Following is a transcript of the first 10 minutes of the talk:

Following is a version in Chinese translation (selected, not full version):

Michael Pollan: The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000. But the image that’s used to sell the food, it is still the imagery of agrarian America. You go into the supermarket and you see pictures of farmers, the picket fence, the silo, the ’30s farmhouse and the green grass. It’s the spinning of this pastoral fantasy.

The modern American supermarket has on average 47,000 products. There are no seasons in the American supermarket. Now there are tomatoes all year round, grown halfway around the world, picked when it was green, and ripened with ethylene gas. Although it looks like a tomato, it’s kind of a notional tomato. I mean, it’s the idea of a tomato. In the meat aisle, there are no bones anymore. Eric Schlosser: There is this deliberate veil, this curtain, that’s dropped between us and where our food is coming from. The industry doesn’t want you to know the truth about what you’re eating, because if you knew, you might not want to eat it.

Pollan: If you follow the food chain back from those shrink-wrapped packages of meat, you find a very different reality. The reality is a factory. It’s not a farm. It’s a factory. That meat is being processed by huge multinational corporations that have very little to do with ranches and farmers.

Schlosser: Now our food is coming from enormous assembly lines where the animals and the workers are being abused. And the food has become much more dangerous in ways that are being deliberately hidden from us. Troy Roush: You’ve got a small group of multinational corporations who control the entire food system. From seed to the supermarket, they’re gaining control of food.

Schlosser: This isn’t just about what we’re eating. This is about what we’re allowed to say, what we’re allowed to know. It’s not just our health that’s at risk. Carole Morison: The companies don’t want farmers talking. They don’t want this story told. How about a nice chicken club sandwich made with fresh cooked chicken? You know, that’s a nice idea, but I think what I’d really like

Schlosser’s voice: My favorite meal to this day remains a hamburger and french fries. I had no idea that a handful of companies had changed what we eat and how we make our food. I’ve been eating this food all my life without having any idea where it comes from, any idea how powerful this industry is. And it was the idea of this world deliberately hidden from us. I think that’s one of the reasons why I became an investigative reporter, was to take the veil– lift the veil away from important subjects that are being hidden. (film projector clicking)

Schlosser: The whole industrial food system really began with fast food. In the 1930s, a new form of restaurant arose and it was called the drive-in. The McDonald brothers had a very successful drive-in, but they decided to cut costs and simplify. So they fired all their carhops, they got rid of most of the things on the menu and they created a revolutionary idea to how to run a restaurant. They basically brought the factory system to the back of the restaurant kitchen. They trained each worker to just do one thing again and again and again. By having workers who only had to do one thing, they could pay them a low wage and it was very easy to find someone to replace them. It was inexpensive food, it tasted good and this McDonald’s fast food restaurant was a huge huge success. That mentality of uniformity, conformity and cheapness applied widely and on a large scale has all kinds of unintended consequences. (mooing) When McDonald’s is the largest purchaser of ground beef in the United States and they want their hamburgers to taste, everywhere, exactly the same, they change how ground beef is produced. The McDonald’s corporation is the largest purchaser of potatoes and one of the largest purchasers of pork, chicken, tomatoes, lettuce, even apples. These big big fast food chains want big suppliers. And now there are essentially a handful of companies controlling our food system. In the 1970s, the top five beef-packers controlled only about 25% of the market. Today, the top four control more than 80% of the market. You see the same thing happening now in pork. Even if you don’t eat at a fast food restaurant, you’re now eating meat that’s being produced by this system. You look at the labels and you see Farmer this, Farmer that– it’s really just three or four companies that are controlling the meat. We’ve never had food companies this big and this powerful in our history. Tyson, for example, is the biggest meat-packing company in the history of the world. The industry changed the entire way that chicken are raised. Birds are now raised and slaughtered in half the time they were 50 years ago, but now they’re twice as big. People like to eat white meat, so they redesigned the chicken to have large breasts. – They not only changed the chicken, they changed the farmer. Today, chicken farmers no longer control their birds. (thudding) A company like Tyson owns the birds from the day they’re dropped off until the day that they’re slaughtered. (buzzes) Let me go to the top. – Man: This is the Chicken– The chicken industry has really set a model for the integration of production, processing and marketing of the products that other industries are now following because they see that we have achieved tremendous economies. In a way, we’re not producing chickens; we’re producing food. It’s all highly mechanized. So all the birds coming off those farms have to be almost exactly the same size. What the system of intensive production accomplishes is to produce a lot of food on a small amount of land at a very affordable price. Now somebody explain to me what’s wrong with that. (sniffs) Smells like money to me. (chuckles) 16 chicken houses sit here. And Chuck’s son has four over the top of this hill. The chicken industry came in here and it’s helped this whole community out. Here’s my chicken houses here. I have about 300,000 chickens. (barks) We have a contract with Tyson. They’ve been growing chickens for many many years. It’s all a science. They got it figured out. If you can grow a chicken in 49 days, why would you want one you gotta grow in three months? More money in your pocket. (chickens clucking) These chickens never see sunlight. They’re pretty much in the dark all the time. Man: So you think they just want to keep us out? I don’t know. If I knew, I’d tell you. It would be nice if y’all could see what we really do, but as far as y’all going in, we can’t let you do that. I understand why farmers don’t want to talk– because the company can do what it wants to do as far as pay goes since they control everything. But it’s just gotten to the point that it’s not right what’s going on and I’ve just made up my mind. I’m gonna say what I have to say. I understand why others don’t want to do it. And I’m just to a point that it doesn’t matter anymore. Something has to be said. (loud clucking)

It is nasty in here. There’s dust flying everywhere. There’s feces everywhere. This isn’t farming. This is just mass production, like an assembly line in a factory. (fans whirring) When they grow from a chick and in seven weeks you’ve got a five-and-a-half- pound chicken, their bones and their internal organs can’t keep up with the rapid growth. A lot of these chickens here, they can take a few steps and then they plop down. It’s because they can’t keep up all the weight that they’re carrying. (wheezes) That’s normal. There’s antibiotics that’s put into the feed and of course that passes through the chicken. The bacteria builds up a resistance, so antibiotics aren’t working anymore. I have become allergic to all antibiotics and can’t take ’em. (clucking)

Morison: When it’s dark inside the houses, the chickens lay down. It’s less resistance when they’re being caught. Traditionally, it’s been African-American men. Now we’re seeing more and more Latino catchers– undocumented workers. From their point of view, they don’t have any rights and they’re just not gonna complain. The companies like these kind of workers. It doesn’t matter if the chickens get sick. All of the chickens will go to the plant for processing. The companies keep the farmers under their thumb because of the debt that the farmers have. To build one poultry house is anywhere from $280,000 to $300,000 per house. And once you make your initial investment, the companies constantly come back with demands of upgrades for new equipment, and the grower has no choice. They have to do it or you’re threatened with loss of a contract. This is how they keep the farmers under control. It’s how they keep them spending money, going to the bank and borrowing more money. The debt just keeps building. To have no say in your business, it’s degrading. It’s like being a slave to the company. Pollan: The idea that you would need to write a book telling people where their food came from is just a sign of how far removed we’ve become. It seems to me that we’re entitled to know about our food– “Who owns it? How are they making it? Can I have a look in the kitchen?”

When I wanted to understand the industrial food system, what I set about doing was very simple. I wanted to trace the source of my food. When you go through the supermarket, what looks like this cornucopia of variety and choice is not. There is an illusion of diversity. There are only a few companies involved and there’re only a few crops involved. What really surprised me most as I followed that food back to its source, I kept ending up in the same place, and that was a cornfield in Iowa. So much of our industrial food turns out to be clever rearrangements of corn. Corn has conquered the world in a lot of ways. It is a remarkable plant. 100 years ago, a farmer in America could grow maybe 20 bushels of corn on an acre. Today, 200 bushels is no problem. That’s an astonishing achievement for which breeders deserve credit, for which fertilizer makers deserve credit, for which pesticide makers all deserve credit.

Roush: In the United States today, 30% of our land base is being planted to corn. That’s largely driven by government policy, government policy that, in effect, allows us to produce corn below the cost of production. The truth of the matter is we’re paid to overproduce, and it was caused by these large multinational interests. The reason our government’s promoting corn– the Cargills, the ADMs, Tyson, Smithfield– they have an interest in purchasing corn below the cost of production. They use that interest and that extensive amount of money they have to lobby Congress to give us the kind of farm bills we now have.

Pollan: A “farm bill,” which should really be called a “food bill,” codifies the rules of the entire food economy. Farm policy is always focused on these commodity crops because you can store them. We encourage farmers to grow as much corn as they can grow, to get big, to consolidate. We subsidize farmers by the bushel. Roush: We produced a lot of corn and they came up with uses for it.

Larry Johnson: We are now engineering our foods. We know where to turn to for certain traits like mouth feel and flavor. And we bring all of these pieces together and engineer new foods that don’t stale in the refrigerator, don’t develop rancidity. Of course the biggest advance in recent years was high-fructose corn syrup. You know, I would venture to guess if you go and look on the supermarket shelf, I’ll bet you 90% of them would contain either a corn or soybean ingredient, and most of the time will contain both.

Pollan: Corn is the great raw material. You get that big fat kernel of starch and you can break that down and reassemble it. You can make high-fructose corn syrup. You can make maltodextrin and diglycerides and xanthan gum and ascorbic acid. All those obscure ingredients on the processed food– it’s remarkable how many of them can be made from corn. Plus, you can feed it to animals. Roush: Corn is the main component in feed ingredients whether it’s chicken, hogs, cattle– you name it.

Pollan: Increasingly, we’re feeding the corn to the fish whether we’re eating the tilapia or the farmed salmon. We’re teaching fish how to eat corn. The fact that we had so much cheap corn really allowed us to drive down the price of meat. I mean, the average American is eating over 200 lbs of meat per person per year. That wouldn’t be possible had we not fed them this diet of cheap grain. Since you’re selling corn at below the price of production, the feedlot operator can buy corn at a fraction of what it costs to grow, so that all the animals are sucked off of all the farms in the Midwest. There is a spiderweb of roads and train tracks all around the country moving corn from where it’s being grown to these CAFOs. Cows are not designed by evolution to eat corn. They’re designed by evolution to eat grass. And the only reason we feed them corn is because corn is really cheap and corn makes them fat quickly. (cow moos) Man: Where are you putting your hand? I’m actually inside the rumen– that first compartment of the stomach. And it’s– it’s not– it’s kind of hard to see. You can see the liquid part here.

Man: Wow. There’s microorganisms– bacteria in the rumen, millions of ’em. The animals evolved on consuming grass. There’s some research that indicates that a high-corn diet results in E. coli that are acid-resistant. And these would be the more harmful E. coli.

Pollan: So you feed corn to cattle and E. coli, which is a very common bug, evolves, a certain mutation occurs and a strain called the “E. coli 0157:h7” appears on the world stage. And it’s a product of the diet we’re feeding cattle on feedlots and it’s a product of feedlot life. The animals stand ankle deep in their manure all day long. So if one cow has it, the other cows will get it. When they get to the slaughterhouse, their hides are caked with manure. And if the slaughterhouse is slaughtering 400 animals an hour, how do you keep that manure from getting onto those carcasses? And that’s how the manure gets in the meat. And now this thing that wasn’t in the world is in the food system. A fast-food nightmare may be getting worse. A two-year-old child died today in Seattle. And the killer? Tainted meat from Jack In The Box hamburgers. A nationwide recall today for more than 140 tons of ground beef. Man: A half a million pounds of ground beef– of Con Agra ground beef.

Schlosser: E. coli isn’t just in ground beef now– it’s been found in spinach, apple juice– and this is really because of the runoff from our factory farms. 90 confirmed cases of E. coli poisoning. Central to it all– raw, bagged spinach. E. coli outbreak with leafy greens in just the last decade. Schlosser: For years during the Bush administration, the chief of staff at the USDA was the former chief lobbyist to the beef industry in Washington; the head of the F.D.A. was the former executive vice president of the National Food Processors Association. These regulatory agencies are being controlled by the very companies that they’re supposed to be scrutinizing. Woman: ConAgra, which recently recalled peanut butter contaminated with salmonella, was aware of problems in its plant two years ago.

Schlosser: There’s always been food poisoning. As more and more technology is being applied to the production of food, you would think it would be getting safer, not more contaminated. But the processing plants have gotten bigger and bigger. it’s just perfect for taking bad pathogens and spreading them far and wide. Woman: The recall of frozen hamburger now includes 22 million pounds. Enough meat to make a fast-food hamburger for every adult in America is being recalled.

Schlosser: In the 1970s, there were literally thousands of slaughterhouses in the United States. Today we have 13 slaughterhouses that process the majority of beef that is sold in the United States. The hamburger of today, it has pieces of thousands of different cattle ground up in that one hamburger patty. The odds increase exponentially that one of those animals was carrying a dangerous pathogen. It’s remarkable how toothless our regulatory agencies are when you look closely at it, and that’s how the industry wants it.

Patricia Buck: This is the USDA building up here. Did Josh say how much time he thought we’d get? Well, maybe as much as 15. Got to be on time for that meeting. – It starts a 4:00. So if I start going like that – or start shuffling papers, it’s time. – I know, it’s time. Thank you! Thank you. Kowalcyk: I’m a registered Republican. I’ve always been fairly conservative. I never thought I would be doing this and I certainly never thought I would be working so closely with my mom. Made a mistake– I think that’s the way we want to go.

Kowalcyk: My mom and I, our relationship has taken on a whole new dimension. 2421? 2421. Here we are. – I’m Pat. to establish food standards, people just got complacent. We reduced funding for the FDA. We’ve relied increasingly on self-policing for all of these industries. And now we just have, really, lost our system. You’re really one of the champions on the hill for food safety and it’s a very important cause. It’s very personal to me and my family. Our food safety advocacy work started six years ago when my two-and- a-half-year-old son Kevin was stricken with E. coli 0157:h7 and went from being a perfectly healthy beautiful little boy– and I have a small picture with me today that was taken two weeks before he got sick. He went from that to being dead in 12 days. In July 2001, our family took a vacation. Had we known what was in store for us, we would have never gone home. We ended up eating three hamburgers before he got sick. We started to see blood in Kevin’s diarrhea, so we took him to the emergency room. And they said, “We’ve gotten the culture back from Kevin’s stool, and he has hemorrhagic E. coli.” They came in and informed us that Kevin’s kidneys were starting to fail. Kevin received his first dialysis treatment. He was not allowed to really drink water. We had these little sponges and we were allowed to dip that into a cup of water and then give him that. He bit the head off of one of them. You’ve never seen someone beg. He begged for water. It was all he could talk about. They wouldn’t let anybody bring any beverage into the room because– I mean, it was all he would talk about, was… water. (waves lapping) I don’t know if he knew what was happening to him… and I hope– I don’t know. To watch this beautiful child go from being perfectly healthy to dead in 12 days– it was just unbelievable that this could happen from eating food. What was kind of adding more insult to injury– it took us almost two or three years and hiring a private attorney to actually find out that we matched a meat recall. On August 1st, my son was already in the hospital. They did an E. coli test at the plant that was positive. They didn’t end up recalling that meat until August 27th, 16 days after he died. If we have some more hearings– which I’m sure we will– I’d love to have you come and testify.

Kowalcyk: You never get over the death of your child. You find a new normal. – We’re going this way? Kowalcyk: We put faith in our government to protect us, and we’re not being protected at a most basic level. In 1998, the USDA implemented microbial testing for salmonella and E. coli 0157:h7. The idea was that if a plant repeatedly failed these tests, that the USDA would shut the plant down because they obviously had an ongoing contamination problem. The meat and poultry associations immediately took the USDA to court. The courts basically said the USDA didn’t have the authority to shut down the plants. What it meant was that you could have a pound of meat or poultry products that is a petri dish of salmonella and the USDA really can’t do anything about it. A new law was introduced in direct response and this law became known as Kevin’s Law. It seems like such a clear-cut, common sense type thing.

Kowalcyk: We’ve been working for six years and it still hasn’t passed. I sense that there may be an opportunity– an enhanced opportunity– to get this signed into law this time. I think that from the standpoint of the consumer, a lot of people would support the idea of paying a little more if they could be guaranteed a higher standard of safety. that there are other players …that tend to worry about that, because it’s gonna be seen as an add-on to their costs. I think the advantage here is–

Kowalcyk: Sometimes it does feel like industry was more protected than my son. That’s what motivated me to become an advocate. In the past year alone, there have been a multitude of food-borne illness outbreaks which have resulted in significant losses. Clearly our current approach to food oversight and protection is not meeting the needs of American families. It’s really hard for me to tell Kevin’s story. But the only way I’m going to be able to prevent it from happening to other people is to go out there and speak about it. Yeah. Six are elementary school students, one is a sibling, and there’s another one in another county in Kentucky, so…

Kowalcyk: It will be seven years since my son died. All I wanted the company to do was say “We’re sorry. We produced this defective product that killed your child, and this is what we’re going to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” That’s all we wanted, and they couldn’t give us that.

Pollan: The industrial food system is always looking for greater efficiency, but each new step in efficiency leads to problems. If you take feedlot cattle off of their corn diet, give them grass for five days, they will shed 80% of the E. coli in their gut. But of course that’s not what the industry does. The industry’s approach is– when it has a systematic problem like that– is not to go back and see what’s wrong with the system, it’s to come up some high-tech fixes that allow the system to survive. Man: The 5×5 product surge tank– low level. Low level. (man speaks over radio)

Eldon Roth: This is our operations center. We control all of our plants from here. Where’s Chicago? Here’s Chicago, Georgia, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, L.A., Ohio. We control all levels of the gearboxes, the speed of motors– we can change those all from here. We built something that– from a food-safety standpoint, we think we’re ahead of everybody. We think we can lessen the incidents of E. coli 0157:h7. (beeps) But I just started working with ammonia and ammonia hydroxide. Ammonia kills bacteria, so it became a processing tool. I’m really a mechanic. That’s really what I am. We design our own machinery. (whirring)

Roth: This is our finished product. Man: Is your meat in most of the hamburgers in the country?

Roth: 70%. In five years, we think we’ll be in 100%. We do have some competitors. I think we’re gonna beat them. –

Roth: Again, it’s a marriage of science and technology. (man speaking over radio) I want dollar meal– …two chicken sandwich. – Man: Two small drinks, and give me a large Dr. Pepper. – $11.48. First window. Thank you. Maria Gonzalez: We didn’t even think about healthy eating because we used to think everything was healthy. Maria: Now that I know that the food is really unhealthy for us, I feel guilty giving it to my kids. But we don’t have time to cook because we leave at 6:00. We don’t get home until 9:00, 10:00 at night. When you have only a dollar to spend and you have two kids to feed, either you go to the market and try to find something that’s cheap or just go straight through a drive-thru and get two small hamburgers for them and “Okay, here. Eat them.” This is what’s gonna fill her up, not that one single item at the market. Look at the broccoli. It’s too expensive, man. First check to see how many are there for a pound. – Uh, we’re not getting it. You’d only get two or three. – Aww! Maria: We can find candy that’s cheaper. We can find chips that are cheaper. The sodas are really cheap. Sometimes you look at a vegetable and say “Okay, we can get two hamburgers over here for the same amount of price.”

Pollan: Why is it that you can buy a double-cheeseburger at McDonald’s for 99¡é, and you can’t even get a head of broccoli for 99¡é? – We’ve skewed our food system to the bad calories and it’s not an accident. I mean, the reasons that those calories are cheaper is because those are the ones we’re heavily subsidizing. And this is directly tied to the kind of agriculture that we’re practicing and the kind of farm policies we have. All those snack-food calories are the ones that come from the commodity crops– from the wheat, from the corn and from the soybeans. By making those calories really cheap, that’s one of the reasons that the biggest predictor of obesity is income level. Over the course of human history, we were struggling to make sure we had enough food and enough calories for a sizable percentage of the human race. Now the problem is too many calories. The industry blames obesity on a crisis of personal responsibility. But when you’re engineering foods you are pressing our evolutionary buttons. The fact is we’re hardwired to go for three tastes– salt, fat and sugar. These things are very rare in nature Now sugar is available 24/7 in tremendous quantities. We’re eating hundreds of pounds of the stuff a year. This diet of high-fructose corn syrup and refined carbohydrates leads to these spikes of insulin and, gradually, a wearing down of the system by which our body metabolizes sugar. Maria: My husband’s diabetic. One of my main concerns is he could lose his sight. He does get into– sometimes he’s shaking, so I’m afraid that he’s gonna start not being able to drive, ’cause that’s what he does for a profession. We have to consider his medicine. What is it, $70? 50 pills costs me about $130. Maria: But he’s on two different types of pills. $100-and-something for one pill and then $100- and-something for another. That takes a lot of our income away. We’re really tight from either paying for his medicine to be healthy or buying vegetables to be healthy. So which one should we do? It’s hard to see my dad suffer with diabetes and stuff like that. And it’s really sad to see that my sister might have it. There’s something that’s going on in the way that we live our lives, where we play, where we buy our food and the types of food that we’re able to buy that is causing this epidemic. It’s not just our community. It’s not just Baldwin Park. It’s everywhere. How many of us know one person in our family with diabetes? How about two? Three? Keep your hand– It used to be that type 2 diabetes only affected adults. And now it’s affecting children at epidemic proportions. (kids laughing) (birds chirping) (chickens clucking)

Joel Salatin: Everything we’ve done in modern industrial agriculture is to grow it faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper. Nobody’s thinking about E. coli, type 2 diabetes and the ecological health of the whole system. We’re outsourcing autonomous farmer decision making– we’re outsourcing that to corporate boardrooms in big cities 1,000 miles away where people make decisions and don’t live with the consequences of those decisions. (cows mooing) Everything is grass based. You know, they don’t eat corn, dead cows or chicken manure like they feed right here in the valley– or dead chickens. They actually eat grass, forage– you know, clover, grass, herbs. They’re herbivores. If they were eating corn, you’re gonna have to harvest that corn, transport that corn, then you’re gonna have to haul all that manure somewhere that comes out the back end. Here… it’s– there– there is the whole thing. I mean the cow is– she’s fertilizing. She’s mowing. We don’t have to spread any manure. We don’t have to harvest it– she’s harvesting it. It’s all real time– real solar dollars. The industrial food system gradually became so noisy, smelly, not a person-friendly place, that the people who operate those plants don’t want anybody to go there, because then people would see the ugly truth. When that occurred, then we lost all the integrity and all the accountability in the food system. If we put glass walls on all the megaprocessing facilities, we would have a different food system in this country. (knife zinging)

Salatin: We have allowed ourselves to become so disconnected and ignorant – …as the food that we eat. What a difference this is to be out here in the fresh air, sunshine, birds singing in the trees, you know? But you see, according to the U.S.D.A, this is unsanitary because it’s open to the air. They tried to close us down. One of the biggest showdowns we had was when they tried to close us down because this was unsanitary. Can you imagine? So we had them cultured at a local microbiology lab. Ours averaged 133 C.F.U. and the ones from the store averaged 3600. Of course, those have been through 40 trillion baths. Ours haven’t seen any chlorine. A lot of people wonder “Is this real? I mean, can you really feed the world?” That whole thing is such a specious argument because, yes, we’re every bit as efficient, especially if you plug in all of the inefficiencies of the industrial system. I’ve had people come up at farmer’s markets and say “What? $3 a dozen for eggs?” And they’re drinking a 75¡é can of soda. Hey, pig. Hey, piggles. (snorting)

Hey, pigs. I’m always struck by how successful we have been at hitting the bull’s-eye of the wrong target. I mean we have learned– for example, in cattle we have learned how to– how to plant, fertilize and harvest corn using global positioning satellite technology, and nobody sits back and asks “But should we be feeding cows corn?” We’ve become a culture of technicians. We’re all into– we’re all into the how of it and nobody’s stepping back and saying “But why?” (laughs) I mean, a culture that just views a pig as a pile of protoplasmic inanimate structure to be manipulated by whatever creative design that humans can foist on that critter will probably view individuals within its community and other cultures in the community of nations with the same type of disdain, disrespect and controlling-type mentality. (snorting)

Eduardo Pe?a: The town where the plant is located is a small town called Tar Heel in the middle of a very economically-depressed area. Smithfield has mastered the art of picking and choosing a workforce that they can exploit, initially from the local workforce– the poor whites, the poor black. They went through that workforce very quickly. Now they have to bus their workers all the way from Dentsville, South Carolina, to Clinton, North Carolina. You have to draw a circle 100 miles in diameter, and that’s where all of your workers are coming from. (people chatting)

Man: They have the same mentality towards workers as they do towards the hogs. (squealing) Man: You know, the hog, they don’t really have to worry about their comfort because they’re temporary. They’re gonna be killed. And they have the same viewpoint to the worker. You’re not worried about the longevity of the worker because, to them, everything has an end. Man: When you’ve got 2000 hogs an hour going through employees, because they’re handling these guts so much, they get infections in their fingernails and all. All their fingernails separate from their fingers. with blood, feces, urine. It’s easy to get hurt down there. Man: You’re doing that same movement for that same piece of the hog and it’s nonstop, you know. Basically you’re treated as a human machine. You get people that can’t afford to leave from out there, and Smithfield knows this. And that’s what they hold over you.

Schlosser: 100 years ago when Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle there was a beef trust that wielded enormous power. Immigrants from Eastern Europe were being abused in the absence of any kind of government regulation There were horrible disfiguring injuries and even deaths.

Pollan: Things got better. They slowly got better.

Schlosser: Teddy Roosevelt took on the beef trust. Labor unions slowly organized meatpacking workers and turned it into one of the best industrial jobs in the United States. By the 1950s to be a meatpacking worker was like being an auto worker who has a good wage, good benefits, pension. And then what happened? Well, the meat-packing companies got bigger in order to serve the needs of the fast-food industry, which was its biggest customer. Some of the meat-packing companies like IBP borrowed the same sort of labor practices from the fast food industry– cutting wages, making sure there were no unions, speeding up production, and having the worker do the same task again and again and again. And meat-packing is now one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. The meat-packing industry also recruited a new set of immigrants– illegal immigrants and recent immigrants from Mexico. Many of the illegal immigrants coming to America were corn farmers in Mexico. NAFTA led to a flooding of the Mexican market with cheap American corn. It’s put more than a million and a half Mexican farmers out of work. They couldn’t compete with this cheap corn coming from America. (yelling)

Pollan: So what happens to those million and a half Mexican farmers?

Schlosser: Meat packers like IBP, National Beef and Monfort began actively recruiting in Mexico. Companies advertised on the radio and in newspapers. IBP set up a bus service in Mexico to bring workers into the United States. For years the government turned a blind eye to the recruitment of immigrants by the meat-packing industry. But now, when there’s an anti-immigrant movement, they’re cracking down all of a sudden, but they’re not cracking down on these companies. The government’s cracking down on the workers. (clears throat) Pe?a: Immigration agents are arresting Smithfield workers Pe?a: This is an agreement between Smithfield and Immigrations authorities. They get rid of 15 workers per day, but you don’t see any massive raids. That way it doesn’t affect the production line. – Sir, we are trying– She is asking us questions, not you. I don’t see anybody arresting no Smithfield managers. Nobody in the plant that had anything to do with the fact that those workers were hired is being arrested. What we see today is workers who were producing for this company and working hard– those are the people who get arrested. (man yelling in Spanish) Pe?a: We want to pay the cheapest price for our food. We don’t understand that that comes at a price. These workers, they’ve been here for 10, 15 years processing your bacon, your holiday ham and now they’re getting picked up like they’re criminals. (car starts) And these companies are making billions of dollars.

