then, finally, he began sobbing.

“It was a deer!” he screamed. “I saw a deer! Not…my…dear!…” He continued bawling.

****************

“Tess?” Sharon called as she entered the woods. “Tess, where are you?”

****************

“What did I do to deserve this?” Boyd sobbed.

I am what you did, Alexa’s voice called out to him.

“What?” he said, his head swinging around in all directions to find a voice that seemed to have no body.

I told you I was gonna get you, the voice said.

“Wait,” he said. “Is that the voice…from my dreams?”

Yes, Alexa said, her ghostly apparition showing itself to him from his left. She was grinning.

He swung in her direction, pointing the rifle at her.

“Alexa,” he grunted. “I always hated you.”

And only now do you have good reason to.

“And now I’m gonna kill you,” he said, aiming for her face, his trigger finger more than itchy.

You can’t kill a ghost, you moron, she said, grinning nonetheless at the prospect of tempting him into more foolishness.

“No, but I can shoot at you to make me feel better.”

Are you sure you’ll feel better? Maybe you’ll feel worse. Remember what happened the last time you pulled the trigger.

“I didn’t see as clearly then as I do now.”

Are you sure about that, asshole?

“Shut up!” He fired.

Again, as soon as the bullet reached its mark, Alexa’s apparition disappeared, replaced by the person who really got the bullet in the head…just under her left eye.

“Sharon!” Boyd screamed as he saw his wife’s body fall to the ground. Now, he was bawling twice as loudly. “Alexa, you fucking bitch! I may have bullied you back in school, but I did not deserve this!”

Alexa’s ghost reappeared. Then shoot me, she said.

“And who will I kill next? Did you lure my mother here?”

Shoot, and find out.

He just stood there, frozen in a mix of stupefaction and despair.

If you don’t shoot me, who will you shoot?

Finally, he made up his mind. “Oh, you’ll like this, for sure!”

He put the end of the rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

***************

Over the following weeks, journalists, as well as everyone else who knew Boyd, puzzled over what the reason could have possibly been for such a happy, successful businessman to want to destroy himself and his loving family.

Analysis of ‘Dr. Strangelove’

I: Introduction

Why I’m analyzing this film now, during these perilous times, should be self-explanatory.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a 1964 black comedy co-written, produced, and directed by Stanley Kubrick. Loosely based on the 1958 thriller novel Red Alert, by Peter George (who, with Terry Southern, co-wrote the screenplay with Kubrick), the film stars Peter Sellers (in three roles), George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, and Slim Pickens.

Considered not only one of the best comedies, but also one of the best films in general, of all time, Dr. Strangelove was ranked the third funniest film, and of the best films, ranked #26 in 1998, then #39 in 2007, according to the AFI.

Here is a link to famous quotes from the film, and here is a link to the novel.

II: Sex in a Film about Death

One striking thing noticed as early as the opening credits, and recurring in various forms throughout the film, is the use of sexual themes and symbolism. That phallic/yonic refuelling of planes in midair is obvious. There’s Major T.J. “King” Kong (Pickens) reading a Playboy magazine (the cover of which shows seminude Tracey Reed, who as the only [and, of course, totally objectified] female in the movie, also plays Miss Scott, the bikini-clad, high-heeled secretary and mistress of General Buck Turgidson [Scott]). Other examples of sexual themes will be mentioned later.

What is interesting about sexuality permeating a film dealing with the threat of annihilation of all life on Earth is what this paradox could mean. Desire gives rise (pardon the expression) to sex, which brings about life. Hate, fear, and egotism have given rise to the Bomb, which ends all life.

Desire, understood in the Lacanian sense, is caused by lack, specifically that of the symbolic castration a boy experiences in not being able to be the phallus for the Oedipally-desired mother, a privation coming from le Non! du père. The child, as he’s growing up, tries to replace the mother (the unfulfillable objet petit a) with any other woman he can find. Any threat to the satisfaction of his desire will trigger the original narcissistic trauma of the Oedipus complex.

The triggering of such a trauma is the basis of how to understand the madness of Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Hayden), whose comical name change–from that of his serious equivalent in George’s novel, General Quinten–is apt, given how his namesake, the misogynistic serial killer, mutilated the abdomens of prostitutes, removing internal organs. If one can’t have the object of one’s desire, one will destroy it. In this, we can resolve the paradox of sex and killing in the film.

Ripper’s paranoia about “the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify [sic] all of our precious bodily fluids” (in his case, his semen) is this symbolic castration. He’s afraid that the commies will make him less of a man, like Daddy keeping him, as a little boy, from having his mother. Such a humiliating infantilization is intolerable. Male insecurity thus threatens all life on Earth.

III: The Turds of Turgidson

Parallel to Ripper’s experience is that of Turgidson, whose sexual encounter with Miss Scott is interrupted by his summons to the War Room. The wish to kill is caused by the failure to get laid.

More insights into Turgidson’s personality can be gleaned right from that first scene of his with his mistress. Not only is he using the bathroom, meaning she has to answer the phone for him, but he’s in there for quite a while, making it safe to assume that he’s taking a shit. While the comical name “Turgidson” indicates his turgid personality (i.e., he’s bombastic, something immediately apparent in the way Kubrick manipulated Scott into playing the role in the over-the-top way we see him do it), I also hear in his name a pun on “turd son.” Now, “turd” and “turgid” lead to my next point.

His very first act in the film is crapping. He therefore has what Freudians would call an anally-expulsive character, which means someone given to such traits as cruelty, emotional outbursts, disorganization, ambition, conceit, suspicion, rebelliousness, and carelessness. We see all these traits, in one form or another, in Turgidson. He’s someone who liberally ‘lets it all out,’ as opposed to the tight-fisted, orderly, and fastidious anal retentive who ‘holds it all in.’

It should be noted, in connection with anal expulsiveness, that dropping bombs can be symbolic of dropping turds. The anally-expulsive cruelty, ambition, conceit, and carelessness of nuclear war amounts to shitting on the enemy. As a pre-genital fixation, anal expulsiveness can also be understood as the result of sexual frustration seen not only in Turgidson’s having to leave his mistress for the War Room, but also in Ripper (as in ‘ripper of farts’) not wanting any sapping of his “precious bodily fluids.” Note Karl Abraham‘s comments on the association of defecation with “enormous power” (PDF, page 6), which can be seen as a narcissistic reaction against the loss of sexual potency or opportunity.

Such anal fixations, understand, are a manifestation of erotic feeling (“anal erotism”), from the anal stage of psychosexual development, and therefore they are an example of the film’s link between sexuality and nuclear annihilation. (Now, if you, Dear Reader, consider Freud to be a heap of hooey, understand that his ideas were more in vogue at the time of the making of Dr. Strangelove, and therefore psychoanalytic interpretations of it are valid. Besides, I’m not concerned with the scientific accuracy of these theories; I’m merely using them for their symbolic value.)

IV: The Main Characters

We ought now to look at the three characters Peter Sellers plays: an Englishman (Group Captain Lionel Mandrake), an American (President Merkin Muffley), and a German (Dr. Strangelove, or Merkwürdigliebe). The nationalities of these three characters is significant in how they represent not only Anglo-American, western imperialism, but also another element of North European origin–a German immigrant whose Nazi proclivities personify Operation Paperclip. That the same actor would play all three characters strongly implies the sameness of all three countries in their roles in the Cold War.

Mandrake is the stereotypically reserved, timid Brit. Dr. Strangelove’s maniacal Naziism, to the point of his alien hand syndrome (i.e., his involuntary Nazi saluting), suggests self-alienation (i.e., Muffley, to whom he gives his salutes, is Strangelove’s metaphorical mirror–played by the same actor–and therefore his narcissistic ideal-I“Mein Führer!”) and psychological fragmentation resulting from his extreme, fascistic, narcissistic defence of capitalism. Muffley is less comical, except for the sexual suggestiveness of “merkin” and Muffley, implying a male sexual inadequacy similar to that of Turgidson and Ripper.

Along with the British and German stereotypes of Mandrake and Strangelove, there’s also the American cowboy stereotype of Pickens’ Major Kong. Pickens practically played himself in the movie, to paraphrase a comment James Earl Jones (who played Lieutenant Lothar Zogg, the B-52’s bombardier) made of Pickens.

Since this movie was made by liberals, they couldn’t of course limit their satirical stereotyping to targets of the West; so they made sure to make fun of Russians, too. When Muffley talks on the phone with Russian Premier Dmitri Kissov, the latter is drunk…naturally. Furthermore, according to Ripper, Russians drink vodka instead of water.

V: The Plot (and Current-day Parallels)

Now, as for the plot, to show detail by detail how relevant this film is for our time, I’ll parallel what happens in it with recent events. It doesn’t matter that Kubrick, George, and Southern had no foreknowledge of today’s geopolitical tensions: nuclear brinksmanship is as insane an idea now as it was then, and it’s driven by the same basic motives: paranoia, lust for global dominance, and ambition…regardless of whether Russia is communist or capitalist.

Ripper (Quinten in the novel, remember), in his madness, orders a nuclear strike on Russia, claiming that it’s in retaliation for a strike against the US that hasn’t happened. The US/NATO, deceiving the global media for years about “Russian aggression,” have expanded NATO right up to Russia’s border, put NATO troops there to do military exercises in obvious preparation for war, have been trying to get Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO, achieved a coup against the government of Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 (replacing it with one including neo-Nazis), and provoked a Russian intervention in Ukraine, all increasing the likelihood of a nuclear WWIII (read this for more details; scroll down towards the end).

Next, Ripper ensures that all communications are cut off, making it impossible for the president to recall the planes. An interesting parallel to this in today’s predicament is in how, alongside the heavy sanctions and wanton discrimination against all things Russian, there has also been a draconian censoring of all Russian media, including the shutting down of media sources merely associated with the likes of, say, RT (e.g., Lee Camp‘s ‘Redacted Tonight’).

Just as the inability to recall the planes, to tell them to call off the attack, heightens the danger of nuclear war in the film, so does denying the Russians of today the right to tell their side of the story in the war with Ukraine heighten the danger of a nuclear WWIII. For if everyone in the world just mindlessly and uncritically goes along with the ‘Putin bad’ narrative, such one-sidedness more easily manufactures consent for war with Russia, which can pull in its ally, China. These two countries’ nukes, combined with those of their provocateurs, the US/NATO, spell disaster for all of us on the planet.

The ‘Putin bad’ narrative is every bit as much propaganda as any ‘Putin blameless’ narrative would be; this is why both sides of the story must be allowed to be freely expressed–the combined two will bring balance and could very well lead to a much-needed détente. The war-mongering Western imperialists, the Jack D. Rippers of today, don’t want that détente. They keep funnelling weapons to Ukrainian neo-Nazis, Facebook is ‘temporarily’ allowing the incitement to violence against Russia and defence of the Azov Battalion, and the US/NATO, instead of militarily helping Ukraine, is allowing this war to be protracted in the hopes of slowly bleeding out Russia à la Brzezinski (i.e., the Soviet/Afghan War of the 1980s).

