VIEWS OF VIOLENCE FROM TRAGEDIA TO MODERN CINEMA

Nida Dergisi, 199. Sayı / Kasım-Aralık / 2020

Art is the way of revealing and constructing a civilization, worldview, way of life, way of believing, everything that concerns people both individually and socially, in addition to being a “form of representation”, and perhaps more than that. Transformation of civilizations into “image”, sound, color, form, movement, time… However, it is possible to look at the history of art as the history of the “spirits of civilizations”.

Ancient Greek tragedy, in this sense, should be regarded as the expression of the Ancient Greek society, what it believed and lived through, and the “cosmos” to which it belongs. God-universe-human imagination…

George Steiner, one of the important literary thinkers, makes a very important detection in his precious book “The Death of Tragedy“: “Tragedy is the adventure of a person who knows that he is an unwanted guest in the world!” This detection is also a detection that has inherent answers to the question of what Ancient Greece was.

What would a person do if  s/he knows that s/he is an unwelcome guest in the world?

Sphinx has an interesting answer to the question of Midas “What is the best thing for man?” : “The best thing for man is to have never been born, if he was to be born, then it is to die immediately!” This answer is a spectacle of “being unwelcome guest”. The unwanted person in the world will either give up being in the world or will resist and fight against those who do not want him or her. The “cosmos” of tragedy establishes itself in this dual World. In this sense, the fire that Prometheus stole from the “Gods” is a milestone that pits man against the gods. In the cosmos of tragedy, there is no serenity; There are games which “gods” played on the tragic hero. The tragic hero is a passive slave to the destiny drawn for him by ‘divine or superhuman beings’ who do not want him in the world, but he fights with all his might against his destiny/gods and other people to prove that he is not so… However, the basic output of the tragedy is “ what is learned” on the way to realize that destiny itself.

Sophocles’ Oedipus is left in the forest to die as soon as he is born, following a prophecy that was told to his king’s father before Oedipus was born. The destiny of Oedipus, which was found there and given to another king, takes an action again upon a prophecy he heard at a young age! The prophecy tells Oedipus that he will “kill his father and marry his mother”. Thereupon, the tragic hero, who ran away from his family as far as possible, ends up on a path where he will kill his real father and marry his real mother as king instead of him… On this way, Oedipus’s search to find “his father’s murderer” turns into a torment which he learns his identity… However, the tragic hero continues this torment to the end. Although Oedipus doubts himself at some point of his research, he does not step back and is almost in a desire to reach the inevitable end, the absolute result that will blind him! The prophecy will come true, and on this path of realization, neither prayer, nor will or wish is no possibility to prevent of “what will happen”.

As Steiner said, “If the Jews were subjected to a punishment described in the Torah, it was because of an evil they did, a sin they committed.” However, the tragedian hero’s experiences have nothing to do with his own actions and sins. Oedipus has become the ‘guilty’ of a whole for which he can be regarded as completely unknowingly and completely innocent in his action! Neither his prayer, nor his actions, nor his remorse will affect the gods of the Greek cosmos… The realm of tragedy is the world of landed disasters upon the unwelcome guest.

“Violence without reason”, “punishment without sin”, “religion without prayer”… The cosmos of tragedy is built on exactly these, and it puts the “scapegoat” Renè Girard traced in his books into circulation as a “medicine” to be superimposed on the tragic character by society for social comfort. King Oedipus, on his way to save his sick citizens from this calamity, almost made himself a scapegoat with a cruel game of violence by the “gods” and finally went from there by gouging out his eyes…

The “first sin” doctrine of Paul’s Christianity largely inherits a similar legacy. The punishment of a sin they did not commit is cruelly imposed on all people, and the doctrine of “punishment without sin” and “violence without a reason” of tragedy thus becomes Christianized. In Islam, prayer means “creative action” to a large extent. For this reason, the God-world-human conception of tragedy, and therefore the drama patterns in the formal sense, whose aim is to convey the tragic form, are excluded by the God-world-human conception of Islam. Therefore, Allah does not oppress His creations…

The violence of the tragedy, uncertainty in the matter of “cause”, interestingly finds new forms in the ways in which modern violence presents itself. In Macbeth, one of the important tragedies of the modern era, Macbeth, while taking firm steps towards “fulfilling” the prophecy that was told to him in the first place, actually builds a Christian doctrine of remorse. But the God of Christianity is just as “deaf” to prayers as the gods of Ancient Greece… Maybe he is not playing games; but his “ears” are closed to remorse.