Salatin: Is cheapness everything that there is? Who wants to buy the cheapest car? We’re willing to subsidize the food system to create the “mystique” of cheap food, when actually it’s very expensive food when you add up the environmental costs societal costs, health costs. The industrial food is not honest food. It’s not priced honestly. It’s not produced honestly. It’s not processed honestly. There’s nothing honest about that food. I can’t think of a better use for a Smithfield box. Man: It was about a five-hour drive maybe 300, 400 miles. So yeah. It’s worth it.

Salatin: I have no desire to scale up or get bigger. My desire is to produce the best food in the world and heal. And if in doing so more people come to our corner and want stuff, then heaven help me figure out how to meet the need without compromising the integrity. That– that’s where I am. I have absolutely no desire to be at Wal-Mart. As soon as you grasp for that growth, you’re gonna view your customer differently, you’re gonna view your product differently, you’re gonna view your business differently. You’re gonna view everything that is the most important– you’re gonna view that differently. (snorting) (people chatting) This is our new organic line of popcorn. This is Vitasoy soy milk, the best soy milk in the entire world. This entire show when it first started was the size of this column right here.

Man: Uh-huh. Several of us were sleeping in our booths. We couldn’t afford hotel rooms. Organic’s been growing over 20% annually. It’s one of the fastest-growing segments in the food industry. My God! Ah! We’re not gonna get rid of capitalism. Certainly we’re not gonna get rid of it in the time that we need to arrest global warming and reverse the toxification of our air, our food and our water. We need to be much more urgent. If we attempt to make perfect the enemy of the good and say we’re only going to buy food from the most-perfect system within 100 miles of us, we’re never gonna get there. As an environmentalist, it was pretty clear to me that business was the source of all the pollution, business was the source of basically all the things that were destroying this world. In college I came across this little institute called New Alchemy Institute, which was a group of renegade biologists. My hope is to give you–

Hirshberg: We were preaching a kind of a new religion, trying to develop food and waste-treatment alternatives, but we were preaching to the convinced. We were depending on sources of support that were dried up and we weren’t reaching the audience that really needed these messages. I realized we need to not be David up against Goliath. We need to be Goliath. (clacking)

Hirshberg: When we started out, we were a seven-cow farm. We wanted to prove that business could be part of the solution to the globe’s environmental problems. At the same time we had to prove that we could be highly profitable. Today in 2008, not only are in America, but we’re among the most profitable. See, this is the interesting thing. A little company like this is now Kraft, but you don’t have any idea that it’s Kraft. This is now Pepsi. That’s now Kellogg’s. – Man: Kashi is Kellogg’s? Yeah, this is one of those companies that started like us. – Well, it’s– Make them successful, basically. The jury is out. I have to put it that way.

Hirshberg: These large companies don’t grow organically. They grow by acquisition. Coke, Pepsi, Kellogg’s, General Mills– all of them are running, not walking, into the organic food business.

Hirshberg: For me, when a Wal-Mart enters the organic space, I’m thrilled. It’s absolutely one of the most exciting things. I have dreamed of the day when I could sit with corporate titans and have conversations about organics and sustainability. – Hi Amanda. I’m Rand. Okay, help me figure out where– – You’re with Wal-Mart. Yup. Do you know that we don’t go to Wal-Mart? – We’ve never been. – Isn’t that amazing? Yeah, we’ve never been. We just started boycotting a long time ago and we just kept riding on that.

Hirshberg: Wal-Mart is terribly sensitive to their reputation. They’ve obviously been vilified, probably more than any retailer in our current economy. Actually, it’s a pretty easy decision to try to support things like organic, or whatever it might be, based on what the customer wants. We see that and react to it. So if it’s clear the customer wants it, it’s really easy to get behind it, to push forward and try to make that happen.

Hirshberg: When I run into my old environmental friends, many are initially horrified by the kinds of company that I’m keeping these days. But when I then go on to explain what the impact of one purchase order from Wal-Mart is, in terms of not pounds but tons of pesticide, tons of herbicide, tons of chemical fertilizer, the discussion– we get away from the emotion and we get down to the facts. This is really key, though, what you guys are doing here. I have no illusions about this. I don’t believe that Wal-Mart has come here because they’ve suddenly had a moral enlightenment. It’s because of economics. I can debate with my radical friends all day long, but nobody can challenge the fact that a sale of another million dollars to Wal-Mart helps to save the world.

Pollan: Back around the turn of the last century, the average farmer could feed six or eight people. Now the average American farmer can feed 126 people, okay? These are the most productive humans that have ever lived. The changes down on the farm have been momentous and radical but invisible to most of us, ’cause who knows a farmer anymore? But their way of life has been revolutionized. Roush: 10,000 years ago, farmers started saving their best seeds and planted again in the following year. That’s how seeds have been developed. That’s how corn was developed from a useless grass for the most part to the extremely productive plant it is today.

Pollan: The idea that any corporation could own a food crop is a very new idea. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the Supreme Court said you could patent life. And that opened the floodgates– efforts to patent the most valuable parts of life, which is to say the crops on which we depend.

Roush: Monsanto is a chemical company. They produced DDT, Agent Orange in Vietnam, and then they developed a product called “Roundup.” We started hearing rumblings about genetically-engineered soybeans that could resist the application of Roundup. When the Roundup was sprayed over top of it, it killed every weed out there except for this Roundup Ready soybean.

Roush: I can remember when the first prohibition against seed saving came into being. Most farmers were just absolutely disgusted with the whole concept. It’s been interesting over the course of 11 years to watch us go from utter contempt for the notion that we can’t save our own seed to acceptance. Man: What happens if a farmer saves the seeds? (chuckles) Well, you know, really there’s only one company involved in this now and that’s Monsanto. Monsanto is… They’ve got a team of private investigators that kind of roam the country and they’ve got a little 1-800 hotline they take calls on. If they get a call and somebody alleges that somebody saved seed, they’ll send an investigator out to look into the matter. If you save your own seed, you’re gonna get a call from somebody from Monsanto. David Runyon: Two men drove in my driveway at 7:00, 7:30 at night, presented a black card to me and they never told me that they were from Monsanto. Man: They said that they had had a surveillance team, caught me cleaning beans. Moe Parr: I found it necessary to get up at 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning before the investigators are on the road following me.

Runyon: They were– I’m gonna say maybe ex-military or ex-police. They were large and they were intimidating. Man: I don’t know whether they had their surveillance team or whether it was my neighbor that turned me in. I don’t know. Now as I turned to walk in the house, one of them said– I could hear in the back– He’s guilty.

Runyon: It’s a real ingenious device designed back in the 1800s, and Monsanto’s gonna close all of them out. So how many seed cleaners are out there in the country do you think? In the state of Indiana, there may be six. Maybe. I’m not aware of– Have they all been put out of business? There’s nobody left.

Runyon: When Monsanto soybeans first came on the market, I just never really switched over. I was getting pretty good yield with the conventional soybeans I’d been using, so I thought “Well, I’ll just stay where I’m at.” My neighbors all around me are all GMOs. If the pollen goes in, if the seed moves in, I am still held accountable. Pollan: When you genetically modify a crop, you own it. We’ve never had this in agriculture.

Roush: Used to be that your land-grant universities, they developed what was called public seed. The vast majority of the plant breeding was actually done in these public institutions Pollan: Monsanto is very much like Microsoft. The same way Microsoft owns the intellectual property behind most computers in America, they set out to own the intellectual property behind most of the food in America.

Roush: Public plant breeding is a thing of the past. There virtually are no public seeds anymore. Runyon: There’s only like four or five varieties that I can actually plant. Now I have some of the last soybeans coming out of the state of Illinois– When it comes to the point that I can’t buy any more certified seed, what do I do? What are my options? I acquired this list that was mailed to me. The black list here is Monsanto’s unauthorized growers list. Wow. Either farmers that have judgments against them, or businesses, or else it’s– or it’s farmers that have not submitted their paperwork, will not turn over their records. For my case, that’s why I’m on there– ’cause I would not turn over my records. Wow. I see two of the farmers that I work for on here. This list– now it comes down to the point where I cannot buy Monsanto products, okay? Right. So it’s coming down to What can I plant? Parr: Monsanto is suing me on the basis that I’m encouraging the farmer to break the patent law by cleaning their own seed. I haven’t been in a courtroom yet and my bill is already $25,000. People that were friends of mine now are reticent to even talk with me. We’ve been friends for 50 years, and now we can hardly be seen together. Right. I don’t think I’m really guilty, but it was cheaper to pay the fine than it was to try to fight it. …because if you think you’re right at something, but yet you admit you’re wrong.

Roush: Monsanto falsely accused us of violating their patent and breach of contract. None of it was true. You go into a market, you find a dominant farmer and if you can ruin them, you scare the rest of them to following the line. My family spent $400,000 fighting the battle, pretrial. And we were told it would take another million to take the thing to trial. We settled out of court. The way the system appeared to work to me was Lady Justice had the scales and you piled cash on the scales and the one that piled the most cash on the scales, hired the most experts and was most willing to tell the biggest lies, that was the winner. That seems to be how our justice system functions now. It’s terrible. It’s terrible. How can a farmer defend himself against a multinational corporation like Monsanto? I talked to a young man just three days ago. They’d been to his farm, you know? And this poor kid, he’s just starting out. His fianc¨¦e was there. I talked to her and tried to give them the best advice I could. Unfortunately the best advice I could give them was “Try to get out of this thing with your skin intact. Don’t fight ’em. You’ve got to roll over and give them what they want, ’cause you can’t defend yourself.” In the case of Monsanto, their control is so dominant. If you want to be in production agriculture, you’re gonna be in bed with Monsanto. They own the soybean. They are going to control that product from seed to the supermarket. They are, in effect, gaining control of food.

Pollan: There has been this revolving door between Monsanto’s corporate offices and the various regulatory and judicial bodies that have made the key decisions.

Roush: Justice Clarence Thomas was a Monsanto attorney. That wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t for one court case that really decided this whole seed-saving issue. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion in a case that allowed these companies to prevent farmers from saving their own seed. Pollan: Monsanto had very close ties to the Bush administration… and the Clinton administration. This goes to why we haven’t had much political debate over this radical change to our food system.

Pollan: For the last 25 years, our government has been dominated by the industries that it was meant to be regulating.

Schlosser: The challenge is as soon as you have people with expertise in industry, they may turn out to be very good regulators. It’s really about what interests they decide to represent. You’re talking about power– centralized power and that power is being used against the people who are really producing the food like the farmers. It’s being used against the workers who work for these companies and it’s being used against consumers who are deliberately being kept in the dark about what they’re eating, where it comes from and what it’s doing to their bodies. (kids laughing)

Woman: Good afternoon, Madame Chair and members. SB-63 is a consumer right-to-know measure. It simply requires that all foods that are cloned must be labeled as cloned foods. These cloned animals are a fundamentally new thing. But I find it incredible that the FDA not only wants to allow the sale of meat from cloned animals without further research, but also wants to allow the sale of this meat without any labeling. How many witnesses in opposition, please? Noelle Cremers with California Farm Bureau. And if I can point out– the reason that we are concerned with labeling is it creates unnecessary fear in a consumer’s mind. Until the industry has an opportunity to educate why we want to use this technology and the value of the technology, we don’t feel that consumers just having a warning label will help them. (chatting)

Pollan: These companies fight tooth and nail against labeling. The fast food industry fought against giving you the calorie information. They fought against telling you if there’s trans fat in their food. The meat packing industry for years prevented country-of-origin labeling. They fought not to label genetically modified foods, and now 78% of the processed food in the supermarket has some genetically- modified ingredient. I think it’s one of the most important battles for consumers to fight– is the right to know what’s in their food and how it was grown. Not only do they not want you to know what’s in it, they have managed to make it against the law to criticize their products. Man: Can you tell me how you’ve changed how you eat? Yeah, we– you’ll probably have to talk to an attorney before you would put this in there. What? You can say this is– we’ve stopped– I know, but– I could have the meat and poultry industry coming after me and I really– Seriously? For saying– that it’s so– It depends on the context. You’re not saying Someone else don’t eat it. Yeah, I’m sorry, Robbie, but I get asked this all the time. Initially, my reaction was “I don’t care. Let them sue me. Let them try and sue the mother of a dead child and see.” It’s pretty amazing that you can’t say – how you and your family have changed– (stammers) are different. The food industry has different protections than other industries do. We have a lot of questions about this mad cow disease.

Kowalcyk: If you recall the case where Oprah was sued by the meat industry for something she said on her show. It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger. – Good morning, y’all. it’s finally winding down? Well, I think I can say that, right? I can say that, yeah. I can see the end in sight.

Schlosser: In Colorado it’s a felony if you’re convicted under a veggie libel law. So you could go to prison for criticizing the ground beef that’s being produced in the state of Colorado. There is an effort in several farm states to make it illegal to publish a photo of any industrial food operation, any feedlot operation.

Schlosser: At the same time, they’ve also gotten bills passed that are called cheeseburger bills that make it very very difficult for you to sue them. These companies have legions of attorneys and they may sue even though they know they can’t win just to send a message. Man: We are on record for the deposition of Maurice Parr in the matter of Monsanto Company and Monsanto Technology versus Maurice Parr. your bank records in this case. Do you know that? Parr: I’ll tell you, what really scared me the most today was the fact that they have every check that I have written from every bank account that I’ve used in the last 10 years. Mr. Parr? Three. this Dell computer? Which ones are soybean seed cleaning customers? Parr: These people are not just customers, they’re personal friends. It’s extremely heart-wrenching for me to know that this list is in the possession of Monsanto. Harold Sinn? Beans only. Stephen Pennell: This is the first case in which a seed company is suing the person who does the cleaning of the seed. So if Monsanto’s claims are upheld in this case, that would not only put Moe out of business, but it would prohibit every grower in the country from doing what Moe does as a precedent in future cases. Have any of these customers specifically told you that they are not going to use Parr’s voice: This essentially puts me out of business. – Parr’s voice: I’m finished. Jerry Kaufman. Bill Zeering. Robert Duvall.

Pollan: We’ve had a food system that’s been dedicated to the single virtue of efficiency, so we grow a very small number of crops, a very small number of varieties, a very small number of companies. And even though you achieve efficiencies, the system gets more and more precarious. You will have a breakdown eventually. And where the breakdown comes in the system we don’t always know.

Roush: Modern production agriculture is highly dependent on large amounts of petroleum. Our farm, we’re going to use about 40,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year.

Pollan: We eat a lot of oil without knowing it. To bring a steer to slaughter, it’s 75 gallons of oil. So what we’re seeing is that this highly-efficient machine does not have the resilience to deal with shocks such as the spike in oil prices. Food prices last month were 3.9% higher than they were a year ago. Take corn, another basic source of food, up to a 12-year high.

Pollan: For a while, we could sell grains so cheaply anywhere in the world, farmers in other countries who aren’t being subsidized could not compete with us. So their capacity to grow food for themselves was compromised.

Roush: The world’s running out of food and nobody’s talking about it. We have no reserves. Man: There have been protests around the world. The food crisis has already brought down one government.

Pollan: A month doesn’t go by where there isn’t a story in the news that peels back the curtain on how that industrial food is made. (mooing pitifully) Man: Downer cows– too ill or lame to walk– being brutalized to get them to their feet for slaughter. Woman: Millions of gallons of concentrated hog manure flushing their contents downriver. Government’s food czar reported that there are no tools in place to track the origin of the latest salmonella outbreak.

Pollan: Every time one of these stories comes out, America learns a little bit more– what’s going on in the kitchen where their food is being prepared. And every time they turn away in revulsion and start looking for alternatives.

Hirshberg: The irony is that the average consumer does not feel very powerful. They think they are the recipients of whatever industry has put out there for them to consume. Trust me, it’s the exact opposite. When we run an item past the supermarket scanner, we’re voting for local or not, organic or not. At Wal-Mart, we made a decision about a year ago to go through a process of becoming rBST-free in our milk supply. We made that decision based on customer preference.

Hirshberg: Individual consumers changed the biggest company on earth and in so doing, probably put the last nail in the coffin for synthetic growth hormone.

Pollan: To eat well in this country costs more than to eat badly. It will take more money and some people simply don’t have it. And that’s one of the reasons that we need changes at the policy level, so that the carrots are a better deal than the chips.

Schlosser: People think “These companies are so big and so powerful, how are we ever going to change things?” But look at the tobacco industry. It had huge control over public policy and that control was broken. The battle against tobacco is a perfect model of how an industry’s irresponsible behavior can be changed. (people talking)

Salatin: Imagine what it would be if, as a national policy, we said we would be only successful if we had fewer people going to the hospital next year than last year. How about that for success? The idea then would be to have such nutritionally dense unadulterated food that people who ate it actually felt better, had more energy, and weren’t sick as much. Now see, that’s a noble goal.

Kowalcyk: I can’t change the fact that Kevin’s dead. When you tell somebody you’ve lost a child, I really don’t like that look of pity that comes into their eyes, that they feel sorry for me. I can have a pity party all by myself very well, thank you. I don’t need it from other people. What I need them to do is listen and help me effect a change. Roush: You have to understand that we farmers, we’re gonna deliver to the marketplace what the marketplace demands. If you want to buy $2 milk, you’re gonna get a feedlot in the backyard. It’s that simple. People have got to start demanding good, wholesome food of us. And we’ll deliver. I promise you. We’re very ingenious people. We’ll deliver. That’s all I had to say. (“This Land is Your Land” playing) (audience cheering)

When I rode that ribbon highway

I saw above me

The endless skyway

I saw below me

The golden valley

Well, this land was made for you and me

I roamed and rambled

I followed my footsteps

Through the sparkling sands of

Her diamond deserts

And all around me

A voice was calling

It said “This land was made for you and me”

This land is your land

This land is my land

From California

To the New York island

From the redwood forests

To the Gulf Stream waters

Well, this land was made for you and me

Now the sun came shining

And I was strolling

Through wheat fields waving

And dust clouds rolling

And a voice was sounding

As the fog was lifting

It said “This land was made for you and me”

This land is your land

This land is my land

From California

To the New York islands

From the redwood forest

To the Gulf Stream waters

Oh, this land was made for you and me.

(harmonica playing) (classical score playing)

A few interesting quotes here.
To read the full article go HERE.

The standard idea is to say, like my friend Alain Badiou in France, “those who are here are from here”. That is to say, no check for roots, open to all of them. Legalize everything. The problem is that they know very well that this radical opening will never happen. So it’s very easy to have a radical position which costs you nothing and for the price of nothing it gives you some kind of moral superiority. It also enables them to avoid the truly difficult questions.

Or, another thing that I really hate as a leftist who tries to be a communist – did you notice how the standard academic left likes nothing more than an attempted revolution going on, but far away from where you are? Today it’s Venezuela, which is why I like to be critical from time to time of Chavez. It’s a very comfortable position: you can do all the dirty work, you struggle for your career, compromises in your country in the west, but your heart is somewhere far away but it in no way affects what you are doing. This is another thing which I think is a fake.

I claim that we have two opponents: pro-capitalist liberals and old Marxists, as far as they still exist. They claim that it’s the same capitalism going on. This is obviously not true – in China and other places, something new is emerging.

This is typical theoretical arrogance. We don’t know what is going on. This is the point of my book: terrific new things are emerging. What’s going on in China today is something very ominous.

My position isn’t that we should sit down and wait for some big revolution to come. We have to engage wherever we can. If Obama wins his battle over healthcare, if some kind of a blow will made against this freedom of choice ideology, it will be a great victory worth having fought for.

All I’m saying is that one should distinguish between short-term battles worth fighting and short-term battles where your protest is of the kind that those in power like. There was a little bit of that in the marches against the Iraq war. Everyone was satisfied. Those who organised the protests knew they wouldn’t change anything. Blair like the protests – he or Bush said,

my god, they are telling the truth!” But this truth was easily appropriated by zionists, who say, “you see, that’s how you fight wars – we had to do it.” If you don’t change the ideological background, facts alone don’t do the job.

Theory is sacred, we need it more than ever.

When people ask me what we should do about ecology, the financial crisis – my god, what do I know? What I can do, as a critical intellectual, is to ask the right questions. Sometimes the way you formulate or perceive a problem can be itself be part of the problem. The classical example is tolerance. Why is it that we today automatically translate or perceive problems of racism or sexism into problems of tolerance.

The problem for me is that if we don’t want to end up in some kind of neo-authoritarian society, in which we’ll have all our private freedoms (…) but in which the social space will be depoliticized and much more authoritarian – here we should make a pact with liberals. Only a more fundamental questioning of our society can save us. It’s clear that we are approaching some kind of apocalyptic zero-point.

My unconditional insight is that we will be pushed into a situation where we will have to make a choice: either we do something or we are slowly approaching a society I’m not sure I’d like to live in.


The problem for us is not, Are our desires satisfied or not? The problem is, How do we know what we desire? There is nothing spontaneous, nothing natural,  about human desires. Our desires are artificial. We have to be taught to desire. Cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn’t give you what you desire, it tells you how to desire.

Oh, I do like you, but it just isn’t good enough.
Oh, I forgot. Your mother asked me up for supper.
Okay. Bring some ice cream with you, will you?
What kind do you want,chocolate or vanilla?

What we get in this wonderful clip from Possessed is commentary on the magic art of cinema within a movie. We have an ordinary working-class girl, living in a drab, small provincial town. All of a sudden she finds herself in a situation where reality itself reproduces the magic cinematic experience. She approaches the rail, the train is passing, and it is as if what in reality is just a person standing near a slowly passing train turns into a viewer observing the magic of the screen.

Have a drink?
Oh, don’t go away.
Looking in?
Wrong way.
Get in and look out.

We get a very real, ordinary scene onto which the heroine’s inner space, as it were, her fantasy space is projected, so that, although all reality is simply there, the train, the girl,part of reality in her perception and in our viewer’s perceptionis, as it were, elevated to the magic level, becomes the screen of her dreams. This is cinematic art at its purest.

This is your last chance.
After this there is no turning back.
You take the blue pill, the story ends.
You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.
You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

But the choice between the blue and the red pill is not really a choice between illusion and reality. Of course, the matrix is a machine for fictions, but these are fictions which already structure our reality. If you take away from our reality the symbolic fictions that regulate it, you lose reality itself.

I want a third pill. So what is the third pill? Definitely not some kind of transcendental pill which enables a fake, fast-food religious experience, but a pill that would enable me to perceive not the reality behind the illusion but the reality in illusion itself.

If something gets too traumatic, too violent, even too filled with enjoyment, it shatters the coordinates of our reality. We have to fictionalise it. The first key to horror films is to say, “Let’s imagine the same story but without the horror element.” This gives us, I think, the background.
We’re in the middle of Bodega Bay, where the action of Hitchcock’s Birds takes place. Birds is a film about a young, rich, socialite girl from San Francisco who falls in love with a guy, goes after him to Bodega Bay,where she discovers that he lives with his mother.

Of course, it’s none of my business, but when you bring a girl like that…  I think I can handle Melanie Daniels by myself. Well, as long as you know what you want, Mitch. I know exactly what I want. And then, there is the standard oedipal imbroglio of incestuous tension between mother and son, the son split between his possessive mother and the intrusive girl. What’s the matter with them? What’s the matter with all the birds?

Hurry up with yours, Mitch.
I’m sure Miss Daniels wants to be on her way.
I think you ought to stay the night, Melanie.
We have an extra room upstairs and everything.

The big question about The Birds, of course, is the stupid, obvious one, Why do the birds attack?

Mitch…It is not enough to say that the birds are part of the natural set-up of reality. It is rather as if a foreign dimension intrudes that literally tears apart reality. We humans are not naturally born into reality. In order for us to act as normal people who interact with other people who live in the space of social reality, many things should happen. Like, we should be properly installed within the symbolic order and so on. When this, our proper dwelling within a symbolic space, is disturbed, reality disintegrates.

So, to propose the psychoanalytic formula, the violent attacks of the birds are obviously explosive outbursts of maternal superego, of the maternal figure preventing, trying to prevent sexual relationship. So the birds are raw, incestuous energy. What am I doing? I’m sorry, now I got it.My God, I’m thinking like Melanie. You know what I’m thinking now? I want to fuck Mitch. That’s what she was thinking. No. Sorry, sorry, sorry. I meant that I got this spontaneous confusion of directions.

Mrs Bates. We are in the cellar of the mother’s house from Psycho. What’s so interesting is that the very disposition of mother’s house… Events took place in it at three levels, first floor, ground floor, basement. It is as if they reproduce the three levelsof human subjectivity. Ground floor is ego. Norman behaves there as a normal son, whatever remains of his normal ego taking over.Up there, it’s the superego.Maternal superego, because the dead mother is basically a figure of superego.

No, Mother.
I’m gonna bring something up. I am sorry, boy, but you do manage to look ludicrous
No, I will not hide in the fruit cellar.
You think I’m fruity, huh?

And down in the cellar, it’s the id, the reservoir of these illicit drives. So we can then interpret the event in the middle of the film, when Norman carries the mother or, as we learn at the end, mother’s mummy, corpse, skeleton, from the first floor to the cellar.

You won’t do it again.
Not ever again.
Now get out.
I’ll carry you, Mother.

It’s as if he is transposing her in his own mindas the psychic agency from superego to id.

Put me down. Put me down.
I can walk on my own…

Of course, the lesson of it is the old lessone laborated already by Freud, that superego and id are deeply connected.The mother complains first, as a figure of authority, mother immediately turns into obscenity, Do you think I’m fruity? Superego is not an ethical agency. Superego is an obscene agency, bombarding us with impossible orders, laughing at us, when, of course, we cannot ever fulfil its demand. The more we obey it, the more it makes us guilty. There is always some aspect of an obscene madman in the agency of the superego.

We often find references to psychoanalysis embodied in the very relations between persons. For example, the three Marx Brothers, Groucho, Chico, Harpo. It’s clear that Groucho, the most popular one, with his nervous hyper-activity, is superego.

Well, that covers a lot of ground.
Say, you cover a lot of ground yourself. You better beat it.
I hear they’re gonna tear you down and put up an office building where you’re standing.
You can leave in a taxi. If you can’t geta taxi, you can leave in a huff.
If that’s too soon, you can leave in a minute and a half. You know you haven’t stopped talking since I came here?

Chico, the rational guy, egotistic, calculating all the time, is ego.

Chicolini, you’re charged with high treason,and if found guilty, you’ll be shot.
I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
Objection sustained.

And, the weirdest of them all, Harpo, the mute guy, he doesn’t talk. Freud said that drives are silent. He doesn’t talk. He, of course, is id. Who are you guys?

What are you doing in my room?
That’s my partner. But he no speak.
He’s dumb and deaf.

The id in all its radical ambiguity. Namely, what is so weird about the Harpo character is that he’s childishly innocent, just striving for pleasure, likes children, plays with children and so on. But, at the same time, possessed by some kind of primordial evil, aggressive all the time. And this unique combination of utter corruption and innocenceis what the id is about.

Get off there.
Get off that table.
What do you think this is here, anyway?
Put that down.
Lunatic! Stop that, here!
Here, let it alone.
Yes, I’m Dr Klein. This is Dr Taney.
I’m Sharon. Things have gotten worsesince I phoned you.I think you better come upstairs.
Yeah, but they’ve gotten violent.
Did you give her the medication?Voice is not an organic part of a human body.
It’s coming from somewherein between your body.

Mother, please! -Please, Mother, make it stop!
What is it? What’s happening?
It’s burning! It’s burning!
Do something, Doctor.
Please, help her!
Whenever we talk to another person, there is always this minimum of ventriloquist effect, as if some foreign power took possession. Let the enemy have no power over her. And the son of iniquity be powerless to harm her.

