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The Contingency of Connection: The Path to Politicization in Babel
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God and the Hole

Our everyday experience is an experience of necessity. Our daily interactions obey an implicit set of rules that enable us to attend to them unthinkingly. As structuralism has shown, this necessity has its basis in the sociosymbolic structure that silently informs experience, even when experience seems most chaotic and disordered. The invisibility of necessity represents one of the fundamental problems for politics: if we can't see the structural necessity that governs our social relations, we will never have the political desire to change these relations. This is why Karl Marx devotes so much time to the analysis of the structure of capitalist relations of production. By showing that the oppression of workers is not the result of the contingency of a particular malevolent boss but a necessity that follows from capitalist exchange itself, Marx hopes to forge the political awareness to change the relations of production. For the subjects immersed within these relations, the contingent form that they take—the fact that one could easily imagine them existing in another form—masks their underlying necessity, which leaves subjects unable to recognize the structural causes for their situation. Politicization involves rendering this necessity visible as it functions beneath the appearance of contingency.

The cinema has played a part in this type of politicization primarily through the use of editing strategies that highlight necessity by exposing hidden relations. For instance, Sergei Eisenstein's montage allows the spectator to see that the oppression of the striking workers in Strike (1925) is not an isolated or contingent event but the effect of capitalist relations of production that necessitate factory owners viewing workers as worth nothing more than what they produce. By inserting the image of a cow being slaughtered into the depiction of authorities violently quelling a strike, Eisenstein makes clear the structural attitude that informs the violence. This process occurs even in less overtly political films. In Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972), for instance, the crosscutting sequence at the end of the film between the christening of the nephew of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and the execution of rival mobsters by Michael's lieutenants reveals the complicity of the Catholic Church in the violence that it condemns. Through this sequence, Michael's Catholicism ceases to be a contingent element of his existence unrelated to his role as mob leader and becomes visible as the necessary form of appearance that this role requires. By exposing hidden relations and underlying structural necessity by the force of juxtaposition, film editing enacts its own form of politicization.

But this type of politicization has a limited effectiveness because it cannot account for the limit of structural necessity. No structure is complete. As Bertrand Russell shows apropos of Gottlob Frege's attempt to construct a complete logical system, it is not the variegations of experience that render a structural totality unthinkable but the exigencies of totalization itself. The discovery of Russell's paradox—the idea that the class of all classes that are not members of themselves represents a logical dilemma—reveals that a point of impossibility exists within every totality and that this point testifies to a structural incompleteness that no system can avoid. As Russell puts it, "[G]iven any language, it must have a certain incompleteness, in the sense that there are things to be said about the language which cannot be said in the language."1 The incompleteness of every structure marks the limit of structural necessity, the point at which necessity breaks down. No matter how stable the structure, no matter how complete the system, it cannot do without this point of impossibility.2

The point of impossibility—what Jacques Lacan calls the real—is what constitutes the desire of subjects and creates the possibility for political engagement. Desire is constituted through absence, and the encounter with what is missing functions as the source for politicization. While a recognition of necessity might create the proper political consciousness (what Eisenstein attempts to do in Strike, wherein he shows how the violence against workers follows from capitalist relations of production), only the encounter with the impossible real in some form can arouse the subject into the political act. Without...

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