What “gods/superhuman beings” do to an unwanted guest, and man’s “proud desperation” in the face of his own destiny, externalize itself in forms of violence for no reason in post-modern cinema. Instead of the immortal tragic hero of proud despair, the anti-heroes of post-modern cinema, violence, who are both the subject and the object at the same time, come in sight. Because we have come from the “psychopaths” gods of Ancient Greece who “loved to play games with people and torture them” to the modern period when “god was killed” and then to the ultra-modern period when “the knowledge that God was killed was also killed”! However, there is one thing in common with all the forms I have mentioned: Human is desperate against certain things for which there is no clear cause and no prayer. In tragedy, the “unwelcome guest” in the hegemony of the divine realm turns into “a guest who does not want to be in the world” in post-modern cinema, who has lost his identity, the knowledge of what is in the middle of nowhere, and everything. While the first is continuing its war against the one who has declared himself an unwanted guest in the world, the second is the world of anti-heroes who have neither the strength to fight nor an object to fight.

Michael Haneke is perhaps the first person to come to mind in cinema when “violence without reason” is mentioned. His Icy Trilogy reveals exactly the cosmos of the post-modern tragedy we are talking about. In his film, The Seventh Continent (Der Siebente Continent, 1989), which constitutes the first leg of the Glaciation Trilogy, he almost reveals the death of the assertive “individual” of modern thought who will carve his own value into everything., A person is faced with a terrible fading operation, from work to school and even to family. Haneke almost shows that technology as an ideology is an important “divine figure” of post-modern tragedy. Human makes it visible again with his helplessness in the face of the techno-world, like the helplessness of ancient Greek tragedy hero against gods. The Seventh Continent is the film of the Sphinx’s response to Midas, “reactivating” more than 2,500 years later: In this “new-world” where values are devalued and God is killed, human’s best response to what he is facing  ” is to kill himself immediately!” If that doesn’t work either, then kill someone else! What happened to man? While Haneke was revealing decay, was he asking what happened to human? Glaciation is like a term inherited from Bergman. The trademark of Bergman’s films seems to be inherited from sisters who cannot love each other, from priests who quarrel with God, from children who are subjected to the violence of ruthlessness… Glaciation is a word that can express the growth of the modern desert with terrible coldness. Covering the front of the heart with ice-cold rocks of mercilessness and unkindness… Losing the values that make people human… That’s why Haneke focuses on people whose faces have disappeared. To reveal the loss of hearts! He depicts them as a wheel of the machine age. What Haneke does is like the soulless version of Bresson’s form in which he definitely adds the opportunity to rise. Modernist artists still had hope, after all. For Haneke, this hope also seems to have vanished.

It seems possible to reduce art to three approaches in terms of modernity and its attitude towards post/ultra-modernity, which I regard as a degenerate continuation of it. Nietzsche’s “The desert grows, woe to him who conceals the desert within him!” In terms of the approach to his cry, the first approach is the way of living in that desert and turning into a desert creature… The second approach is the approach of those who do not know how to escape from that desert even though they reveal the desert with all its elements as much as possible. The third approach is the one who is aware of the desert and reveals it when necessary; but the approach of those who seek and find a way out of there…

The first approach is the approach we see in Hollywood cinema and the overwhelming majority of mainstream cinema in the world. Violence is constructed in such cinematic forms as “just wars” to reproduce the “desert”. In this sense, the reproduction of the intellectual and formal forms of modernity under the patterns of drama and by constantly finding new “conflict” forms.

What we encounter in post-modern cinema, and in some orientations of “modern art cinema”, which we can actually see as its predecessor, are generally different variations of the second approach. It should also be mentioned that there is a special cinema shaped by Bergman’s “against the desert” attitude and that post-modern cinema is in one way or another confrontation with Bergman.

In the Seventh Seal, the knight, who returned from the Crusades with deep disappointments and questions and said, “My whole life has been a pointless search,” complains that his search has not come to fruition All forms of “violence” are rampant In the plague-stricken medieval Europe, the knight and his assistant are two people with different views on life. Jöns (the knight) asks the “death” that has come to him for a piece of information that he could not find after so many searches: Is there a God? Contrary to the knight who spends his life for this knowledge, saying, “All I want is knowledge” (Death says, ‘You don’t want knowledge, you want guarantees!’) Jof, who cares only about living, seeks to enjoy life. The main conflict in Bergman’s films is summarized in these two opposite characters. This crisis of belief can be explained both the deepest aspects and the deficiencies in the art of this great artist, who has been toing and froing between believing or not believing in God throughout his life. A decade or so after he declared the idea of God to be the central subject of his art, his films may have allegedly turned in a different direction, but the truth is not so. His recent films have merely developed different perspectives on the same dominant Bergman question(s). The theme has not changed, it has been enriched with new perspectives.