You mother sucks cocks in hell, Karras, you faithless swine!

Remember that at the beginning of the film, this was a beautiful young girl.H ow did she become a monster that we see? By being possessed, but who possessed her? A voice. A voice in its obscene dimensions. See the cross of the Lord.
Begone, you hostile powers.
The first big filmabout this traumatic dimension of the voice, the voice which freely floats aroundand is a traumatic presence, feared, the ultimate moment or object of anxiety which distorts reality, was in ’31 , in Germany, Fritz Lang’s The Testament of Dr Mabuse.

You and the woman will not leave this room alive.
Monster! Stop, please!

We do not see Mabuse till the end of the film. He is just a voice.

You will not leave this room alive.
And to redeem through your son, who lives and reigns with youin the unity of the Holy Spirit,God, forever and ever.  So, the problem is, which is whywe have the two priests at her side, how to get rid of this intruder, of this alien intruder. It is as if we are expecting the famous scene from Ridley Scott’s Alien to repeat itself. As if we just wait for some terrifying, alien,evil-looking, small animal to jump out.There is a fundamental imbalance, gap, between our psychic energy, called by Freud “libido”, this endless undeadenergy which persists beyond life and death, and the poor, finite, mortal reality of our bodies.

This is not just the pathology of being possessed by ghosts. The lesson that we should learn and that the movies try to avoid is that we ourselves are the aliens. Our ego, our psychic agency, is an alien force, distorting, controlling our body. Nobody was as fully aware of the properly traumatic dimension of the human voice, the human voice not as the sublime, ethereal medium for expressing the depth of human subjectivity, but the human voice as a foreign intruder. Nobody was more aware of this than Charlie Chaplin.

Chaplin himself plays in the film two persons, the good, small, Jewish barber and his evil double, Hynkel, dictator. Hitler, of course.

He bit my finger. The Jewish barber, the tramp figure, is of course the figure of silent cinema. Silent figures are basically like figures in the cartoon. They don’t know death. They don’t know sexuality even. They don’t know suffering. They just go on in their oral, egotistic striving, like cats and mice in a cartoon. You cut them into pieces, they’re reconstituted. There is no finitude, no mortality here. There is evil, but a kind of naive, good evil. You’re just egotistic, you want to eat, you want to hit the other, but there is no guilt proper. What we get with sound is interiority, depth, guilt,culpability,in other words, the complex oedipal universe.Here you are.Get a Hynkel button. Get a Hynkel button. A fine sculpture with a hooey on each and every button.

The problem of the filmis not only the political problem, how to get rid of totalitarianism, of its terrible seductive power, but it’s also this more formal problem, how to get rid of this terrifying dimension of the voice. Or, since we can not simply get rid of it, how to domesticate it, how to transform this voice nonetheless into the means of expressing humanity, love and so on.
German police grabs the poor tramp thinking this is Hitler and he has to address a large gathering.

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor.
That’s not my business.
I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone.
I should like to help everyone, if possible.
Jew, gentile, black man, white,we all want to help one another.
Human beings are like that.

There, of course, he delivers his big speech about the need for love, understanding between people. But there is a catch, even a double catch.

Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

People applaud exactly in the same way as they were applauding Hitler. The music that accompanies this great humanist finale, the overture to Wagner’s opera, Lohengrin,is the same music as the one we hear when Hitler is daydreaming about conquering the entire world and where he has a balloon in the shape of the globe. The music is the same.

This can be read as the ultimate redemption of music, that the same music which served evil purposescan be redeemed to serve the good. Or it can be read, and I think it should be read,in a much more ambiguous way, that with music, we can not ever be sure. In so far as it externalises our inner passion, music is potentially always a threat.

There is a short scene in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, which takes place in the theatre where we are now, where behind the microphone a woman is singing, then out of exhaustion or whatever, she drops down. Surprisingly, the singing goes on. Immediately afterwards, it is explained. It was a playback. But for that couple of seconds when we are confused, we confront this nightmarish dimension of an autonomous partial object. Like in the well-known adventureof Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, where the cat disappears, the smile remains.

You may have noticed that I’m not all there myself. And the mome raths outgrabe. The fascinating thing about partial objects, in the sense of organs without bodies, is that they embody what Freud called “death drive”. Here, we have to be very careful. Death drive is not kind of a Buddhist striving for annihilation. I want to find eternal peace. I want… No. Death drive is almost the opposite. Death drive is the dimension of what in the Stephen King-like horror fiction is called the dimension of the undead, of living dead, of something which remains alive even after it is dead. And it’s, in a way, immortal in its deadness itself. It goes on, insists. You can not destroy it. The more you cut it, the more it insists, it goes on. This dimension, of a kind of diabolical undeadness, is what partial objects are about.

The nicest example here for me, I think, is Michael Powell’s Red Shoes, about a ballerina. Her passion for dancing is materialised in her shoes taking over. The shoes are literally the undead object. Perhaps the ultimate bodily part which fits this role of the autonomous partial objectis the fist, or rather, the hand. This hand, raising up, that’s the whole point of the film. It’s not simply something foreign to him. It’s the very core of his personality out there.

Security? I am Jack’s smirking revenge.
What the hell are you doing?
That hurt.
Far from standing for some kind of perverted masochismor reactionary fantasy of violence, this scene is deeply liberating. I am here, as it were, on the side of the fist. I think this is what liberation means. In order to attack the enemy, you first have to beat the shit out of yourself. To get rid, in yourself, of that whichin yourself attaches you to the leader, to the conditions of slavery, and so on and so on.

No, please stop! What are you doing?
Oh, God, no, please! No!
For some reason, I thought of my first fight, with Tyler.
There is always this conflict between me and my double. Motherfucker!
Well, Jesus. I’m sorry.  No, that was perfect.

It is as if the double embodies myself,but without the castrated dimension of myself. There is an episode in the wonderful British horror classic, Dead of Night…

I knew you wouldn’t leave me, Hugo.
I knew you’d come back….

in which Michael Redgrave plays a ventriloquist who gets jealous of his puppet.

Now don’t get excited, I was only joking.You know me.
Take your hands off me!-Stop playing!-Maxwell!
Here, you fool! Officer, quickly, open this door.

In an outburst of violence, he destroys the puppet, breaks down, then in the very last scene of the film we see him in the hospital, slowly regaining consciousness, coming back to himself. First his voice is stuck in the throat. Then, with great difficulty, finally, he is able to talk,but he talks with the distorted voice of the dummy. Why,
hello, Sylvester. I’ve been waiting for you.

And the lesson is clear. The only way for me to get rid of this autonomous partial objectis to become this object.

Okay, I’m ready. Wait a minute. So that I don’t confuse them… Where is my key? My key is here. This one is here. Okay, any… You shout when. I’m standing on the very balcony where the murder, the traumatic murder scene, occurs in Conversation. The murder of the husband, observed through the stained glass in front of me by the private detective, Gene Hackman. The detective is in the nearby room.  Significantly, just before he sees the murder, he observes the balcony through a crack in the glass wall.

Whenever we have this famous, proverbial peeping Tom scene of somebody observing traumatic events through a crack, it’s never as if we are dealing with two parts on both sides of the wall of the same reality. Before seeing anythingor imagining to see something, he tries to listen. He behaves as an eavesdropper,with all his private detective gadgets.What does this make him?Potentially, at least,it makes him into a fantasised, imagined entity.

I can’t stand it.I can’t stand it anymore.
You’re going to make me cry.
I know, honey. I know. Me, too.
No, don’t.
I have no idea what you’re talking about.

He doesn’t fantasise the scene of the murder.He fantasises himself as a witness to the murder.
I love you.
What he sees on that blurred window glass, which effectively functionsas a kind of elementary screen, cinematic screen even, that should be perceivedas a desperate attempt to visualise,hallucinate even, the bodily, material support of what he hears.

Shut up! It’s “Daddy”, you shithead!
Where’s my bourbon?
Dorothy’s apartmentis one of those hellish places which abound in David Lynch’s films. A places where all moral or social inhibitions seem to be suspended, where everything is possible. The lowest, masochistic sex, obscenities, the deepest level of our desires that we are not even ready to admit to ourselves, we are confronted with them in such places.

Spread your legs.
Now show it to me.
Don’t you fucking look at me.

From what perspective should we observe this scene? Imagine the scene as that of a small child, hidden in a closet or behind a door…


witnessing the parental intercourse. He doesn’t yet know what sexuality is, how we do it.All he knows is what he hears, this strange deep breathing sound, and then he tries to imagine what goes on.
At the very beginning of Blue Velvet, we see Jeffrey’s father having a heart attack, falling down. We have the eclipse of the normal, paternal authority.

Baby wants to fuck!
It is as if Jeffrey fantasises this wild parental couple of Dorothy and Frankas kind of a fantasmatic supplement to the lack of the real paternal authority.
Get ready to fuck, you fucker’s fucker!
You fucker!
Don’t you fucking look at me!

Frank, not only obviously acts, but even overacts. It is as if his ridiculously excessive gesticulating, shouting and so on, are here to cover up something. The point is, of course, the elementary one, to convince the invisible observer that father is potent, to cover up father’s impotence. So the second way to read the scene would have been as a spectacle, a ridiculously violent spectacle, set up by the father to convince the son of his power, of his over-potency. The third way would have been to focus on Dorothy herself.

Many feminists, of course, emphasise the brutality against women in this scene, the abuse, how the Dorothy character is abused. There is obviously this dimension in it. But I think one should risk a more shocking and obverse interpretation.

What if the central, as it were, problem, of this entire scene is Dorothy’s passivity?Don’t you fucking look at me!So what if what Frank is doing is a kind of a desperate, ridiculous, but nonetheless effective attempt of trying to help Dorothy, to awaken her out of her lethargy, to bring her into life? So if Frank is anybody’s fantasy, maybe he is Dorothy’s fantasy. There is kind of a strange, mutual interlocking of fantasies. You stay alive, baby. It’s not only ambiguity, but oscillation between three focal points.This, I think, is what accounts for the strange reverberations of this scene.

This brings us to our third and maybe crucial example, what is for me the most beautiful shot in the entire Vertigo. The shot in which we see Scottie in a position of a peeping Tom, observing through a crack. It is as if Madeleine is really there in common reality, while Scottie is peeping at her from some mysterious inter-space, from some obscure netherworld. This is the location of the imagined, fantasised gaze. Gaze is that obscure point, the blind spot, from which the object looked upon returns the gaze.

After suspecting that a murder is taking place in the nearby hotel room, Gene Hackman, playing the private detective, enters this room and inspects the toilet. The moment he approaches the toilet in the bathroom,it is clear that we are in Hitchcock territory. It is clear that some kind of intense, implicit dialogue with Psycho is going on.

In a very violent gesture, as if adopting the role of Norman Bates’mother, the murderer in Psycho, he opens up the curtain, inspects it in detail, looking for traces of blood there, even inspecting the gap, the hole,at the bottom of the sink. Which is precisely another of these focal objects, because in Psycho, the hole, through fade-out, the hole is morphed into the eye, returning the gaze.

We say the eye is the window of the soul. But what if there is no soul behind the eye? What if the eye is a crack through which we can perceive just the abyss of a netherworld? When we look through these cracks, we see the dark, other side, where hidden forces run the show. It is as if Gene Hackman establishes, of fascination, the toilet bowl. “He flushes it,and then the terrible thing happens. In our most elementary experience, when we flush the toilet, excrements simply disappear out of our reality into another space, which we phenomeno logically perceiveas a kind of a netherworld, another reality, a chaotic, primordial reality. And the ultimate horror, of course, is if the flushing doesn’t work, if objects return, if remainders, excremental remainders, return from that dimension.The bathroom. Hitchcock is all the time playing with this threshold.

Well, they’ve cleaned all this up now.
Big difference. You should’ve seen the blood.
The whole place was… Well, it’s too horrible to describe. Dreadful!

The most effective for me and even the most touching scene of the entire Psycho, is after the shower murder, when Norman Bates tries to clean the bathroom. I remember clearly when in my adolescence I first saw the film, how deeply I was impressed not only by the length of the scene, it goes on almost for 10 minutes, details of cleansing and so on and so on, but also by the care, meticulousness, how it is done,and also by our spectator’s identification with it.

I think that this tells us a lot about the satisfaction of work, of a job well done. Which is not so much to construct something new, but maybe human work at its most elementary, work, as it were, at the zero level, is the work of cleaning the traces of a stain. The work of erasing the stains, keeping at bay this chaotic netherworld, which threatens to explode at any time and engulf us.I think this is the fine sentiment that Hitchcock’s films evoke. It’s not simply that something horrible happens in reality. Something worse can happen which undermines the very fabric of what we experience as reality.

I think it’s very important how the first attack of the birds occurs in the film. Precisely when Melanie crosses this bay. At first, we even don’t perceive it as a bird. As if some stain appeared within the frame. When a fantasy object, something imagined, an object from inner space, enters our ordinary realty, the texture of reality is twisted, distorted. This is how desire inscribes itself into reality,by distorting it. Desire is a wound of reality. The art of cinema consists in arousing desire, to play with desire. But, at the same time, keeping it at a safe distance, domesticating it, rendering it palpable. When we spectators are sitting in a movie theatre, looking at the screen…

You remember, at the very beginning, before the picture is on, it’s a black, dark screen, and then light thrown on. Are we basically not staring into a toilet bowland waiting for things to reappear out of the toilet? And is the entire magic of a spectacle shown on the screen not a kind of a deceptive lure, trying to conceal the fact that we are basically watching shit, as it were?

There was a young lady of Ongar Who had an affair with a conger They said, “How does it feel To sleep with an eel?” Well, she said, “just like a man, only longer” Usually, people read the lesson of Freudian psychoanalysis as if the secret meaning of everything is sexuality. But this is not what Freud wants to say. I think Freud wants to say the exact opposite. It’s not that everythingis a metaphor for sexuality, that whatever we are doing, we are always thinking about that. The Freudian question is, but what are we thinking when we are doing that? If I may be a little bit impertinent and relate to an unfortunate experience, probably known to most of us, how it happens that while one is engaged in sexual activity, all of a sudden one feels stupid. One loses contact with it. As if, “My God, what am I doing here, doing these stupid repetitive movements?” And so on and so on. Nothing changes in reality, in these strange moments where I, as it were, disconnect. It’s just that I lose the fantasmatic support. In sexuality, it’s never only me and my partner, or more partners, whatever you are doing. It’s always… There has to be always some fantasmatic element. There has to be some third imagined element which enables me, to engage in sexuality.

There is an irresistible power of fascination, at least for me, in this terrifying scene when Neo awakens from his sleep within the matrix and becomes aware of what he really is in that foetal container,floating in liquid, connected to virtual reality, where you are reduced to a totally passive object with your energy being sucked out of you. So why does the Matrix need our energy? I think the proper way to ask this questionis to turn it around. Not why does the matrix need the energy, but why does the energy need the matrix? That is to say, since I think that the energy we are talking about is libido, is our pleasure, why does our libido need the virtual universe of fantasies? Why can’t we simply enjoy it directly,a sexual partner and so on?

That’s the fundamental question. Why do we need this virtual supplement? Our libido needs an illusion in order to sustain itself. One of the most interesting motifs in science fiction is that of the id machine, an object which has the magic capacity of directly materialising, realising in front of us, our innermost dreams, desires, even guilt feelings. There is a long tradition of this in science fiction films, but of course the film about id machine is Andrei Tarkovsky’s, Solaris.

Solaris is the story of Kelvin, a psychologist, who is sent by a rocket to a spaceship circulating around Solaris, a newly discovered planet. Strange things are reported from the spaceship. All the scientists there are going crazy, and then Kelvin discovers what is going on there. This planet has the magic ability to directly realise your deepest traumas, dreams, fears, desires. The innermost of your inner space. The hero of the film finds one morning his deceased wife, who made suicide years ago. So he realises not so much his desire, as his guilt feeling. When the hero is confronted with the spectral clone, as it were, of his deceased wife, although he appears to be deeply sympathetic, spiritual, reflecting and so on, his basic problem is how to get rid of her. What makes Solaris so touching is that, at least potentially, it confronts us with this tragic subjective position of the woman, his wife, who is aware that she has no consistency, no full being of her own.

I don’t even know my own self.
Who am I?
As soon as I close my eyes I can’t recall what my face is like.

For example, she has gaps in her memory because she knows only what he knows that she knows.
Do you know who you are?
All humans do.

She is just his dream realised. And her true love for him is expressed in her desperate attempts to erase herself, to swallow poison or whatever, just to clear the space, because she guesses that he wants this. It’s horrifying, isn’t it? I’ll never get used to these constant resurrections! It’s relatively easy to get rid of a real person. You can abandon him or her, kill him or her, whatever. But a ghost, a spectral presence, is much more difficult to get rid of. It sticks to you as a kind of a shadowy presence.

You’re lying!
Stop it! I must be looking disgusting!

What we get here is the lowest male mythology. This idea that woman doesn’t exist on her own. That a woman is merely a man’s dream realised or even, as radical, anti-feminists claim, the man’s guilt realised. Women exist because male desire got impure. If man cleanses his desire,gets rid of dirty material, fantasies, woman ceases to exist. At the end of the film, we get a kind of a Holy Communion, a reconciliation of him not with his wife, but with his father.

Did you see Hitchcock’s Vertigo?
Sorry, I don’t understand.
Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the film.
Alfred Hitchcock.
I think it happened here, you know.
Oh, you don’t know the scene, okay.

Often things begin as a fake, inauthentic, artificial, but you get caught into your own game. And that is the true tragedy of Vertigo. It’s a story about two people who, each in his or her own way, get caught into their own game of appearances. For both of them, for Madeleine and for Scottie, appearances win over reality. What is the story of Vertigo? It’s a story about a retired policeman who has a pathological fear of heights because of an incident in his career, and then an old friend hires him to follow his beautiful wife, played by Kim Novak.

The wife mysteriously possessed by the ghost of a past deceased Spanish beauty, Carlotta Valdes. The two fall in love. The wife kills herself. The first part of Vertigo, with Madeleine’s suicide, is not as shattering as it could have been, because it’s really a terrifying loss, but in this very loss, the ideal survives. The idea of the fatal woman possesses you totally. What, ultimately, this image, fascinating image of the fatal woman stands for is death. The fascination of beauty is always the veil which covers up a nightmare. Like the idea of a fascinating creature, but if you come too close to her, you see shit, decay, you see worms crawling everywhere.

The ultimate abyss is not a physical abyss, but the abyss of the depth of another person. It’s what philosophers describe as the night of the world. Like when you see another person, into his or her eyes, you see the abyss. That’s the true spiral which is drawing us in.

Scottie alone, broken down, cannot forget her, wanders around the city looking for a woman, a similar woman, something like the deceased woman, discovers an ordinary, rather vulgar, common girl. The douement of the story, of course,is along the lines of the Marx Brothers’ joke, This man is an idiot. “The newly found woman looks like Madeleine, acts like Madeleine, the fatal beauty. We discover she is Madeleine. What we learn is that Scottie’s friend, who hired Scottie, also hired this woman, Judy, to impersonate Madeleine in a devilish plot to kill the real Madeleine, his wife, and get her fortune.

We could just see a lot of each other.

Why? ‘

Cause I remind you of her? It’s not very complimentary.

The profile shot in Vertigo is perhaps the key shot of the entire film. We have there Madeleine’s, or rather Judy’s, identity in all its tragic tension. It provides the dark background for the fascinating other profile of Madeleine in Ernie’s restaurant. Scottie is too ashamed, afraid to look at her directly. It is as if what he sees is the stuff of his dreams, more real in a way for him than the reality of the woman behind his back.

That’s not very complimentary, either.

I just want to be with you as much as I can, Judy.

When we see a face, it’s basically always the half of it. A subject is a partial something, a face, something we see. Behind it, there is a void, a nothingness. And of course, we spontaneously tend to fill in that nothingness with our fantasies about the wealth of human personality, and so on. To see what is lacking in reality, to see it as that, there you see subjectivity. To confront subjectivity meansto confront femininity. Woman is the subject. Masculinity is a fake. Masculinity is an escape from the most radical, nightmarish dimension of subjectivity.

I’m trying to buy you a suit.
But I love the second one she wore.
And this one, it’s beautiful.
No, no. They’re none of them right.
I think I know the suit you mean.
We had it some time ago.
Let me go and see.
We may still have that model. Thank you.
You’re looking for the suit that she wore, for me.
I know the kind of suitthat would look well on you.
No, I won’t do it!
Judy.It can’t make that much differenceto you.
I just want to see what…

No, I don’t want any clothes.I don’t want anything.
Here we are.-Yes, that’s it. When Judy, refashioned as Madeleine, steps out of the door, it’s like fantasy realised. And, of course, we have a perfect name for fantasy realised. It’s called “nightmare”. Fantasy realised. What does this mean? Of course, it is always sustained by an extreme violence. The violence in this case of Scottie’s brutal refashioning of Judy, a real, common girl, into Madeleine. It’s truly a process of mortification, which also is the mortification of woman’s desire.

It is as if in order to have her, to desire her, to have sexual intercourse with her, with the woman, Scottie has to mortify her, to change her into a dead woman. It’s as if, again, for the male libidinal economy, to paraphrase a well-known old saying, the only good woman is a dead woman. Scottie is not really fascinated by her, but by the entire scene, the staging. He is looking around, checking up, are the fantasmatic co-ordinates really here? At that point when the reality fully fits fantasy, Scottie is finally able to realise the long-postponed sexual intercourse. So the result of this violence is a perfect co-ordination between fantasy and reality. A kind of direct short-circuit.

In Lynch’s films, darkness is really dark. Light is really unbearable, blinding light. Fire really hurts, it’s so hot. At those moments of sensual over-intensity, it is as if events on screen itself, threatens to overflow the screen and to grab us into it, to reach towards us. It’s again as if the fantasy-space, the fictional, narrative space, gets too intenseand reaches out towards us spectators so that we lose our safe distance. This is the proper tension of the Lynchian universe. The beauty of Lynch, if you look closely, it’s never clear. Is it really the brutal real out there which disturbs us, or is it our fantasy?

At the very beginning of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, we see an idyllic, American small town. What can be more normal than father of the family, in front of a white clean house, watering the lawn? But all of a sudden, father has a heart seizure, falls down to the grass. And then, instead of showing the family confused, calling for an ambulance, whatever, Lynch does something typically Lynchian. The camera moves extremely close to the grass, even penetrates the grass, and we see what is the real of this idyllic green lawn.

We should not forget this, how this happens precisely when father has a seizure. That is to say when, symbolically, the paternal authority breaks down.

I’ll send you straight to hell, fucker!
In dreams, I walk with you.
In dreams, I talk to you.

The logic here is strictly Freudian, that is to say we escape into dream to avoid a deadlock in our real life. But then, what we encounter in the dream is even more horrible, so that at the end, we literally escape from the dream, back into reality. It starts with, dreams are for those who can not endure, who are not strong enough for reality. It ends with, reality is for those who are not strong enough to endure, to confront their dreams.

Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive are two versions of the same film. What makes both films, especially Lost Highway, so interesting is how they posit the two dimensions, reality and fantasy, side by side, horizontally, as it were.

It must be from a real estate agent.

What we get in Lost Highway is the drab, grey,upper-middle-class suburban reality. Hero, married to Patricia Arquette, obviously terrorised by the enigma of his wife, who doesn’t respond properly to his advances. When they have sexual intercourse, he miserably fails. What he gets from her is a kind of a patronising pat on the shoulder. It’s okay. It’s okay. Total humiliation.It’s okay. After killing her in an act of frustration, the hero enters his fantasy-space, where he, as it were, reinvents not only himself, but his entire social environs. Captain, this is some spooky shit we got here. In what? In a kind of a universe which we usually found in film noir.

The hero’s wife, who is a brunette, becomes a blonde. In reality, she’s restrained. Here, she praises the hero within the fantasy-space all the time for his sexual capacities and so on. So it seems as if the dream is the realisation of what he was looking for. In reality, the obstacle was inherent. Their sexual liaison simply didn’t function. Within the fantasy-space, the obstacle is externalised. It’s a beautiful day. Mr Eddy is the master of Patricia Arquette within the fantasy-space. He is the obstacle to sexual intercourse.

If I ever found out somebody was making out with her, I’d take this and I’d shove it so far up his ass, it would come out his mouth.

The properly uncanny moments are those when the second shift occurs, when the fantasy-space, the dreamscape, as it were, is already disintegrating, but we are not yet back into reality. This intermediate space, neither fantasy-space nor reality, this space of a kind of primordial violence, dispersion, onto logical confusion… This is the most subversive moment, the true horror of these films. Towards the end of this fantasy episode, when we get the sexual act, there the woman also avoids the hero.

You’ll never have me. Whispering, “You will never have me.”

And at that traumatic point, we are drawn back to reality, when the hero encounters exactly the same deadlock. What the film truly is about, its focal point, it’s not the hero, it’s of course the enigma of feminine desire.

You’re a mystery.
I like you very much.

The enigma of feminine subjectivity in David Lynch’s films, it’s a gap between cause and effect. You do something to a woman, but you never know what the reaction will be.
Jeffrey, don’t, please.
My relationship towards tulips is inherently Lynchian. I think they are disgusting. Just imagine. Aren’t these some kind of, how do you call it, vagina dentata, dental vaginas threatening to swallow you? I think that flowers are something inherently disgusting. I mean, are people aware what a horrible thing these flowers are? I mean, basically it’s an open invitationto all the insects and bees, Come and screw me, you know? I think that flowers should be forbidden to children.

Suddenly I saw two figures jumping about on the rocks above us.
They hid and peeped out occasionally.
There are two boys looking at us, I said to her.
Her name was Katarina.
Well, let them look, she said,and turned on her back.
It was such a strange feeling.
I wanted to run out and put onmy costume, but I just lay still…
On my belly with my bum in the air, totally unembarrassed, totally calm.

We men, at least in our standard phallogocentric mode of sexuality, even when we are doing it with the real woman, we are effectively doing it with our fantasy. Woman is reduced to a masturbatory prop. Woman arouses us in so far as she enters our fantasy frame. With women, it’s different. The true enjoyment is not in doing it but in telling about it afterwards. Of course, women do enjoy sex immediately, but I hope I’m permitted as a man to propose a daring hypothesis, that maybe, while they are doing it, they already enact or incorporate this minimal narrative distance, so that they are already observing themselves and narrativising it.

There is in Ingmar Bergman’s Personaa wonderful scene where Bibi Andersson tells to mute Liv Ullmann, a story about small orgy on a beach which took place years ago. This scene is so erotic precisely because Bergman successfully resisted the temptation of a flashback. No flashback. Just words. Probably one of the most erotic scenesin the entire history of cinema.

Katarina unbuttoned his trousers and started playing with him. When he came she took him in her mouth.
He bent down and started kissing her on the back
She turned around, took his head in both hands and gave him her breast.
The other boy got so excited, so he and I started again. It was as nice as the first time.
Then we swam and parted.
When Icame back, Karl-Henrik had returned.
We had dinner together and drank the red wine he had with him.
Then we slept together.
It’s never been as good, before or since.
Can you understand that?

Although sexuality seems to be about bodies,it’s not really about bodies. It is how bodily activity is reported in words.

Well… I first saw him that morning in the lobby. He was… He was checking into the hotel and he was following the bellboy with his luggage to the elevator. He…He glanced at me as he walked past. Just a glance. Nothing more. But I could hardly move.

