It is autumn and the leaves are changing. It is autumn and the leaves are changing from green to golds and reds and oranges, and on the movie theater screen sociopathic killers are hacking, sawing limbs and spewing blood and dismembering bodies and organs with reckless, indifferent, gleeful, often retaliatory or vengeful abandon. We buy things pumpkin flavored – like the venerable pumpkin spice coffee options – and sip hot cocoa and caramel apple cider as we smear fake blood on the sides of lips, shove vampire fangs inside our mouths, and delight in the temporary, transitory, audacious and ostentatious embodiment of the so-called monster, that cultural construct who signifies panic, disruption, mayhem. It is autumn, and so – at least, for those of us who like the season – we are not sure if we’re in some transcendental, umbrage-speckled heaven or the depths of a fiendish, delightful, playful sort of hell. It is autumn and, perhaps, we’re not sure how to feel, but in any case we indulge deliciously in the feeling, the feeling of change, the feelings of alleged paradox, the feelings of fall-ness. See, I just created a word: fall-ness. Often times, during autumn, we delight in fall-ness.
In this season, which is, perhaps, my favorite of all seasons, I saw yet another horror movie last night with Michael, when I was exhausted and could hardly keep my eyes open. Having never seen a Saw movie – except, perhaps, the first one, a long time ago – Michael and I nevertheless decided to see Jigsaw (although he was rather reluctant) because we intend to write another genre mash-up that meshes the superhero and the murderous sociopath in an incongruous, fantastically uncomfortable (or perhaps incredibly typical) amalgam of malice and heroics. I wrote, a couple days ago, about Judith Butler, and her theory of a sort of intersubjectivity or human inner-connectedness, but (and this part, perhaps, I didn’t touch on during the post) an intersubjectivity premised off the notion of deprivation or dispossession. To Butler, transcendental individuality is a myth. The very facts of mourning and individual bodily vulnerability (vulnerability to violence, to all sorts of things, really) underscore our necessary connectedness to one another, our position as a subject irrevocably and constantly influenced by other thinking subjects. While this state of intersubjectivity would seemingly be a beneficial thing, a state of being that lends itself to deep human connections, Butler’s ambivalence is highlighted in her use of the word dispossession to suggest that we are deprived of something –albeit perhaps, something ambiguous – in experiencing these connections, that we give something up in our quest for, and reliance on, other subjects.
I am rather fascinated by Butler’s theory, and I think of it, now, in light of last night’s film, Jigsaw, and (spoiler alert) the murderous psychopath’s simultaneous disdain for and reliance on human connection, his sort of ambivalence about other subjects, in a season, perhaps, marked by incongruity, ambivalence, and a need to recognize a state of being alternative to the state of ethereal beauty and indescribable abjection. You see, the sort of trick of the Saw movies, I think – the fundamental tension at the heart of them that’s supposed to make the killer an interesting and contentious figure – is their appeal to a sort of conventional morality gone awry. The killer in the Saw movies is traditionally present not to punish simply dogmatic transgressions, but acts of corruption and depravity that show a marked disregard for the sanctity of other human lives. The killer, in other words, condemns the indifference toward other human lives, or the exclusion of life in the category “sacred,” by removing other human lives out of the “sacred” category and inundating his victims with abject torture before he brutally kills them. To me, there is not much to argue about the premise; regardless of the deed one has committed, claiming that the person is deserving of brutal torture and slow, gory, painful death is a necessarily self-righteous act that, to be a bit cliché, “plays God,” at the expense of others. I do not, in other words, typically see Jigsaw’s actions as debatable; perhaps as someone who’s not a fan of torture, the death penalty, or anything like that, his actions seem as fundamentally wrong as the actions of the perpetrators he’s trying to punish, and to that end it’s hard to highlight any real problematics or predicaments provoked by the films.
But I do think Jigsaw is interesting in light of Butler’s theory, as a sort of aberration from the typical murdering psychopath who has no regard for human lives. If we accept Butler’s theory that being human, being a body in a society of bodies, is an act of intersubjectivity in which the “I” depends on the existence of a variety of “yous,” but that there’s a dispossessive element to such relationships, then we immediately have to wonder where Jigsaw is situated in a chain like this one, or where any murderer who commits brutal killings like the killings in Saw is really situated in this sort of human spiderweb of connectivity that Judith Butler theorizes. One must wonder, in the end, if those who experience the strongest sense of dispossession are capable of the most violence, a potential maxim that sits at the basis of the concept “revenge.” Perhaps Jigsaw is more violent toward other cultural bodies because he is the most dispossessed, feels the loss of other interconnected subjects the most.
After all, the way I understand Butler, when we encounter another person, the resulting relationship creates a separate sort of deconstructive category, a positive entity (I think, though I’m not sure) situated outside the “I vs. you,” or “us vs. them” binary. Is it the nature of this relationship (positive in that it’s a presence, not an absence or a lack, not positive as inherently “good,” – which it may not be) which is “distorted” or different in a sociopathic killer like Jigsaw, or like any murderer who would commit similar murders for similar reasons. From here, I think we can posit something like this:
Perhaps a killer who kills out of revenge – and perhaps, out of revenge for the lives of subjects that he was never connected to, to begin with – experiences a stronger sort of dispossession toward violence than the average person. If dispossession is a loss of something, perhaps it is the violent loss that the vengeful serial killer feels that causes him to act more violently toward the perpetrators. I think there is more to be said about this speculation, but I’m going to side-step that thinking right now to present a divergent possibility. Conversely, perhaps killing those who have committed injustices is just a sort of narcissistic, moralistic response to violence, a response that is all “in the head” or situated in the logos, with no visceral origin, without the sort of pathos that causes the feelings of loss and dispossession that we experience when we’re connected to other subjects. Maybe, along those lines, it’s an inability to feel dispossession that makes murdering the perpetrators of violent crimes seem not just justifiable but appealing and easy to characters like Jigsaw. Certainly, this possibility works well for characters who kill with absolutely no regard for who they’re killing – for killers who just kill for the sake of killing. One might argue that they don’t feel the same dispossession that results from inter-subjectivity, and so they experience no emotion – or a positive emotion – for killing their crime, although of course any generalized version of this theory would be highly problematic, since murder can result from a lot of motivations. With a character like Jigsaw, though, I think his location in Butler’s sort of web of intersubjectivity is much more disputable. It is, nonetheless, always interesting to posit how human beings relate to other human beings when questioning how violence toward others – toward Butler’s “vulnerable bodies” – happens: what provokes such acts, acts that most of us couldn’t begin to fathom committing?
There are fall days that are good for contemplating these questions: days that aren’t full of colorful foliage and crisp air and a weird mixture of peace and frenzied excitement. There are days that are gray – gray, and overcast, and cold, days when the only thing you’re looking at out the window is the Dodge dealership across the street from where you’re writing, an edifice and half-empty car-lot seated under a bland, gray-white cloudless sky. Perhaps these are the days we take off our witch hats, put away our brooms and our sheets, forego our fake blood and stop playing. Perhaps these are the days we stop playing monster and ask ourselves, what is going on with the so-called monster in society, he or she who commits monstrous actions. How do we being to think about those actions? How do we explain them? Butler, I think, has some interesting answers to this question. I have not developed them as much as I’d like to, but this was intended as only a brief break from school work, and so I must return to the task(s) at hand.