What is lacking in the knight in the Seventh Seal is non-resistance and far away from faith  which the relationship with God can only be deepened. Jöns requests information. However, this is the will of a person who has hit the limits of his mind and senses! The desire to see, to touch… On the one hand, this desire is a sharp knife, on the other, it is the need for deepening and the expression of thirst. The auld conflict of the need to believe and the worship of its chains… While the chains try to prevent believing, the desire to believe tries to break the chains. Jöns thinks he can break his chains with the information he wants. But he is also aware that the kind of knowledge he aspires to will clinch the chains even more. So, he’s at a hopeless point, so, he’s at a point of no exit. This is what made his quest fail. The fact that he can’t manage to non-resistance…It would not be an exaggeration to say that all Bergman’s cinema can be summed up in Jöns’ inner conflict. By asking for information, Jons actually wants a God that he can register with his mind and senses. Do I believe because I have reasoned; Do I reason because I believe? Bergman films wander through this labyrinth, which has no exit for modern man. In the deserts of the crisis of modern humanity… The stalker who experiences the limits of what can be discovered with the information tools given to him with great pain and the nihilist who turns his face to everything except what the information tools offer him… Jöns and Jof… The two faces of the modern man…

Jof refers to a type of person who does not believe in any value other than living because he has lost all aspects of his relationship with God. He is apparently happy because he is not in a quest like Jöns. On the one hand, believer like Kierkegaard, on the other hand, materialist existentialism like Sartre! Both are missing in crucial details. Both have very basic points in common. So, what are the shortcomings and partnerships?

The aforementioned gazes are the two most important pendulum positions in Bergman’s life path. Deficiencies in Bergman’s cinema; partnerships point to problems that the director could not solve, even from both perspectives. How can human deal with the relationship between knowledge and faith? This is not a problem that the modern man, who has made doubt the leading actor of every event, and who has arisen in the swamp of Enlightenment thought, can solve this problem. First of all, it is necessary to get rid of the swamp where the problem grows. What Bergman was unable to do; but it is a struggle he is trying to maintain with endless effort. He does not know the method of the search and the escape from the swamp, but he struggles. His artistic intuition sometimes shows him deep ways to get out of the “growing desert”, the spiritual swamp he fell into. Bergman’s cinema is the scream of disgusting at the spiritual quagmire, the desperate struggles of humanity trying to live with a spiritual violence to drown in the quagmire…

Bergman, who was raised in a Protestant family with severe religious oppression and not connected much with the traditions of wisdom, finds in art the ways of salvation from the spiritual quagmire that modern man has fallen into. Jons’ great fear of death does not come back to him as knowledge, even in his last moment. Jof, on the other hand, feels a great fear when he is faced with death in the last moment of his carefree life. What both types of people have in common is a great fear and loathing for death. Because one does not know, and the other does not even seek to know, they feel great fear when they are approached by death.

 

One of Bergman’s most important films, Shame (Skammen 1968); focuses on masks and faces emerging in the abyss of violence and war, through a couple who come face to face with the horrors of war. The perspective of Bergman’s confrontations, which are typical themes, in this film is fear of death, violence and misery. Which facets of the soul, what possibilities of the soul does the near death call? The possibilities of decline on the one hand and rise on the other are triggered by fear of death. Jan and Eva confront each other with their hidden faces. Fear gnaws at their souls. Love only shows its face slightly as a last chance of salvation. In the middle of the sea spewing death, can hope arise with love that has shown its face timidly? Who knows! Isn’t Bergman’s entire filmography a terrific and hopeless struggle not to drown in the terrible and desolate ocean?

