Influenced by current-events (this is a circumstantial analogy) Diogo’s (b.1988, Miratejo, PT) photographs remind me of a kind of portrait of youth that makes me think of Gus van Sant’s universe. If I had seen this series a few months ago I would probably relate it to projects within the realm of the medium itself and think about the meaning of portrait and nostalgia in the history of photography.
Besides Gus van Sant’s Gerry and Elephant, I think of Mathieu Kassovitz’s works La Haine and Assassin(s). Then I’m reminded of a bunch of texts I read last year about riots in France and in the UK and I reread a few . Somehow the associations are too subjective to be treated slightly and I give up. Now I’m looking at these pictures again and I keep thinking youth, nostalgia, ambiguity, inconsequence, insurrection and rebellion. There’s a sense of coolness and fatalism in the air and that’s what brings me back to the suspended effect a film still can have when it hangs over your head.
Finally, these associations lead me to the text that follows and hopefully it will all make sense:
“Elephant depicts a world untethered from certainties and authority, and in this way it can be seen to reflect postmodern anxieties. Slavoj Zizek’s comment offers a relevant critical perspective. The quote cited at the beginning of this essay [below], taken from an interview at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2001, is Zizek’s response to a question about his concept of “foreclosure”: the idea that contemporary society prohibits a real articulation of the subject.
[…] precisely because the universe in which we live is somehow a universe of dead conventions and artificiality, the only authentic real experience must be some extremely violent, shattering experience. And this we experience as a sense that now we are back in real life.
According to Zizek (and philosopher Alain Badiou, from whom he borrows the French term), the “foreclosure” of the subject has an inevitable flip-side: “la passion du reel” or “the passion of the real”. Elephant demonstrates some of the implications of Zizek’s notion, and through its poetic strategies affords the viewer an opportunity to piece together some of the elements in the bigger picture. We might regard the killers Alex and Eric as embodying the disenfranchisement that many teens (and not just in the US) feel. Viewing their apparently left-field violence in this context reveals a failure within society to deliver a secure place for their emerging sense of identity.
In the same interview, Zizek compares the idea of foreclosure and its implications with the Nietzchean opposition of active and passive nihilism. He describes passive nihilism as that state of apathy resulting from “living a stupid self-satisfied life without great passions”, which invokes the opposite form of conscious self-destruction. Zizek argues that freedom in contemporary society is devoid of the more “radical dimension” of true democracy, existing instead as the watered-down freedom to choose lifestyle. Zizek also sees in the pervasiveness of virtual realities (such as the Internet) a further disconnection from authentic experience.
In Elephant we can roughly align the characters according to the idea of active and passive nihilism. The adult characters present varying forms of apathy or disconnection; their lifestyles – particularly Alex’s parents, as revealed through the lifeless atmosphere of the family home – suggest an arrival at an unquestioned comfort zone, or passive nihilism. We see Alex and Eric attempting to break out of their transparent, but nonetheless prescribed realities: a bid for active nihilism.”
excerpt of Neera Scott’s Sublime Anarchy in Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, in Senses of Cinema.continue reading here
Diogo’s website (currently under construction) is here