VI: One-sidedness and Chatting on the Phone

With this one-sidedness of communication in Dr. Strangelove comes a recurring motif: chatting on the telephone. Indeed, the tagline for the film is “the hot-line suspense comedy,” seen on the theatrical release poster showing two men on the phone.

Miss Scott, Turgidson’s secretary/mistress, chats on the phone in his place with the one who needs him in the War Room. Ripper phones Mandrake about the strike on the USSR. Later, Mandrake needs to contact the president by pay phone to tell him the three-letter recall code. And there is that hilarious phone conversation between Muffley and Kissov.

Showing all these phone calls means hearing only the voice of the speaker in the room, not the speaker on the other end. This presentation of the phone conversations symbolizes the one-sidedness of communication that is bad for keeping the peace. This one-sidedness is so much at the root of all war: a failure to listen, to empathize with the needs of the other side.

Consider the absurdity of Muffley’s call to Kissov, how awkward it is for the former to tell the latter that one of his generals “did a silly thing” and attacked the USSR. The hilarious climax to this ridiculous conversation is the competition between the two heads of state as to who is sorrier than the other for the crisis. Even an apology can be turned into a fight.

VII: The Idiocy of Pushing for Nuclear Armageddon

George’s novel tells the story as a serious thriller, but the film improves on the tension through the ironic use of black comedy; for only comedy can send the message home of the madness of nuclear brinksmanship. Only an idiot would risk the annihilation of all life on Earth just to get “the Russkies.”

Part of the idiocy in taking such a risk is the belief that, somehow, the West can hit Russia with such thorough force that a retaliatory attack can be prevented, and therefore only the enemy will be wiped out, the West suffering no losses, or suffering minimal losses. In other words, there is the chimeric hope that a sizeable portion of life on Earth will survive.

This hope of surviving life is part of what the film’s sexual themes represent, as they are juxtaposed with the themes of death and destruction. The penile-vaginal symbolism of the plane refuelling at the beginning of Dr. Strangelove is the refuelling of a B-52 bomber. The very name of the film suggests sexual perversity, one that I’ve theorized of as being a regression to a pre-genital libido, the anal stage, when satisfying the genital stage‘s libido has been frustrated (Ripper, Turgidson). Added to this is grinning Strangelove as he discusses the polygynous arrangements to repopulate the Earth underground after the nuclear holocaust.

Turgidson’s optimistic estimates of ‘only’ twenty million people killed, as against 150 million people killed–that is, from the US hitting the USSR without the latter’s retaliation, as opposed to a US hit with that retaliation–is another example of this absurd hope of preserving life after a nuclear holocaust. With this comes the cruel one-sidedness of thinking that only American lives matter, not Russian ones.

This absurd hope of life after nuking is satirized beautifully at the end, with the song “We’ll Meet Again” playing during the showing of a series of mushroom clouds indicating the wiping out of all life on Earth, symbolic phallic ejaculations, or droppings of turds splashing in the toilet bowl water. These paradoxical juxtapositions–sexuality vs destruction, and genital vs anal eroticism–symbolize the foolish hope of life after nuclear war.

Among the things that saved us from nuclear war during the Cold War, apart from the sheer luck of evading a number of close calls, was the understanding of Mutual Assured Destruction, having the apt acronym of MAD. Yet some in recent years have been advocating the making of more nukes in the US to counter the supposed double threat of Russia and China. And some in the American government actually think a nuclear war against Russian and China can be won.

VIII: The Attempt to Apprehend Ripper

An attempt is made, in the novel as well as in the film, by the American military to penetrate the base where the mad general is and get the recall code from him. Seeing the sign, “Peace is our Profession” (the actual slogan of SAC!), reinforces the absurd contradiction noted before of sex and death, and of the genitals and the anus. That hope of fighting wars to establish peace is no less chimeric than that of life after the use of nukes.

Some of the firing on the base results in bullets going through the windows of Ripper’s office, where he not only brings over a large, phallic machine gun to fire back with, but he also congratulates the soldiers shooting at him for putting up a good fight. The firing of guns is symbolically like ejaculating phalli, especially for Ripper, who I believe is firing back at his attackers more out of a wish to demonstrate, symbolically speaking, his sexual prowess than out of a wish to defeat the enemy. Significantly, it’s during this time that he tells Mandrake how he devised his “bodily fluids” theory “during the physical act of love.”

Ripper’s bizarre theory of fluoridation as a ‘commie plot’ (actually, it began in the US to reduce tooth decay) covers what suspiciously sounds like his fears of losing sexual potency. His self-assurance of the “power” that “women sense” in him sounds like a reaction formation against his fears of his waning sexual power (after all, Ripper would be in at least his late 40s).

IX: Ripper, the Chinese King?

His ideas about “purity of essence” actually sound like old Chinese notions of , “virtue” (but also magical power), which was something an old Chinese king, or so it was believed, needed to have nourished and perpetuated in himself through a large number of female sexual partners–namely, his queen, consorts, wives, and concubines (Gulik, pages 12 and 17).

Sex for the Chinese not only resulted in the birth of needed sons to continue the family line in the old patrilineal system; it was also said to strengthen the man’s vitality (his yang-essence) by making him absorb the woman’s yin-essence. To maximize his vitality, he’d stay inside her, getting her yin-essence, while practicing coitus reservatus (Gulik, page 46). So when Ripper says he denies women his essence, it sounds as if he’s emulating the old Chinese practice, as a kind of narcissistic identifying with the Chinese emperors; when actually, as I suspect, he simply can’t come.

X: Quinten’s Projective Motives

In the novel, Quinten’s reason for ordering the nuclear strike is in reaction to the many atrocities he claims himself or others to have seen communists perpetrate (Chapter 11, PDF pages 82-90). When he speaks of Mongolians raping any females aged six to sixty, or of the Soviet tanks rolling into Hungary and firing at crowds of helpless women and children, or of the Soviet willingness to strike the first blow, Quinten is engaging in pure projection.

American soldiers were sexually exploiting South Korean women from the Korean War onwards in their military occupation of the area. They bombed every inch of North Korea, killing helpless civilians; and they struck the first nuclear blows, ever, on Japan, not even a socialist state. Quinten talks the usual rubbish about Americans never initiating nuclear war, yet he has done exactly that.

He speaks of the Soviet lust for world domination, yet the US and NATO have continued with that very lusting long after the dissolution of the Soviet Union: all one has to see is what the Western alliance has done to Yugoslavia and Libya, as well as how they’ve been provoking Russia by expanding eastward. The US will never accept a multipolar world, sharing power with Russia and China, because the US wants unipolarity to be permanent–in other words, they want world domination.

In spite of the contrast between Ripper’s comical motives to start nuclear war and Quinten’s serious, if hypocritical, ones, we can actually fuse them. The neurotic need to maintain American political dominance over the world can be linked to the insecure male need to maintain sexual virility. This is why I associated Ripper’s obsession with “purity of essence” with Chinese emperors’ maintaining of the yang-essence with a maximum of female lovers and through coitus reservatus. In denying women his essence, Ripper can feel like a Chinese king. Similarly, in wiping out the Soviet Union, he in his madness thinks he’ll achieve “peace on Earth,” imagining the lack of an enemy will make war a thing of the past. “Peace on Earth” through “purity of essence”…through this, Mandrake has found the recall code.

XI: Ripper’s Suicide

Ripper succumbs to despair when he realizes that his soldiers’ defence of Burpelson Base has failed, and that he’ll be apprehended, probably tortured, and forced to give up the recall code. What’s interesting is that he has succumbed to this despair just after having discussed his obsession with “purity of essence” with Mandrake, and telling him how it relates to his sexual prowess with women.

Since, as I mentioned above, his boasting of his “power” over women is really a reaction formation hiding his lack of such power, I suspect that his despair comes from realizing that he feels he’s a failure as a man; his true, repressed motives have returned to consciousness. His soldiers’ failure to defend the base reinforces that sense of failure in his mind, so he kills himself.

What anal expulsion (including the ripping of farts), ejaculation, and even the burps of Burpelson Base can be seen to symbolize is not only the projection of what is bad in oneself, but also the projective identification of that badness. As I said above, so much of the evil Quinten sees in communism is just a projection of the evils of US/NATO imperialism; and since projective identification involves provoking the receiver of the projections to manifest essentially the same evils, then it’s easy to see how Ripper’s/Quinten’s nuclear strike can, or actually does, provoke a retaliatory strike from Russia.

XII: Splitting–Retaining the White and Expelling the Black

Since Ripper’s retention of his semen, the denial of his “essence,” during his lovemaking is, in his narcissistic imagination, his retaining of what is good in him, we see in his attitude the need to keep what’s good inside oneself and the need to expel what’s bad.

This retention of what’s good in oneself (semen) and expulsion of what’s bad (shit, flatulence) is rooted in a psychological state that Melanie Klein called the paranoid-schizoid position. It’s “schizoid” because it involves splitting everything into absolute good and absolute bad (black and white), then keeping the good and expelling the bad; it’s “paranoid” because there’s a fear of the bad returning to oneself (in Ripper’s/Quinten’s case, the fear of a Soviet nuclear attack based on the wish to attack the Soviets).

A healthy mind, however, can see the inner and outer worlds as being a mix of good and bad, not a white inside and a black outside. Men like Ripper and Turgidson, in their paranoia about “commies,” fail to understand this ambiguous reality, what Klein called the depressive position. Ripper, though, in his suicidal despair, acknowledging he’ll have to answer for what he’s done, has finally come to understand that he has some evil inside himself, and his attempt to expel that evil, to dump nuclear turds, so to speak, on Russia, will never purify him of that evil. Hence, his suicide.

Projective identification onto the USSR is successful, however, not only through the Soviets making their own nukes, but also in their creation of the “doomsday device,” which has been inspired by the Americans’ apparent creation of a similar device, something the Soviet ambassador, Alexei de Sadeski (played by Peter Bull), says the Soviets learned of from reading the New York Times. In the novel, the equivalent of the doomsday device is a group of nuclear bombs in the Ural Mountains.

XIII: “Preverts”

Colonel Bat Guano (played by Keenan Wynn) comes into Ripper’s office and points his rifle at Mandrake. As he’s taking Mandrake out of the office and they reach a pay telephone, he says he imagines that Mandrake and his followers were being “preverts.” This fits in not only with the sexual themes of the film in general, but it is also another link between Mandrake and Sellers’s third character, Strangelove, if only in name.