 

Jan is a fine-spirited musician; He has a nature that having difficulty in hurting even an ant. However, experiencing the abyss of war and violence triggers the lowest levels of his soul. He turns into someone who would kill someone to have his boot. Confrontation now means the emergence of a human condition in which mercy, compassion, justice and innocence are almost suspended. Man’s confrontation with imminent death often creates a zombie state in which anything can be done to “live”. Everything thought to be for living dries the soul even more. Few traces remain of Jan’s subtle soul, his roots, his compassion, his altruism. The only and most “realistic” aim is to avoid absolute violence and imminent death for the longest time. The violence of the war is not only revealed to those who waged that war, to the oppressors of that war; at the same time, and even the most innocent, it is what leaves deep wounds. It pollutes time and spirit rather than body, soil, facade, space. It pollutes time; because it smothers all past and future times with the thick soil that the past throws on the innocence of childhood. It pollutes the soul; because it creates a life abyss where all those beauties that make people human are suspended and gradually forgotten. A sirat bridge where we hold on everything that is dirty in order not to fall…

 

In the last scene of Shame, an extremely tragic “end” is approached with successive blackouts on the screen. When the view is reopened after the initial dark, the vast plain is replaced by a boat grappling with the waves. This image is the helplessness of people fleeing a war, the reason of which no one knows, in the face of hunger, thirst and most importantly despair. The curtain goes dark again. It reopens with an image of dead soldiers’ bodies around the boat, along with the sounds of seagulls flying and searching for something. Now, the death not is far from them, it is right next to them. The death that Jan and Eva escaped tests them right next to them. There is no way to go, nothing to run away from. Suicide or an abyss where the deep contradiction of holding on to life no matter what happens… They try to push the dead bodies with the shovels in their hands in vain. When the image darkened and reopened, there was no sound other than the sound of waves. The meaninglessness of exhaustion and despair can be seen from the eyes of those on the boat in the shrill silence. Bergman thus constructs the space of despair in Shame. A boat full of helpless people stuck in the middle of an endless, silent and desolate sea… It is arduous to represent war and violence with a stronger metaphor than this image. A world in the middle of the sea where there is no loneliness, no place to go, no home to return to… Right on the edge of the abyss… When the view fades and when it turns back on, one of the people on the boat softly releases himself into the sea… No matter what, preferring to take refuge in the embrace of death instead of living In the next scene, Eva tells Jan about her dream in which the roses ignited but the fire did not burn them: “Everything is like a dream, but it’s someone else’s dream, not mine… How do those who see us in their dreams feel? Is it shame?” The place turns from a place of despair to a place of shame. To the embarrassment of all viewers…

The attitude towards life becomes clear with the attitude towards death. Post-modern man cannot find a solid position in his life either because he sweeps his relationship with death under the rug like Jof or because he is “to afraid” of death like Jöns. In the post-modern world where the “knowledge of death” has disappeared and everything has turned into a game, violence does not take long to turn into one of the elements of this game, a kind of pleasure or pleasure principle.  In Benny’s Video (Benny’s Video, 1992), the second film of Haneke’s Trilogy, Haneke was giving the decay of the age in a very disturbing way and hurting our souls with the nihilism that Nietzsche warned humanity to. Benny, the lonely and unhappy child of a wealthy family who does not receive much attention, is playing around with the advanced video system and countless video tapes in his house. One day, he kills an unknown girl whom he invites home, just because he wonders what it’s like to kill people. The way it kills and its coldness is chilling..

 

When Haneke was asked in an interview about how he showed the violence, he said, “This is not important, what matters is the attitude and perception of the audience towards violence.” he had replied. This is an important clue to understanding Michael Haneke’s cinema. Haneke is a director who, with his disturbing style, prefers to leave us alone with our own responsibilities… Benny’s Video is like the disclosure of a state of freezing in the middle of the desert. What prompted Benny to commit such a murderous act? This is a question that those who got their souls back from Benny must answer! This is a frightening and shocking warning by Haneke to make us realize that in a world where conscience and virtue are lost, we can only raise people like Benny. The transformation of humanity, which rules the machines, into the object that it thinks it rules…

With almost all of his films, Haneke reveals the apocalypse, nihilism and decadence of an era that can be called ultra-modern, often by making us share in this decay and using a disturbing language. In the movie Mortal Games (Haneke, who later made a Hollywood version), we witness one of the most disturbing forms of “unjustified violence”. Two young men with no apparent problems enter a random house and engage in a nerve-racking game of violence with the family members who live there. A violence game in which all family members will be killed at the end…

