Archives for posts with tag: Harry Potter

To add to my analysis of the final installment of the Harry Potter (movie) saga, I’d like to turn to the subject of Harry as Christ. Let us examine the concept of the support of the believers, the symbolic community, more closely. Of course, first we must take a detour through (who else?) Žižek. Please forgive the perhaps excessive length of the following quote!

In Metastases of Enjoyment, pages 39-42, he outlines Hegel’s examination of Christianity:

the ‘death of God’ designates for Hegel the death of the transcendent Beyond that exists in itself: the outcome of this death is God qua Holy Spirit – that is, the product of the labour of the community of believers. The relationship between cause and effect is dialectically reflected here. On the one hand, the Cause is unambiguously the product of the subjects’ activity; it is ‘alive’ only in so far as it is continually resuscitated by the believers’ passion….

On the other hand, these same believers experience the Cause as the Absolute, as what sets their lives in motion…Subjects therefore posit the Cause, yet they posit it not as something subordinated to them but as their absolute Cause. What we encounter here is again the paradoxical temporal loop of the subject: the Cause is posited, but it is posited as what it ‘always-already was.’….

[Christianity] involves the absolute mediation of both sides in the person of Christ, who is simultaneously the representative of God among human subjects and the subject who passes into God. In Christianity, the only identity of man and God is the identity in Christ – in clear contrast to the pre-Christian attitude, which conceives of such an identity as the asymptotic point of man’s infinite approach to God by means of his spiritual purification [e.g., paganism, the great Eastern religions, Judaism, etc., in which God is a mystical ‘Beyond’ that can be approached but never reached]….

[The content of Christian Doctrine is the death that happens to a particular individual who achieves reconciliation with the universal]. Here the death of Christ is “still experienced as the force of negativity that affects a particular, finite being; it is not yet experienced as the simultaneous death of the abstract Beyond itself….

[The content of Christian Faith, however, is] salvation, accomplished by Christ when he took upon himself the sins of humanity and expired on the Cross as a common mortal – salvation thus involves the identity of man and God. This identity, which in the Doctrine was a mere object of knowledge, occurs in Faith as an existential experience….How do I, a finite mortal, concretely experience my identity with God? I experience it in my own radical despair, which – paradoxically – involves a loss of faith: when, apparently forsaken by God, I am driven to despair, thrown into absolute solitude, I can identify with Christ on the Cross (‘Father, why has Thou forsaken me?’)….[M]y personal experience of being abandoned by God thus overlaps with the despair of Christ himself as being abandoned by the divine Father….

What expires on the Cross is thus not only the terrestrial representative of God (as it still seemed in the first syllogism of the Doctrine) but God himself, namely the god of Beyond, God as the transcendent Substance, as the divine Reason which guarantees that our lives have Meaning….

The content of the Ritual, finally, is the Holy Spirit as the positive unity of man and God: the God who expired on the Cross is resurrected in the guise of the Spirit of the religious community. He is no longer the Father who, safe in His Beyond, regulates our fate, but the work of us all, members of the community, since he is present in the ritual performed by us….

Conceived this way, the ‘death of God’ can no longer appear as a liberating experience, as the retreat of the Beyond which sets man free, opening up to him the domain of terrestrial activity as the field in which he is to affirm his creative subjectivity; instead the ‘death of God’ involves the loss of the consistent ‘terrestrial’ reality itself. Farm from heralding the triumph of man’s autonomous creative capacity, the ‘death of God’ is more akin to what the great texts of mysticism usually designate as the ‘night of the world’: the dissolution of (symbolically constituted) reality.

In the Christian faith, Christ’s resurrection is the resurrection and continuation of the principles that Jesus stood for, not of Jesus himself. But in the final stage of the Harry Potter saga, Harry must literally be brought back to life.

So the most unfortunate aspect of the movie is that, instead of exemplifying the triumph of the revolutionary Cause (Good vs. Evil), with the transmission of the Cause to the Holy Spirit, sustained through the ritual action of the community of believers,  the plot takes the shallow turn of Harry’s actual, corporeal ‘resurrection.’

Worse still is that this resurrection requires a magical/mystical supplement; the community doesn’t have any part in Harry’s resurrection – the magic of the Resurrection Stone is a kind of ‘deus ex machina’ that relieves the community of its own, existential despair, and of the hard work of keeping the Idea/Cause alive, taking away the most fundamental sacrifice of any revolutionary/religious commitment.

If Harry had died, we wouldn’t have the cop-out happy ending. Rather, we’d have utter despair within the community of believers. Harry’s death could then symbolize for the community the fragility of their own way of life, the non-assurance of their safety in the world, even, yes, the possibility that they will die (literally or figuratively), forsaken by what they’d thought was a secure life, held in tact by an everlasting guide/father figure (Dumbledore).

So while we do get the death of Dumbledore, who stands for the God of the Old Testament, the father figure for Harry and the rest of Hogwarts, the movie never runs its full course; the New Testament and its hero, Jesus Christ, with his Good News — the news of the community’s salvation in their own, collectively sustained (and never guaranteed) belief system — never arrives!

Harry never made the ultimate sacrifice for the community, thus sabotaging the birth of the Holy Spirit.

In a sense, Harry, since he somehow comes back from the dead, becomes, for all intents and purposes, a new Dumbledore. So this moment of ‘ressurection’ is not a moment of triumph, but, rather the ultimate failure of the series’ guiding force.

Rather than accomplishing the radical gesture of faith, Harry’s survival signals the series’ regression toward a kind of pre-Voldemort world.

For a contemporary analogy, this is the same kind of regression into premodern beliefs that’s been frighteningly successful among Christian fundamentalist groups. These groups search for material evidence of the Bible’s authenticity. They want hard evidence, proof. They take the Bible literally, as if the Bible’s literal meaning were even half as important as its existential meaning.