Lacking sufficient pocket change for the pay phone, Mandrake tells Guano to fire at a nearby Coke machine. That Guano, a military man, is concerned about damaging private property is a reminder to us all that during the Cold War, Western armies worked for capitalists, not mere government. Armies for the most part still do so today.

Speaking of sexual themes (in a symbolic sense, at least), when Guano fires holes into the Coke machine and the coins come falling out, he bends down to pick them up, but gets a facial from Coke spraying on him from one of the holes he’s shot bullets into.

In effect, a money shot.

Does this make him, at least symbolically speaking, one of the “preverts”? Mandrake never was one: did Guano project his “preversion” onto Mandrake?

In any case, this ejaculation of coins has made it possible for Mandrake to call the president and tell him the recall code, which as it turns out is correct. The bomber planes have all been either recalled or shot down by the Soviets…all of them, that is, except for Major Kong’s plane, which has only been damaged.

XIV: A Constipated Plane?

The plane has reached the point where it’s supposed to drop a nuke, but damage to the plane has made it unable to release the bomb; so Kong has to go down to where the bombs are and fix the problem.

To go back to a discussion of how dropping bombs can be symbolic of defecating, we can see–in Kong’s problem getting the bomb to be released–not only the symbolism of constipation, and of anal retentiveness as opposed to anal expulsion, but also the genital symbolism of someone–like Ripper, as I’ve speculated–who can’t come.

As Karl Abraham once noted (PDF, page 6), “If we recognize in the child’s pride in evacuation a primitive feeling of power we can understand the peculiar feeling of helplessness we so often find in neurotically constipated patients. Their libido has been displaced from the genital to the anal zone, and they deplore the inhibition of the bowel function just as though it were a genital impotence.”

Later, Abraham says (PDF, page 11), “In individuals with more or less impaired genitality we regularly find an unconscious tendency to regard the anal function as the productive activity, and to make it appear as if the genital activity were unessential and the anal one far more important.” Then (PDF, page 12), “certain neurotics…retain the contents of the bowel or bladder as long as they possibly can. When finally they yield to the need that has become too strong for them there is no further holding back, and they evacuate the entire contents. A fact to be particularly noted here is that there is a double pleasure, that of holding back the excreta, and that of evacuating it. The essential difference between the two forms of pleasure lies in the protracted nature of the process in the one case, and in its rapid course in the other.”

These elements that Abraham spoke of tie in with the sexual dysfunction I find in Ripper, as well as the sexual frustration of Turgidson in not being able to be with his mistress; they also tie in with Kong’s initial frustration with the bomb, and with his ultimate, triumphant joy in finally releasing it, him cheering as he’s going down with it. We see in the hilarious, iconic shot, his riding the dropping bomb like a man riding his lover, but also the symbolic pleasure of the final release of faeces. The anal and genital zones are thus fused.

This fusion of genital and anal symbolism reflects the neurotic Western capitalist need to be always dominant, and to hog all pleasure to oneself. If one can’t have the pleasure, one must destroy everything. If Ripper can’t have his “purity of essence,” then he must nuke the world. The dominant crapper must rule the world from…the throne.

XV: Underground

So, the film ends with a discussion in the War Room about how to ensure the survival of the human race, underground in mine shafts, after the nuclear holocaust and the global spread of nuclear fallout from the doomsday device over 93 years. Dr. Strangelove recommends a ratio of one man to every group of ten “highly stimulating” women, to breed and repopulate the Earth for when the 93 years are over. Again, we have a juxtaposition of death and sex.

The underground has multiple symbolic meanings. As the ‘bowels of the Earth,’ so to speak, the underground can represent the intestines and the rectum, so we return to our anal symbolism. The “prodigious” breeding that will go on underground, since there will be little else to do, provides the erotic aspect. The breeding human race will be retained underground for the 93 years, until finally let out, expelled, to return to the surface and enjoy the relief therefrom; in this experience, symbolically, we have a fusion of genital and anal eroticism.

The underground is also symbolic of the Underworld, the land of the dead–Sheol, Hades, Hell, a world resulting from the death caused by the nuclear holocaust. Yet prodigious breeding, the creation of life, will be happening there, so we have a juxtaposition of death and life, paralleling that of the anus and genitals, and of shit and the yang-essence…the ejaculation of semen.

A third symbolism of the underground mine shafts is the unconscious mind, where all the repressed drives dwell. These drives would be Eros, the life instincts that include libido, and Thanatos, the death drive.

Now, dreams, the interpretation of which is “the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind,” involve wish-fulfillment. This is why Dr. Strangelove is grinning lewdly as he describes this underground orgy: he, deep down in his mind, fantasizes about being part of the fun. This unconscious is also expressed in slips of the tongue and other parapraxes, such as his accidentally addressing the president as “Mein Führer” (which reinforces the connection between the ultra-capitalist US and fascism), as well as his (involuntary?) Nazi salutes.

Yet another thing that should be mentioned, in connection with the underground mine shafts as a place to survive the nuclear fallout, is that in real life, the super-rich currently have underground bunkers in anticipation of a nuclear WWIII. This should help explain the recklessness with which the US and NATO have been tempting fate with Russia and China. Again, they imagine they’ll survive, while they don’t care the tiniest, most contemptible bit that all of the rest of us will die horribly from their irresponsible scheming.

XVI: Conclusion

The ironic difference between the bitterly comedic ending of Dr. Strangelove and the serious but happy ending of Red Alert–in which one is relieved to have just barely prevented nuclear war–is that the former ends with a trivializing spirit of levity towards nuclear brinksmanship that results in a nuclear holocaust, while in the latter, only the most serious commitment to preventing nuclear war will save us. The film is superior to the novel, in my opinion, because of the former’s emphasis on how human foolishness will kill us all, and preventing that foolishness depends, in large part, on our being made aware of that folly.

So, like Ripper and Turgidson, the Western imperialists of today desire more and more (e.g., more and more countries added to NATO, and therefore more and more resources to plunder–Operation Barbarossa redux), and if they don’t get to have what they want (i.e., the growing power of Russia and China sapping the West of its power), then to hell with everybody (nuclear brinksmanship leading to nuclear war).

So many of us around the world, however, are too distracted by social media, and whatever the current outrage or crisis is, to take seriously the dangers that provoking Russia and China will lead to. We hate whoever the media tells us to hate without looking deeper into the historical context that has led to the crisis.

The Western governments project the evil within themselves onto external bogeymen, thinking such expulsions will rid them of what’s wrong inside them, like Turgidson’s expulsions on the toilet. Conversely, instead of sending out goodness to everyone else, the ruling class denies us its “essence,” like Ripper with his coitus reservatus. Hence, the toiling masses in the West are denied basic necessities while being told to blame it all on Putin or Xi Jinping instead of looking inward and fighting for social justice.

Meanwhile, the world keeps inching closer and closer to its end, if not by nuclear war, then by environmental self-destruction. People can’t even recognize real Nazis anymore. So we try to crap out our problems while refraining from…coming…to our senses.

Hope is running out, folks.

We have to stop letting the dicks of the Earth tell us how to think.

So, please…let’s not be assholes about this.

‘Numb,’ a Short Story

“I don’t know what’s wrong with my legs,” Larry Ingbert said on the phone to his colleague, Burt Lickert. “They’ve been feeling numb at the feet, and sore and stiff from the ankles, ever since yesterday evening, not too long after we had drinks in the Lucky Seven pub.”

“Wow, that’s too bad,” Burt said. “i hope you get better soon. Do you think you’ll be able to come to work tomorrow?”

“Only if my legs get better,” Larry said. “It’s a real effort just to stand, walk over to the kitchen for something to eat, or go to the bathroom to use the can. This soreness: it was only a little bad last night, but when I got up today, it was much worse. There’s been no sign of improvement.”

“You know, Birch Wass isn’t very patient with employees calling in sick and staying off work for a long time,” Burt said. “But I’ll say whatever I can to keep him from finding someone to replace you. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll try.”

“Thanks. While I’m gone, can you talk to the others in the office and get their opinions on my idea about forming a union? You told me you don’t agree with it, when we had drinks, but can you at least toss the idea around to them?”

“I don’t know, Larry. Maybe. As I told you then, Birch would replace us all in a second if we tried something like that. Why can’t you just be content with what you have?”

“Because we have far too little; you know that.”

“So? Work hard enough, impress Birch, and get a promotion. Boom! More pay. That’s what I’m hoping to do.”

“Yeah, just be a better wage slave, so Birch makes more money.”

“Larry, that kind of commie talk will get us all fired. Stop it. We don’t need to rock the boat.”

“Burt, if we don’t rock the boat, we’ll never…”

“Look, just get some rest, OK? Take a pill or two. I hope we see you in the office tomorrow.”

They hung up.

Larry rose to his feet slowly and with a loud grunt of effort. He plodded, groaning with each step, over to his bedroom and dropped his phone on the bed. Then, he turned with great effort and another loud groan, and plodded back to his living room, where his laptop sat on his coffee table.

I suppose that if I moved around a lot, this numbness and soreness would gradually go away, he thought. But it’s so damn uncomfortable. Resting feels so much better. He reached his sofa and turned on his computer.

He brought his ass down on the sofa with another groan of pain, the stiffness all the way from his feet to his waist. He checked his notifications on Facebook.

He picked up the laptop and put it on the flat, wide armrest on the left side of his sofa. That way, he could put his feet up on the coffee table. Raising his feet up like that always took the pressure off of them, and therefore he could get a rest from the soreness.

He scrolled down his Facebook home page and looked at all the memes. He clicked ‘like,’ ‘love,’ or ‘laugh’ on all the cute and funny memes, but he had an itchy ‘share’ finger for all the political ones.

The political memes that were of interest to Larry were naturally of a sort in keeping with his desire to set up a union at work. He shared memes opposing American plans for war with Russia and China, memes opposing telling poor people to stop buying ‘unnecessary’ items rather than paying poor people better wages, and articles about how to learn from history’s successful leftist revolutions. Apart from pushing to form a union at work, though, the sharing of such memes and articles as these were the bulk of Larry’s ‘activism.’

After a few hours of scrolling, ‘liking,’ and sharing more memes and articles, he felt it was time to pee. He took a deep breath and braced himself for what he know would be a great difficulty in getting up.

There was no more stiffness or soreness in his legs.

In fact, there was no feeling in them at all.

The stiffness and soreness were all in his back now, as well as nausea in his gut.

When he tried to rise to his feet, the lack of feeling in his legs meant he felt no power to control them. And putting the strength in his arms to move himself put great pain in that stiff, sore back of his.

He fell to the floor with a grunt of pain.

Now his heart was pounding fast.