Eyes Wide Shut is a film which has an incredibly precise lesson about fantasy. She tells him, not about herself effectively cheating him, but about fantasising about cheating him with some naval officer they met in a hotel and so on and so on. The entire film is his desperate attempt to catch up with her fantasy, which ends in a failure. Many people don’t like, in that mysterious rich people’s castle where they meet for their orgies, the big orgy. They complain, this orgy is aseptic, totally non-attractive, without erotic tension. But I think that’s the point. This utter impotence of male fantasising.

The film is the story of how the male fantasy can not catch up with the feminine fantasy, of how there is too much of desire in feminine fantasy and how this is the threat to male identity. Isn’t it that in Vertigo, on the contrary, all of the activity is on the side of Scottie? But I think that precisely because of this, his activity is extremely brutal, mortifying. He has totally to erase the woman as a desiring entity. That’s for him the condition to desire.

The other solution is, of course, the masochist solution, which is, of my inferiority.

But I do love you. And you know there is something very important that we need to do as soon as possible.
What’s that?

It’s as if our inner psychic space is too wild and sometimes we have to make love, not to get the real thing but to escape from the real, from the excessive real that we encounter in our fantasising. The point is the fragile balance between reality and fantasy dimension in our sexual activity.

Michael Haneke’s Piano Teacher is the story of an impossible love affair between a middle-aged, deeply traumatised woman and her young student. She’s in a way a person who is not yet sexually subjectivised. She lacks the fantasmatic co-ordinates of her desire. This accounts for a couple of very strange scenes in the film, like when she goes to a pornographic store and then watches in a closed, small rooma scene from a hardcore film.The way she watches it, it’s not to get aroused,but she watches it as a pupil in a school. She simply watches it to get the co-ordinates of desiring, to learn how to do it, how to get excited.

The notion of fantasy in psychoanalysisis very ambiguous. On the one hand,we have the pacifying aspect of fantasy. Piano Teacher plays with the opposite aspect of fantasy. Fantasy as the explosion of wild, unbearable desires. What we found in the middle of the film is probably, arguably, the most depressive sexual act in the entire history of cinema. As if to punish her for disclosing the fantasy in her letter to him, he literally enacts her fantasy in the way he makes love to her, which of course means that fantasy is lost for her. When fantasy disintegrates, you don’t get reality, you get some nightmarish real too traumatic to be experienced as ordinary reality. That would be another definition of nightmare. Hell is here. Paradise, at least this perverse paradise, is hell. Stop, please. One cannot here just throw out the dirty water, all these excessive, perverse fantasies and so on, and just keep the healthy, clean baby, normal, straight or even homosexual, whatever, but some kind of normal, politically correct sex. You cannot do that. What if we throw out the baby and keep just the dirty water? And put it as a problem: how to deal with dirty water. And put some order in the dirty water of fantasies. This is I think precisely what happens for example in Kieslowski’s Blue. During the …

were you conscious?
I’m sorry to have inform you…
Do you know?
Your husband…died in the accident.
You must have been unconscious.
Yes, your daughter, too.

You can organise, people do it, your life in mourning the lost object. Julie, in Blue, discovers that her husband wasn’t what she thought he was. That he was cheating her, that he had a mistress who is pregnant. This is the most terrifying loss, where all the co-ordinates of your reality disintegrate. The problem is how to reconstitute yourself. In a wonderful short scene, the heroine of Blue, after returning home, finds there on the floora group of newly-born mice, crawling around their mother. This scene terrifies her. She is too excessively exposed to life in its brutal meaninglessness. What she is able to do at the end is to acquire a proper distance towards reality. This is what happens in the famous circular shot where we pass from Julie’s face, while she is making love. This magical suspension of temporal and spatial limitations, this free floating in a fantasy-space, far from distancing us from reality… If I have not love… enables us to approach reality. I am nothing She is putting together the co-ordinates which enable her to experience her reality as meaningful again. As if the lesson is, not only for men but also for women, that you can sustain sexual intercourse, sexual relationship, only through the support of fantasy. The problem of course is, is this fantasy reconstituted? Is this the ultimate horizon of our experience? The function of music here is precisely that of a fetish, of some fascinating presence whose function it is to conceal the abyss of anxiety.

Music is here what, according to Marx, religion is, a kind of opium for the people. Opium which should put us asleep, put us into a kind of a false beatitude, which allows us to avoid the abyss of unbearable anxiety. We see Julie crying, but through a glass. This glass stands for, I think, fantasy reconstituted. These are, I’m tempted to say, the tears of happiness.”I can mourn now because it no longer immediately affects me.” Blue proposes this mystical communion, reconstituted fantasy, as sustaining our relation to the world. But the price we pay is that some radically authentic moment of accepting the anxiety at the very foundation of human condition is lost there. If anything, anxiety at the vocal level is silence. It’s silence. It’s a silent scream.

In Hitchcock’s The Birds, when the mother, of course who but the mother, finds the neighbour dead, his eyes picked out by the birds, she shouts, but the shout literally remains stuck in her throat. To return from cinema to so-called real life, the ultimate lesson of psychoanalysisis that exactly the same goes for our real life experience, that emotions as such are deceiving. There are no specifically fake emotions because, as Freud puts it literally, the only emotion which doesn’t deceive is anxiety. All other emotions are fake.

So, of course, the problem here is, are we able to encounter in cinema the emotion of anxiety, or is cinema as such a fake? Cinema, as the art of appearances, tells us something about reality itself. It tells us something about how reality constitutes itself.
Ripley. Ripley, come on.
Ripley, we’ve got no time for sightseeing here.
Ripley, don’t.
There is an old Gnostic theory that our world was not perfectly created, that the god who created our world was an idiot who bungled the job,so that our world is a half-finished creation. There are voids, openings, gaps. It’s not fully real, fully constituted. In the wonderful scenein the last instalment of the Alien saga, Alien Resurrection, when Ripley, the cloned Ripley, enters a mysterious room, she encounters the previous failed version of herself, of cloning herself. Just a horrified creature, a small foetus-like entity, then more developed forms. Finally, a creature which almost looks like her, but her limbs are like that of the monster.
Kill me.
This means that all the time our previous alternate embodiments, what we might have been but are not,that these alternate versions of ourselves are haunting us. That’s the ontological view of reality that we get here, as if it’s an unfinished universe. This is, I think, a very modern feeling. It is through such ontology of unfinished reality that cinema became a truly modern art.

All modern films are ultimately films about the possibility or impossibility to make a film. Dogville was in the Rocky Mountains in the US of A, up here where the road came to its definitive end near the entrance to the old, abandoned silver mine. The residents of Dogville were good, honest folks and they liked their township.

With von Trier, it’s not only the problem of belief in the sense of, do people generally still believe today the place of religion today, and so on. It’s also reflectively or allegorically the question of believing in cinema itself. How to make today people still believe in the magic of cinema? In Dogville, all of it is staged on a set. Okay, this is often the case in cinema, but here the set is seen as the set. The action takes place in Dogville, a small town, but there are no houses. There are just lines on the floor, signalling that this is the house, this is the street. The mysterious thing is that this does not prevent our identification. If anything, it makes us even more thrown into the tensions of the inner life.

Have you seen Grace?
She’s at my place.

It’s not that naive belief is undermined, deconstructed through irony. Von Trier wants to be serious with the magic. Irony is put into service to make us believe. Yet again, Grace had made a miraculous escape from her pursuers with the aid of the people of Dogville. Everyone had covered up for her, including Chuck, who had to admit that it was probably Tom’s hat he’d mistakenly considered so suspicious. The mystery is that even if we know that it’s only staged, that it’s a fiction, it still fascinates us. That’s the fundamental magic of it. You witness a certain seductive scene, then you are shown that it’s just a fake, stage machinery behind, but you are still fascinated by it. Illusion persists. There is something real in the illusion, more real than in the reality behind it.

Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz!
I said come back tomorrow!
If you were really great and powerful, you’d keep your promises.
Do you presume to criticise the great Oz?
You ungrateful creatures!
Think yourselves lucky that I’m giving you audience tomorrow instead of 20 years from now!
The great Oz has spoken. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
The great and… Oz has spoken.
I am the great and powerful Wizard of Oz.

What we can learn from a film like Wizard of Oz is how the logic of de-mystificationis not enough. It’s not enough to say, “Okay, it’s justa big show spectacle to impress the people. What is behind is just a modest old guy, and so on and so on. It is that rather, in a way, there is more truth in this appearance. Appearance has an effectivity, a truth of its own.

What about the heart that you promised Tin Man?
Well…And the couragethat you promised Cowardly Lion?
-And Scarecrow’s brain?-
And Scarecrow’s brain?
Why, anybody can have a brain.
That’s a very mediocre commodity.Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got. A diploma! Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universitatus Committeeatume plurbis unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of Th.D. -That’s Doctor of Thinkology. The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side.
Oh, joy, rapture! I’ve got a brain!

And that’s the paradox of cinema, the paradox of belief. We don’t simply believe or do not believe. We always believe in a kind of a conditional mode. I know very well it’s a fake but, nonetheless, I let myself be emotionally affected. This strange status of belief accounts for the efficiency of one of the most interesting characters, not only in cinema, but also in theatre, in staging as such,the character of prologue.

How do you do? Mr Carl Laemmle feels it would be a little unkind to present this picture without just a word of friendly warning. We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science, who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God.
Somebody tells usyou have to experience horror, we do it. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now is your chance to…
Well, we’ve warned you.Ladies and gentlemen, young and old, this may seem an unusual procedure, speaking to you before the picture begins. But we have an unusual subject.

Behind, not red, this is Hollywood, but black curtain, Cecil DeMille himself appears,giving us a lesson of how the story of Ten Commandments and Moses has great relevance today where we are fighting Communist, totalitarian dangerand so on, giving us all the clues.
Are men the property of the state? Or are they free souls under God?
This same battle continues throughout the world today.

This hidden master who controls the events can also be defined as ideology embodied, in the sense of the space which organises our desires. And your name? What the fuck is your name? In David Lynch’s Lost Highway, we have the Mystery Man, who stands for the very cinematographer, even director. Imagine somebody who has a direct access to your inner life, to your innermost fantasies, to what even you don’t want to know about yourself.

We’ve met before, haven’t we?
I don’t think so.
Where was it that you think we met?
At your house, don’t you remember?
The best way to imagine what Mystery Man is, is to imagine somebody who doesn’t want anything from us.
What do you mean?
You’re where right now?
At your house.
That’s fucking crazy, man.
Call me.

That’s the true horror of this Mystery Man. Not any evil, demoniac intentions and so on. Just the fact that when he is in front of you, he, as it were, sees through you.

I told you I was here.
How’d you do that? Ask me.-
How’d you get inside my house?
It is not my custom to go where I’m not wanted.

It’s like the court in Kafka’s novels, where the court, or the Law, only comes when you ask for it. Oh! Now, why would he do that? Most peculiar. What on Earth? Hitchcock was obsessed with this topic of manipulating emotions. His dream was even that once in the future, we would no longer have to shoot narratives, our brains will be directly connectedto some machine and the director would only have to press different buttons there and the appropriate emotions will be awakened in our mind.

They’re coming. They’re coming!

What do directors like Hitchcock,Tarkovsky, Kieslowski, Lynch have in common? A certain autonomy of cinematic form. Form is not here simply to express, articulate content. It has a message of its own. In Hitchcock, we have the motif of a person hanging from an abyss by the hand of another person. The first example, Saboteur. Rear Window. Then we have in To Catch a Thief. You’ve got a full house down there. Begin the performance. Then in North by Northwest. Then, of course, in Vertigo.So we see here the same visual motif repeating itself. I think it’s wrong to look for a common, deeper meaning. Some French theorists claimed that what we are dealing here with is the motif of fall and redemption. I think this is already saying too much. I think that what we are dealing with is with a kind of a cinematic materialism, that beneath the level of meaning, spiritual meaning but also simple narrative meaning, we get a more elementary level of forms themselves, communicating with each other, interacting, reverberating, echoing, morphing, transforming one into the other. And it is this background, this background of proto-reality, a real which is more dense, more fundamental than the narrative reality, the story that we observe. It is this that provides the proper density of the cinematic experience. It’s the gigantic tree where, in Vertigo, Madeleine and Scottie get together, almost embrace, where their erotic tension becomes unbearable. What is this tree? I think it’s another in the series of “Hitchcockian Big Things”, like the Mount Rushmore statues, or take another example, like Moby Dick. This tree is not simply a natural object. It is, within our mental space, what in psychoanalysis is called “the Thing”. It’s effectively as if this tree, in its very extra-large distortion, embodies something that comes out of our inner space, libido, the excessive energy of our mind.

So here I think we can see how films and philosophy are coming together. How great cinematographers really enable us to think in visual terms. After the birds attack the city, there is a fire which breaks out at a gasoline station, where a guy throws a match on the gasoline.
Hey, you! Look out!
Don’t drop that match!Look out!
Get out of there!-Mister, run!
-Watch out!

The first part of this short scene is the standard one. We get the standard exchange of shots of the fire and shots of the person, Melanie in this case, who looks at it. Then something strange happens. We cut to way above the city. We see the entire town. We automatically take this shot as a standard establishing shot. Like after details which perplex you, which prevent you from getting a clear orientation, you need a shot which enables you some kind of a cognitive mapping, that you know what’s going on. But then, precisely following that logic of the Thing from inner space which emerges from within you, first we hear these ominous sounds, which are sounds of the birds, then one bird enters, another bird enters… The shot which was taken as a neutral,God’s view shot,all of a sudden changes into an evil gaze. The gaze of the very birds attacking. And we are thrown into that position. And again, we can use here The Birds as the final instalment and read backwards other classical Hitchcock scenes in the same way.

Isn’t exactly the same thing happening in what I consider the ultimate scene in Psycho, the second murder,the murder of the detective Arbogast? Hitchcock manipulates here in a very refined way the logic of so-called fetishist disavowal. The logic of, “I know very well, but…” We know very well some things, but we don’t really believe in them, so although we know they will happen, we are no less surprised when they happen. In this case, everything points towards the murder and, nonetheless, when it happens, the surprise is, if anything, stronger. It begins in a standard Hitchcockian way. He looks up the stairs. This exchange creates the Hitchcockian tension between the subject’s look and the stairs themselves, or rather the void on the top of the stairs returning the gaze, emanating some kind of a weird unfathomable threat.

The camera then provides a kind of a geometrically clear God’s point of view shot image of the entire scene. It is as if here we pass from God as neutral creator, to God in his unbearable divine rage. This murderer is for us an unfathomable monster. We don’t know who he is, but because we are forced to assume the murderer’s position, in a way we don’t know who we are. As if we discover a terrifying dimension in ourselves. As if we are forced to act as a doll, as a tool of another evil divinity’s will. It’s not as classical metaphysics thinks, The truly horrible thing is to be immortal. Immortality is the true nightmare, not death.

Lord Vader,can you hear me?

We should remember the exact moment when the normal, everyday person, okay not quite everyday, but ordinary person of Anakin Skywalker changes into Darth Vader. This scene when the Emperor’s doctors are reconstituting him after heavy wounds into Darth Vader, that these scenes are inter-cut with the scenes of Princess Padm? Anakin’s wife, giving birth. Luke. So it is as if we are witnessing the transformation of Anakin into father. But what kind of father? A monster of a father who doesn’t want to be dead. His deep breathing is the sound of the father, the Freudian, primordial father, this obscene over-potent father,the father who doesn’t want to die.

This, I think, is for all of us the most obscene threat that we witness. We don’t want our fathers alive. We want them dead. The ultimate object of anxiety is a living father. This brings us to what we should really be attentive about in David Lynch’s film. Namely, what is to be taken seriously and not seriously in his films.

-Here’s to Ben.-Here’s to Ben.Here’s to Ben.-Here’s to Ben.
-Be polite!Here’s to Ben.

Frank is one of these terrifying, ridiculously obscene paternal figures. Apart from Frank in Blue Velvet, we have Baron Harkonnen in Dune, we have William Dafoe in Wild at Heart, we have Mr Eddy in Lost Highway.

Don’t you ever fucking tailgate! Ever!-Tell him you won’t tailgate.-Ever!I won’t ever tailgate…
Do you know how many fucking car length sit takes to stop a car at 35 miles an hour?
Six fucking car lengths!
That’s 1 06 fucking feet, mister!
If I had to stop suddenly, you would have hit me! I want you to get a fucking driver’s manual and I want you to study that motherfucker!
I want to spit once on your head.
Just some spittle in your face.
What a luxury. But I think that this very appearance of ridiculously violent comedy is deceiving. I think that these ridiculous paternal figures are the ethical focus, the topic of practically all David Lynch’s films.

Let’s fuck! I’ll fuck anything that moves!
A normal, paternal authority is an ordinary man who, as it were, wears phallus as an insignia. He has something which provides his symbolic authority. This is, in psychoanalytic theory, phallus. You are not phallus. You possess phallus. Phallus is something attached to you, like the King’s crown is his phallus. Something you put on and this gives you authority. So that when you talk it’s not simply you as a common person who is talking, it’s symbolic authority itself,the Law, the state, talking through you. So these excessively ridiculous paternal figures, it’s not simply that they possess phallus, that they have phallus as the insignia of their authority, in a way, they immediately are phallus. This is for, if they still exist, a normal male subject…
This is the most terrorising experience you can imagine, to directly being the thing itself, to assume that I am a phallus. And the provocative greatness of these Lynchian, obscene, paternal figures, is that not only they don’t have any anxiety,not only they are not afraid of it, they fully enjoy being it. They are truly fearless entities beyond life and death, gladly assuming, as it were, their immortality, their non-castrated life energy. Okay.This is indicated in a very nice way in the scene towards the end of Wild at Heart where Bobby Peru is killed.

Stop, you sons of bitches! This is the police!

He accepts the mortal danger he is in with, kind of, exuberant vitality,and it’s truly that when his head explodes, it’s as if we see the head of the penis being torn apart. Oh, for Christ sakes. That poor bastard. And then at the end, these figures are sacrificed.
Oh, Jeffrey.It’s all over, Jeffrey.
Joseph Stalin’s favourite cinematic genre were musicals. Not only Hollywood musicals, but also Soviet musicals. There was a whole series of so-called kolkhoz musicals. Why? We should find this strange, Stalin who personifies communist austerity, terror and musicals.The answer again is the psychoanalytic notion of superego. Superego is not only excessive terror, unconditional injunction, demand of utter sacrifice, but at the same time, obscenity, laughter. And it is Sergei Eisenstein’s genius to guess at this link. In his last film, which is a coded portrait of the Stalin era, Ivan the Terrible: Part 2, which because of all this was immediately prohibited. In the unique scene towards the end of the film, we see the Czar, Ivan, throwing a party, amusing himself, with his so-called Oprichniki, his private guards, who were usedto torture and kill his enemies, his, if you want, KGB, secret police, are seen performing a musical. An obscene musical, which tells precisely the story about killing the rich boyars, Ivan’s main enemies.

Let the axes drop!

So terror itself is staged as a musical. And the gates fell to the ground Now, what has all this to do with the reality of political terror? Isn’t this just art, imagination? No. Not only were the political show trialsin Moscow in the mid- and late-1930s theatrical performances, we should not forget this, they were well staged, rehearsed and so on. Even more, there is, horrible as it may sound, something comical about them. The horror was so ruthless that the victims, those who had to confess and demand death penalty for themselves and so on, were deprived of the minimum of their dignity, so that they behaved as puppets, they engaged in dialogues which really sound likeout of Alice in Wonderland. They behaved as persons from a cartoon.
Public enemy number one. You’re on trial today for the crimes that you’ve committed.
We’re gonna prove you’re guilty.
Just try and get acquitted.
In the mid-’30s,Walt Disney Studios produced an unbelievable cartoon called Pluto’s Judgement Day…Shut up!…in which the dog, well-known Pluto, falls asleep, and in his sleep is persecuted by, haunted by the dream of cats who were all in the past his victims, molested by him, dragging him to the court, where a proper, truly Stalinist political trial is in process against him.
We’ve seen and heard enough.
Jury, do your duty.
Just watch us do our stuff We find the defendant guilty
He’s guilty, he’s guilty Hooray!

The Law is not only severe, ruthless, blind,at the same time, it mocks us. There is an obscene pleasure in practising the Law. Our fundamental delusion today is not to believe in what is only a fiction, to take fictions too seriously. It’s, on the contrary, not to take fictions seriously enough.You think it’s just a game? It’s reality. It’s more real than it appears to you. For example, people who play video games, they adopt a screen persona of a sadist, rapist, whatever. The idea is, in reality I’m a weak person, so in order to supplement my real life weakness, I adopt the false image of a strong, sexually promiscuous person,and so on and so on.

So this would be the naive reading.I want to appear stronger, more active, because in real life, I’m a weak person. But what if we read it in the opposite way? That this strong, brutal rapist, whatever, identity is my true self. In the sense that this is the psychic truth of myself and that in real life, because of social constraints and so on, I’m not able to enact it. So that, precisely because I think it’s only a game, it’s only a persona, a self-image I adopt in virtual space, I can be there much more truthful. I can enact there an identity which is much closer to my true self. We need the excuse of a fiction to stage what we truly are.

Stalker is a film about a zone, a prohibited space where there are debris, remainders of aliens visiting us. And stalkers are people who specialised in smuggling foreigners who want to visit into this space where you get many magical objects. But the main among themis the room in the middle of this space, where it is claimed your desires will be realised.

I know you’re going to get mad. Anyway, I must tell you…We are now…on the threshold…This is the most important moment in your life.You must know that.Your innermost wishes will be made real here.Your most sincere wish. Born of suffering.

The contrast between Solaris and Stalker is clear.In Solaris, we get id-machineas an object which realisesyour nightmares, desires, fears,even before you ask for it, as it were. In Stalker it’s the opposite, a zone where your desires, deepest wishes get realised on condition that you are able to formulate them. Which, of course, you are never able,which is why everybody failsonce you get there in the centre of the zone.

You just make money, using our… anguish! It’s not even the money. You’re enjoying yourself here. You’re like God Almighty here. You, a hypocritical louse, decide who is to live and who is to dieHe deliberates!Now I see why you stalkersnever enter the room yourselves.You revel in all that power,that mystery, your authority!What else is there to wish for?It’s not true! You… you’re mistakenTarkovsky’s solution to this tensionis that of religious obscurantism…. for the great day of His wrath has come,and who is able to stand? But I don’t think this is what makes Tarkovsky interesting. What makes him interestingis the very form of his films.

Tarkovsky uses as this material elementof pre-narrative density, time itself. All of a sudden we are made to feelthis inertia, drabness of time.Time is not just a neutral, light mediumwithin which things happen. We feel the density of time itself. Things that we see are more markers of time. He treats even humans in this way.If we look at the unique face of Stalker himself,it’s a face of somebodyexposed to too much radiationand, as it were, rotting, falling apart alive. It is this disintegrationof the very material texture of realitywhich provides the spiritual depth.Tarkovskian subjects, when they pray,they don’t look up, they look down. They even sometimes, as in Stalker,put their head directly onto the earth.Here, I think, Tarkovsky affects us at a levelwhich is much deeper,much more crucial for our experiencethan all the standard, spiritual motivesof elevating ourselvesabove material reality and so on.There is nothing specific about the zone.It’s purely a place where a certain limit is set. You set a limit,  you put a certain zone off-limit,and although things remainexactly the way they were, it’s perceived as another place. Precisely as the place onto which you can project your beliefs,  your fears,things from your inner space.In other words, the zone is ultimatelythe very whiteness of the cinematic screen.

“To the people of this city we donatethis monument;’Peace and Prosperity’.”

Chaplin’s City Lights is one of those masterpieces which are really too sophisticated for the sophisticated. It’s a deceptively simple movie. When we are enraptured by it,we tend to missits complexity and extreme finesse. Already, the first scene of the movieprovides the co-ordinates. It’s kind of a microcosm of Chaplin’s entire art. What’s the source of Chaplin’s comic genius? What’s the archetypal comic situation in Chaplin’s films? It’s being mistaken for somebody or functioning as a disturbing spot, as a disturbing stain. He distorts the vision. So he wants to erase himself, to get out of the picture. Or people don’t even note him, take note of him,so he wants to be noted. Or, if they perceive him, he’s misperceived, identified for what he is not.

The tramp is wrongly identified, by a beautiful blind girl who is selling flowers on a street corner,as a millionaire.He accepts the game, helps her,even steals money to pay for her operationto restore her sight,then after he serves the punishmentand returns, he tries to find her.And I think that this is the metaphorof our predicament. All too often, when we love somebody, we don’t accept him or her as what the person effectively is. We accept him or her in so far as this person fits the co-ordinates of our fantasy. We misidentify, wrongly identify him or her, which is why, when we discover that we were wrong, love can quickly turn into violence. There is nothing more dangerous, more lethal for the loved person than to be loved, as it were, for not what he or she is, but for fitting the ideal.

In this case,  love is always mortifying love. Here it’s not only the trampas the figure within the film’s narrative exposing himself to his beloved girl, it’s at the same time Chaplin as actor/director exposing himself to us, the public. The true genius of Chaplin resides in the way he was able to stage this psychological moment of recognition at the level of form,  music, visual aspect, and at the same time, at the level of acting.

When the two hands meet,the girl finally recognises him for what he is. This moment is always extremely dangerous, pathetic. The beloved falls out of the frame of the idealised co-ordinates,finally there exposed in his psychological nakedness. Here I am as what I really am. And I don’t think we have to read it as a happy ending. We don’t know what will happen. We have the letters, “the end”, the black screen, but the singing goes on. As if the emotion is now too strong, it spills over the very frame.

In order to understand today’s world, we need cinema, literally. It’s only in cinema that we get that crucial dimension which we are not ready to confront in our reality. If you are looking for what is in reality more real than reality itself, look into the cinematic fiction.

Slavoj Zizek –

What would be my… how should I call it, spontaneous attitude towards the universe? It’s a very dark one. The first thesis would have been a kind of total vanity: there is nothing, basically. I mean it quite literally,like… ultimately…there are just some fragments, some vanishing things. If you look at the universe, it’s one big void. But then how do things emerge? Here, I feel a kind of spontaneous affinity with quantum physics, where, you know,the idea there is that universe is a void,but a kind of a positively charged void. And then particular things appear when the balance of the void is disturbed. And I like this idea of spontaneous very much that the fact that it’s just not nothing… Things are out there. It means something went terribly wrong… that what we call creation is a kind of a cosmic imbalance, cosmic catastrophe, that things exist by mistake. And I’m even ready to go to the end and to claim that the only way to counteract it is to assume the mistake and go to the end. And we have a name for this. It’s called love. Isn’t love precisely this kind of a cosmic imbalance?

I was always disgusted with this notion of “I love the world,” universal love. I don’t like the world. I don’t know how… Basically, I’m somewhere in between “I hate the world” or  “I’m indifferent towards it.” But the whole of reality, it’s just it. It’s stupid.  It is out there. I don’t care about it. Love, for me, is an extremely violent act. Love is not “I love you all.” Love means I pick out something, and it’s, again,this structure of  imbalance. Even if this something is just a small detail… a fragile individual person… I say “I love you more than anything else.” In this quite formal sense, love is evil. They inform me they play chess.  I like that.

Think about the strangeness of today’s situation. 30, 40 years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: Communist,  Fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes: the whole life on Earth disintegrating because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the Earth, and so on.

So the paradox is that it’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on Earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism, which means that we should reinvent Utopia, but in what sense? There are two false meanings of Utopia. One is this old notion of imagining an ideal society, which we know will never be realized. The other is the capitalist Utopia in the sense of new perverse desires that you are not only allowed but even solicited to realize. The true Utopia is when the situation is so without issue, without a way to resolve it within the coordinates of the possible, that out of the pure urge of survival you have to invent a new space. Utopia is not kind of a free imagination. Utopia is a matter of innermost urgency. You are forced to imagine it as the only way out, and this is what we need today. I hope I wasn’t too long. I thank you very much for your patience.

