A hybrid of realism and fantasy, “Forgiveness” is a psychological examination of the tragedies of the Middle East. David, a young American-Israeli, returns to Israel to join the army, only to find himself in a catatonic state after accidentally shooting a Palestinian girl while on patrol. He is committed to a mental institution which sits on the ruins of a Palestinian village that had been attacked by Israeli forces in 1948. The head psychiatrist offers medication for David’s tortured guilt-ridden amnesic withdrawal, while another patient in the hospital, a Holocaust survivor ironically named Muselmann, tries to redeem David by encouraging him to respond to the child ghost that haunts him, to acknowledge his crime and to bear his guilt as a prerequisite for reparation and forgiveness.

Flectere si nequeo Superos, Acheronta movebo.
– Virgil, as quoted by Freud

A short circuit is a condition in which a short electrical path is unintentionally created, causing a power fault – this is what Udi Aloni does in both his book (Forgiveness, or Rolling in the Underworld’s Tunnels) and his film Forgiveness, causing a power fault of the ruling liberal attitude by way of short-circuiting between different levels of ideology, art, and thought. Aloni achieves a tremendous poetic power by creating new myths with the perspicuous mind of a cold theoretician, grounding a ruthless critique of Zionism in his unconditional fidelity to the Jewish tradition.

In the present world, what we call the normal state of things has become indistinguishable from the state of emergency. The West is more and more often evoking some figure of fear and then promising us protection from it. This comes at a very high price, because in such a scenario, the rhetoric of fear and emergency attempts to eclipse the act of thinking. All of this comes at precisely the time when the dignity of theory is urgent – not in the service of some kind of theoretical narcissism, but because we must undermine the ultimate goal of the politics of fear, which seeks to prevent us from questioning and thus from acting. The very logic of the emergency state, then, is to prevent us from doing what really should be done. Today more than ever, we need a thinking which is not a simple reflexive response to the state of emergency. I’m not an abstract-idealist here, I’m a Marxist. My favorite passage from Marx comes in a letter he wrote to Engels; in which he asked in so many words whether the revolution couldn’t wait a year or two until he finished writing about the spirit it was meant to obtain, i.e. Das Capital. So in the spirit of this letter, it is precisely in these times that a film like Aloni’s Forgiveness is so needed. We have to remember that a film shouldn’t intend to answer questions; it should advocate the formulation and reformulation of the questions themselves.

[Extract. Appeared in International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies. (2009) Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 80-83.]


Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, and a senior researcher at the Institute for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London. He has also been a visiting professor at more than 10 universities around the world. Žižek is the author of many books; his latest are Against the Double Blackmail and Disparities.

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