I can’t move my legs, he thought. Except for my bladder, I can feel nothing from the waist down. I’m fucking paralyzed!

It took all of his strength to use his arms to pull his body weight across the floor to the bathroom. The pain in his back was awful, but the discomfort in his bladder was greater. Besides, what if he pissed his pants?

It was a good thing that he lifted weights regularly. His muscular upper half was strong enough to pull the weight of his whole body on the floor from his living room all the way to the bathroom.

He grunted with every pull his arms gave to his body. When he finally got into the bathroom, his head right by the toilet porcelain, he stopped to rest and take several deep breaths. Lifting himself up would be agony.

It was indeed agony, but he managed it. He got his numb ass on the seat and didn’t even crack the plastic. The piss came out with a groan of relief from his frowning mouth.

When he was finished, he flushed and leaned towards the open doorway, and he fell to the floor with a thud and a grunt of pain. Wait, he thought as he pulled up his pants. If I’m gonna continue to feel this way, I’d better get my phone from my bedroom. Fuck! He crawled back there. Luckily, when he’d put his phone on his bed, it was sitting right at the edge, so he could just reach up and get it will minimal difficulty.

Then he pulled his body around to point towards the bedroom door, and crawled back, groaning the whole time, to the living room and to his laptop. He brought it down from the sofa’s armrest and lay it on the floor in front of him, right beside his phone.

There was an instant message from a colleague, one of the few he’d talked to about forming a union.

“Alright!” Larry said, then clicked the message to read it. Would the colleague agree to the union idea?

Not.

“Sorry, Larry,” the message said. “As beneficial as a union would be for us, I don’t want to risk Birch firing me. You know how he is. If you can get enough of the rest of the staff to agree, though, I might change my mind.”

Larry sighed and typed “OK” in reply to the message.

Then, exhausted from all that crawling and pulling himself, he fell asleep on the floor for a few hours.

When he woke up, he felt soreness and stiffness from the neck down to his chest…and from there down, only numbness.

“Oh, my God!” he gasped.

His cellphone rang. He picked it up.

“Hello?” he said weakly.

“Larry?” Burt said. “You sound awful!”

“It’s gotten worse, Burt,” Larry said. “I feel nothing…from the chest down, and all soreness…from my neck…to my chest.”

“Holy shit!” Burt said. “You need to see a doctor.”

“No doctors! I hate them. Undressing me…and feeling me up.”

“Look, I’m busy at the moment, but I can come over in a couple of hours, OK? You shouldn’t be left alone the way you are now. Do you have any other symptoms?”

“No, just like I feel…like I wanna…sleep all the time.”

“I’ll come over in two or three hours,” Burt said. “But wait: you won’t be able to get to the door, will you?”

“It’s unlocked,” Larry moaned. “Just walk in.”

“OK, but that isn’t very safe, man. A thief could come in and rob you while you’re all helpless like that.”

“I have…greater worries at the moment. In a few hours.”

“Yeah, see you then.” Burt hung up.

Larry put his phone back by his laptop. He resumed scrolling through Facebook. He found memes on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine; he shared those that opposed the Azov Battalion. He also shared memes of Nadezhda Krupskaya, Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, and Thomas Sankara.

Then he got drowsy and fell asleep again.

A few hours later, he felt a hand shaking his head. He opened his eyes and saw no one in front of him. Since he was still lying on the floor, he figured he’d at least see feet by his face, but no one was there. I must have imagined the hand on my head while I was dreaming, he thought.

Then he tried moving, to get himself off the floor.

He couldn’t.

Now he felt nothing from the neck down.

The pain and discomfort were in his head.

“Oh, God. No!” he grunted, his head fidgeting and only giving himself a worse headache. “I’m a…fucking…quadriplegic!”

He heard tittering from behind him.

Someone had shook his head after all.

Was this a thief, someone Burt had warned him about because of his unlocked door?

“How ya doing, Larry?” a familiar voice asked. “Not that I need to ask you that.” He snickered.

No, it wasn’t someone Burt had warned him about, it was Burt himself.

Should he have been warned about Burt?

“Burt!” Larry said. “You gotta…help me. I can’t…move.”

“I know,” Burt said, without any emotion.

“Yeah, you can see…I can’t move. Please…help!”

“I know you can’t move because I put a pill in your drink when we got together yesterday in Lucky Seven,” Burt said, then got up from the sofa, walked around the coffee table, and squatted down before Larry so he could see him. “I dropped the pill in when you weren’t looking. Remember how chemistry is my hobby, synthesizing drugs in the lab of my basement?”

“Yeah, but why would you…do this to me? We’re friends! I never did…anything…to piss you off, did I?”

“Not to piss me off, but there is that union idea of yours that I had to stop before it could materialize.”

“You didn’t have…to kill me, though, did you, Burt? I mean…this is gonna…kill, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is, Larry. Sorry, but you see, I hate commies.”

“I’m not…a communist. I’m a…moderate leftist.”

“Larry, I’ve seen the extremist shit you post on Facebook. Moderate, my ass. Besides, moderate, extreme. Pinkos are pinkos. They’re all the same to me. They want to force intrusive, oppressive government on us all. Oh, it starts moderate, but then when they see how their system doesn’t work, and people start resisting their utopia, they get all totalitarian, killing people. So by killing you, Larry, I’m saving a lot o’ lives.”

Larry moaned in disgust at Burt’s simplistic overgeneralizing. Burt may have been a bit of a genius at chemistry, but he was a moron at just about everything else. Surely, the police were going to link him with Larry’s death.

“Burt, it’s a union, not…Stalin.”

“Unions lead to Stalin, buddy, every time. Besides, if I can get Birch to know I stopped the forming of a union at his business, he’ll be so happy with my loyalty to him that–who knows?–maybe I’ll get that promotion I’ve been aching for.”

“And you’ll betray…your fellow workers…and your friends…to do that, Burt?”

“Yes, I will. Whatever it takes. And it serves you right for betraying the free market. Now, I gotta go. I’m hoping to hear good things in Birch’s office tomorrow, when he announces who will be the junior manager. The odds should be especially in my favour when I tell him I stopped your union idea. A few coworkers liked your idea. I might have to drop a pill or two in their drinks. Anyway, gotta run. Goodbye.”

He walked out of the apartment and closed the door without locking it.

Bastard, Larry thought. The pain in his head was so bad that he couldn’t even try to move it.

He just lay there with his eyes half-open. After all this time, he should have felt a need to go to the bathroom again, but he felt no discomfort in his bowels or bladder. If he pissed or crapped his pants, he wouldn’t feel it. In a few hours’ time, at the rate things were going, he wouldn’t smell it, either.

Similarly, he should have been starving hungry by now. Again, he felt no pangs of hunger because he couldn’t feel his stomach. If he were to starve to death, he wouldn’t know it.

He couldn’t feel his heart beating…was it? Presumably.

He barely felt the breath going in and out of his nostrils. He couldn’t feel his lungs filling up with air.

Instead of feeling his body, there was a vague, vibrating feeling everywhere except his achy head. The vibrating was now creeping up his neck.

I’m gonna die, he thought. Soon.

His computer screen showed a few people giving ‘likes’ to his recent posts. A few seconds later, the screen went to black.

He was alone…in every conceivable sense.

The numbness was all the way up his neck now. It was reaching his chin. The headache was abating.

It felt good to feel nothing.

With his eyes half-open, half-closed, he saw only a blur. That blur began to ripple in waves like the vibrations he sensed everywhere.

He could still hear alright, though he’d been lying there so long, he had no sense of how much time had passed by. Must have been hours, at least. He heard the door open, then approaching steps.

“Can you believe it?” said what sounded like the angry voice of Burt. “I received a message from that ingrate fucker, Birch, after having messaged him that I’d stopped your union insurgency.” He squatted down to look Larry in the eye.

Larry looked no better than a dead man, though he still could hear.

“That fucker gave the promotion, my promotion, to that bitch, Cecilia Barnes!” Burt said. “Birch said he wanted ‘to break the glass ceiling.’ Fuck! That’s the reward I get for loyalty. I tell you, Larry, there’s no justice in the world.”

Larry mumbled, “Good,” with what little articulation he could muster. Drool came out of his mouth.

“Good, did you say?” Burt said with newly-inflamed anger. “So, you’re still a little alive, eh?” He rose to his feet, then lifted his right leg back. “Well, I guess you would say that.” He kicked Larry hard in the head, though Larry in his growing numbness barely felt anything. “So long, pal.”

Burt left.

Larry barely heard Burt’s footsteps or the closing of the door. When Burt had squatted, though, he touched Larry’s laptop, bringing the screen back on. There was a message from Cecilia, who said, “Hi, Larry. I like your idea about forming a union. I’ll have to be careful who I talk to about it, though. You know how Birch is. I’m having drinks with Burt tomorrow night, after work. He says he’s interested. See you at work tomorrow, if you’re better by then, in which case I can talk with you about it. I heard you’re sick. Hope you get better soon.”

Larry couldn’t read any of the message. He saw only vibrations.

He felt only vibrations.

He heard only vibrations.

Then there was only black.

Satanist?

I’ve been getting a fair amount of trolling lately for my more overtly political articles.

First, I got called an “extremist” Marxist, and this comment was on an article in which my criticism of capitalism was quite mild. Then, in response to the article (first link above) in which I defended my “extremist” leftism, I got a particularly grumpy comment.

He called my article a bunch of “garbage,” and repeated the usual propaganda (which my article had already explained away) about the suffering of those in the socialist states whom the bourgeoisie usually weep for (all the while ignoring, as usual, the many millions more who have suffered and died under capitalism). He was particularly irked by my comment that included Solzhenitsyn among writers of “fiction,” a generalization I’d qualified as both literal and figurative, directly and indirectly so, though my qualifications seemed to have been ignored.

He then went on about me being “delusional” for having my political views (he, of course, is utterly free of delusion of any kind), and he ended off his mini-rant by saying…get this…I’m “probably also a Satanist.”

The melodrama of this new label makes “extremist” sound…well…moderate.

To any right-wingers out there who happen to be reading this at the moment: calling me a “Satanist” is not going to hurt my feelings, let alone discourage me from having the left-wing beliefs I have, or from promoting them. What the commenter had said prior to this new label might be hurtful on some level (my considering the source easily mitigating such hurt), but using such a ridiculous word quickly deflated what little force his counterargument originally had. Really–I chuckled at having been called a “Satanist.” Who was he, some Bible-thumper?

More importantly, what was meant by “Satanist”? Does he literally believe every commie out there worships the Devil just because we don’t buy into all that neoliberal crap about the “free market,” TINA, and anti-communist propaganda?

(Incidentally, actual Satanism is nowhere near as shocking as most of us have been led to believe.)