Another very short comment that I can make. You know why I applauded? If you watch old documentary movies, you will see a big difference between a Fascist and a Stalinist leader. The Fascist leader, when he is applauded, he just accepts it. The Stalinist leader applauds himself. The message being And this was my side. So we are on. Okay. The worst thing is to play this “We are all humans” game that some intellectuals like to play.You project a certain intellectual persona… cold thinker, whatever… but then you signal, through small details, to socialist wealth. A good,  honest guy.

I put everything here… I love this…  so that… By everything,  I mean… Look even here it is. You see? Isn’t it a crazy combination? You have this, and then you have… The clothes are here. But it’s not only clothes. It’s more. It’s also… how do you call it? … covers,  sheets for the… No,  no.  Everything is here. Here.  Isn’t this nice, close to the kitchen? Here are socks,  underwear. This is all my stuff, and basically, this is all my stuff: newspapers,  journals. These are my books in foreign languages. Two copies of each one. So this is strictly prohibited. It looks bad. I think they are lower there, because this is mostly new stuff. I am narcissist here. Yes, I keep everything.  This should go elsewhere. I’m sorry.  I just… I’ll go far back, so this is there. Just let me… Okay,  if you need the “Mladina” stuff, Ah,  yes,  there are some of them here. Let’s see what’s here, because these are the big format thing. These are some early Mladina from… Ah,  this is from the dissident times. Yes. Mid-’80s,  I started to write from time to time. For two years, some people even claim that I was the most influential. But then new political divisions start, and I was too combative, attacking everyone. This was me. This was my fame. I worked like crazy at that time,because I was writing in English my first books. I never wanted to endanger, not even minimally, the theory, which is why I was never,  never interested in any kind of political career,  because it simply takes time.

Two days before the election, there was a big round table with all the candidates: 20 of them, I don’t know how much. A right wing naive good guy, but basically an idiot, made a fatal mistake, which everybody remembered. Not even a mistake, a kindness: namely,  as usual, as you can imagine, I talked quite a lot, too much, and then this guy wanted to censor me friendly, and turned to me… this was all live, big debate, central TV. But everybody remembered that, you know? You see? Even they admit that he is the bright guy.

I remember then,  you know, after it was over,when the lights went off, the cameras went off, all other candidates started to shout at this guy, like “Are you idiot? Are you crazy?” Because then I jumped up immediately and almost got elected. When I first visited the States, I was shocked by your toilets here. IDEOLOGY Romanticism onwards. That was the idea of so-called European trinity… Anglo-Saxon economy, French politics, German metaphysics, poetry, philosophy… as the basic… how should I put it? … spiritual stances of Europe. Sorry. That’s it. French politics,  revolutionary: shit should disappear as soon as possible. Anglo-Saxon/American: let’s be pragmatic. German metaphysic poetry,  inspection: you inspect, you reflect on your shit. So isn’t it totally crazy that in a vulgar, common phenomenon like that you find certain differences which you truly can not account in any functional terms, but you have to evoke all this. I mean, you claim, Then you go to the toilet, produce shit. You are up to your shit, or how do you put it in ideology, no? Who believes what today? I think this is an interesting question, much more complex than it may appear. The first myth to be abandoned, I think, is the idea that we live in a cynical era where nobody believes no values, and that there were some times, more traditional, where people still believed, relied of some sort of substantial notion of belief, and so on and so on.

I think it’s today that we believe more than ever, and,  as Fuller develops it in a nice,  ironic way, the ultimate form of belief for him is deconstructionism. Why? Again,  I’m going back to that question of,  quote,  Marx,  no? Look how it functions, deconstructionism, in its standard version, already at the texture of style. You cannot find one text of Derrida without “A, “all of the quotation marks, and “B,”  all of this rhetorical distanciations. Like…  I don’t know. To take an ironic example, if somebody like Judith Butler were to be asked “What is this?” she would never have said, This is a bottle of tea. She would have said something like, she likes to put it in this rhetorical way… So it’s always this need to distanciate. It goes even for love, like nobody almost dares to say today “I love you.” It has to be, as a poet would have put it, I love you, or some kind of a distance. But what’s the problem here? The problem is that… why this fear?Because I claim that, when the ancients directly said “I love you,” they meant exactly the same. All these distanciations were included. So it’s we today who are afraid that, if we were to put it directly, “I love you,” that it would mean too much. We believe in it.

You know what I learned in the high school? It’s so disgusting,the reasoning behind it. Because all my friends… most of my friends… took either French or German as a second language. Okay, my idea was, you know, there was a code word to superpowers. Isn’t it good to play it safe? Whoever wins, I will speak their language. There were three levels of dissidents. The first in theory… I mean, if you dealt with theory or whatever or writing. The first level was, Were you allowed to teach? This was the first level of exclusion. The second level were, Are you allowed to publish books? The third level was,”Are you allowed to get a job at all in your domain?” And the fourth level is, you are arrested or whatever, no? I was between the second and third. My God, I was unemployed. It was humiliating. I was 27, and my parents supported me, my God. Then for two years,it was that humiliating job at the central committee. They knew that I am not an idiot and that I will probably succeed. So they were afraid that I would simply move abroad and succeed there. This would then be bad for… you know, another victim who wasn’t allowed to make a career in Slovenia. So they want me to vegetate on the margin, but there in Slovenia. It was in a way an intelligent move, but they didn’t know that the way they did it, they made it even easier for me to move abroad. Give him 7. It’s okay. Oh, sorry. Okay. “Gracias.”
– Oh, my God!I thought this would be some kind of old building with Peron and…not Peron, with Borges and so on. Oh, yeah. No, it’s super-modern. Oh, my God, I didn’t like the way that guy looked at me. It’s only an idiot coming. I hate this. Let’s move there.  I hate when… I think that idiot…friendly, bright person… recognized me,and I hate this,because then they stare. They descend on you? Oh, my God.Okay, for you.

Did you ever expect this, to have all these fans?
No, but that’s what I really hate this. I can not tell you how much I hate it. You don’t love it just a little bit?
No, no, no, no, no.
I think people are evil. This is horrible. You see all these creeps, all these creeps here? This is horrible. Who’s that hysterical woman? She’s a fan, Slajov. Yeah, but what is she doing here? She should go up there and wait in line, not annoying me here. It was simply made as a documentary supposed to present Lacanian theory to a wide public, I think for the second channel of the French state TV. What I appreciate is this inversion… reversal of the role between public image and private. It’s this total denigration… disappearance of this warm, human person. This for me is the idea of ideology. The central idea of ideology for me is not these ideas determine you… you are a Christian, you are a Marxist,  whatever, today liberal, I don’t know. But the idea is precisely that ideological propositions do not determine us totally. We can not be reduced to our public image: there is a warm human being behind.

I think this is ideology at its purest. The most horrible and ideological act for me… and really horrible, terrifying… is to fully identify with the ideological image. The ultimate act is what we think is our true self. There is the true acting, and usually, our truth to that to which we are really committed existentially is in our acts more than importance supposed to be behind the act. So again, my point is that I’m… I like philosophy as an anonymous job, not as this kind of… Iook at the way he moves now, these gestures. I find this ridiculous. He emphasizes This ridiculous emphasis. I think it’s pure fake, an empty gesture, as if he makes a deep point there. He does not. I think Lacan, in a very classical way… what interests me are his propositions: the underlying logic, not his style. His style is a total fake, I think. I try to forget it. I try to repress it. Maybe it works as a strategy. At a certain point, why not? First, you have to seduce people with obscure statements, but I hate this kind of approach. I’m a total enlightenment person.

I believe in clear statements. And I’m for Lacan because, again, I think, to make it very clear, it’s not that Lacan is just bluffing in the sense that there is nothing behind this obscurity. The whole point of my work is that you can translate Lacan into clear terms. Well, I’ve just had enough of this. Now, live from the CN8 Studios, This is CN8 Nitebeat, with Barry Nolan. Jacques Lacan was a French psychoanalyst. He makes Freud sound like a simple Valley girl. Lacan’s theory of how the self works is so complicated, it makes my teeth hurt to think about it. Slavoj Zizek is a philosopher at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia… I think I said this fairly close to the way it’s pronounced… who has written a book called The Puppet and The Dwarf. The book takes a look at modern Christianity from the view point of Lacanian psychoanalysis, or at least that’s what I think it’s about. Welcome, Mr. Zizek. Did I say that… Tell me the right way. Slavoj Zizek, but again, I prefer it the wrong way.

It makes me paranoid if I hear it the right way. This is the most complicated book I have ever tried to read. Strange, because the goal of the book is, on the contrary, to make Lacan back into someone whom even your grandma could understand.

Let’s say you have a good old-fashioned father. It’s Sunday afternoon. You have to visit Grandma. The father would… old-fashioned totalitarian father… will tell you, “Listen, I don’t care how you feel” … if you are a small kid, of course… “Going Grandmother and behave there properly.” That’s good. You can resist. Nothing is broken. But let’s say you have the so-called tolerant post-modern father. What he will tell you is the following: Now, every child who is not an idiot… and they are not idiots… know that this apparent free choice secretly contains an even more stronger, much stronger order: I’m beginning to like this book all the more. That’s one example of how apparent tolerance, choice, and so on, can conceal a much stronger order. So we should go back to more like the dad that just says Because I said so! Absolutely. It’s more honest. You went to the McDonald breakfast? This is not so ridiculous. Look what you get. You know, you get this with Happy Meal. Yeah, to make you happy. Yeah, but this is for the kids. I go there to make him happy. He pretends to be happy there not to disappoint me, But what the hell. The game functions. This means that, again, you know, I love him, but my perspective is time, you know. We go there, up and down, one hour passes. No, it’s pure desperate strategy of surviving.without getting too nervous without… and this is easy, because he eats and shuts up for 20 minutes after he eats. Okay, this will go. He’s perplexed, as you can see. Now he’s narcissistically amused. It’s just to keep him calm, in a non-demanding state, so it’s eating, it’s this, it’s whatever, no? Or at least negotiating.

Yesterday, he was building some Lego castles. He wasn’t satisfied with them, but then he gave me the role of just collecting a certain type of these small plastic cubes. I start to shoot at the animals, then… I love this one, American Army. You know, this one, I bought it. I don’t know where, but it’s beautiful. You can open it, you see? And put soldiers in so that then he attacks me from there. He destroyed this castle that I had here. This was his original, but destruction is very precise. It’s incredible how you think it’s chaotic, no? But he’s the big wise guy. He observes. Here, he’s very profane. He wanted to have a woman as the boss, the queen. Then he said, This is the two girls talking. You see, lesbian, progressive, politically correct, no? Two lesbians, and… but I like this one. Isn’t this a beautiful one? I bought it in Greece. A kind of a nice old Roman. Over.

Let’s show them all, huh? Okay, philosophy. This, I can do it, at least traditionally, in two lines, no? Philosophy does not solve problems. The duty of philosophy is not to solve problems but to redefine problems, to show how what we experience as a problem is a false problem. If what we experience as a problem is a true problem, then you don’t need philosophy. For example, let’s say that now there would be a deadly virus coming from out there in space, so not in any way mediated through our human history, and it would threaten all of us. We don’t need, basically, philosophy there. We simply need good science desperately to find… We would desperately need good science to find the solution, to stop this virus. We don’t need philosophy there,because the threat is a real threat, directly. You cannot play philosophical tricks and say “No, this is not the”… You know what I mean. It’s simply our life would be… or okay, the more vulgar, even, simpler science fiction scenario. It’s kind of “Armageddon” or whatever. No, “Deep Impact.” A big comet threatening to hit Earth. You don’t need philosophy here. You need… I don’t know. To be a little bit naive, I don’t know. Strong atomic bombs to explode, maybe. I think it’s maybe too utopian. But you know what I mean. I mean the threat is there, you see. In such a situation, you don’t need philosophy. I don’t think that philosophers ever provided answers, but I think this was the greatness of philosophy, not in this common sense that philosophers just ask questions and so on.

What is philosophy? Philosophy is not what some people think, some crazy exercise in absolute truth, and then you can adopt this skeptical attitude: we, through scientists,are dealing with actual, measurable solvable problems. Philosophers just ask stupid metaphysical questions and so on, play with absolute truths, which we all know is inaccessible. No, I think philosophy’s a very modest discipline. Philosophy asks a different question, the true philosophy. How does a philosopher approach the problem of freedom? It’s not “Are we free or not?” Is there God or not? It asks a simple question, which will be called a hermeneutic question: What does it mean to be free? So this is what philosophy basically does. It just asks, when we use certain notions, when we do certain acts, and so on, what is the implicit horizon of understanding? It doesn’t ask these stupid ideal questions: Is there truth? No. The question is,”What do you mean when you say this is true?” So you can see, it’s a very modest thing, philosophy. Philosophers are not the mad men who search for some eternal truth. What we encounter here, I think, is precisely Lacan’s reversal of the famous Dostoyevsky model, How? On the one hand, again, you are allowed to have a full life of happiness and pleasure, but in order, precisely, to be happy, you should avoid dangerous excesses. So at the end, everything is prohibited. You can not eat fat, you can not have coffee, you can not have nothing precisely in order to enjoy. So today’s hedonism combines pleasure with constraint. It is no longer the old notion of the right measure between pleasure and constraint.

Like sex, yes, but not too much. Proper measure. No, it’s something much more paradoxical. It’s a kind of immediate coincidence of the two extremes, like… as if action and reaction coincide. The very thing which causes damage should already be the counter-agent, the medicine. The ultimate example I encountered recently in California… I don’t know if you can buy it also here in New York… is chocolate laxative. And there it says as a propaganda, The thing is already its own counter-agent. And the negative proof of the calamity of this stance, I think, is the fact that today, the true unconstrained consumption in all its main forms… drugs, free sex, smoking… is emerging as the main danger. The traditional notion of psychoanalysis is that, because of some inner obstacles… you internalized, identified excessively with paternal or other social prohibitions… you can not set yourself free to enjoy, to… Pleasure is not accessible for you. It is accessible to you only in pathological forms, of feeling guilty and so on. So, then, the idea is, psychoanalysis allows you to suspend, overcome this internalized prohibitions so that it enables you to enjoy. The problem today is that the commandment of the ruling ideologies enjoy in different ways. It can be sex and enjoyment, consumption, commodity enjoyment, up to spiritual enjoyment, realize yourself, whatever. And I think that the problem today is not how to get rid of your inhibitions and to be able to spontaneously enjoy. The problem is how to get rid of this injunction to enjoy.

Organizations, such as the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, have helped gain general acceptance for theories considered radical when first advanced some 50 years ago by Dr. Sigmund Freud. The relationship between childhood frustrations and disturbed adult behavior has been clearly traced by such authorities as Dr. Rene Spitz of New York. Distressing experiences in childhood may set up patterns which in later life will produce mental conflicts. Such conflicts lead to the same feelings of insecurity which was felt as a child. When such conflicts paralyze the individual, preventing him from acting freely, he is said to have a neurosis. Let us see how a neurosis develops. My eternal fear is that if, for a brief moment, I stopped talking, you know, the whole spectacular appearance would disintegrate. People would think there is nobody and nothing there. This is my fear, as if I am nothing who pretends all the time to be somebody, and has to be hyperactive all the time, just to fascinate people enough so that they don’t notice that there is nothing. Well?

One of the big reproaches to psychoanalysis is that it’s only a theory of individual pathological disturbances, and that applying psychoanalysis to other cultural or social phenomena is theoretically illegitimate. It asks in what way you as an individual have to relate to social field, not just in the sense of other people, but in the sense of the anonymous social as such to exist as a person. You are, under quotation marks, normal individual person only being able to relate to some anonymous social field. What is to be interpreted and what not is that everything is to be interpreted. That is to say when Freud says, Unbehagen in der Kultur… civilization and its discontent, or more literally, the uneasiness in culture… he means that it’s not just that most of us, as normal, we socialize ourself normally. Some idiots didn’t make it. They fall out. Oh, they have to be normalized. Culture as such, in order to establish itself as normal, what appears as normal involves a whole series of pathological cuts, distortions, and so on and so on. There is, again,a kind of a “Unbehagen,”uneasiness: we are out of joint, not at home in culture as such, which means, again,that there is no normal culture. Culture as such has to be interpreted.

When people ask me why do I combine Lacan with Marx, my first answer is, Lacan already did it. I think, for example, that it’s only throught he strict psychoanalytic Lacanian notion of fantasy that we can really grasp what Marx was aiming at with his notion of commodity fetishism. It’s, I think, precisely the use of Lacanian notions like, again, fantasy… fantasy in the strict Lacanian sense, or excess “plus de joie,” excess enjoyment, and so on and so on. The real… not to mention the real… that we can understand today’s phenomena, like new fundamentalist forms of racism, like the way our so-called permissive societies are functioning. Again, here, the psychoanalytic notion, especially the way it was conceptualized by Lacan. The psychoanalytic notion of superego as injunction to enjoy as an obscene category, not as a properly ethical category, is of great help. So again, I think that if Freud, in his Freudian theory in its traditional configuration, was appropriate to explain the standard capitalism which relied to some kind of a more traditional ethic of sexual control, repression, and so on, then Lacan is perfect to explain the paradoxes of permissive late capitalism. When did you have the last meal… breakfast… or down there? Down there. We should probably… No, no, I mean, one,two hours later, we should maybe go down there. Or do you know any… At the place where you had your coffee, they do have good menus, you know,like very nice ones, like simple steak or whatever.
Sorry? Degenerate. You’ll turn into monkeys. There is a table free here if you want to be absolutely opportunist. Aqua Congas.Why shouldn’t I order? Could you put it there? Thank you. No, I mean, where to put it.

Why do you want to… Why did you say it was a fundamental misunderstanding that so many people came? No, in the simple sense that I have this terrible feeling that they expect something which they will not get, and I wonder what. Many leftists expect the formula, you know: I will teach them what to do. Shit, what do I know? Some people expect… You feel like that’s what that audience was looking for.
It’s a simple common sense insight: although I think they exaggerated… whatever, thousand people can not all have the same interest in Lacan as I do, no?
If you were to have a daughter, would you allow this guy to take your daughter to cinema? Be honest. The answer is, no. I hate the way I appear. In some documents, it’s even worse. It’s really as a kind of a criminal that I appear, you know. You think they were expecting just a sort of political advisor?  No, the problem is, whenever I talk about politics,- I feel it as if it’s a fake.
Not in the sense that I’m faking,that I don’t mean it, but my heart is not in it. The book that I really enjoyed writing was the one on Hegel… sorry, on Schelling.
And that part of the message doesn’t get through. You can immediately see also in the way it… For example, of my last books, the one that I really loved, The Opera’s Second Death. That one is doing very modestly, nothing. But that’s what I love. No, we didn’t yet, no? I’ll tell you… Wait a minute. Is this just drinks? First you should look here, the Venice. You have calarinas, filet Milanese, ensalada cesar. This is just for people who come to be shocked and hopefully to get out. So that is why you have it? So when people open the door,they go… Yeah, there is a small hope that I will get rid of them. That’s the only fun. Has it ever worked?

As a matter of fact, yeah. Some people were actually offended. My big worry is not to be ignored, but to be accepted. When I appear to be sarcastic, the point is not to take seriously. What is not to be taken seriously is the very form of sarcasm. It’s the form of the joke which masks the effect that I’m serious. But people still have this idea that this guy did some big crimes. No.Of course it’s not as simple as that that I’m simply a Stalinist. It would be crazy, tasteless, and so on. But… obviously, there is something in it that it’s not simply a joke. When I say the only chance that the left appropriate fascism, it’s not a cheap joke. The point is to avoid the trap of the standard liberal oppositions: freedom versus totalitarian order, discipline, and so on, to rehabilitate notions of discipline, collective order, subordination, sacrifice, all that. I don’t think this is inherently fascist. Often, friends tell me, I tell them,not even the oretical… intellectual, whatever, statement. But it doesn’t work like that. For example, concerning Stalinism, my God, I’ve probably written more about Stalinism, about its most horrible aspects, than most of the people who reproach me with Stalinism. And that’s my wager here, that sorry, the only way to get the message If you say, “Of courseI’m against fascism. There are just some attitudes which were traditional even more to the left, but fascism appropriated them,”I think it doesn’t have the desired precise political effect. It enables the liberal consensus to reappropriate it.You must say it with this excess.

One hour be enough, or you need more? These are, of course, again, the Lufthansa socks. I stole two of them today. I went to wash my hair, and then I was in an intense situation, and then the woman hairdresser notice it,and told me, “Why don’t I give you a massage with some oil?” I enjoyed it,but I felt so obscene, as if I paid for masturbation.But it was relaxing. It is nice.- But it’s too much.

My God, where are you? This reminds me of socialism, carrying water in plastic bottle. Really? Yeah, because they were waiting for us. You see? We were not late. I realize it, because you’re not here. But they wait for us, you see? Yeah, they didn’t start without you. They were waiting for us. Let’s start as soon as possible. Let’s go in. The majority of academics who are obsessed with this idea The left needs a new answer: isn’t it basically Like precisely as already Robespierre said,”We want revolution without revolution.” There is, I notice, a fundamental difference between the standard plurality of struggles which progressive liberals… What does it mean? Isn’t it in a way false even to expect such a clear political formula in the sense of “All we need is a bright intellectual to tell us what to do, and then capitalism will be over, we’ll have socialism,” and so on? I’m too stupid. I don’t understand.- I’m sorry.

Thank you very much. Again, I have to accept this, again, almost Lacanian decenterment of subjectivity, which is that People see things in me. They have some expectations. There may be political expectations that I will provide the formula, the big question that everybody’s expecting today from a leftist intellectual… What should we do?… or some kind of spiritual guidance to help them psychologically, or theoretical amusement in the sense of many dirty jokes or examples from movies. And I honestly accept that. I think that my reaction to this should be not so much but my duty’s basically to try and occupy the position of the analyst, which is basically to play, in a way of transference, with these expectations, and to undermine, frustrate them, to make it clear to them that the question is not what I can give them, but are these expectations legitimate? What this expectation should tell them about themselves. It was usually that big progressive act was like it was Nixon, not Democrats, who had to do it with China. This paradox… It was in France. It was de Gaulle, not socialists, who…  Algeria, yes. But I’m a little bit skeptical… You really are an intellectual superstar to me, so I had to touch you. Sorry, sorry. Interrupting. I’m the editor of Progress journal of socialist ideas. Harvard will know it.

He needs a shower. It was over there. Who knows here? The guy knows. I’m sorry. You know things here. Okay, sir, you know the guy who did “The Hero,” the Chinese guy? Double Indemnity is not on the market now, no? Being There also, I think, it looks bad, no? Being There, you know, Peter Sellers. It should be… Hal Ashby. No, this is too intelligent for me. You know the ape will not get the banana. Fuck it, I don’t get it here. Ah. U.S. ’70s. “Being There.” It’s a wonderful movie, and look, my anal character. The price is okay, so definitely. What more do I need? Fountain head is the best American movie of all times. Then the best German movie would be “Opfergang.” This is the sacrificial path, of course,from ’44, by Veit Harlan, the Nazi director. So we have Ayn Rand, a Nazi, and then… unfortunately, this is a more standard one… it is “Ivan the Terrible,” Eisenstein. I would say these three are the best movies of all times for me. Ah, this one I want, definitely. So we have these two. That will be it, I think. How about if I buy them for you? No, wait a minute. Poor American girl, working class. Who pays for that? Are you serious?  … Okay, with pleasure.- I’ll let you buy… No, let it be the eternal secret of my desire. Did I suspect this in advance or not? If you were not to make this offer, I would in the last minute say, “Maybe not now. I have too many things to carry.” This one is a little expensive, actually: $32. Shut up, or you will get three more. I’m so sad that l… Wait a minute. What is this? My God, I would love to have so that you will not… – It’s got a special booklet.

Where?  Which one? Sorry, can I buy this one also? Oh, sorry. Fuck off. What are you working on now, Slavoj? What’s the new book? The mega… basically, Ticklish Subject, Part 2. Big, big mega thing. How far along are you? Pretty close to the end. It will be mega. One part philosophy, theology, one part cognitivism… I’m now deep in brain sciences… and one part obscenity, politics, and so on.- What’s it gonna be called?- I don’t yet know. Maybe “The Parallax View,” but I must check it on amazon. Com, see if there are already 20 books named “The Parallax View,” no? I must look into that aspect. What does parallax view mean? It’s very simple. It comes as close as possible to what my position is. You know that… It’s very simple. When you mistakean apparent move… You look at an object. It appears that the object itself moves or changes, but in reality, it’s just that your perspective shifts, no? Like lunar, stellar, whatever, solar, parallax. The idea is, your shift in your subjective position is refined. You perceive it as move in the object. But, of course, then I add another twist that it is in the objectin a way,because object-subjectcan be mediated.So what interests meis precisely this radical cut,like you move from one to another perspective. There is no way to overcome this antinomy. And then I develop this systematically in philosophy,cognitive science.In cognitive sciences,the parallax would have been either you look at your inner experience,or you open the scar,you see the stupid there, brains, no? But you really can not make the jump, and you really can not… Even if scientifically you can explain it, you really can not accept that stupid piece of meat that you see. That’s thought. So if we distilled your canon into three books, what would they be? Three of my best books are unfortunately four, I would say. Sublime Object, Tearing with the Negative, Ticklish Subject, and now the new one. This is the serious work I’ve done, with little pieces here and there.

But this is what I would… although I’m more and more self-critical of the first one. It’s still too liberal. I’m for democracy there. I’m ashamed, I’m very sorry to say. I think there was a thing called totalitarianism, which was bad, and I think there should be pluralism in society. My God, what am I talking there? You know that Marx Brothers joke “I would never be a member of a club…?” You know, if I were not myself, I would arrest myself. I have a very complicated ritual about writing. It’s psychologically impossible for me to sit down, so I have to trick myself. I operate a very simple strategy which, at least with me, it works. I put down ideas, but I put them down usually in a relatively elaborate way, like the line of thought already written in full sentences. So up to a certain point, I’m telling myself, “No,I’m not yet writing. I’m just putting down ideas.” Then, at a certain point, I tell myself, “Everything is already there. Now I just have to edit it.” So that’s the idea, to split it into two. I put down notes, I edit it. Writing disappears.I’m sorry.

Please. Just be loud enough. Good question, but not in the sense that now I will say, I’m modest, so nice. No, it’s much more serious phenomenon. Let’s be quite frank. At a certain superficial level, I am relatively popular, but me and my friends, I don’t think you can… maybe you can… even imagine how noninfluential are we within the academia, which is why it pisses me off how many, whoever they are… the enemies… portray us Lacaniansas some kind of a phalogocentric power discourse. It’s very fashionable to paint usas kind of a dogmatic power discourse. For example, yesterday, when I delivered a differently improvised version of the same talk at Columbia in New York, a lady kindly towards the end asked me “But why”… Her problem was, why am I so dogmatically Lacanian. Which belief? Perfect. Perfect question. Okay, I defy you with a very simple empirical, in the best Anglo-Saxontradition, question. Apart from this brief conflict between Gayatri Spivakand Derrida,could you name me one Derridian who made a small critical remark on Derrida? Rudolph Gasche? Avital Ronell? Name somewhere,but name me one.
Why are we dogmatic? Why are they not? Name me one point where Sam Weber makes an ironic critical remark on Derrida. Name me one point where Avital Ronell does it. Name me one point where Rudolph Gasche does it. So why are we… Why is my… Why am I dogmatically attached to Lacan, and it’s not… Why did you think this is disavowed belief? I am a Lacanian. You are knocking on the open door. You don’t have to prove to some deconstructive analysis, But he’s a Lacanian. I am a card-carrying Lacanian. Something is going on here, and I just wanted to draw the attention to this, how all this popular, and I think so to give you now the true answer.I think that I admit it. There is a clownish aspect to me, like they put it in “New York Times,”Marx Brother, or whatever.