Who are these people who are polite, calm and violent for no reason? Is Haneke mirroring the hypocrisy of the ultra-modern society he is in? How does this film relate to the American or British invaders, who are gentle even when exploiting, and remain sterile even when killing? Or with our conformist lives that can stand silently while someone is dying just around the corner and someone is being wronged at any moment? Maybe all or none of these. Who knows, maybe that’s why this harsh movie bothers us so much; being able to show everyone his ugly face or making him complicit without showing anything…

 

All this aside, another remarkable aspect of the film (considering both versions together) for me was that it marked the place of art in ultra-modern times by living and experiencing it. Now, art can join this game aspect of our lives and make it meaningless, which means that it can become a game itself! After all, in our “prosthetic civilization” where everything has become a commodity, even people have a copy, and there is nothing irreplaceable, a work of art can also be a copy. A second “Dead Game” that is a copy of the first one… The work of art is also a property of the industry, a kind of industrial product that can be produced and consumed a lot. If Haneka is shooting her second movie in Hollywood, in a place that has struck a blow to the art of film, at the same time, it can be a lament for the death of art, or an acceptance of the death of art.

 

The fact that the murderer, whose friend was murdered, takes back the “film” with the remote control and makes his friend live again, and that the most hated of the characters often turns to the camera and talks to the audience, actually makes the film a post-modern game. Or a revelation of our lives that have itself become a meaningless game? There is an ultra- emptiness state that cannot even be called a emptiness anymore, a state of emptiness that is not conscious of itself. All your values; “Deadly Games” implies a climate in which morals, virtues, and art melt away and gradually disappear. A climate where the “state of extinction” is evident, hidden behind clean-faced young people in an immaculate nature…

 

The “games of the gods” in the ancient Greek tragedy are now turning into plays that are the objects of post-modern tragic anti-characters who have lost everything in the depths of nothingness, but whose subject is unclear. The game of being a prisoner of the whirlpool of a vacuum, whether you are doing violence or being exposed to it…

 

We are faced with the violence of embodiment cannot be embodied by Kafka in the works he wrote between the two world wars! The “hero” of The Trial! Josef K. is arrested one morning. But his arrestment doesn’t stop him from commuting to work. Trials will also be held outside of working hours. He is not told for what crime he was arrested. At first, K. who thought that this was nonsense, later started to look for ways to defend himself.

In the novel, K. does not show any resistance to his arrest. It also hires a lawyer. He tries all the ways he can relate to the judges. Instead of knowing his innocence and refusing to defend himself, there is an admission here. There is a similar situation in general in the movie The Trial (The Trial 1962), which is the adaptation of Orson Welles. However, Welles seems to be intending to develop a kind of resistance, perhaps under the influence of evaluating the structure of those times from his own time. Welles rejects and condemns K.’s being passive. He does not resist and presents his acceptance of his guilt in an image where he realizes that the crime and the criminal are members of the same society. In fact, K. has declared his guilt by not resisting! As a result, whistleblowers can also be punished by higher-level officials, the “bagger” and K. is responsible for this punishment, in a way. In Welles, both the guilty and the innocent are blurred and the society is seen as the perpetrator of the same crime.

There are some differences between the movie and the novel in the way K. was killed. In the novel, K. goes to death like a docile lamb with fear but without resistance; In the movie, the two executioners, who hand the knife to each other, say, “You want me to do it, but I will not. You should!” There is a K. who greets the executioners and makes fun of them. While in the novel K. is executed with a knife blow, in the movie this execution takes place with a bomb thrown into the pit where K. was thrown.

So, what is K.’s crime? Is it the inability to resist an oppression despite knowing that it is approaching? Is it compromise? Or is K. already aware that he is guilty of all these crimes? In an article he wrote on Kafka, Adorno accuses K. of wanting to make a defense even though he is not guilty and therefore reconciling. Welles’ attitude towards K. is similar. Is K. also the perpetrator of every crime by being alive himself, just like Midas’ “crime”?

As a result, violence is the product of a cosmos in which God’s ties to life have been “cut off.” It is the same whether it is in the world where the “Olympian gods” look down, as in the Ancient Greek tragedy, or in a “god killed” cosmos where the Olympian gods or the Judeo-Christian “God” disappeared. It is the imagination of a world-man-God, in which Allah is not closer to us than our jugular vein, which says, “Pray to me and I will answer you by fulfilling your prayer”, which causes to all forms of violence. And “forceless violence” establishes its dominion by “growing the desert” most of all in the “barren land” where “God was killed”.

 

Çeviri: Merve Yeşilbaş – Halenur Lermi

Tashih: Çiğdem Karacadağ

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