Or by “Satanist,” did he have a more metaphorical meaning? Was he just saying that I, as a communist, am espousing some kind of heinous, inhuman evil? Did he, so typical of Christian fundamentalists, imagine that people of my political persuasion are unwittingly worshipping the Devil in the form of idols of “the god that failed”? Am I unwittingly helping bring about the Satanic NWO?

Egad.

Let’s just go through all the ‘evils’ that I espouse.

According to this troll (my deleting of whose comment can be seen as a compassionate preserving of him from having embarrassed himself):

If you advocate lifting the Third World out of poverty, you’re a Satanist.

If you advocate free housing, education, and healthcare for all, you’re a Satanist.

If you advocate ending world hunger, you worship the Devil.

If you advocate ending all wars and imperialism, you’re evil incarnate.

If you advocate equal rights for women, people of colour, LGBT people, etc., you love Satan.

If you advocate employment for all, but wage slavery for none, you have horns and hooves.

By the same logic, the following result from Christian virtue: leaving the Third World in poverty and despair, allowing homelessness to continue existing, and keeping education and healthcare too expensive for the poor. Other Christian virtues, apparently, include allowing people around the world to die by the millions of malnutrition, when we produce enough food to feed them all, and have been able to do so for a long time (in this connection, recall Matthew 25:31-46).

Also, it’s apparently Christian to allow all the imperialist wars to continue (remember Matthew 5:9). It’s also Christian to oppose equality for women, people of colour, and LGBT people (no irony this time). And finally, one is a good, God-fearing citizen if one advocates for a reserve army of labour to keep wages down.

Now, as for the more metaphorical meaning of “Satanist,” we must look into the psychology of those paranoiacs who imagine that communism is part of a grand scheme to bring about a “one-world government,” deemed to be the greatest evil and tyranny possible (as if it were even possible to establish one, or that many governments in the world were less evil and tyrannical, or that they couldn’t actually be worse).

These people, especially if they’re Christian fundamentalists, tend to deflect blame for the world’s problems from capitalist imperialism onto such scapegoats as Jews, Freemasons, and communists (and in doing so, they tend to show a thinly veiled sympathy for Naziism). In denying the fault of the world’s problems as that of the economic system they defend, and in putting the blame on the shoulders of these scapegoats, these paranoiacs are engaging in projection, just as I observed in my article about the “extremist” communist as a projection of the capitalist extremist.

Another defence mechanism to be noted in the thinking of these paranoiacs is splitting. Just as with the Christian dualism of God vs Satan, these people have a black-and-white, dichotomous view of anyone who thinks differently from them. So if you espouse socialism, you’re an “extremist” and a “Satanist,” rather than simply someone who opposes capitalism. (For a more thorough examination of the psychology of the capitalist, go here. And for a more thorough defence of Marxism-Leninism, go here, here, and here.)

As for my branding of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn‘s writing as “fiction,” a number of things must be kept in mind. First of all, he did write fiction: here‘s a list of his novels. True, he also wrote ‘non-fiction,’ though I’d take his biases as a historian with a generous grain of salt.

The Gulag Archipelago, among his most famous writing, though understood to be non-fiction, was described by no less than his ex-wife, Natalya Reshetovskaya, as “folkloric and frequently…mythical.” She implied that he exaggerated the hellish existence in Russian prison camps (which even the CIA secretly acknowledged as not being anywhere near as bad as the media has portrayed them); she also said that he was “an egomaniac who brought government censorship upon himself with his searing criticism of the Soviet system.” The book’s very subtitle, An Experiment in Literary Investigation, sounds suspiciously like an admission to its (at least partial) fictionality.

During WWII, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and sentenced to eight years in the Gulag for having written a letter criticizing Stalin. On the surface, this naturally would sound like an excessive punishment for mere political dissidence. One must, however, see his offence in its proper historical context. At that time, the Soviet Union was in an existential, life-and-death war with the Nazis, and Stalin’s government had not too many years before dealt with traitors who were trying to tear apart the first workers’ state from the inside.

Solzhenitsyn, an avowed Russian nationalist, surely should have supported the Great Patriotic War with all his heart, and even if he had a few points of ideological disagreement with Stalin, her surely should have been prudent enough to refrain from discussing such points for the time being, in favour of supporting the military campaign against the invading Nazis. Surely this would have been so…unless at least a part of him, consciously or unconsciously, supported that invasion. Because of this suspicion, some of us on the left feel it’s at least understandable to imagine Solzhenitsyn as having had fascist leanings.

And though he was anti-Soviet, even he was irked to see how the neoliberal capitalist West had weakened his beloved Mother Russia in the 1990s. And from what had been done then to what is happening there now, as well as between Nazi threats to Russia then and Nazi threats there now, we must move on to the next topic of discussion.

The historic relationship between Ukraine and Russia is complicated. Parts of Ukraine, originally Russian–including Crimea and the Donbas region–were added to Ukraine when it was an SSR. Some Ukrainians, going back to WWII, have had nationalistic feelings approaching, bordering on, or lapsing into fascist sympathies.

Their hero is Stepan Bandera, a far-right Ukrainian nationalist and Nazi collaborator back in WWII. The extremists among these Ukrainian nationalists, while also hating the usual groups–Jews, the Roma, LGBT people, and feminists–have an especial hate for Russians. Such is the historical context in which such far-right Ukrainian groups as the Azov Battalion and Svoboda should be understood today.

NATO, never a friend to Russia, is an extension of US imperialism. Even anti-communists should be able to acknowledge that this Western pact hasn’t needed to exist since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Yet here it is, NATO, stronger than ever, and right on Russia’s north-western border, with troops doing military exercises there.

Though on the reunification of East and West Germany, Gorbachev was promised that NATO wouldn’t move “an inch” to the East, it has most certainly moved much more than that. Democratically elected Viktor Yanukovych, leaning towards Russia (unacceptably so, in the opinion of the West), was ousted in a violent coup d’état in 2014, replacing his government with a pro-US/NATO one including the above-mentioned neo-Nazis.

These neo-Nazis, given generous amounts of weapons from the West, have been killing ethnic Russians in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine for the past eight years; the death toll is up to 14,000 Russians. The Nazi-influenced Ukrainian government has banned the Russian language, taken down statues of Soviet heroes, banned communism and glorified fascist leaders. The Nazis have attacked the Roma, LGBT people, and feminists as well as the ethnic Russians.

The biased Western media denies the significance of neo-Nazi influence in Ukraine based on their relatively small percentage (though their influence has been huge) and the fact that Zelenskyy is a Jew (incidentally, if he does anything against the wishes of the neo-Nazis [i.e., make peace with Russia], they’ll kill him). That a Jew would never collaborate with Nazis is refuted by the fact that, among other unsettling facts, Trotsky was willing to do so to oust Stalin.

The dishonest liberal Western media, in its disingenuous denial of Nazi influence in Ukraine–implicitly supporting them–reminds us of what Stalin once said: “Social democracy is objectively the moderate wing of fascism.” Now, social democracy is the left wing of liberalism; so if social democracy is moderate with respect to fascism, liberalism, right-wing libertarianism, and conservatism in general are all that much closer to fascism.

Putin tried everything to deescalate the tense situation in Ukraine, in which the totally disregarded Minsk accords were meant to end the violence. The US/NATO and Ukraine government wouldn’t budge when he reasonably insisted on such security assurances as Ukraine not joining the inimical NATO, which would point weapons at Russia. All of the above provides the context needed for understanding why Putin intervened in Ukraine.

For my part, I hate all war, I wish this intervention (tankies‘ sheepish euphemism for invasion) could have been prevented, and I feel bad for all the innocent, ordinary Ukrainian civilians caught in the middle of this conflict. That said, though, it’s the fault of the US and NATO that the war has happened, not the fault of “Russian aggression.” When the Western media claims Putin was “unprovoked,” they’re lying.

As for Putin, he’s far from representing my political ideal. He’s the leader of a reactionary bourgeois government; today’s Russia is nothing like the Soviet Union, and he doesn’t want to bring it back. Still, he’s nowhere near the imperialistic “Hitler” the Western media is calling him, a truly silly claim (Russia as a whole is by no means imperialist, in the Leninist sense, either); and sanctioning all things Russian, and all this censorship and banning of all Russian media, is showing how increasingly undemocratic the West has become.

Now, since it’s no use crying over spilt milk, we should instead hope for the best possible outcome of this conflict: may it end as quickly as possible (not likely, given the insistence of the US, NATO, and the Ukrainian neo-Nazis wanting it to continue), may the US and NATO back off (again unlikely, for obvious reasons), and most important of all, wipe out those neo-Nazis!

No reasonable person wants war of any kind, but to resolve this issue, we must think dialectically. Any ratcheting up of hostilities against Russia (and, by extension, against China) could easily escalate into WWIII, which in turn could go nuclear. In smearing Putin for his intervention, the Western corporate media is trying to manufacture consent for a bigger war against Russia and her ally, China. This is dangerous, and it must be avoided at all costs. To stop the big war, we’ll have to let the little war run its course, and hope for the best.

The US and NATO don’t care about the suffering of Ukrainians any more than they care about the suffering of those in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, or Yemen. Ukraine, for the imperialists, is just another pawn on the chessboard for their scheme to prevent the emergence of a much-desired multipolar world, one that would deny American global hegemony.

All of this leads me back to my point about ‘Satanist’ politics. Those who believe in an emerging “new world order,” that is, those on the political right, tend to believe it’s a secret, Satanic cabal that is orchestrating the whole thing, step by step. They imagine that a confederacy of Jews, Freemasons, and communists (note the implied bigotry) are conspiring to rule the world with the establishment of one, global government. What they fail to understand is that the real new world order has existed ever since the fall of global communism thirty years ago.

So if one wishes to know who the real ‘Satanists’ are (I refer to that metaphorical meaning given above), one need look no further than the neoliberal capitalists in the American government and NATO. We communists are bitterly opposed to these ‘Satanists,’ whose love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). All capitalist bootlickers who, however unwittingly, are supporting an economic system that unswervingly leads to imperialism, should realize that, in calling us leftists ‘Satanists,’ they are engaging in the same projection I said previously of those who call us “extremists.”

The unipolar world is run by the US and NATO. Their economic system isn’t socialism, it’s “free market” neoliberal capitalism. Allowing for the emergence of Russia and China will replace unipolarity with multipolarity, something the American empire will never tolerate.

These people who see people like me as ‘Satanists’ don’t want to look inside themselves, see what is psychologically broken in themselves (i.e., their alienation), and understand that supporting–directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly–fascism and nuclear brinksmanship is about as Satanic as Satanic gets. Because supporting these evils in our already tense world is going to get everybody…EVERYBODY…killed.