All that, I maybe flirt with it. But nonetheless, I’m getting tired of it,because I notice that there is, as it were, when there are some stupid reports on me, reactions to me, a kind of a terrible urge, comparison, to make me appear as a kind of a funny man. And the true question would be, where does this urge come from? Why is there this necessity to portray me as somebody who can only thrive through jokes? And even my publishers buy it. You know that my Lenin book… introduction of Lenin’s… was almost turned down by Verso? Why? First, they always, at Verso, gave kinks at me… Oh, you are just making jokes, then I told them, “Okay, now you have a book, Lenin’s text,” Their reproach was, So, you know, much more than it may appear is going on here. It’s quite a complex phenomenon. I’m almost tempted to say that making me popular is a resistance against taking me serious. And I think it’s my duty, for this reason, to do a kind of a public suicide of myself as a popular comedian or whatever. Let’s hope we can enter here. I don’t know how this functions now. This is it. Here you should do your Hitchcockian shot like from “Vertigo.” I saw two, three times that I came here, because when it was still open, you took there the elevator to the top. And often I saw here some policemen are cordoned off,and an object here, covered. Because you will immediately see what l… if you take the shot up. That’s it. From up there, it was practical to jump down, no?

Go up, you jump down, and it’s kind of a nice, modest, ethical suicide. It’s not this spectacle that on the street, you embarrass other people. You go here, and you jump down. Of course, my idea was to organize this. You want to kill yourself. We organize it. We prevent so that we guarantee that no small… will be here. I even have the idea that, the way they do it in this society of biopolitics, as Foucault would have put it, where they ask you… In order to get married: you don’t have AIDS, you’re mentally stable. Obviously, doesn’t work, because if it were to work, I would never be allowed to get married. But they should do it the same like if you want to kill yourself, no? I was thinking about it. I think that only people… some medical… or psychiatricadvisory committee, team, should decide is it a case of a true metaphysical suicide, or just a short crisis, like you were just dropped by your girlfriend or boyfriend, and there is a reasonable hope that it’s a momentary depression, then, in two or three weeks, it will be over. So it can be medical crisis. it can be this kind of psychological crisis,or pure metaphysical suicide. As a Marxist, if somebody tells me that Lacan is difficult, this is class propaganda by the enemy. I never thought I’d have this much fun talking about this.

Chinese Thought and Dialogical Universalism


TONG Shijun


(East China Normal University/Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences)

Europe and Asia Beyond East and West
Edited by Gerard Delanty,
Routledge, 2006

Many arguments have been made by European and Chinese thinkers against the current American foreign policy and its underlying political philosophy. This article explores the possibility of combining the argument based on the traditional Chinese idea of “tian xia” or “All under Heaven” with the argument for a dialogical universalism versus the subject-centered or monological universalism advanced by German philosopher Juergen Habermas.

1. The Chinese Idea of “Tian Xia” vs. the Western Idea of the “World”

Habermas’s criticism of the “imperialist claim” of the American neo-Conservative strategists (See Habermas 2001, Habermas 2003) may seem to some people to be a good case for making a distinction within “Western values” between “European values” and “American values”, and this distinction more or less amounts to that between a dialogical and de-centerized version of universalism a monological and self-centered version of universalism. In the view of a contemporary Chinese scholar named Zhao Tingyang, however, it is still limited by the same political tradition shared by Westerners across the Atlantic: Habermas’s “inter-subjectivity” is still an “inter-ness” between the subjects (or the nation-states in this context), but not a “transcendence” over the subjects. The real alternative to either the nation-states or the empire with one nation as its core is what the ancient Chinese imagined as “tian xia” or “All under the Heaven”.

“Tian xia” is one of the most frequently used words in ancient Chinese classics. Literally meaning “All under Heaven” or “All the land under Heaven”, it was used by ancient Chinese to refer to the whole world as they knew or imagined. It is different both from Heaven, which is above us, and from the smaller parts within it. As something different from Heaven, tian xia is actually the intersecting point of the “tian dao” or Heavenly Dao and “ren dao” or Human Dao. In other words, the principle regulating tian xia is the HeavenlyDao in the form of Human Dao. As something different from smaller parts within it, tian xia is the ideal towards which ordinary people approach and by which their everyday activities are judged. In a famous passage in the Confucian classics Great Learning, tian xia is at the top of a hierarchy of ideas: tian xia (the world), guo (states), jia (families), shen (individual persons), which is followed by a series of ideas with regards to the individual persons: xin (minds), yi (will), zhi (knowledge)….

Though the word “guo” or state is mentioned here, the ancient Chinese minds typically care more about tian xia or the world, which is supposed to be shared by everybody under tian or Heaven, than about guo, which is ruled by a jia (family) – the common Chinese equivalent of the English word “state”, guo jia, actually is composed of the two words respectively meaning state and family. The most famous contrast between “tian xia” and “guo” was made by Gu Yanwu (1613-1682), who said: “There is the perishing (wang) of guo, there’s also the perishing of tian xia. The changing of names and titles (of dynasties) is the former, while blocking of ren [humanity] and yi[righteousness] even to the degree of eating each other like beasts is the latter…. Therefore one knows to protect tian xia before he knows to protect his guo. Protecting guo is the obligations of guo’s emperors, ministers and officials, while protecting is the duty of everybody, including those in the lowest rank.” Here Gu seems to be making a distinction between “institutional obligations” and “natural duties” in John Rawls’s sense: what one owes to tian xia is a natural duty, which needs no justification, while what one owes to a guo or state is an institutional obligation, which needs justification on the basis of one’s natural duties.

This contrast between tian xia and guo/jia was noticed by many modern Chinese thinkers when they tried to understand the meaning of nation-states when people’s obligation to their guo/jia justified by their duty to the supposedly everybody’s tian xia was severely challenged by some nation-states who neither belonged to the Chinese guo/jia, nor accepted the claim that the Chinese guo/jia was the embodiment of the principle of tian xia. To many Chinese thinkers, the trouble is not only the fact that this claim was not recognized by Western “barbarous” powers, but also the fact that a nation that traditionally care more about tian xia than about guo/jia is extremely vulnerable to foreign invaders in the age dominated by a system of nation-states developed first in the West. Though few of them wanted to give up their claim for the moral superiority of this idea of tian xia, many of these Chinese thinkers warned that if we are going to survive as Chinese at all, we should have our own sense of national identity and national dignity defined according to the game rules of this world of nation-states, rather than defined according to our traditional understanding of tian xia.

While Modern Chinese thinkers like Liang Qichao (1873-1929) and Liang Shuming (1893-1988) referred to the traditional idea of tian xia in order to remind the Chinese people of the importance of developing something between tian xia and jia (family) while respecting their values, that is, the importance of cultivating the “group life” in Liang Shuming’s words, contemporary Chinese thinkers like Shen Hong and Zhao Tingyang referred to the idea of tian xia in order to claim that the traditional Chinese political culture contains important insights that might be helpful in solving the problems facing us at the global level.

The most important problem in our times of globalization, according to Zhao Tingyang, is the fact that the system of nation-states has become outdated: it is irrelevant when it comes to many problems at the global level. As a reaction to this situation, some alternative projects have been proposed, or even pursued, but none of them, in Zhao’s view, is satisfactory, because all of them are afflicted by the problem of failure to really go beyond the horizon of the model of nation-state. The United Nations is basically still a “world organization” rather than a “world institution”; the difference between the two is that while a “world institution” needs an idea of “the world” that transcends nations as its basis, a “world organization” is still an international arrangement. In theory, the UN has the problem of trying to integrate the two incompatible things, that is, pluralism and universalism, into a coherent unity; in practice, the UN has the problem of failure to do anything that any of the powers in the world does not agree upon. It is true that the United States is now the only superpower in the world, but then the UN seems to be even weaker compared with the USA in implementing its wills. Here comes the idea that the world is turned to be a new empire, an empire of the age of globalization. This “global empire”, as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri described in their Empire, is to Zhao’s idea actually a model of American imperialism, in which America is not only the overwhelmingly powerful game player, but also the sole game rule maker. Thus “the United States managed to become the sole outlaw state in the world game.” (Zhao, p. 105) The fact that America is now behaving lawlessly, in Zhao’s view, is not only a result of the imperialist ambition of the USA, but also a result of the fact that the world does not yet have a “world idea”, neither does it have a world institution and the power to support it. “It is this”, Zhao said, “that is the severe problem posed in our times.” (Ibid)

The traditional Chinese idea of tian xia, thought Zhao, is a good candidate for this kind of world idea. Basically the idea tian xia has the following three levels of meaning:

Firstly it is its geographical sense, referring to “all the lands under heaven” in the geographical sense. It amounts to the “di” (earth) in the traditional Chinese triad of “tian (heaven), di (earth), ren (people)”, or the whole world that can be inhabited by human beings.

Secondly it is its psychological sense, referring to the mentality of all those who live upon the earth, or what Chinese calls “min xin” or “popular sentiments”. In traditional Chinese political culture, having supreme power over tian xia in the geographical sense is not “de tian xia” or “acquiring the world” in the real sense. “Acquiring tian xia” in the real sense is to have support by all the people on the earth and under the heaven.

Thirdly it is its ethical-political sense, referring to the ideal of Utopia of everybody under heaven treat each other like members of one family. What is special with this part of the idea of tian xia is that in it there is an imagination of and aspiration for a certain “world institution”, and a certain “world government” supported by it.

Compared with the Western idea of “the world”, the Chinese idea of tian xia is, according to Zhao, a philosophical rather than scientific idea, a conceptually completed world that contains all the possible meanings of the world and excludes none of them. Compared with the Husserl’s idea of “the life world”, which is also filled with human meanings, the idea of tian xia contains the institutional dimension that the idea of lifeworld lacks. Compared with the Christian world-view, the Chinese idea of tian xia is not afflicted with all kinds of divisions, conflicts and struggles, and does not deprive us of the ability to imagine a perfect future in this world, the human world.

It is interesting to note when he was arguing for the importance of the idea of tian xia to our times, Zhao Tingyang was criticizing Habermas and Rawls as well. Zhao’s criticism of Rawls is very harsh. Rawls’s thinking follows the line of Kant, which is regarded by Zhao as the best one can do before one goes beyond the paradigm of the non-world. But, according Zhao, Rawls’s idea of “law of peoples” implies two gravely dangerous ideas: the refusal to extend the principle of difference, which is in favor of the disadvantaged, from the domestic societies to the global society, and the suggestion that the so-called “liberal and decent peoples” are justified not to tolerate the outlaw states. “Rawls’s theory amounts to advocating a new imperialism, which is exactly what is carried on by the USA, a country that is willing to invest more in wars than to in the orderly international community.” (Zhao, p. 98)

Compared with Rawls, Habermas received less harsh criticism from Zhao Tingyang. Habermas, in Zhao’s view, neglected two critical questions. On the one hand, Habermas does not see that some matters can never be agreed upon by different parties, however rational a dialogue that has been undergone through might be, and even though the parties concerned have understood each other perfectly. On the other hand, some issues involve immediate interests, which would be lost if no action is taken immediately. In addition to these two problems, Habermas’s approach is wrong mainly because it has still not gone beyond the typically Western habit of taking entities like “individuals” and “nations/states” as the decisive units of consideration. By contrast, in Chinese philosophy the basic unit of consideration is a relational structure, such as family and tian xia. A philosophy based on “relationships” instead of “individuals” thus provides “the view from everywhere” rather than “the view from somewhere”. (Zhao, p. 108)

2. “View from Everywhere” vs. “View from Somewhere”

Although the idea of tian xia is considered by Zhao Tingyang to be able to provide a view from everywhere rather than a view from somewhere, Zhao himself was making this claim from a very clearly expressed “somewhere”: China. The introduction to his book The System of Tian Xia: An Introduction to A Philosophy of World Institution” is titled “Why should we discuss the Chinese world-view?” Zhao’s answer to this question is put forward against the background of the so-called “China’s rise” or even “China threat”.

The reason why we should clearly state the Chinese conception of the world, according to Zhao, is that China’s importance in thinking should match its importance in economy. And this is also required by China’s now growing responsibility to the world. “China threat” or “China’s rise”, two phrases reflecting the growing importance of China in the world from different positions, are both misconceptions of China. The former is a negative misconception of an “Other” by the non-Chinese, while the latter is a positive (self-)misconception of the Chinese themselves. In some sense, every developed countries or large countries are threats to others, because they consume large amount of energy, and create pressure upon others. But the key issue is to identify China’s possible contributions and responsibility for the world, or to redefine the positive meaning of the idea of “China”. Zhao said:

“To the world, the positive meaning that China can contribute is to become a new type of power, a power that is responsible to the world, a power that is different from various empires in the world history. To be responsible to the world, rather than merely to one’s own country, is, theoretically speaking, a perspective of the Chinese philosophy, and practically speaking, a brand new possibility, that is, to take ‘tian xia’ as a preferred unit of analysis of political/economic interests, to understand the world from the perspective of tian xia, that is, to analyze problems with ‘the world’ as the unit of thinking, going beyond the Western mode of thinking in terms of nation/state, to take responsibility to the world as one’s own responsibility, and to create a new world idea and a new world institution. World idea and world institution are values and orders that this world has ever lacked. Both the Great Britain, the power over the world in the past, and the USA, the power over the world now, have no other ideas than the idea of nation/state, and no other considerations than their own national interests, and with regards to the administration of the world they have had no legitimacy either in political or in philosophical senses. The reason is that their ‘world thinking’ is nothing but advocating their particular values, and universalizing their own values. …The problem is not that the Western nations do not think about the world; actually they always do. But ‘to think about the world’ and ‘to think from the perspective of the world’ are two totally different spheres of thinking. With regards to world politics, the Chinese world-view, or its theory of tian xia, is the only theory that takes into consideration the legitimacy of the world order and the world institution, because only the Chinese world-view possesses the idea of ‘tian xia’ as a perspective of analysis that is higher and larger than ‘nation’. Therefore our real problem is what kind of obligation that China is prepared to take for the world, and what kind of ideas China is prepared to create for the world.” (Zhao, p. 3-4)

That is to say, the real importance of China to the world is that only in Chinese tradition there is a way of thinking that is against not only other powers’ egocentric thinking, but also its own egocentric thinking. Here Zhao seems to imply that according to this tradition, a “threat from China” would thus become a “threat against China” as well, and the only correct understanding of “China rise” is the rise of China’s responsibility to the world — not a responsibility in the sense of a “mission” to universalize its values and distribute them all over the world, but in the sense of a duty to “think of tian xia from the perspective of tian xia”, and to regard nobody as others or outsiders, because in relation to tian xia there are, by definition, no outsiders.

The core of Zhao’s idea, I think, is to argue for a cosmopolitan order that calls for a higher sense of responsibility rather than a stronger sense of power and hegemony, and to argue for it from a perspective that is neither other-worldly transcendental, nor this-worldly utilitarian, but in a sense this-worldly transcendental. Zhao regards this “immanent transcendental” perspective as “ontological” and “a prior”, but I would rather interpret it as a perspective concerning “who we are” or “who we want to be” instead of “what we have” or “how much we have”, nor “what we should do” as one would think on a deontological position. A cosmopolitan order or an order of tian xia is justified not from any particular interest positions, nor from any supposedly universalized or universalizeble interest positions, which is the core of Habemas’s version of Kantianism, but from the perspective of tian xia itself, which is the “ontological condition” for our happiness, or our “well-being”, which is our real being. In other words, a cosmopolitan order, or the peaceful coexistence and cooperation among all the peoples under heaven, is justified neither on the basis of the instrumental value of coexistence and cooperation, nor on the basis of some other-worldly meanings, but on the basis of the this-worldly immanent values of coexistence and cooperation.

A utilitarian justification for coexistence and cooperation is limited because interest-relations between different persons or different groups of people could easily change with time, situation and particular considerations of the people concerned at particular moments. If one’s interest is the major reason for his or her engagement in the coexistence and cooperation, he or she may well break this relationship easily for the very same reason of self-interest.

One may then say that coexistence and cooperation should be justified by long-term rather than short-term interests: in the long run cooperation between different peoples is beneficial to each of them. Even if the current cooperation is not very beneficial to us, we may say, we can rely on our long-term interest-calculation, which would tell us that we would be guaranteed of a share of benefit of the cooperation in the future sooner or later. At first sight this way of thinking seems much better than the above one, the one based on short-term interest relations. On closer look, however, it is also somehow problematic. Actually, those who argue for competition rather than for cooperation are making the same type of consideration: although competition on the basis of self-interests is harmful in many cases, it will bring about beneficial results in the long run according to certain laws or meanings governing human society or human history as a whole. Behind both arguments we can perhaps see the following same way of thinking: to base our hope or activity on our conviction of some deep-seated laws or meanings of human society and history, no matter what these laws and meanings say about the result of our hope or action. What is problematic about this way of thinking is that in human world, what our future will be like depends, to a large degree, on what we choose to do now and here, rather than some hidden or deep-seated laws and meanings. To justify something on the ground that it will bring us beneficial results in the future according to certain transcendental goals or objective laws could lead, in my view, to easing our sense of urgency with regard to what we should do now and here, while it is much more dangerous in our times than in previous periods for us to sit and wait until what Kant called “providence” or “the secret plan of Nature”, what Hegel called the “cunning of Reason”, or what Marx called the “law of history”, show us what our real destiny will be in the remote future. In our times, modern science has already peeped into human genes, weapons of mass destruction can be easily used for different reasons, and large scale harmful ecological changes has begun to influence our everyday life. This means that what we choose to do now can easily delete any chance of our further choices in the future, and we are no longer in the situation where we can be sure that any mistake now can be corrected and its consequence be compensated in the long run. This concerns the very “being” of us, rather than the mere “having” of us. Against this background it is really very important to emphasize our (Chinese) responsibility that is growing together with our economic and technological power, and to consider the problem of the world from the perspective of the world itself, rather than the perspective of any particular interests. This is the implication in Zhao Tingyang’s idea of tian xia, which is very important, indeed.

3. “View from Everywhere” as “Ideal Role Taking”

To see tian xia from the perspective of tian xia itself is to justify coexistence and cooperation on the basis of the immanent non-utilitarian value of coexistence cooperation itself, and to say that coexistence and cooperation have an immanent non-utilitarian value in them is to say that to live together with each others in a friendly and cooperative way is to live in a genuinely human way: when we are asked to define the meaning of a genuinely human life, we have to mention friendship and cooperation and include them in that definition. For this kind of thinking I want to give a formulation that is less metaphysical than Zhao’s as follows on the basis of my understanding of Confucianism.

The focus of Confucianism is to teach how to be a human being in the full sense. To be a human in the full sense, according to Confucius, is to cultivate “ren” in ourselves. “Ren” is the kernel concept of Confucianism, and it is composed of “人” “(man) and “二”(two). One becomes a human individual in the full sense only through interaction with other people; “intersubjectivity” comes before “subjectivity” in this sense. Interaction with other people is first of all a process of getting mature as a human being, or a process of learning to be a human being in the full sense, instead of a mere process of benefiting each other. The first passage of the Analectics records the Master’s saying that “Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application? Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters? Is he not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?” (Analectics, Ch. 1) What is most relevant to the topic of this paper is the second sentence: “is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters”. Having friends coming from distant quarters is something delightful, and it is delightful by itself, not because of any other things. Of the same nature is “learning with constant perseverance and application”. It is also something that is pleasant by itself and not because of anything else. Put these two sentences together we may say that Confucius teaches us both to love others and to educate or cultivate ourselves, and these two things are actually closely connected with each other: according to Confucius, loving others is a great way of cultivating ourselves, or a great way for us to learn to be human beings in the full sense. That is why the concept “ren” is so important in the doctrine of Confucius and later Confucians. It is, of course, not an easy thing to love others; otherwise it would not be so important to our personal development. “Others” are others because they are different from us, and it is a great challenge for us to learn to deal with differences between people. To have a harmonious relation with others is not to reduce all the differences between them and us. That is what Confucius means when he says that “the gentleman aims at harmony, not uniformity; the small man prefers uniformity, not harmony.” (Analectics, Ch. 12) Harmony, according to Confucianism, is a relation between different elements, like what we have in a “thick soup”. Given the differences and diversities between different people, it is only natural that misunderstandings can arise from time to time. In order to deal with this kind of situation, Confucius asks us to be patient, to be optimistic, and not to give up easily in striving for mutual understanding and trust. That is why the third sentence of the first paragraph of the Analectics goes like this: “Is he not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?” (Analectics, Ch.1)

If we expand our understanding of coexistence and cooperation as the “ontological condition” for our (well-)being, then we can see that when we are engaged in friendly coexistence and cooperation, we should not only avoid trying to benefit us alone, but also avoid trying to benefit others according to our own understanding of “benefits” or “interests”. The first principle in Confucianism in dealing with others is “Not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself.” (Analectics, Ch. 12) This, as we all know, is the Confucian version of the “Golden Rule”. In addition to this basically negative rule there is another Confucian rule, a positive one: “Now the man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others.”(Analectics, Ch.6))Here the expressions “to establish others” and “to enlarge others” should not be understood as simply “making others live the same kind of life as we do”. It is well-known that to impose what we think to be good upon other people very often inflict great harm upon them instead. To have the view of tian xia in our times means that we should not only do good things for others, but also respect others’ understanding of the meaning of “a good life”. In order to show our respect for other people’s right to interpret the meaning of “good”, and, in order to seek mutual understanding between different people (and different peoples) over the problem “what is a good life”, we should take an active part in cooperation not only in trade, finance and economy in general, but also in culture, in cultural exchange and intellectual dialogue.

What is said above is, contrary to Zhao Tingyang’s view, not very different from Habermas’s position. Or in other words, the traditional Chinese idea of “tian xia” can be translated into the language of Habermas’s theory of communicative action. Both Habermas and Zhao Tingyang want to find some a prior condition for our being as human beings, but it is Habermas, instead of Zhao, who seems to be closer to Confucius: Habermas, like a good Confucian typically would do, starts from what is nearby, that is, everyday communication, while Zhao argues that tian xia, the least probable Utopia, has the “logical precedence” over every other orders. Zhao does not see that with Habermas, as with Confucius, subjectivity and intersubjectivity presuppose each other, rather than the latter unilaterally depends on the former. Like many other people, Zhao does not see clearly that Habermas’s idea of “ideal speech situation” is not a purely regulative idea, but also something constitutive, or something we have already presupposed if interpersonal communication is to be possible at all. And Habermas needs his theory of dialogue or argumentation not only because of the importance of dialogue and argumentation to decision-making on domestic, international and global issues, but also because of the importance of study of dialogue and argumentation to answering some key questions in theory of knowledge, morality and law, such as whether it is still possible to keep and defend the ideas of truth, justice, and goodness, and why we should bother to be moral at all. These questions were answered by appealing to traditional world-views in the past, and thus were not real questions at all. In our times, however, they become questions just because they no longer have, if any, ready-made answers. Now both Confucius and Habermas can be said of accepting Herbert Mead’s thesis of “individualization through socialization” (See Habermas 1992, pp. 149-204). With the help of this thesis, we can see that to a person who has become a mature individual through a process of social interaction in which rationalized social norms are internalized in him, “why moral” is a problem that has already been solved in the everyday life before it is raised in expert discourse. At a higher level, in our times, one is developed into a mature individual not only through a process of socialization in one particular cultural community, but also through a process of being engaged in the process of communication between different cultural communities in the global society as well as in domestic societies. A mature individual is one who has learnt to take everybody’s perspective, which is called by Mead (and Habermas) “the ideal role taking”: “In moral discourse, the ethnocentric perspective of an unlimited communication community, all of whose members put themselves in each individual’s situation, worldview, and self-understanding, and together practice an ideal role taking (as understood by G. H. Mead).” (Habermas 1996, p. 162) This, I think, is just what Zhao Tingyang means by “the view from everywhere”.

Confucianism, of course, can be and does have been interpreted in many ways. What I have proposed above is more or less a mutual translation between the Confucian idea of “tian xia” or Zhao Tingyang’s “the view from everywhere” on the one hand, and the idea of “ideal role-taking” in Mead and Habermas, on the other. Preserving the traditional Chinese idea of “tian xia” and interpreting the idea of “tian xia” with the help of the idea of “ideal role-taking”, we can, on the one hand, connect the traditional idea with the contemporary discussions on various relevant issues, including the issue of institutional framework for implementing the idea of “tian xia”, and, on the other hand, bring the achievements of these contemporary discussion, of which Habermas’s dialogical universalism is an very important one, into touch with the traditional Chinese culture, especially its idea of “tian xia” as a this-worldly transcendental Utopia.

November 17, 2005, Shanghai


Zhao Tingyang (2005): The System of Tian xia: An Introduction to a Philosophy of the World Institution (tian xia ti xi: shi jie zhi du zhe xue dao lun), Jiangsu Education Press, 2005.

Jürgen Habermas:

1992: Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays, translated by William Mark Hohengarten, Polity Press, 1992

1996: Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, translated by William Rehg, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1996

2002: “Letter to America”, Nation; 12/16/2002, Vol. 275 Issue 21.

2003: “Was bedeutet der Denkmalsturz?”, Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung vom 17. April 2003

The author:

TONG Shijun, born in 1958, is Professor of Philosophy of East China Normal University in Shanghai and Deputy President of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. He got his BA and MA degrees from East China Normal University respectively in 1982 and 1984, and his Ph.D. from the University of Bergen of Norway in 1994. Having taught philosophy at ECNU since 1984, he visited University of Marburg of Germany from May to November 1998, and worked at Columbia University of the USA as a research visiting Fulbright Scholar in the academic year 2000-2001. Among his publications are Epistemology and Methodology in the Post-Hegelian European Philosophy of 19th Century (Bergen 1993) and Dialectics of Modernization: Habermas and the Chinese Discourse of Modernization (Sidney, 2000). Among his translations are Hilary Putnam’s Reason, Truth and History and Juergen Habermas’s Faktizitaet und Geltung.

