Thursday, Dec 13, 2012, 7:05 PM

Robert Pfaller

Die Augenhöhe des Lebens. Über Souveränität und subalterne Identität

Johan Huizinga believed that the game was a basic element of society. His explanation would not have been complete without a reference to the celebration. According to Huizinga, the game produces a specific festive atmosphere distinct from the everyday world in which “sacred earnestness” – a mood generated by the strongest affects – prevails. Decisive in Huizinga’s notion of the game is that it contains a specific transparent illusion – an “as if” that its players take pleasure in preserving. The psychoanalyst Octave Mannoni argued that some types of illusions we believe; others we do not. The former type, croyances, produce pleasure; the latter, foi, self-respect. Celebrations follow a similar typology. With phenomena like the Olympics, New Year’s, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny, the illusions are either unconscious or absurd, and hence delegated to others, preferably children. In others – Reformation Day, national holidays, May Day – adults present themselves as proud bearers of illusion. If we accept the psychoanalytic belief that adult perception is structured by the loss of an original object, then celebrations can be understood as events that temporarily recover our original perfection in a way that is neither unpleasurable nor uncanny.
Georges Bataille described this kind of perfection – detached from the moderating circumstances of reality – as sovereignty. In view of today’s pseudo politics, pleasure shyness, and love of prohibition, this notion assumes special importance. Accordingly, celebrations are moments in which we can feel ourselves to be something other than biopolitical clerks and subaltern upholders of biological functions. When we participate in celebrations we become managers of our own life. We meet it as equals, and at eye-level.

Robert Pfaller is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. Previously he was Professor of Cultural Studies and Cultural Theory at the University of Art and Design Linz. His recent publications include Die Illusionen der anderen: Über das Lustprinzip in der Kultur (2002); Das schmutzige Heilige und die reine Vernunft: Symptome der Gegenwartskultur (2008); Ästhetik der Interpassivität (2009); and Wofür es sich zu leben lohnt: Elemente materialistischer Philosophie (2011).