When Harry survives, the community’s freedom dies. Instead of the ‘death of God,’ in other words, we get the opposite, the reassurance that there really is a God: Magic.

Thus instead of accomplishing the radical gesture of Christian faith, the Harry Potter sage ends with a regression into the myth of the God as a mystical, metaphysical Beyond that one can’t ever fully grasp, but which nevertheless has enormous consequences for human life. Even the best wizards can only approach ‘asymptotically,’ as it were, the possession of the ultimate, universal power of Magic.

This is why Christians might rightly oppose J. K. Rowling’s remarkably successful franchise. But not for the cliche, stupid obsession with magic as some kind of metaphysical alternative to the ‘real’ world as ostensibly posited by the Bible, the obsession with Harry Potter as some kind of anti-Christian evil. Rather, Christians should remark that the message of Harry Potter doesn’t offer half the ‘good news’ of the Bible. (But it’s still a lot of fun to read. And damn, what a great movie! Five stars).

I’d like to suggest one particular example from the final installment of the Harry Potter saga as a clear starting point for an examination of the different subject positions represented by Voldemort and Harry.

The example is the case of the Elder Wand, and the two characters’ different relations to it. Simply put, Voldemort’s thirst for power and his manipulation of the Wand, versus Harry’s renunciation of power and his destruction of the Wand, exemplify, respectively, the positions of the master and the hysteric in Lacan’s four discourses (See Bruce Fink, The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance, 129-136).

Here’s my proposal: Voldemort’s rejection of all forms of Otherness identifies him with the subject of the master’s discourse, who manipulates the Slave(s), violently imposing a new Master Signifier, i.e., a ‘New World Order.’ Harry, on the other hand, with his acceptance of virtually ever kind of Otherness, every excluded/disenfranchised Other – going so far as to face death in order to save the ones he loves – and with his persistent, even relentless, curiosity, self-examination, and pursuit of the truth, exemplifies the discourse of the hysteric: “the hysteric goes at the master and demands that he or she show his or her stuff, prove his or her mettle by producing something serious by way of knowledge” (Lacanian Subject, 135).

However, the distinction between the master’s and the hysteric’s discourses is helpful in several other ways as well.

First, the master and the hysteric each has his own object-cause of desire. It helps to remember here that there is a difference between the object of desire and the object-cause of the desire: the object is a particular piece of material reality that stands in as one instance of the ineffable object-cause, which stands ‘behind,’ as it were, the object – this is the difference between the capitalist’s desire for a particular object (say, a BMW), and his object-cause (say, status/wealth); here, the object is an actual object, whereas the object-cause is an immaterial concept.

The object of the master’s desire is the actual person of the slave, who must be subordinated by the master in order for the master to secure whatever object-cause causes his desiring – his pursuit – of the to-be-conquered slave. For Voldemort, this object-cause would be something like Evil, an ideal kingdom dominated by the dark arts.

The object of the hysteric’s desire, on the other hand, is the master himself. Of course, in Harry’s case, this would be Voldemort as the ultimate, Evil threat to all that is Good. The hysteric sees it as his duty to expose the symbolic system for exactly what it is – not True, but, rather, one possible truth of many, merely one possible way of seeing the world (of course, what better example than society’s force-feeding of capitalism as the great Truth beyond all doubt, the system that ‘we’ll always be stuck with’?).

Harry also shows this demand to examine the status quo in his every move within the symbolic space of the university – Hogwarts – where he always seems to get into trouble, always needs to know why something is the case, the meaning of things, etc., even risking expulsion through disobedience to the Master-Signifier of the everyday wizarding world.

The thing that appears to make the master’s discourse, and the Master-Signifier, so frustratingly impenetrable to the hysteric (and therefore all the more desirable, ineluctably provocative and demanding) is what is called object a in Lacanian psychoanalysis. This is the ‘Je ne sais pas’ that draws the hysteric’s attention.

The hysteric’s self-chosen duty to expose false truths is the key motivation for the hysteric’s activity. In the same way as the scientist persistently investigates the tiniest scrap of material reality in order to find the ‘Truth’ underlying it all, the hysteric pursues a Truth beyond any would-be truth suggested by the master and the institutions that support the master (note that this pursuit of ‘knowledge for knowledge’s sake,’ or ‘pure’ science, is clearly different from applied science).

But then, what is Truth? Precisely, it is the Real: the empty void of possibility that precedes the imposition of any totalizing symbolic system (whether Voldemort’s or Dumbledore’s). Thus the Real is the object-cause of the hysteric’s desire.

However, Harry does not stay in the position of the hysteric throughout the entire series. His transition to the master (or ‘revolutionary,’ as Rob has suggested) discourse coincides with the transition in the series from adventurous fantasy chronicle to something much, much darker.

At the point when Good is under threat from all sides, when the wizarding world is up in arms about how to defend itself from Voldemort’s Evil, Harry can’t any longer function in the hysteric’s position: instead, he has to take up the fight and stand confidently against the tyranny of evil.

Non-coincidentally, Harry’s shift into the master’s position also coincides with his shift into adulthood: the frustrated, rebellious, dissatisfied youth ‘comes into his own,’ finally cuts ties with the master and realizes that he must choose to fight for one side or the other; at some point, he took the leap and made the de-cision (hyphenated to highlight the ‘cutting’ aspect) to break with an obsession with possibility, the Real, the ‘Truth’ of the master, and to stand for one Master-Signifier against all others.

That is to say, Harry decided to accept full responsibility for the limitations and sacrifices implied by his rejection of all other worldviews, in order to stand up for one particular view that ultimately gains support not in ‘Truth,’ but, rather, in the support of the symbolic community, namely, the ‘good guys,’ who will die for their Cause.