Email address:

Rethinking Empire from a Chinese
Concept ‘All-under-Heaven’
(Tian-xia, )
Tingyang Zhao
In this paper the author argues that the Chinese theory of All-under-Heaven is the best
philosophy for world governance. All-under-Heaven is a deep world concept with a
trinity of meanings: the earth, people’s hearts and a world institution. And it introduces a
political principle, ‘world-ness’, that arguably transcends the principle of ‘internationality’.
The author argues that the theory of All-under-Heaven is a more appropriate
‘world theory’ than ‘international theory’ in dealing with world problems. The author
also considers the philosophies of the UN and EU.
‘Empire’ is not only a geographical but also a cultural institutional concept.
There have been great empires in the past, always reminding us of their splendid
victories and fatal collapse. The modern age has been mainly an age of nations/states,
in which the concept of empire has been distorted in terms of the imperialism that
should assumed responsibility for the most terrible wars recorded in history.
As is now realized, because of penetrating globalization and astonishing technological
developments, the modernity of the nations/states system has been weakened,
while a still-vague new age emerges,1 an age of globality as the consequence
of globalisation. But what is the most likely form of global governance? Personally
I feel as if the steps toward a new empire could be now be heard, and indeed it
has already been discussed (see Hardt & Negri, 2001). What ideal of empire could
we expect for a new empire? It seems an important and serious question.. And here
I would like to introduce the Chinese traditional conception of world governance,
which is quite different from the usual understanding of empire, and which
might give a more constructive and positive way to rethink the best Idea of an
acceptable empire.
Tingyang Zhao, Professor of Institute of Philosophy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 5 Jiangnomennei
Avenue, Beijing, China 100732. Email:
ISSN 1350-4630 (print)/ISSN 1363-0296 (online) # 2006 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/13504630600555559
Social Identities
Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2006, pp. 29/41
1. The Concept of ‘All-under-Heaven’
In contract to the western concept of empire, China has a three thousand year-old
traditional concept, ‘All-under-Heaven’, very closely relevant to the Idea of empire.
We are led to think that a thing always has, in Platonic philosophy, its Idea that
essentially makes it as it is . And an Idea also implies, if further interpreted, the perfect
conception for a thing to be as it is expected. That means a perfect idea is turned out
to be an ideal of a thing. Here the concept of All-under-Heaven could be considered
as a supposed ideal of a perfect empire.
The term ‘All-under-Heaven’ (Tian-xia, ), found in almost the oldest Chinese
texts, means firstly the earth, or the whole world under heaven.2 It is almost
equivalent to ‘the universe’ or ‘the world’ in western languages. Its second meaning is
the ‘hearts of all peoples’ ( ), or the ‘general will of the people’. The world is always
the home-for-people, that is, the earth as it is ours more than the earth as it is . Allunder-
Heaven therefore consists of both the earth and the people. Consequently, an
emperor does not really enjoy his empire of All-under-Heaven, even if he conquers an
extraordinary vastness of land, unless he receives the sincere and true support from
the people on the land. Just as Philosopher Xun-zi (313BC/238BC) said in his essay
‘On kingship and supremacy’:
Enjoying All-under-Heaven does not mean to receive the lands from people who
are forced to give, but to satisfy all people with a good way of governance.
Its third meaning, the ethical and/or political meaning, is a world institution, or a
universal system for the world, a utopia of the world-as-one-family. This political/
ethical ideal of the world boasts of its very distinctness in its philosophical and
practical pursuit of world governance ensured by a world institution. The ideal of
All-under-Heaven as the philosophical concept of a world institution essentially
distinguishes itself from the pattern of the traditional military empire, for instance
the Roman Empire, or that of an imperialist nation/state, for example the British
Empire. The conceptually defined Empire of All-under-Heaven does not mean a
country3 at all but an institutional world instead. And it expects a world/society
instead of nation/states. All-under-Heaven is a deep concept of the world, defined by
the trinity of the geographical, psychological, and political worlds. From the
viewpoint of this political ontology, our supposed world is now still a non-world,
for the world has not yet been completed in its full sense. World institution and full
popular support are still missing. We are talking nonsense about the world, for the
world has not yet been fulfilled with its world-ness.
The concept of All-under-Heaven shows its uniqueness in its political and
philosophical world-view that creates the world-wide-measure, or the world-wideviewpoint,
of seeing the affairs and problems of the world in the measure of worldness.
It defines the world as a categorical rethinking unit of viewing and interpreting
political life, constitution and institution. This methodology is essentially different
from the western. In western political theory, the biggest political unit is found to be a
30 T. Zhao
country or nation/state, while in Chinese theory it is the framework of ‘world/society’.
States have always been seen as subordinate units inside the framework of the world/
society that are regarded as a necessary and the highest political unit. Chinese
political philosophy defines a political order in which the world is primary, whereas
the nation/state is primary in western philosophy. Certainly, westerners do think
about the world, but the western imaginations of the world are nothing higher and
greater than international alliances or unions of nation/states, not going beyond the
framework of nation/states. Such projects have essential difficulties in reaching the
real integrality of the world for they are limited by the perspectives of nation/states,
due to the lack of a vision of world-ness. To see the world from its world-ness is
different from seeing it from part of it.
All-under-Heaven should be understood together with another closely related
concept the ‘Son of Heaven’ ( ), that is, structurally pertaining to All-under-
Heaven. The concepts of All-under-Heaven and the Son of Heaven make a
philosophical foundation for the system of empire. The Son of Heaven, analogous
to an emperor,4 is entitled to ‘enjoy his reign of the world under the heaven’ (see The
Poems). He is born to have ‘All-under-Heaven as his home’, just as naturally as a man
has a home of his own according to his natural rights, and ‘nothing left there out of
his world of home’. Whilst not even the strongest empires have controlled the entire
world, it is not difficult to conceive of the world controlled by a conceptual empire.
Of most importance is that a Son of Heaven does rather than is . In other words, one
could self-claim one’s destiny as the mandate of heaven to be, but has to be
reconfirmed the Son of Heaven if and only if there is evidence to justify his
qualification, that is, as a Confucian master Mencius argued, one’s being supported
by the peoples.5 The people’s choice is conceived as the final evidence or examination
of the legitimacy/justification of the governance. The Chinese theory of political
legitimism allows two ways to prove the rightness of the reign, one of them is the
legitimacy of establishment of an empire*/that is to save peoples from a terrible
situation when, and only when, welcomed by most of the people*/and the other is
the justification of enjoyment of the reign, which is to keep the world in the order that
most of the people want.
According to Confucius’ theory of justification, ‘p is p if p does as p is conceptually
meant to do’, we do not say that a king, an institution or a political system is better
but rather does better as evidenced.6 However, what is considered evidence in the
Chinese way is not always based on statistics, a democratic election, but rather the
that collected by means of observation of social trends or preferences, and especially
by the obvious fact that people autonomously choose to follow and pledge their
allegiance, instead of voting for one of several dubious politicians. In fact, careful and
sincere observations can better detect truth and come to a better reflection of public
choice than do democratic elections, which become spoilt by money, misled by media
and distorted by strategic votes. The autonomy of people to follow or not to follow is
regarded as a fundamental question in Chinese political philosophy as the matter of
‘people’s heart’ ( ), and it is considered closer to the truth of political reality than
Social Identities 31
democracy. The problem of people’s heart (it might better be translated in the
western way as ‘demo-allegiance’) must, theoretically, be a better representation than
democracy of the problem of public choice. If we follow the facts, it seems to be the
case that the masses always make the wrong choices for themselves through a misled
The knowledge of public preference has never been an epistemological problem to
Chinese minds, for evidence of public preference is thought to be apparent. Instead,
the Chinese have taken the ethical problem of the ‘sincerity’ of concern for the people
most seriously. The unspoken theory is that most people do not really know what is
best for them, but that the elite do, so the elite ought genuinely to decide for the
people. In the late nineteenth century, many Chinese began to think, influenced by
western discourse, that the best way of carrying out the Chinese principle of ‘people’s
hearts’ was democracy. But the problem of public choice remains unsolved today, and
has become an even greater difficulty, for democracy represents misled minds much
more than the independent, the false want much more than true needs, and illusive
advantages much more than real goods and virtues.
In Chinese philosophy, the legitimacy of All-under-Heaven is asserted as absolute
whereas a Son of heaven is not, which indicates three implicative principles: 1) the
political legitimacy of reign of All-under-Heaven is independent of and prior to any
ideology or religion; 2) the reign of All-under-Heaven is open to any qualified
candidates who best know the Way (Tao, ) to improve the happiness of all peoples
universally; and 3) this will not be a dictator or a superpower, but one who has the
right and power to justify the governance of All-under-Heaven. Laozi, the founder of
Taoism, pointed out:
a king could rule a state by his orders, win a war by strategies, but enjoy All-under-
Heaven only by doing nothing to decrease the freedom and to deny the interests of
people. (see Laozi, Tao Te Ching, c.500BC)
The appeal to the evidence of the people’s support had become the justified reason
for another political group to launch a revolution, a ‘rewriting of the mandate of
heaven’ in Chinese terms. In fact the justification of revolution has become 4000-
year-old tradition. And the theory of All-under-Heaven has no discriminating rule to
deny the opportunity for any nation to be in charge of the governance of All-under-
Heaven. Historically, the Mongolian and the Menchu had governed China for 400
years and their governance had been considered legitimate dynasties of China. More
interestingly, both the Mongolian and the Menchu emperors had adopted the theory
of All-under-Heaven in establishing their legitimate reign.7
In the Chinese system of ideas, family-ship is very powerful in interpreting ethical/
political legitimacy, for family-ship is thought to be the naturally given ground and
resource for love, harmony and obligations, and thus a full argument that ‘exhausts
the essence of humanity’.8 Chinese philosophy has developed the very consciousness
of the virtue of family-ship.9 The essence of humanity, fundamentally constituted as
family-ship, is claimed as the ‘first thing with which a Lord is concerned most’ and
32 T. Zhao
the only thing ‘impossible to be altered forever’, while all other rules and knowledge
are alterable.10 Family-ship is the minimal and irreducible location of harmony,
cooperation, common interests and happiness, so that it is arguably the universal
framework through which to interpret all possible cases of harmony, cooperation,
common interests and happiness.
The virtue of the-world-as-All-under-Heaven is always understood and interpreted
in terms of family-ship. And it analytically implies the claim for the wholeness and
harmony of the world to be a world, for the necessary conditions of family happiness
are always its wholeness and harmony. And as also implied logically, anything against
the wholeness and harmony of the world is defined as politically unacceptable (the
interference in the liberty of an individual might be an unacceptable political mistake,
whilst the damage to harmony, the first political mistake). Thus the principle of
harmony, originating in the ideal of family-ship, is made a paradigm applied further
to the explanations of the possibility of any kind of harmony in the world. All-under-
Heaven is nothing but the greatest family, a world-family; that said, all political levels,
defined as ‘All-under-Heaven, states and families’, should be essentially homogenous
or homological so as to create a harmonious system. This is the key to understanding
Chinese political theory. The world’s effective political order must progress from
All-under-Heaven, to state, to families, so as to ensure universal consistency and
transitivity in political life, or the uniformity of society (just like the uniformity of
nature), while an ethical order progresses from families, to states, to All-under-
Heaven, so as to ensure ethical consistency and transitivity. It implies that a world is
of order if and only if it is ordered with the highest world institution, while the world
institution must reflect the virtue of family-ship. Under this principle, Chinese
political and ethical theories are made one. We all have reason to highlight the
importance of political/ethical consistency and transitivity, because any inconsistency
or contradiction in the system will be a disaster. For instance, democracy, equality
and liberty have been developed in western domestic society, but never extended to
the international society. This case of political inconsistency and intransitivity could
greatly damage the reputation of democracy, equality and liberty.
The Chinese system of families, states and All-under-Heaven, which differs
fundamentally from the western system of individuals, nations and internationals,
is often criticised for its neglect of the individual as well as individual rights, but this
is a misunderstanding of Chinese philosophy and a poor understanding of political
society. There is no Chinese denial of the value of the individual, but rather a denial
of the individual to be a political foundation or starting point, because the political
makes sense only when it deals with ‘relations’ rather than ‘individuals’, and the
political is meant to speak for co-existence rather than a single existence. In a very
Chinese way, politics aims at a good society of peaceful ‘order’ ( ), which is the first
condition for any possible happiness of each and all, and at keeping a society from the
‘disorder’ ( ) that destroys all possibilities of individual happiness. This political
conception could find a strong argument in Chinese ontology, the ontology of
relations, instead of the western ontology of things .
Social Identities 33
According to the grammar of Chinese philosophy, the political philosophy focusing
on the absoluteness of individual or nation misleads political questions and logic, for
it encourages conflicts and consciousness of the enemy, which creates more problems
than solutions. Carl Schmitt’s wonderful theory of recognition of enemy/friend could
be an example. It rightly reflects the typical wrong in western political consciousness,
or sub-consciousness, in which political impulse divides and breaks up the world. In
contrast, one of the principles of Chinese political philosophy is said ‘to turn the
enemy into a friend’, and it would lose its meaning if it were not to remove conflicts
and pacify social problems*/in a word, to ‘transform’( ) the bad into the good.
Today, some investigations in game theory seem to support Chinese philosophy in
that in a game, maximizers will find a limit to improving their own interests, because
Pareto efficiency for common happiness would be impossible without trusted
The concept of All-under-Heaven is meant to be an empire of world-ness
responsible for the common happiness of all peoples. It refers to a theoretical or
conceptual empire that has never really existed. I do not say that Chinese dynasties,
for instance the Chin ( ) dynasty, were not empires. Quite the opposite, China had
been an empire in its usual sense for a long time. Every dynasty of Chinese empire
had tried to apply the concept of All-under-Heaven, but had never been able to
realize it because of practical limitations. All-under-Heaven means a very different
empire, that is not necessarily a world superpower, but a world under a commonlyagreed
institution, a plan to make the world a place of world-ness. The ancient
Chinese empires had no power to accomplish the plan of world-ness, but had tried to
be an exemplar empire of family-ship. The comprehensive view of the world as Allunder-
Heaven surely takes the whole world as a single political system that is much
greater and higher than a single country or nation/state. Consequently, the empire of
All-under-Heaven highlights the problem of time rather than of space, that is, the
problem of its duration rather than of its territory; and it has been apparent in the
Chinese concern for the legitimacy of its dynasties rather than actual territorial
The ancient Chinese practical project of the empire of All-under-Heaven had many
sub-states ( ) that were institutionally loyal to the empire, which were institutional
centres, but independent in their governance. These sub-states were not nation/states
at all but ruled by kings or noble families and politically recognized by the emperor.
Before the centralized government of the vast Chinese Empire was set up in 221BC,
China had been an ‘ideal’ empire, close to the concept of All-under-Heaven,
consisting of many ‘sub-states’,11 independent in their economies, military powers
and cultures, but politically and ethically dependent on the empire’s institutional
centre. There was a tributary system between the suzerain centre and the sub-states.
And the suzerain centre enjoyed its authority in recognizing the legitimacy of the substates,
but never interfered unless a sub-state declared war on another member of the
family of All-under-Heaven.
34 T. Zhao
The Chinese institution of empire experienced revolutionary reform in 221BC
when the Chin Emperor the Great conquered China and created a country with
centralized governance over many provinces, instead of sub-states. But this
institutional reform did not change the ideal of All-under-Heaven. On the contrary,
it seemed to lead the Chinese to the idea of an even wider understanding of the world,
a nearly ‘global’ picture of the world in which all foreign countries, near and far, were
seen as the theoretically taken-in sub-states. So the former smaller picture of Allunder-
Heaven had been just mapped onto the enlarged one. And the legal tributary
system had also been redefined and transformed into the voluntary tributary system,
in which foreign countries volunteered to decide whether or not to join.
The voluntary tributary system expresses much of the diplomatic strategy of the
ancient Chinese empire. It had developed stipulated reciprocity into the voluntary in
a tributary system and always ran it in a pattern of much greater returns to any
tributary gifts. Reciprocity has been a leading idea in Chinese thinking. And it has
been performed within the norms of practical life to express mutual respect. The
Interpretation of Rites says: ‘the reciprocal repays is mostly preferred in the rites. And
no pay or no repay no respect’.12 Reciprocity is a truer echo of the other’s heart-felt
respect than an economically equal exchange. And it has been argued that the ideal of
social relations is rooted in the essence of reciprocity as heart-for-heart, much more
than the reciprocity of interests-for-interests. The primary concept or principle in
Confucian theory is ‘Jen’ ( ), literally meaning the best relationship ‘of-twopersons’.
13 And even more interesting, the oldest literal meaning of Jen was the best
relationship of ‘thousands of hearts’ ( ). Jen had been considered the only
fundamental principle with which the harmony of peoples could be developed.
Reciprocity understood in the Chinese way has less to do with the reciprocal
utilitarianism or balance in commercial exchange and much more to do with the
reciprocity of hearts.
The principle of voluntariness is key to the Chinese understanding of ‘relations’
from the viewpoint of other-ness. Some scholars have argued that the general Chinese
ethical principle appears the same as the western Golden Rule (see Kung & Kuschel,
1993), but it differs essentially in the philosophical presuppositions wherein western
philosophy sees in terms of subjectivity, but the Chinese in terms of other-ness. The
Bible’s golden rule, ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you’ sounds
promising, but it would encounter challenges and difficulties when other hearts are
taken into account. The other-ness of the other heart is something absolute and
transcendent, so the other heart might reasonably want a different life. In terms of
other-ness, the Chinese ethical principle thus runs: ‘let others reach their goals if you
reach yours’. It is easy to see the subtle difference between the western and Chinese
rules. I have rewritten the Bible’s rule in a negative representation to be a better
representation of the absoluteness of other-ness: ‘never do to others what the others
would not want you to do to them’. When facing the problem of the irreducible
diversities of the hearts of others, Chinese philosophy found a solution in the
Social Identities 35
highlighting of voluntariness. The 2000-year-old Interpretation of Rites says that
harmony can be developed under two conditions:
To be heart to heart closed when congenial to each other; to respect reciprocally
when different from each other . . . rites differ in forms but equal in essence as the
expression of respect, just as in the same way, music differs in styles but is equal in
essence as the expression of heart.14
That means that to love what is the same to ours is not a problem at all, and thus that
it proves nothing of the essence of humanity. And our brilliant virtue of humanity
could show its excellence only in respecting the dissimilar forms of life. And to
respect the other in their otherness is at least to respect his voluntariness or rights in
developing his culture.
It is proper to learn values from others whereas unjust to impose one’s values onto
the others. Or to say, the values are to be learnt by rather than to be taught to the
Accordingly, an empire of All-under-Heaven could only be an exemplar passively in
situ , rather than positively become missionary. Here we see the difference between the
western and Chinese ethics: western philosophy sees humanity through the eyes of
subjectivity, while the Chinese sees it through the eyes of other-ness. And this is a clue
in distinguishing cultural empire from cultural imperialism.
2. The Relevance to Contemporary Problems
The All-under-Heaven pattern of all-states-in-a-family reminds us of the similarities
with the United Nations pattern, one of which is that they are both world
organizations dedicated to solve international problems and to ensure peace and
order in the world. But their differences might be more important, taking into
account the successes of the All-under-Heaven pattern in Chinese history to have
bring long periods of peace and stable society in many dynasties, in contrast with the
inability of the United Nations pattern to deal with international conflicts.
Furthermore, we might be encouraged to find in the All-under-Heaven pattern the
theoretical potential to resolve international and inter-cultural problems.
The comparison of the All-under-Heaven pattern with the United Nations might
still sound a little far fetched for the United Nations is not an empire system, but it
would also be a mistake to neglect the flexibility and inclusiveness of the concept of
All-under-Heaven. One factor that could reduce the unreasonableness of this
comparison is that the utopia of All-under-Heaven is not a narrowly defined empire
but an extendedly-defined world society with harmony, communication and
cooperation of all nations, guaranteed by a commonly-agreed institution.
In spite of history’s uncontrollable causes and conditions, the successes and failures
of these two patterns, All-under-Heaven and the United Nations, are due to the
different philosophical presuppositions upon which their world system concepts are
36 T. Zhao
built. All-under-Heaven presupposes the Oneness of the world, and the oneness
shows itself in all its diversities.16 Oneness of the world is also reflected in the political
principle of ‘inclusion of all’ in All-under-Heaven in terms of family-ship. Oneness
means the denial of the existence of any pagan, so that nothing in the world can be
defined unacceptable, no matter how strange it might seem. But, slightly differently,
the pattern of United Nations relies on two divergent presuppositions: pluralism and
universalism. The pluralism is of the reluctant ‘political correctness’ to please the
developing countries, and the universalism to satisfy the developed, especially the
major western powers. In order to reconcile this divergence, the United Nations has
made great efforts to validate rational dialogue to replace conflicts. There is no doubt
that rational dialogue has had an impact in reducing wars and fighting, but not in
conflict reduction, and instead has encouraged the strategic game of non-cooperation,
thus universally enhancing the personality of the selfish maximizer. And, worse,
the United Nations has no power to stop a superpower from universalizing itself
alone in name of globalisation. The UN is more of a political market for nations and
less of an institution for the world itself.
The consequential difference between these two patterns is rooted in their different
understandings of the Oneness of the world. The concept of All-under-Heaven
commits us to the Oneness of the world as the intact wholeness that implies the
acceptance of the diversities as they are and are meant to be in the world. The concept
of the United Nations has taken Oneness as a mission of western modernity to be
accomplished. It is apparent and not surprising that Oneness as a mission has been
developed from universalism. And unfortunately universalism is a type of
fundamentalism. The reason is quite simple: universalism means to universalize
something rather than everything, and to universalize the self instead of others, thus a
sort of fundamentalism that insists on the ideology of making others the pagan.
Political modernity has inherited from and never gone beyond the format of
Christian ideology that had invented, among others, unacceptable others, cultural
clashes and wars, ideological dogmas and propaganda. The worst is the universalism
that tries to universalize the others in a way they do not want.
The theoretical problems of understanding Oneness as a mission to be
accomplished has already been shown. The United Nations is an international
organization mapping onto an individualist society. It inherits and enlarges the
problems of an individualist society, for instance, international conflicts copy social
conflicts. And, worse, it does not enhance international democracy over social
democracy. As has been observed, a superpower has every opportunity to invalidate
an international organization such as the United Nations. Furthermore, it would be
the All-under-Heaven system, instead of an international organization, that would be
a more effective channel to the ideal of the world-as-one, because of the logical
impossibility of an always-justified international choice through democracy, according
to Arrow’s theorem. I am not criticizing the United Nations; it has tried its best.
What I am discussing is the given limitations in the potentiality of the United Nations
pattern. The United Nations is supposed to be an international organization,
Social Identities 37
conditioned by the interests of every nation/state, dealing with international
problems in the age of nation/state rather than in the age of globality. And it seems
to enhance rather than weaken, as Giddens pointed out, the system of nations/states
as the modern political form (see Giddens, 1985). To be fair to the United Nations, it
is not designed to take care of the world but of nations, it is of, not beyond,
modernity. In short, internationality is not and cannot be world-ness. The question of
world institution has now become more urgent since the world has plunged into
It is interesting to consider the pattern of the European Union, maybe the
European United States in the future. The EU is an excellent invention of a real and
institutionally organized region. But it is still not a system that could be extended to
the world, for it is just a company of nations/states, and it is difficult to form and give
priority to a European common interest over the interests of each of its member
nations/states, let alone a world interest. Theoretically speaking, the EU has gone not
as far as Kant’s idea. A well-organized region such as the EU is essentially something
of an enlarged nation/state meant to compete with other world regions or powers,
rather than an ideal for the world in its lack of its world-view of world-ness. The EU
pattern enhances the integration of a region but also deepens separation from the
Globalisation is breaking the world system of nations/states. It is not new. It is a
composition of universalism and fundamentalism, in which fundamentalism,
whether though capitalism, modern industry, post-modern technologies, self-claimed
world religion or ideology, tries to universalize itself.17 And within the process of
globalisation itself, it is likely for one or more nations/states to transform themselves
into new empires, different from the imperialism of nations/states. Is it an age of new
empires to come? Will be there a new form of empire, or just a post-modern return to
the old way? We should consider whether there a more reasonable and commendable
concept of empire. Comparative study would help to clarify the concept of empire,
though this is beyond the scope of this paper. The differences among the ideas of
empires can be detailed as follows:
1. The pattern of the Roman Empire. This is the typical ancient empire, not referring
only to the Roman Empire but also to others. It is considered a military
superpower with territorial expansion. It would encompass the whole world if it
were possible in its claimed or hidden ideal. Consequently it always has temporary
frontiers instead of clearly-settled boundaries. We know this pattern has not
worked since the age of nations/states.
2. The pattern of the British Empire. This is the typical modern empire based on a
nation/state under the mixed ideals of nationalism, imperialism and colonialism.
It has definitely divided boundaries except in disputed areas. The definite
boundaries do not indicate the self-restraint of imperialism, but the safeguard
of their national interests against the free entry of others. Instead of territorial
expansion, imperialism has created colonies to develop and maintain its control of
38 T. Zhao
the world and the division of the world into the developed and the undeveloped.
This pattern has become impossible since the Second World War because of the
universalizing of the system of nations/states, together with nationalism and the
consciousness of independence.
3. The new pattern is of the American ‘empire’.18 It is a new imperialism, inheriting
many characteristics of modern imperialism, but transforming direct control into
the hidden, yet totally dominating world control by means of hegemony or the
‘American leadership’ as Americans prefer to call it. This hegemonic imperialism is
occurring not only in political and economical spheres but also in knowledge,
especially through globalisation, in which it has the greatest power to universalize
its own.19 This new imperialism differs from the traditional empire in that it is
much more than a game winner, as it also defines the rules. The world would
become disordered if a player in the game also became the rule-maker.
4. The pattern of All-under-Heaven. All-under-Heaven appears much like globalisation,
but is essentially different as it contains no such sense of the ‘-isation’. Allunder-
Heaven indicates globalism instead. It means an institutionally ordered
world or a world institution responsible to confirm the political legitimacy of
world governance as well as local governance, and to allow the justification of
systems. Its political goal is to create ‘All-under-Heaven’, the trinity of the
geographical world (the earth), the psychological world (the hearts of all people)
and the political world (the world institution). It is a grand narrative, maybe the
grandest narrative in political philosophies. The very virtue of the All-under-
Heaven pattern is its world view of world-ness, which could let us understand
correctly and discover solutions to world problems. World-ness is a principle
higher than internationality.
My conclusion is that the most important political problem today is not the socalled
‘failed states’ but the failed world, a disordered world of chaos. This is why I
maintan that our world is not yet a world, but is still a non-world. And there are so
many world problems too major to be resolved by a nation, a region or by any
international contract. International theory in the framework of internationality finds
its limitation in dealing with world problems, the common or shared problems of the
world. World-ness cannot be reduced to internationality, for it is of the wholeness or
totality rather than the between-ness. Our globe needs a world theory, rather than an
international theory, to speak for the world. And the theory of All-under-Heaven as a
world theory could provide a better view for political philosophy and political
[1] But not all think so. Smith (1996, Chapter 6), for instance, insisted the system of nation/
states would not be broken up as many think, because no new system could be stronger than
nationalism in the coming future.
Social Identities 39
[2] Two thousand years ago, the popular Chinese imagination of the so called ‘Allunder-
Heaven’ was interesting in its square division of the world into ‘nine regions’ ( )
spreading from the central region to the rest in eight directions. And the land consisting of
the nine regions was the area of ancient China while the oldest capital city in China is rightly
in the central region. But Zou Yan ( ), one of China’s earliest geographers, exceptionally
had a much wider sight of the land that was thought to comprise 81 ‘nine regions’*/
reckoned by multiplying by nine*/and he said that ancient China was ‘just the one of the
eighty-ones’ in the world. See Shima Qian, 91BC, p. 2344.
[3] A Chinese philosopher, Liang Shuming thought that ancient China had been developing
itself as a ‘world’ rather than a ‘country’. See Collections of Liang Shuming, 1992, p. 332.
[4] In Chinese history, before the King of Chin the Great self-nominated as ‘the first emperor’ in
221BC, the King in general was called the Son of heaven and kept as the interpretive name for
[5] Mencius argued that people were of greater weight than the government and the support
from people was the final confirmation of the reign. And he insisted that the king would lose
his reign if he lost his people’s support, and he lost his people’s support because he was
against the people’s hearts. And Interpretation of Rites also said: ‘enjoying the reign when
receiving the support from the people, and losing the reign when losing the support of the
people’ (see Mencius, c. 220BC, as well as Interpretation of rites ).
[6] Confucius had claimed his famous theory of justification as ‘p is p if p does as p is meant to
do’, for instance, a king should do as the concept of king requires. See Confucius, The
Analects , c. 500BC.
[7] In 1271, the Mongolian emperor changed the empire name Mongolia into a Chinese name
‘Da-yuan’ ( ), meaning ‘as vast as the vastest’, for he thought the name Mongolia was
rather local thus not good for his empire of All-under-Heaven (see Song Liang). And the
Menchu nation had ruled China successfully for nearly 300 hundreds years with the support
from people. The Menchu king had written an interesting letter to the Chinese emperor of
the Ming dynasty before its declaration of a war on Ming, in which the Menchu king took
advantage of the theory of All-under-Heaven to speak for his justice. He wrote: ‘all kinds of
things from insects to humankind in the world are created and nurtured by the nature itself,
not by your empire, so that nothing is your private property. And Heaven is always so fair
that your empire will be blamed and punished for your abusing the governance . . . Allunder-
Heaven will be given to one who has greater virtues’ (see Pang, Sun & Li, 1984, pp.
[8] Interpretations of rites (c. 500BC), chapter on Da-zhuan.
[9] Only a few Chinese philosophers had the opposite opinion to the principle of family-ship.
For instance, Shang-yang said that the ethics of family-ship encouraged selfishness and evils
rather than kindness and goodness, and he thought laws were the most important things. See
Shang-yang (c. 300BC).
[10] Interpretations of rites (c.500BC), chapter on Da-zhuan.
[11] A Chinese sub-state in the ancient times appeared similar to a Greek city-state in many but
not all aspects. The oldest word for state in Chinese is ‘ ’, meaning ‘a militarily guarded city’
while the land outside is called the ‘field’ ( ), and later added a wall or border around the
city to make a new word ‘ ’. A sub-state was considered a member in a family-like
[12] Interpretations of rites (c. 500BC), chapter on Qu-li.
[13] Jen has often been translated as ‘humanity’ or ‘kindness’. These are not good translations.
[14] Interpretations of rites (c. 500BC), chapter on Yue-ji.
[15] Interpretations of rites (c. 500BC), chapter on Qu-li.
40 T. Zhao
[16] Laozi said: ‘the Way of the world produces the Oneness of its own. And the Oneness has its
two-ness. Then the two-ness self-develops into the three-ness. And the three-ness is the
minimal base for the diversities in the world’. See Laozi (c. 500BC) Tao Te Ching .
[17] The Manifesto of the Communist Party was one of the earliest texts discussing something of
globalization. It said: ‘The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market,
given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country’. And ‘as in
material, so also in intellectual production, the intellectual creations of individual nations
become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more
and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a
world literature’.
[18] Hardt and Negri (2001) had argued in their Empire that the new empire of today is different
from the European imperialism and mainly produced in American constitutionalism that is
more akin to Roman empire than to European imperialism.
[19] But the American empire seems still not satisfied with its ‘leadership’. Nye calls upon the USA
to enhance its ‘soft power’ as complement to its ‘hard power’, for the USA is still not
powerful enough to ‘go it alone’ even though it is the strongest power since Rome. See Nye,
Burnet, J. (1930). Early Greek philosophy. 4th ed. London: Adam & Charles Black.
Confucius (c. 500BC). The Analects .
Folsom, K. (1968). Friends, guests and colleagues . University of California Press.
Giddens, A. (1985). The nation-state and violence . Cambridge: Polity Press.
Hardt M. & Negri, A. (2001). Empire. Harvard: Harvard University Press.
Interpretation of rites (c.500BC).
Kung, H. & Kuschel, K.-J. (Eds.). (1993) A global ethic: The declaration of the parliament of the
world’s religions . New York: The Continuum Pub. Co.
Laozi (c. 500BC) Tao Te Ching .
Mencius (c. 220BC). The Book of Mencius.
Nye, J. (2002). The paradox of American power: Why the world’s only superpower can’t go it alone .
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pang, Sun, & Li (Eds.) (1984). The early history of Qian Dynasty. Beijing: Press of the People’s
University of China.
Poems (c. 1000BC).
Shang-yang (c. 300BC). The Book of Shang-yang .
Shima Qian (91BC). The history. 74: 2344.
Shuming, L. (1992). The collections of Shuming Liang. Beijing: Beijing Normal University Press.
Smith, A. D. (1996). Nations and nationalism in a global era . Cambridge: Polity Press.
Song, L. (c. 1370). The history of Yuan Dynasty. Section 4 of Yuan-shi-zu, Vol. 7.
Xun-zi (c. 200BC). On kingship and supremacy. In The book of Xun-zi.
Social Identities 41