As for us commies, who want to end the wars, end corporate greed, feed the world, provide housing, education, and healthcare for all, and–far from establishing a one-world government–hope for the eventual withering away of the state…if wanting these things makes us ‘Satanists,’ then I don’t want to be ‘Godly.’

And to you right-wing trolls, by all means, keep your snarky comments coming. Far from discouraging me, you’re actually inspiring me to write up new blog posts. It really helps me.

Hail Satan!

‘Furies,’ a Horror Novel, Part Three, Chapter 1

Twenty years later, Boyd McAulliffe, 38, had become a successful businessman, owning a cellphone app company headquartered in Toronto, but with branches all over Canada and the US. He married Sharon Willis when he was 27, when his company was struggling after two years of existence, but when she told him she believed in him and said never to give up. With her encouragement, he stuck to it and found the beginnings of success a couple of years after.

The couple had their first child, a girl named Tess, when he was 28. Every day of looking in his daughter’s baby blue eyes felt like looking at the entrance to heaven. She was number one in his life; neither himself, nor Sharon, nor his business, nor the rest of his family or friends, came even a distant second. Sharon was second, for sure…but still far behind his little angel, Tess.

With the massive amount of money he made from his business, Boyd bought a huge stretch of land near the Lake of the Woods and Rainy River area, home to white tailed deer that he liked to hunt in October, when he typically took time off work to go there with his family. Being out there in the fresh air, spending a month of quality time with his wife and daughter…this was when life was at its happiest for him.

He truly felt he’d had a fortunate life: a successful business, a beautiful, loving, and supportive wife, and an adorable daughter. On top of these blessings, he had a big stretch of land and plenty of time off every year to pursue his hobby and passion–deer hunting, a test of the marksmanship skill he was so proud of. How could his life have been any more perfect?

Well, there was that recurring dream he wished would go away.

Once every several months or so, he’d have a dream about that bitch Alexa he used to go after, the girl who mysteriously disappeared shortly after he and Denise Charlton had gotten her one particularly bad time back in high school. Nobody knew what had happened to Alexa. Had she run away from home? Did she commit suicide?

The principal gave him and Denise a really hard time for having bullied Alexa so much, especially since there had been fears that the bullying may have driven her to suicide. Boyd admitted to himself in hindsight that he and Denise had taken things a little too far a few times; after all, teenagers can be really immature assholes sometimes, including himself back then.

All the same, though, that was a long time ago. Why was he still dreaming about that girl? Surely his guilty conscience should have forgotten about her by now, two decades later.

But every two or three months, he’d see a vision of her in his sleep. He’d see her against a black background, with messy hair, pale skin, glowing red eyes surrounded in black rings for eyelids, and wearing a tattered black dress. Sometimes it looked as if tiny pieces of that ghostly white skin were flaking off. Sometimes her skin looked reddish-white, melting.

Worst of all was that frown on her face, a scowl that looked like she wanted to kill him. At last, these words would come out of her mouth, which made him wake up bathed in sweat.

I’m gonna get you.

He had this very dream again one night during his October vacation with Sharon and Tess on his property up in northern Ontario. The next morning, he brushed it off and forgot about it as usual, and after breakfast–delicious bacon, scrambled eggs, and toast made for them by Sharon–he found himself playing with his daughter in the living room of their log cabin.

First, they played a clapping game of “Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man.”

Together, they chanted, “Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man.
Bake a cake, bake a cake, as fast as you can
Pat it and prick it, mark it with T,
Put it in the oven for Tessa and me.”

Then they chanted “Mary Mack” to their hand claps; and after this one, he took her in his arms.

“Who’s the ticklish one?” he said as his fingers tickled her sides, getting high-pitched screams of laughter from her. “Who’s the ticklish one?”

“Oh!” she yelped. “No! Stop, Daddy, stop!” She continued screaming, giggling and struggling to get free of him until he finally relented.

Then he gave her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek.

“I love you, sweetie,” he said.

“I love you, too, Daddy,” she said.

Sharon came in the living room with a tray of three mugs of hot chocolate. “Here you go,” she said as she put the tray on the coffee table.

“Yummy!” Tess said, picking up her mug.

“It’s not quite cold enough to drink this, but why not?” Sharon said. “It’s yummy!”

“Absolutely,” he said, picking up his mug for a sip. “This is gonna hit the spot, just before I go out there with my rifle.”

“I wanna go out with you, Daddy,” Tess said.

“No, sweetie,” he said. “I need absolute quiet when I’m hunting deer. Besides, I don’t like the idea of you being near my rifle when I’m using it.”

“Oh, but Daddy,” she whined with a pout.

“Your father’s right, dear,” her mom said.

“You are too dear to me to be anywhere near the deer I’m about to shoot at,” he said.

“OK,” Tess said, still pouting.

He gulped down the last of his hot chocolate.

“All right,” he said, standing. “Time to do some hunting. Thanks for the hot chocolate, honey.” He gave Sharon a hug and a kiss, then left the living room to get his rifle and get ready.

“Have fun,” Sharon said, then she and Tess drank their hot chocolate. When Sharon finished hers, she gave Tess a hug and a kiss on the forehead. Then she took the tray and her and Boyd’s empty mugs back to the kitchen. As she was walking out, she said, “When you’re finished yours, don’t forget to bring your cup back to the kitchen, honey.”

“OK, Mom,” Tess said, then drank another gulp. Why can’t I go with Daddy? she wondered. I like being with him. I wanna play some more. I’d be quiet. I’d stay clear of his rifle. It’s no fair!

Then she heard a faint whisper in her ear.

Why don’t you go out and surprise him, Tess?

“What?” she said. “Who said that?” She looked around the room for the invisible speaker. She saw her dad go out the door with his rifle.

I’m a spirit guide, the feminine voice said.

“A spirit guide?” Tess asked. “Where are you? Why can’t I see you? What does a spirit guide do?”

Well, you can’t see me because I’m a spirit, of course. I’m like a ghost except I’m one of the good ones. I’m here to guide you, to help you find ways to be closer to your father, to help your love grow stronger.

“OK, so how am I gonna do that?”

Well, just let me lead the way. Go on outside, but make sure your dad doesn’t see you, ’cause we want this to be a big surprise for him. It’ll be more fun that way.

“But he said he doesn’t want me to go, and Mom doesn’t want me to go, either. If I go, won’t they be mad?”

Not the way I’m gonna have you go. Your mom just went to bed for a nap, so she won’t hear you go outside. As for your dad…well…I’ll have a way of making him see you so you’ll be…a real dear…to him.

“OK,” Tess said, then finished her hot chocolate, took her cup to the kitchen as her mom wanted her to do, put on her jacket, and went outside.

Alexa’s ghost watched the girl run into the woods. As she watched, her lips curled up into a smile.

Analysis of ‘The Fly’

I: Introduction

The Fly is a 1958 horror/science fiction film produced and directed by Kurt Neumann. It stars Vincent Price, Patricia Owens, David Hedison, and Herbert Marshall. The screenplay was written by James Clavell, based on the 1957 George Langelaan short story of the same name.

The Fly had a mixed-to-positive critical reception on release, and it was a commercial success, boosting Price into a major star of horror films. Now, criticism of the movie is more uniformly positive. Two black-and-white sequels followed: Return of the Fly (1959), and Curse of the Fly (1965). A superb remake, starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, was directed by David Cronenberg in 1986, with its own sequel in 1989.

Here is a link to quotes from the 1958 film, here’s a link to the complete script, and here is a link to the short story.

II: My Radical Reinterpretation

What ought to be emphasized about the story isn’t the notion of scientist André Delambre (Hedison) bring transformed into a fly-human hybrid, the result of a freak accident in his attempt to teleport himself (and, without his knowing, a housefly that got into his “disintegration-reintegration” machine), but rather what such a notion could be seen to symbolize.

What is far more apparent in the short story, if its contents are not naïvely taken at face value, is that its narration–by André’s brother François (played by Price in the film) in the outer frame, then in the middle by André’s wife Hélène (played by Owens in the film) as she tells it in a handwritten manuscript–is given by traumatized people whose reliability is in question.

The film relates the story in a manner implying that everything happened just as told, though, by the end, no proof survives of the more fantastic elements of the story. Still, there are subtle indicators, in the behaviour of François and Hélène, that suggest that affairs aren’t as they look on the screen, implying that the narrative unreliability of the short story has been translated to the cinematic medium.

In the film, François admits to having romantic feelings for beautiful Hélène; though she denies ever having paramours (or André having had them) to Inspector Charas (Marshall), we can easily regard her words as dishonest. Could there have been an affair between her and François, a result of workaholic André’s neglect of his family? Claims of a husband and wife being perfectly happy together can easily be dismissed as a façade.

III: Unconscious Guilt

It is insisted throughout the story that Hélène could have killed André only out of madness. Where could such a madness have originated? Guilt feelings over an affair? Families in France (where the short story is set), or in Montréal (where the film is set), in the 1950s would have been Roman Catholic ones, in which adultery would have been regarded as a serious sin (a sin compounded by a man betraying his brother and, as her son’s uncle, committing incest of a Hamlet-like sort). The mind tries to repress guilt as best it can, but the repressed returns to consciousness in unrecognizable forms.

In the case of this story, the return of the repressed has come in the form of imagining André as having his head and arm traded with the head and leg of a housefly. Such a hybrid symbolizes the bestial side of human nature. His experiments are done in the basement, symbol of the unconscious. In contrast, the ground floor of the house, the upstairs, and outside can be seen to correspond to the conscious mind and the world of superficiality, appearance, what only seems to be true.

IV: Appearance vs Reality

There is much to note in the contrast between the illusory surface and hidden reality in The Fly. The marriage of the Delambres only seems perfectly happy. Similarly, André seems to be the kind, gentle husband who’d never hurt an animal. Yet his workaholic obsession with his basement experiments means neglecting his wife and son, Henri in the short story, or Philippe (played by Charles Herbert) in the film. Furthermore, this supposed animal lover overconfidently and recklessly puts the family cat, Dandelo, in the teleportation machine and disintegrates it.

Hélène, after killing her husband, confesses to the killing with perfect calmness, though François and Charas conclude that she must be mad; indeed, in the short story, she even kills herself in despair. And when François answers the phone at the beginning of the film to learn that she has just killed his brother, he’s quite calm; whereas at the beginning of the short story, he speaks of being “uneasy” from telephones, having to restrain his agitation when answering them.

In fact, in Cronenberg’s remake, this theme of appearance versus reality is revisited in how Seth Brundle (Goldblum), upon emerging from the teleportation machine as “Brundle-fly”–far from being the shocking monstrosity André is with his fly’s head and leg for an arm–looks exactly the same as before on the outside–in fact, he’s also physically superior. It’s only later that we realize that Seth is a monster hiding inside, that inside showing itself more and more to the end of the remake.

