Tuesday, November 20, 2012

V and Back Again

A throwback to V for Vendetta, in light of our discussions of performance, democracy, and communication in the Middle East Revolution. In the London of V for Vendetta, Thrift’s “mass mediation of politics” is manifested in the extreme. The media is politics, and vice versa. V hijacks the media in order to communicate to the people and prevent the government from communicating, an act attempted by the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square: “The building should be surrounded from all sides,” the document reads, “and then entered so as to take control of the live broadcast facilities and announce the people’s takeover of state TV and radio and its liberation from the tyrannical dictator.” (Lindsey)
            For London of V runs on trust, trust in FATE. It turns out that Fate is a performance—there is a real voice behind the information, an actual person performing—and also the computer. Trust in Fate is based on performance—“The people actually believe that the voice of Lewis Prothero is that of the FATE computer. Britain’s belief in the integrity of FATE is the cornerstone of our New Order.” (30)—and in numbers—“From your world of pure math you touch me (196)” Already, there is a tension between the pure reason of the mathematics behind Fate and the affective relationship that Susan has with the computer, “my love,” a love that is betrayed when the system is hacked by V. Even the calculated moves of manipulation on the part of government actors is grounded in affect, in this underlying affective relationship with Fate as unifying force and with the reliance on the love and fear of the people.
            V’s manipulation of the masses also involves emotions. In the scene where V addresses the nation via the hijacked TV, we get the sense that he too is manipulating the masses by drawing on these corporate impulses identified by Thrift. He speaks of law-abiding citizens as dominos, giving the impression that he considers them “painted wooden men” (208), emotionless. He is not speaking of “the people,” however, but rather those in the government, who make up the”pretty empire [that] took so long to build” that V destroys with a flick of one domino. Upon closer examination, V sees the people as the future, the creators that make the other face of anarchy. His treatment of the people centers on the power defined by Terranova: “a capacity to synthesize not so much a common position (from which to win the masses over), but a common passion giving rise to a distributed movement able to displace the limits and terms within which the political constitution of the future is played out.” (Terranova 156) She, like Thrift and V, locates the impetus for this movement in affect.
            Perhaps the chaos to anarchy (really democracy, in Ranciere’s sense of the word, that it is without leaders, and thus a paradoxical rule of the people, do-as-you-please?) transition set in motion by V is this distributed movement. Once the common passion has been synthesized, the displacement is in motion and V’s role is done, hence the suicide. The transfer of agency is reflected in what Thrift has to say on affective politics: ‘Thus the population is touched in ways which might be non-conscious and may well instill the feeling that they are they originator of that thought, belief, or action, rather than simply and mechanically reproducing the beliefs of a charismatic other” (243).
            When V describes his love of Justice and his education by Anarchy, his new lover, he says,“[Anarchy] taught me that Justice is meaningless without Freedom. She makes no promises and breaks none.” (41) But isn’t it really that she makes promises and doesn’t keep them, but we know they can’t be kept and believe anyway? V’s relationship with Justice, like all of ours, is cruelly optimistic, made explicit in the personification of Justice as an unfaithful lover. The simultaneously sustaining and dissatisfying relationship can also be seen in music: “Persevere, Eve. Understanding music, we may hear the music that there is in life, from its first insufficient trills…until its closing minor chords.” The beginning is insufficient, and even the end, in minor key, is slightly off putting. And yet it is for the music that we persevere.
            As both V’s world and Fate’s world use affect and performance to rule the people or let the people rule, where is the difference between affective politics used for good and those used for authoritarianism? It is in the passion, but how is that defined? And cannot it be manipulated just as easily as it can sustain?        

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