On A Way To Syntext: A Methodology For The Understanding Of Cultures (An abstract)


By Zhao Tingyang

Professor of Institute of Philosophy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

1. The Ecologicalized Understanding of Culture

When I started writing “One Problem Or All Problems” in 1995, what I imagined is a kind of methodology of philosophy, which, as anticipated, might be an active way to reshape the conception of cultural problems and the fundamental problems in humanities and social sciences. One of the basic assumptions is as follows: at least in terms of culture, everything is nothing but a factum (a thing that has been done), and a factum is made in an action with values, therefore, everything in cultural life is an open problem. So when considering a culture problem, if reasonable is the assumption that everything is a problem , we have to confront the problem formula of “one or all”. That is to say, when trying to solve a single problem, we have to put all problems into consideration because of all things relating to a thing in the context being actually problematic. On the other hand, due to the fact that we are always forced to continuously consider one problem by another, we have to understand all kinds of problem as a synthesized total in order to avoid the loss of anything important . This problem formula is more or less paradoxical, which means that it is impossible to obtain the universal or necessary knowledge of culture or society, because any object in consideration is always a problem, and so is our way of thinking in use. Therefore it leads us to recognize, at least in terms of humanity knowledge, there could never be a way for us to surpass skepticism.

With the inspirations from the skepticism of Socrates and Wittgenstein, and from the flexible interpretation theory of Laozi. I am led to discover that the culture problems should be interpreted aesthetically because of the skeptical result in epistemology. This is a post-epistemological interpretation, specially emphasizing that our failure , in seeking the universal and necessary knowledge of society and life to determine what is right and wrong , does not mean that the cultures could be entitled to be successfully but unbridly determined by political, economical and military powers, but does mean that the cultures could have their values and rights through an aesthetic interpretation. Perhaps it should be mentioned that the aesthetic interpretation is not so relative as commonly held -though of course impossible to be definitive-but could be an interpretation for us to re-obtain the reliable grounds.1

There is fairly the practical acquiesce in the interpretation of culture by power,. Foucault had provided us with the best description of the interactive relation of knowledge/power.2 We could observe that in today’s globalization movement, the power interpretation on culture further becomes an obvious fact of cultural hegemony, and in much an extent an American cultural strategy. For example, Joseph S. Nye has even wanted America to consolidate it,3 he claims that soft power (culture and ideology) has become a most important force, although America has done not too bad on that-“Europeans and Asians want to watch American films and TV” because of “American cultural and ideological appeal”-but it is not enough, for “American is bigger than all the other players overall, but it does not possess overwhelming superiority in all key areas.” Even let aside the different countries’ political and cultural interests, Nye’s viewpoint, which represents today many people’s weak wisdom in the sense of aesthetics or the virtue of culture, is unacceptable from a pure theoretical perspective . Whatever culture we belong to, whether or not it is strong, do we want our culture lose its vitality and creativity because of the dullness by mono-culture? The reduction of cultures to only one is cultural-ecologically nearsighted, for the ecological reciprocity must also be a law for the survival of all cultures.

It is shown there has already been the dangerous tendency of dullness and meaningless in today’s cultures, from mass culture to academic studies. It is the tendency of normalization of the problems of life and feelings 4 and reduction of our sensitivity and unique experience-while arises a question: are the normalization and institutionalization necessarily bad things? Isn’t the American mass culture, for instance, the most attractive? This question is a little bit silly, however, still important, for the meaning of a thing in culture is nothing but “attractiveness”, and it seems that we have difficulty in finding a better interpretation. But I would very much like to point out that the normalization’s basic fault lies in that it will numb the mind bit by bit , in a relative long time, till the last bit of passion and make a dead mind.5 Normalizing the life problems and our feelings is actually to establish a form of inner bureaucracy, and make peoples lose the aesthetic meaning or the virtue of culture of their minds and tired of themselves.

The virtue of culture or aesthetic virtue of culture should be accounted as the key word in understanding culture, just like truth is made to be a key word in understanding knowledge (in a sense, truth might be the virtue of knowledge). As the epistemological expectation, truth is believed to be the best or only valid explanation of the world while make other alternative explanations to appear to be incorrect, that is, the more it looks epistemologically like an unique answer , the more it appears to be a truth.6However, it is quite different in the case of culture. Every culture is pursuing it’s own aesthetic virtue. The “aesthetic virtue” here means the irreducible imaginations and touching ways in a culture. It requires at least two things: 1) the ability to provide enigmatic and irreducible experiences or imaginations; and 2) the ability to produce the acts with autotelic goodness.7 The varities or diversity of cultural virtues is the ecological condition of cultures. Every culture interacts with other cultures .When in a case without concern over the political and economical interests, other culture or the exotic is apparently the inspiration and attraction that could activate the local culture itself. The dialogue among cultures and their dialectical interactions should not mainly be scientific , but aesthetic, that is, the experience from the others becomes the inspirational resources for new experience. Meanwhile, the self-reflection stimulated by new experiences makes the original fresh experience and inspiration in a culture itself, this is always an important condition for a creative development in culture.8 Marcus and Fischer’s theory of defamiliarization has well explained the importance of cultural interaction and reflection.9 Le Pichon’s emphasis of the conception of trans-cultures is calling further for very much opened exchange of experiences among cultures. Furthermore, the importance of trans-cultural dialogue is not only obtaining for both sides the inspirations, but could also be understood as “reciprocal-verification in values”, that is, the value of a culture could be enhanced when it is made to be a function of the ecosystem of human cultures. If there is only one culture with only one language, one system of representation or one system of concepts in the world, its aesthetic life would gradually lose its originality then finally become a routine.

One of the obvious changes brought by globalization is the centralization of culture problem-the globalization of economy, technology, commerce and communication is no problem, while culture is the final problem. However, seeing this final problem as cultural or political conflicts is an unimaginative though practical viewpoint. As I have been trying to explain above, to resolve conflicts through cultural hegemony and formulate a unified model for culture would hurt the creativity in any cultural development, for the worst, there would finally be the ecocide of cultures. We hold the reasons to see the surviving of cultures as a global ecological problem (similar to that of the natural environment). Culture is structured biologically rather than physically or logically. Only culture is seen as an organism that we could understand the-cannot-be-reduced and the-cannot-be-said by which we are moved.10 Culture-cide is homicide. Especially, culture is an ecosystem, which is needed in the same way like the natural environment-we could not live for lack of a sound natural environment whereas our life would be meaningless for lack of a sound cultural environment. The variety is rightly the ecological requirement of culture, and is the condition for a culture to keep its creativity and produce the ways of moving.

Seeing intercultural relations as cultural or political wars looks like a complex as a sign of cultural psychological immaturity. This abnormal complex prevents us from going deep in understanding culture. It actually needs nothing but the most honest intuition and reasoning, and we could find out that the fundamental expectation of human being toward life is an aesthetic one, because good life requires the ability to provide a lot of moving things, especially those unexpected. We might say, to be is to be moved. The real metaphysics of culture must be true to the meaning of life. But today’s culture is losing many intuitions to life, especially is being alienated to be the commercial, technological and bureaucratic institutions far from a meaningful life. Culture is becoming de-cultured, hence must be re-cultured. In a simple way, we need 1) to establish an aesthetic understanding and understand human behavior as acts qua arts, or to be aware of that acts are arts in order to re-understand their rich variety and all kinds of irreducible details in culture; and if-and-only-if 2)to establish intercultural ethical relations based on the principle of Levinas’ theory of the Other as You.11 In a sense, this would be a rewriting of the conception of the human rights, in which the right and value of the Other mind would be put first in the series of rights.12

2. Syntext

The concept syntext is prepared for a methodology of meta-cultural critique, by which we could turn our way of understanding that is based on the logical system of ideas to an aesthetic one that is based on the ecological system of ideas. As stated above, the aesthetic way is best favorable for understanding the advantages or virtues of different cultures, and this is the basis for any culture to develop creatively. Apparently people would accept a theory of nature considered to be true. However, it is equally apparent that people would not accept a theory of society because it is said to be true (of course, in fact, almost no social knowledge is truth). People accept a cultural idea mainly because it has , after all, the aesthetic virtue as an appeal to their minds. “Truth” means less in the case of cultural things, and people pursue beauty or some aesthetic values instead.13

We have been too used to using logical system of ideas in a reductive way to analyze-anatomy in a sense-the culture, especially the other cultures, as the pieces of propositions, that is, to analyze a whole story into plot pieces that break the meaning as a whole , then to reassemble them to form the so-called logical meaning.14 The logical interpretation of things is a very common and normal academic work in the disciplines of social sciences. It is very useful when constructing a theory, but we have to be on alert against it , and must grasp things through aesthetic or ecological ways of understanding and then keep in mind what things really are when we use logic to form a distortion of things, otherwise a thing will be logically reduced to nothing.15Here, I am not objecting to logic but requiring correct practical use of logic. It should not be a surprise that we are inclined to anatomy other cultures logically , for the Other’s minds or cultures are always strange, and out of the alert to strangers, we cannot help breaking a strange other cultures into pieces in order to overcome the feeling of strangeness. In that way, we always conclude that they are nothing but such and such, as we logically describe/destruct it. And we lose the source of creativity in others’ minds in the epistemological analysis of “nothing but such and such”. What needs to be specially mentioned here is that my theory is not a Saidian criticism of the western cultural hegemony.16 Quite like what is the case when some western countries politically treat the oriental cultures, many criticism against western cultural hegemony carry too much political concern . Political emotion is narrow-minded, but unfortunately the so-called cultural conflict is a fact and a problem that we have to face. But for whatever reason, the political approach should neither be used in a very long-term, nor it is one with theoretical merit. We are forced to consider the political problem of the cultural conflict, but we should not expect the conflict to exist forever (to expect that way might be a little bit wicked-minded or narrow-minded). Cultural criticism today is very popular. It is important under the political background, but its political attitude and narrow theoretical basis might be a long-term worry.

So I would like to put forward a new way of understanding culture that is generous to different cultures. It is an aesthetic way that would treat any culture without interests. And it would satisfy Levinas’ ethic principle of meeting you as You in absolute respect -what is aesthetic and what is moral finally would become one thing , Wittgenstein has pointed out this.17 An aesthetic-or artistic18-perspective/horizon would help us to surpass many thinking barriers or limitations, especially to overcome the fear and resist due to the sense of strange when confronting with Other cultures, and to actively find and accept creative ideas from different cultures and traditions , because an aesthetic perspective/horizon is the way in which we are always addicted to discover beauty and free of interest burden, and the discovery of Other’s beauty would reshape our culture itself. This might be said a thinking way that bears least moral drawbacks—the aesthetic is much more generous and justice than the ethic , for the ethic norms care for interests after all whereas the aesthetic is so pure that it could be the real ethic . So it could be an explanation of why the aesthetic and the ethic are one thing.

There are two principles that should be taken into account: 1) to be true to mind. At many times epistemology is applied to value and culture problems, such as in the case of trying to find the truth of mind, but quite unexpectedly, the so-called truth of mind is not true to mind. The aesthetic way of understanding is the most open, most generous and most sensitive , hence the most sincere understanding of mind; 2) to be fair to minds. People seem to have such a narcissistic feeling of their own minds that the Others’ minds could not be treated fairly, and as a result , every mind including the minds of their own, would not be treated fairly. Here we would find the absoluteness of Levinas’ principle of I-You (Levinas’ principle can be seen as a new golden rule19).

Syntext is a practical project under the above principle. My conception of syntext is based on many thinkers’ inspiration, such as from Geertz (thick description)20, Marcus and Fischer (anthropology as cultural critique), Le Pichon (trans-cultures), Wang Mingming (historical anthropology)21, and especially the philosophical methodology of Socrates, Freud and Wittgenstein. To construct a syntext, as I suppose, should have the considerations as follows:

(1)A culture is or must be a whole story. A culture has its inner net of ideas and way of connecting to form a clue of its own , any understanding as anatomy would separate the whole into ridicules pieces of ideas. For example, the Chinese traditional culture is often interpreted as a Confucian culture system, as if all of the Chinese mainly rely on such a few simple, hollow and funny Confucian concepts to lead their lives and formulate the social institutions. The broken story lacking multi-disciplinary understandings is very much unreal.22 And it is specially needed to be noticed that the values in a culture is in an order (sometimes the order is subject to specific situation), rather than some scattered factors that can be considered separately. The ignorance of the order would lead us to misunderstandings. There is a manifestation called “Global Ethic” 23which tried to explain such moral norms as “no killing, no theft, no lying and no adultery” as the most basic norms by the reason that every culture has such norms, and therefore argued that they must be the global norms. Indeed, all cultures have such norms, while the problem is, as in the Chinese traditional culture, these norms are not always the basic or the top priority according to the order. Although people have the right to misread a culture, but it would be a failure to read a culture with no aesthetic sense of a culture as a whole story. Given that x, y have the relation R, in xRy it should not be taken for granted that x (or y) is pre-defined in itself, we should see that any each of them is to be defined by the relation R, that is to say, relation R is of priority.

(2)Therefore, syntext must also be a live story. We have emphasized that the relations between ideas or things are of priority, and we need further be aware of that all of the relations are live (those universal and necessary logical relations are dead , and they are universal and necessary because they are dead, they are the relations of propositions in logical expression, not the live relations among ideas24). Live relations mean that at many times they seem to be abnormal and absurdum, while become actually reasonable in the flow. That is to say, the reasons of a culture have often to wait for their forming in the next step, in other words, our conducts create the uncertain relations that allow the rules to be in the future. Hence the reasons in the culture are unpredictable yet designed, similar to the creation of a work of art. Syntext, on one hand, is an interpretation of the culture, on the other hand, a work in the culture. This self-reflexivity of syntext make it be expected to be vanguard in thinking, and thus make it a story de avangarde.

The emphasis of syntext as the live story de avangarde is to require it open to all of the humanities and social sciences and all ways of thinking and their co-operations in artistic ways, with the especial focuses on the possible problems in the future. This expects a change in our academic thinking that leads to, instead of the logical descriptions and interpretations of facts, an experimental art of ideas to make an enticing situation of facts vis-a-vis fictions. To a great extent, a meaningful thought always exemplify itself in the format “is-upon-ifs”, in other words, a thinking format of “facts with the absurdum” to explore possible lives, it is often the case at least in philosophy. For the culture, do we really need truth? No, what we need is story. Since relation is to be explained in verbs, not by nouns, we need the thinking-in-verbs, as different from the traditional theoretical thinking-in-nouns.25 That is to think in “an act means…”more rather than “a thing is…” (the difference might also be considered the difference between artistic thinking and logic thinking. Here I am apparently inspired by the working ways of artists).

(3)To make a syntext is to detect the sub-ideas26 and sub-problems in a culture, a mind or a system of ideas. The reason to do so is that except the instinctive subconscious that influences people’s attitude and choice secretly as Freud discovered, there are many ideas pretending to be secrets but consciously guiding people’s actual choice. That means, people’s high-sounding values and judgements are to a great extent nothing but wordings and excuses (diplomacy is a typical example, and the American “politically right” is another). Of course, those wordings or excuses do influence us a great deal, but far from sufficient, and they need final explanations by sub-ideas. The out-spoken ideas or arguments are forever the fake and incomplete stories, never the full versions, and always the narcissistic confessions that evade the crucial, and do for the private in disguise of public. This is why we do not believe the self-manifestation by others on the grounds of others, and others do not believe our interpretations on the grounds of ours. Thus we need to try our best to reveal the sub-ideas and sub-problems in order to be clear about the cards of the ideas in hand and the possibilities for self-defending. We could find out that the our cards in mind are not only a lot, but also a chaotic mass, anything included (all kinds of private balancing , absurd fantasy and imaginations, bigotry ideals, lovely or ugly faults and human relations and class bias, etc.). All of them are going to be the reasons or causes of choices or actions. As what people usually expressed is not true to their minds, according to the principle of “to be true to mind”, it is apparently necessary to re-integrate the whole story of mind. Now that underlying our high-sounding theories or statements there are so many ridiculous ideas and never answered problems, I would like to say: absurdum ut intelligas.27

It is not difficult to see that re-integration is designed to compensate the loss caused by reduction as the general methodology of science and logic.28 In a sense, Freud, Wittgenstein, Braudel and many anthropologists are aware of the problem in different perspectives. What I want to specially point out is that “to be true to mind” also means equally aware of the equally important functions of minds, or equally important aspects of culture. Usually some functions or factors are thought to be more important than the others and focused by us more. For example, the rational function of mind is often believed to be the most important, all of the other aspects are nothing but trivial borders. Of course, since Freud, people have known the importance of subconscious whereas many other aspects remain to be ignored, such as body sensation, feelings, day-dreams and fancy or imagination, etc. All kinds of absurd ideas, such as day-dreams and imaginations, are equally fighting for their rights, for every aspect of our mind is full of desires and requires wonderful stories. Only if all aspects of mind are allowed to own wonderful and important stories, the meaning of life can possibly be found.

There are many operations that can reveal sub-ideas and sub-problems. From the point of view of philosophy, it might be especially important to go back to natural/everyday language to re-discover problems.29 As we know, it is impossible to find a language that is more basic than natural/everyday language. So the cultural and thought problems will finally expressed in a subtle way in natural/everyday language. Whether it is western masters or eastern masters of ancient times had all told the most vital wisdom in natural/everyday language. Socrates’ dialectic requestioning and Wittgenstein’s analysis30 are all best examples. However, to me, the main reason to rewrite the analysis of mind or culture into a whole story through the finding of sub-ideas and sub-problems is for establishing a syntext as an aesthetic understanding, not for obtaining propositions as knowledge. I believe that this is a better effort. Although both Socrates and Wittgenstein have realized the profound dilemma of epistemology, they would not forget the epistemological pursuit (which should be the typical thought path of the West). Wittgenstein had expressed the paradox that Socrates had met in Meno: How do I know that I have found that which I was looking for?31 In my opinion, this is the final question of epistemology, and the turning point where I started to turn to post-epistemological understanding.

1 In fact, the cultural expressions as arts always make the seemingly smooth transcultural understanding and even with more mutual senses.
2 Cf. Foucault: Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, 1971, London, and Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 1977, London.
3 J. Nye: Boston Globe, Aug. 6, 1999 and New York Times, Jan. 3, 2000.
4 The standard modern mass culture seems to establish a model of happy life, somewhat like soap drama, while a Chinese expression “happiness of fool” may well describe it.
5 Wang Shuo, a writer, has a saying about mass culture and good art, “mass culture does nothing but taking everything away from your mind, whereas good art always puts something into your mind”.
6 The understanding of truth here is quite western, at least in Chinese thoughts, truth seems not having such requirement, but mainly requiring “effectiveness”, that is, the best choice that could reach the goal in very specific situation. Obviously, this conception of truth does not require universality and necessity, not the extravagant expectation of being true in all possible worlds.
7 Cf. My book On Possible Lives, 1995, SDX Joint, Beijing.
8 The history seems to have proved that the culture’s creative developments always have something to do with the stimulation and inspiration from different experiences with different cultures. For example, the Greek civilization with the inspiration from Egypt and Babylon, Renaissance with the inspiration of the rediscovery of the Greek, and the Warring States Period in China with the diversified interaction, Buddhism’s reshape of Chinese culture and the modern western culture’s coming into China, etc. However, today’s globalization movement is not the creative interaction between cultures, but mainly the replacement of other cultures with the American version and its mass culture.
9 Cf. George E. Marcus and Michael M. J. Fischer: Anthropology as Cultural Critique, 1986, Univ. of Chicago Press.
10 In Wittgensteinian sense, cf. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1958, London. In 4.1212: what can be shown cannot be said. And in 6.522: there is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical.
11 Cf. Levinas: Totality and Infinity, 1979, Martinus Nijhoff.
12 The current concept of human rights mainly focuses on private property, individual freedom and political rights, which are of course important , but if the Other mind’s thoughts and cultural values are not respected first, then life still lacks its fundamental significance. We should consider Rorty’s idea of the problem “who are we”. Cf. R. Rorty: “Who Are We?”, in Diogenes, No. 173, 1996.
13 Modern aesthetics, especially since Kant, has been understood as a theory of aesthetic attitude or feeling. This is an incorrect space that epistemology has left to aesthetics. In fact, aesthetic way of understanding is a way of thinking and an objective structure of culture.
14 The analytic philosophy likes to exaggerate the importance of logical analysis. In fact, something completely logically meaningful might be a completely nonsense, especially in the case of culture. However, Derrida’s deconstruction is another exaggeration in literature. In a sense, analytic philosophy can be said a destruction of the real life story.
15 There might a simple and not so strict example, The word “Ge’er Men’er” (buddy or pal, literally means brother-like) in Beijing dialect needs a local understanding and is difficult to understand logically. It neither mean “friend”, for friend in Chinese may carry more serious sense of responsibility, nor “close as brothers”, for it is too close, nor “allies”, for that would be to somewhat snobbish. It, of course, conforms the friendly but casual style of Beijing local life. Even this explanation is not subtle enough.
16 Cf. Edward W. Said, Orientalism, 1978, Penguin.
17 Cf. Witttgenstein: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.421.
18 cf. My book: One Or All Problems, 1998, Jiangxi Education Press, China, in which I tried to develop the artistic horizon into a meta-ideology.
19 To follow Levinas’ principle of I-You, the golden rule seems to be reinterpreted, under the principle of the Otherness instead of that of X-Scanned: By Symantec Anti-Virus Scan Engine
Subjectivity, as “Never do to others whatever others would not like you to do to them”, instead of “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you” in Matthew.
20 Cf. Geertz: The interpretation of Cultures, 1973, New York.
21 Cf. Wang Mingming: The Past Prosperity of a Port, 1999, Zhijiang People’s Press.
22 Qin Hui has a better explanation on No. 55, 2000, Book Review Weekly, where he pointed out that the Legalists decides more on behavior and institution. In addition, F. Jullien’s Le Detour et L’Access has excellent analysis to Chinese way of thinking.
23 Cf. Hans Kung and Karl-Josef Kuschel: A Global Ethic: the Declaration of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, 1993, the Continuum Pub.
24 Such logical relations as ∧,∨ etc., are very abstract, not able to express all of the relations in the real life, such as affinity, contrastive, interactive, circulating, ranking, priority, coordinate, associative, hostile, complex and friendly, etc.
25 Cf. my book: One Or All Problems. In which give an idea of “to be is to do” instead of “to be is to be a thing”.
26 The concept of sub-ideas was inspired by Freud’s concept of sub-conscious, and sub-ideas are rational whereas subconscious is irrational.
27 Cf. Tertullian’s expression of “Credo quia absurdum est” and St. Augustine’s expression of “Credo ut intelligas”.
28 The analytical philosophy’s logical reduction pursues accuracy and Husserl’s transcendantal reduction pursues pureness, both would lose many that are necessarily worth of consideration.
29 The everyday language analytical philosophers at Oxford, such as Ryle and Austin have made wonderful efforts on that, but in my opinion, none are as deep as what Wittgenstein had found.
30 Wittgenstein’s anti-private language argument is one of the best analyses. Cf. Philosophical Investigations, 1967, Basil Blackwell. And also the ethical argument. Cf. “A Lecture on Ethics”, in Philosophical Review, 74/1965.
31 Wittgenstein: Philosophical Remarks, 1975, Basil Blackwell, cf. Plato: Meno, 80D.