V: Implausible Science

Now, this difference between the 1958 and 1986 movies brings me to a point that I hope will help explain the particular angle at which I’m interpreting the original movie and the short story. I don’t believe André has actually had his head and arm swapped with the head and leg of a housefly–I believe this transformation really is a fabrication of his wife’s mad imagination, just as Charas does. The reason for my disbelief should be obvious: the science behind the transformation is preposterous. Hardly anyone apart from Hélène even believes it!

How do a fly’s head and leg grow to the comparable sizes of a man’s head and arm, while the latter two shrink to the sizes of a fly’s equivalent body parts? How is the man’s intelligence maintained in the giant fly’s head, even if only temporarily? And how is there a comparable intelligence, enough to squeak “Help me!” because of an approaching spider, in the miniature head of the fly caught in the web?

Small wonder that in the 1986 remake, the writers wisely spread the fly’s DNA equally throughout Brundle’s body. Surely even Langelaan and Clavell realized that the swapping of heads and limbs, as given in their respective versions of the story, is unbelievable scientifically. Hence my contention that Hélène is genuinely insane, an insanity brought on by the trauma of her husband’s violent death, a suicide with her assistance (as she describes it). François is similarly addled by this trauma. I believe his confession of love for her provides the vital clue to the reason for their narratives’ unreliability, something easily maintained in prose writing, but not so easily translated onto the big screen, since we, the watchers of the movie, tend to have credulous eyes.

VI: Unreliable Narration, in the Text, and Onscreen

Though his confession of love for Hélène isn’t found in the short story, I believe there are plenty of subtle hints of an affair between him and her in Langelaan’s words, however carefully the two guilty ones try to tiptoe around any mention of their guilt. Such tiptoeing is also evident in the film, in their innocent conversations throughout.

I see the visuals of the film as representing their unreliable narrations, and since the film is largely faithful to the short story (except for such–mostly minor–changes as the setting, Henri’s name becoming Philippe, which of André’s arms is switched with the fly’s leg, his head being revealed as all housefly or as a mix of fly and the cat, whether or not Hélène kills herself, and whether it’s François or Charas who kills the fly in the spider web), I feel it isn’t too far out of place to assume that François is (unreliably) telling the outer frame of the story through visuals, and her telling of the inner narration, instead of writing it in a manuscript, is unreliable.

VII: The Telephone

I’ll come to those subtle hints of an affair later, as they arrive in the sequence of the plot. For now, I’ll start with François’s answering of the phone. In the film, he’s calm enough, though in the short story, this calmness disguises a terrible agitation from hearing the phone ring, especially in the middle of the night, as happens at the beginning.

The reason for his unease comes from a feeling that the caller is coming into the room, intruding on his private space, breaking into his home to talk right into his ear. It seems odd that the short story should begin this way, yet if one compares this transmission of a voice–instantaneously from one place, far away, to another–to the teleportation of whatever (or whoever) is in André’s “disintegration-reintegration” machine, such a beginning of the story, along with François’s agitation, becomes explicable. The one instantaneous transmission is associated in his mind with the other.

Recall that I don’t take the human/fly hybrid story literally; also, François is beginning a narration–one after the events of Hélène’s story have been made known to him–with a discussion of the, if you will, ‘teleportation’ of the human voice. This aural teleportation feels like a frightening intruder to him, like the intrusive fly in André’s machine, and like the human/fly monster he becomes, which is an intrusion into the lives of François and Hélène.

VIII: Nothingness

The pertinent thing about teleportation, like the instant movement of the human voice from here to far away, or vice versa, is the sense of no intermediate area for teleportation to move through. The displaced entity–be it a voice on the phone, or a plate, a newspaper, a cat, a guinea pig, or a man (mixed with a fly)–disappears, vanishes in the place of origin and reappears in the destination. That lack of an in-between route to travel through, that gap, feels uncanny, a land of nothingness. This gap, I believe, is what frightens François so much.

Similarly, when André’s body is discovered in the Delambre brothers’ factory, his head and arm crushed under the steam hammer, it isn’t so much the blood that is horrifying, but how the head and arm are so thoroughly flattened as to have been reduced to nothing. The hammer’s impact has been set at zero, a setting the drop is never given. François notes in the film that zero “means level with the bed”; such a setting “would squeeze the metal to nothing,” as has been done to André’s head and arm.

The purpose of this extreme setting is ostensibly to annihilate even the slightest hint of a fly’s head and leg, instead of André’s head and arm; I’d say, though, that it’s that very nothingness, revealed when the hammer is raised, in “the ghastly mess bared by the hammer,” that causes François (in the short story) to be “violently sick.”

IX: Resistance

When Charas questions Hélène about the killing of André, she is fully cooperative about explaining what she did, and in detail (except for her odd forgetting about having dropped the steam hammer twice, to crush his fly-leg/arm). She adamantly refuses, however, to explain why she killed him.

In the short story, François describes Charas as being “more than just an intelligent police official. He was a keen psychologist and had an amazing way of smelling out a fib or an erroneous statement even before it was uttered.” So his questioning of her puts him in the role of psychoanalyst, and her in the role of analysand. Her insistence that she cannot explain why she killed André can be seen as a form of resistance.

Of course, she eventually does explain why, but in the form of a bizarre monster story that hardly anyone can believe; certainly the science behind the story is so ludicrous that even Langelaan and Clavell must have had their own doubts about it, as I’ve explained above. This fly-human hybrid story must be a case of the return of the repressed in an unrecognizable form…but what could the fly-hybrid monster symbolize for mad Hélène? I’ll come to this soon enough.

X: The Gap In-between

It is insisted that her marriage with André was a perfectly happy one…but we are suddenly ‘teleported,’ if you will, from perfect marital bliss to her killing of him, and with the refusal of a proper explanation, except for this bizarre fly-monster story. Just as there’s a gap between the caller’s voice at one end of a phone call, and his voice heard by the receiver on the other end; and just as there’s the gap of the disintegration of what’s teleported at one end, and its reintegration at the other end; so is there a gap between the couple’s marital bliss and the killing…that dreaded, uncanny nothingness in the middle.

Above, I wrote of André’s basement laboratory as symbolic of the unconscious, where the “disintegration/reintegration” machine causes that in-between gap of nothingness. In the short story, the laboratory isn’t in his basement, but in a separate building right by the factory with the steam hammer. Now, the laboratory doesn’t have to be underground to represent the unconscious…or the “subconscious,” where Charas imagines the fly to have meaning for Hélène. Psychoanalysts don’t speak of the repressed as being ‘beneath’ consciousness, but as being unknown to consciousness, for the repressed comes right back to the surface and hides in plain sight, as it were. A fly is buzzing around, in the air, much of the time in the movie.

XI: The Lacanian Unconscious, and the Gap as Lack

In The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan speaks of how “the Freudian unconscious is situated at that point, where, between cause and that which it affects, there is always something wrong…what the unconscious does is to show us the gap through which neurosis recreates a harmony with a real–a real that may well not be determined…and what does [Freud] find in the hole, the split, in the gap so characteristic of cause? Something of the order of the non-realized.” (Lacan, page 22)

This gap is between cause and effect, like the gap between disintegration and reintegration, the empty space replacing a path on which something, otherwise not disintegrated and reintegrated, would travel, rather than be teleported, from A to B. This gap is also the Lacanian lack that gives rise to desire, and discovering what the desire is in this story is key to understanding the symbolic meaning of the fly.

XII: Freudian Slips

We must fill in this gap to determine what is being repressed, what is not being said or shown in the short story or the film, but what is rather hinted at through the occasional Freudian slip, or symbolic interpretation of whatever in the story is described as something otherwise mundane or in a matter-of-fact physical way.

One such a slip, as I see it, occurs when Henri/Philippe is not regarded by Hélène as her son. In the short story, François in his narration calls the six-year-old boy, his nephew, “the very image of his father”; but as I’ve said above, this narration is unreliable. Because of André’s death and Hélène’s declared madness, François has been made the boy’s guardian, in effect, his new father; yet any suggestion that he really is the boy’s father will be guiltily denied.

In the film, François even says to Charas, “She acts as if the boy were mine and not hers.” Charas speculates that Hélène is trying to protect her son, or that perhaps she fears or hates him, something François dismisses as an insane idea, and it is at this point in the film that Charas asks if François is in love with her, to which he immediately replies, “Yes.”

Why would a scriptwriter of Clavell’s obvious ability add this element to the story without developing it, if it didn’t serve much of any purpose? Note that François’s declaration of love comes immediately after a claim that Philippe is supposedly his son and not hers. Could he be her love-child by François in a love affair, one she feels so guilty about that, in her mad guilt, she denies her own maternity? The way the film ends–with François, in effect, as the boy’s new father, and Hélène having not committed suicide but being, also in effect, his new wife–looks suspiciously like wish-fulfillment. Such wish-fulfillment reinforces the visual presentation of the film as really being François’s unreliable narration.

XIII: Forbidden Desires and the Fly

Naturally, François rules out even the possibility of an affair with her by saying, “I don’t think she ever noticed me,” though a close look at Charles Herbert, the child actor chosen to play Philippe, looks more like he could be a son of Vincent Price than of David Hedison. Finally, during the scene when Philippe has caught the fly with the white head, and he sees his mother with his uncle, he is annoyed to be told by her to let the fly go; but as he is going outside and closing the front door, he looks back at her and his uncle with a split-second look of suspicion in his eyes, as if he sees the two adults acting a little too familiar at that particular moment.

That this suspicious moment happens on the very day when the heads and limbs of André and the fly are switched is significant. Here we come to the very symbolism of the fly. Male houseflies, during their short lives, have a voracious sexual appetite and are constantly on the lookout for females to mate with. In this we can see a symbolic link with my suspicions of a guilty sexual tryst between François and Hélène.

This guilt results in feelings of shame, disgust, and worthlessness, which can all be associated with houseflies. André’s constant preoccupation with his work, even to the point of writing out a new formula for teleportation on the program pamphlet to a ballet he’s supposed to be watching with his wife, means he’s emotionally neglecting her, which not only can drive her into the arms of his brother (who we already know is amorously infatuated with her), but which also makes André as worthless to her as a fly. So the exchanging of his head and arm with the head and leg of a fly is symbolic of this depreciation of his worth to her.

XIV: The Buzzing

With the guilt and shame that an adulteress feels, especially as one who, according to the short story, “had ever been a true Catholic, who believed in God and another, better life hereafter,” Hélène would have been desperately afraid of anyone finding out about her extramarital affair. Hence, her agitation whenever hearing the buzzing of a nearby fly.

