Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The man who ate his lover: Penis delicacy

On 9 March 2001, Armin Meiwes, a computer engineer from the tiny village of Wüstefeld in Germany, cut off the penis of Bernd Brandes, a software designer from Berlin.
The pair had met on the internet and shared cannibalistic erotic fantasies, culminating in their both trying to eat Brandes' freshly severed penis. Three hours later, Brandes was still alive, but slowly bleeding to death. Meiwes decided to finish him off by stabbing him in the throat, and then eat 20kg of his flesh, taking the time to film the whole thing.

Single man meets radical male masochist on the Internet. On their first date, the masochist offers up his penis as main course in a romantic dinner for two. After some teething problems over the best way to prepare the food, the two men enjoy a meal of garnished genitals. Satiated, and feeling woozy, the masochist is led upstairs to the bathroom, where he is left to bleed to death. Hours later, our host pops in to see how his date is doing, and finishes him off with a knife to the throat. He then butchers the body and barbecues the meat.
 Rarely has a criminal investigation aroused such ghoulish curiosity or raised such difficult questions about the dark places that the human mind can go.
Amid the media scramble surrounding the recent courtroom drama, there has been a clamour to understand and to explain this behavior, which, incidentally, is not even illegal under either German or British law. In desperation, we turn to science for answers. What can rational objectivity tell us about such irrational acts of violence and mutilation? Perhaps not very much. But with little else to go on, we must be content with what morsels of knowledge we can find*

*A psychoanalytic interpatation that might help us understand
 The oral-sadistic phase of infantile libidinal organization is the second part of the oral stage, as described by Karl Abraham; it is also known as the cannibalistic phase. During this period incorporation means the destruction of the object, so the relationship to the object is said to be ambivalent.
It was in a passage added in 1915 to his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality that Freud introduced the notion of an "oral" organization that he also described as "cannibalistic": "the sexualaim consists in the incorporation of the objecthe prototype of a process which, in the form of identification, is later to play such an important psychological part" (1905a, p. 198). The evocation of "cannibalism" served to underscore certain features of the oral object-relationship: the incorporation of the object and its characteristics, identification with it, and, at the same time, greed and destructiveness.
Abraham (1927 [1924]) subdivided the oral stage into two parts: first, an early oral phase dominated by the pleasure of sucking and described as "preambivalent," because the breast is not yet conceived as at once good and bad, both frustrating and gratifying; and secondly, an oral-sadistic or "cannibalistic" stage, occurring later, during the second six months of life, and contemporaneous with teething, which sees the emergence of the wish to bite and to incorporate the object, destroying it in the process. Instinctual ambivalence makes its appearance during this second phase, as incorporation becomes destructive. The oral-sadistic phase is thus characterized by the advent of aggressiveness, by ambivalence, and by the anxiety associated with the destruction of the loved object and the fear of being devoured in turn by that object. Elsewhere, in the context of a discussion of interaction, attention has been drawn to the way in which the child's cannibalistic instincts can revive those of the mother (Golse, 1992).
Freud used the model of cannibalistic devouring and the intrapsychic effects of ambivalence in his study of melancholia (1917e, pp. 249-50). In mourning, he argued, the lost object was assimilated into the ego, incorporated as in the totem meal. Once magically incorporated in this way, it was conflated with the ego, which could either draw strength and power from this (as in identification or the totem meal), or, alternatively, fall victim to attacks from within from this ambivalently cathected object (as in melancholic self-reproach).
Melanie Klein radicalized Abraham's account of a destructiveness linked to orality and to object-love, going so far as to say that libidinal development as a whole is completed only once the innate destructive instincts have been integrated into it. In her view the whole of the oral stage was oral-sadistic in nature, indeed it was the high point of infantile sadism. The libidinal wish to suck and incorporate was combined with the destructive aim of scooping out and emptying the object. In herEnvy and Gratitude (1957/1975, pp. 180-81), Klein defined envy of the breast as bound up with oral greed, in which the destructive component instincts predominated: the desire to attack and destroy the object was not tempered by the gratitude generated by good experiences with the mother. This primal wish precipitated the split between the good breast to be retained and the bad breast to be expelled. Klein thus returns via this account of primal oral desire to the idea of a differentiation between ego and non-ego that is secondary to that between good and bad, as organized by the mechanisms of introjection and projection specific to the Freudian model.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Benny's Video: Teenage killer with a camera


105 min 

Director: Michael Haneke

Benny (Arno Frisch) is obsessed with violent imagery and his bedroom is a shrine of screens and video equipment, his instruments of contact with the world. We see enjoying playing back the scene of a pig being shot dead on the farm where the family spends holidays. Using the stolen weapon to kill the pig Benny (accidentally?) emulates the scene with a school girl he brings back home, creating the tragedy that is the moral crux of the film.

Haneke (director of The Piano teacher, Funny Games, White Ribbon, Cache, and more)  alludes to theories of hypereality formulated by the late philosopher Jean Baudrillard who said that media imagery has replaced reality. This is the theory that explains the gruesome main action in this film, a murder by a teenage boy who's been desentitised to real life by overexposure to electronic images. Benny is the child of an affluent couple living in a loft decorated with Pop art somewhere in the German part of Western affluence. It is a clinical vision of the post-industrial world in the information age, which Haneke captures well with a controlled, polished and bleak mise-en-scene. The characters in the film look as if they are not quite alive, no longer sentient beings.

One of the most revealing, strong moments in the film is not the murder itself, which is presented in almost banal fashion, but the sequence when the boy confesses his crime to his parents by showing them, deadpan, the video footage of the murder. Seeing the film go back on itself to a diegetic audience makes the crime scene almost unbearable when it is replayed. Sharing images gives them more power, it seems. In fact, some of the sequences shot on video, which work as 'films within the film', especially the elegiac Egyptian scenes, are very haunting and gloomy. They are like watching humanity at the end of its journey. Haneke plays well with the contrast between celluloid and electronic imagery and uses the latter to great effect.

Benny's Video brings up some pertinent questions to our media-saturated world even though it belongs to the pre-Internet age. But one thing remains the same: the need to experience reality. Haneke has Benny say that he did what he did 'to see what it was like'. In a world where reality is experienced more often than not through representation, the instinct to 'experience the real' may come out very distorted in the process, with no moral bearings to guide it. Benny, with his cold, mask-like face, is a frightening visualisation of techno-numbness...

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