Let’s recall the multiple meanings of the word buzz. Apart from the insect noise, buzz has been used to refer to the sound of telephones (remember in this connection the irritation François feels at the sound of a phone ringing), and also to refer to rumours. These additional meanings had existed long before the writing of the short story and the making of the movie. So her agitation at the sound of buzzing symbolically suggests her fear of gossip, or rumours from people knowing about her affair.

XV: Obsessions with Flies

Also, her nervous breakdown at the asylum after seeing a nurse swatting flies can be attributed to a triggering of her guilt over an affair that, in betraying André, reduced him to the worth of a fly, and so killing flies feels like a killing of him again. She also speaks of wanting François to destroy the white-headed fly if she tells him why she killed André; this contradiction suggests an emotional conflict in her–killing it kills evidence of her guilty affair, yet it also represents killing André again.

Now, she is not the only one to raise her eyebrows at the idea of houseflies. François, after hearing about her obsession with them, is curious to hear Henri/Philippe bring up the fly with the white head during lunch with the boy. Previously, Charas brought up her fly obsession immediately before he and François discuss her denial that the boy is her son, and François’s admitting he loves her. So we see here a significant juxtaposition of houseflies with the boy’s parentage and François’s love for Hélène: I don’t think this juxtaposition is coincidental.

XVI: Love Triangles, and the Remake

My speculation of a hidden, repressed love triangle between André, Hélène, and François can be seen overtly in the equivalent three main characters in the 1986 remake–respectively, Seth Brundle, Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife (played by Davis), and Stathis Borans (played by John Getz). Brundle, knowing Ronnie has had a relationship with Stathis prior to her current relationship with him, gets jealous when he suspects that her reason for leaving him early to meet Stathis, when she’s supposed to be celebrating the recent success of his teleportation pods, is to get back together with Stathis. (Actually, she’s meeting Stathis to confront him over a veiled threat he’s made out of a jealousy of his own, over her new relationship with Brundle.)

And right when all of this jealousy is building, Brundle gets drunk, a fly is buzzing around, and both of them go into one of the pods to be teleported…and fused. Again, we have the juxtaposition of a buzzing fly with a love triangle; it’s as if the scriptwriting of the remake subliminally picked up on the veiled rivalry between the Delambre brothers and Hélène.

Another theme picked up from the 1958 movie and put into the remake is the relationship between external, illusory appearance and inner, hidden reality. When Brundle first comes out of the second pod, we of course don’t see a fly’s head and leg replacing his head and arm, but he looks as perfectly human as before. It’s only later, as his body parts start corrupting and falling off, leading climactically to the outer human shell all coming off and he’s revealed to be a giant bug, that we see he isn’t human anymore.

When Hélène begins telling François and Charas her story, in the film we see a scene of what appears to be the perfectly happy family. André is seen tickling Philippe, playing like a loving father, and all seems well. The shot is so ideal that it looks a bit too perfect. A hint already as to how things are actually not so good is in how André tells the boy he can’t play with him at the moment. It will become increasingly apparent that he is so obsessed with his work that he’s spending more time in that basement laboratory than with his family.

Yet another element shared between the 1958 and 1986 movies is the narcissistic grandiosity the inventor feels on seeing the amazing success of his teleporting machine. André boasts of having made the greatest invention since the wheel; he imagines that his “disintegration-reintegration” machine will allow food to be sent anywhere immediately, at minimal cost, thus ending world hunger.

Brundle’s narcissism is a bit different. On having unwittingly fused himself with the fly, he mistakenly imagines his pods have given him superhuman abilities: increased strength, agility, stamina, and sexual potency (recall what I said above about the sexual symbolism of the eager-to-mate housefly). Yet both André and Brundle are about to see their pride fall and crash.

With André, this fall is immediate upon his reintegration: we see no intermediate, transitional process–only the gap in between is understood to be there. With Brundle, however, the transitional process is slowly, agonizingly shown to us, inch by inch. We see his physical fragmentation, as well as his corresponding psychological fragmentation (against which he had only his initial narcissism as a defence), a fragmentation that’s a direct result of jealousy–a result I also see in André.

XVII: Fall of Pride

Now, André’s fall of pride upon reintegration as a fly/human hybrid should be seen as symbolic of his pride as an obsessive scientist and neglectful husband/father, which has led to Hélène’s affair with François (the shame of which, being too intense to bear, causes it to be erased from memory, repressed, and therefore never shown on screen or in the pages of the short story), and which has in turn led to André (as I imagine it) finding out about the affair, making him feel humiliated, cuckolded, and reduced to feeling the worthlessness of a fly. He kills himself.

Recall my association of Hélène’s incestuous affair with her brother-in-law with that of Hamlet’s mother and uncle. The notion of a fly’s worthlessness can also be associated with Hamlet in how the Danish prince derisively refers to foppish, buffoonish Osric as a “water-fly” (V, ii, 83).

The trading of André’s head and arm with the head and leg of a housefly reinforces this sense of worthlessness in how the head houses the brain, and either of the hands (the switched arms, remember, are different from short story to film) represents the skillful manipulation of scientific instruments and equipment with the hands, thus making his wife’s devaluation of him based on her dislike of his obsessive work, which has left her feeling so neglected.

XVIII: Nothingness and the Real

The nothingness of the gap between disintegration and reintegration represents more than just the repression of the unconscious. That void also represents Lacan’s Real Order, a traumatic realm where experience cannot be symbolized or expressed in language, because the differentials of the Symbolic Order (the realm of language, society, culture, etc.) no longer exist. Lacan called the Realimpossible,” just as Hélène calls André’s disintegration and reintegration “impossible.” Disintegration leads to a world of undifferentiated atoms, the Real (as experienced psychologically), Bion‘s O, Milton‘s “void and formless infinite,” or the Brahman of the Hindus. It’s nothing, yet everything; it’s heaven and hell, nirvana and samsara… ineffable.

XIX: Monstrosity

The hellish aspect of the gap manifests itself especially for André, in the short story, when he goes through the teleportation device again and reappears not only with the fly’s head, but with a mix of fly and the head of their cat, Dandelo! He’s now more bestial than ever, an aggravating of monstrosity that is paralleled in the 1986 remake when Brundle reappears as part man, part fly, and part teleportation pod.

This sense of the fly as representing self-hating monstrosity and worthlessness is intensified in Brundle’s “Insect Politics” speech, as well as in André’s sense of his brain deteriorating towards the end of the story. Ultimately, André’s self-hate, as symbolized in his monstrous transformation, drives him to commit suicide–as I reimagine it, by putting a pistol to his head and blowing his brains out, right in front of Hélène who, his laboratory being near the factory in the short story, has only to move the body a short distance to the steam hammer.

XX: Destroying Evidence of Suicide

As I see it, she needs to crush his head and arm (i.e., with the pistol in his hand, in order to destroy it, too) to destroy all evidence of a suicide that, if investigated, will lead to a revelation of her affair with François. Since her guilt has driven her mad, her faulty reasoning will lead her to believe that it’s better to be thought mad from delusions of a human/fly monster than to be known an adulteress with her husband’s brother (adultery and incest), driving André to suicide.

Her needing to use the steam hammer twice, because she forgot to put the arm (in my interpretation, holding the pistol) under with André’s head, represents her psychological conflict: part of her wants to be punished for her guilt in the affair by being found out, while the other part of her wants still to conceal that guilt. Later, she forgets the second use of the steam hammer out of a Freudian parapraxis, again, an expression of her conflict between wanting to be found out and wanting to conceal the guilt.

François’s own guilt over the same sin would have driven him over the edge, too, to the point of entertaining her fly delusion as true, to assuage his guilt. In this connection, it’s important to consider the ending of the story, especially in terms of how Clavell changed it from Langelaan’s short story. (Ironically, in the film François and Charas rationalize a conclusion to the case as, indeed, André’s suicide, freeing Hélène from guilt or commitment to an insane asylum. The reason for the suicide remains a mystery; she and François, thus, can privately entertain the fly-human hybrid story to help them forget the guilt of their affair.)

XXI: The Ending

The fly that is understood to be the one that got André’s head and arm is referred to as a fly with a white head. By “white head,” it’s assumed to be André’s head, though it’s never explicitly called such. In the film, we see a fly with a white spot on its head, and only in the scene with the spider’s web do we see a tiny human head and arm poking out of the web trapping the fly’s body, with the hybrid’s faint squeals for help.

Part of the reason for these differences, of course, is the limitations of the technology of the time; but I believe something else is going on. First, when François is sitting on the bench by the spider’s web, he doesn’t notice the squeals of the fly-human, begging anyone nearby to save it. They should be audible enough: after all, Charas later can hear them. François thus seems to be willingly deaf to its cries, part of his wish, symbolically speaking, to avoid responsibility for the consequences of his affair (in my speculation), and how it’s led to his brother’s suicide.

Later, when he and Charas see the fly about to be eaten by the spider, François can’t pretend it isn’t there. As a symbol of his guilt, the fly is something he cannot bear.

Now, an important distinction must be made: in the short story, it’s François who kills the fly, not Charas. As I’ve said above, I consider François’s narration to be as unreliable as Hélène’s, and that the film is their narration given in visuals. Having Charas kill the fly is thus, in my interpretation, François projecting his guilt onto Charas. Clavell’s changes to the presentation of the story are to give us an ambiguous way of thinking about it: is it an unreliable narration, or did the fly-human hybrid story really happen?

I believe François has hallucinated the fly with his brother’s head and arm, due to the stress of his guilt and what his beloved Hélène has gone through (and in his unreliable narration in movie visuals, Charas has shared his hallucination). Philippe/Henri, in this interpretation, has really only found a fly with a white head and leg, an ‘albino-like’ one, if you will, which his mother’s and uncle’s imaginations have turned into a fly/André hybrid.

Clavell’s changes to the short story included removing François’s opening narrative frame (and his dislike of ringing telephones); such an omission doesn’t prove he hasn’t been narrating, but only that we don’t see explicit proof of him telling the story. I believe that having Charas see the fly/André hybrid, thus opening up the possibility that outsiders have seen the proof of Hélène’s story–that what she has narrated is reliable after all–was Clavell’s way of making the story more intriguing: could this otherwise scientifically implausible story have happened, and should the audience just willingly suspend their disbelief?

I don’t think we should, or need to. The ending of the film, with François as Philippe’s new guardian, and with living Hélène present, comes off as wish-fulfillment for François. As with Claudius vis-à-vis King Hamlet and Gertrude, he got his brother’s wife, he can directly be a father to Philippe, and in his and her shared delusion, their folie-à-deux of the disastrous teleportation/fusion of André and the housefly, François can tell the boy that the lesson to be learned from his father’s death is how dangerous scientific experimentation, coupled with overweening pride, can be, rather than how dangerous incestuous adultery can be.