October • 11 • 2020

Molly Stephenson
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Black Moon. Directed by Louis Malle. France, West Germany, 1975.

Flooded by her blonde locks, Lily drowns in her own psyche. Frays of her fair hair part as she exhales a hot breath. She is frustrated, as she cannot seem to stumble upon the mystical unicorn in hiding. Her eyes begin to frantically skim across the seemingly vacant quasi-fairy-tale farmhouse in search of stability. Her rage unleashes as she spirals into disorientation; kicking, grunting, huffing, and puffing the way a toddler may throw a tantrum. She stomps and tromps across the land, pulling weeds out from their roots with her bare hands, the way a wolf might dismember its prey’s meaty limbs. As she plods in the mud, Lily suddenly hears a muddling of soft, piercing squeals, supposedly coming from the weeds below. Shuttering in shock, Lily proceeds to violently tramp on the weeds to either quieten their moans of despair or to quieten hers. “Enough!” she commands the weeds as if she is attempting to discipline her own spores and revolt against their seemingly schizophrenic voices.

The camera jolts out of Lily’s eye to the eye of the observer–Lily is now upside down. Like a propelling helicopter, Lily frantically swings her arms around in a circle. She is jerked out of her assumed psychiatric episode, and is confronted with a stern, maternal “ahem?”. There she is, graced by a clunky, clumsy unicorn. The mystical creature seems bothered by Lily’s stalking and cruelty. Lily begins to squabble with the unicorn the way a teenage daughter may squabble with her mother. The unicorn abruptly jars Lily’s psyche by shouting, “WILL YOU SHUT UP AND LET ME SPEAK?” The creature begins to describe the flowers Lily destroyed as ‘children.’ The unicorn then cheekily slips in and out of performing as Lily’s disciplining mother and as a voiceless unicorn, pausing throughout its munches and chomps to remind Lily that she is, in fact, talking to a unicorn.

Lily is portrayed as a fool, as she continues to quarry with the crude, mythical beast about the strange, elderly lady who occupies the upstairs residence in the farmhouse. “The most beautiful things in the world are the most useless, peacocks and lily’s for instance — haha!” mocks the unicorn. Exhausted by Lily’s incompetence, the unicorn puffs, “Don’t pay any attention to her, she’s not even real.” Lily’s insanity is induced yet again as she reputes, “I even saw her die!”

The unicorn pauses yet again, accentuating Lily’s instability. The talismanic creature thrusts Lily back into disorientation by proposing that Lily obtain information about the elderly lady upstairs that she does not have. “I won’t be back for another 154 years,” declares the unicorn, as it begins its departure into the fog. Lily is left sprawled across the garden on her stoma, dirty and mangled. She realizes that the only voices she seems to hear stem from either the ground beneath her, the crude unicorn, or from her own head.

• • • 

The displacement of human labor, performance, and projection will be dissected in this essay. I will be analyzing these invoked displacements in reference to Louis Malle’s 1975 psychosexual, surrealist film Black Moon. I wish to explore how the employment of non-dualist thought — that is, existing in a constant state of flux, instability, and disorientation — can diffuse the existence between the certainty and permanence of an assumed reality and fantasy. Employing performative displacements and poetic formalisms (such as anthropomorphizing fauna, flora, and object), and destabilizing the performative role of the visitor, viewer, or participant, can indeed diffuse binaries instead of enforcing them. This is achieved by alluding to a spectrum as opposed to grafting to a singular stream of thought or experience. (1) Diffusing these anthropological binarisms, dualisms, and fetishes will dismantle and weaken the hierarchical structures that have aided the privileged and exploited the vulnerable through definition, categorization, assignment, and projection. Therefore, value-neutral onto-epistemological environments can manifest between the human and non-human by hauntologically existing in both the construction and aftermath, the concept and creation (2), the organism and organization. (3)

Dualist models are employed to diffuse and challenge one another in Louis Malle’s sagacious, quasi-fairy-tale Black Moon. (4) Reminiscent of Robert Southey’s 1918 nursery tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Malle’s poetic orchestration of light, rhythm, and structure invoke an obvious lack of hierarchy and permanence in Lily’s unsettling whimsical world of trauma. (5) The fair adolescent, Lily, embarks on an escapist voyage from war and psychological distress, to only stumble upon a capricious, whimsical farmhouse.

Embroiled in instability, Malle lubricates and blurs Lily’s perception as well as our own by situating Lily somewhere between consciousness and subconsciousness. As Sigmund Freud suggests in the chapter “Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts” in Totem and Taboo (1913), “magical observances is the domination of the association of ideas.” Here, Freud implies that experience is merely a thought that stems from an individual’s psychological structure, which is responsible for creating and projecting so-called “spirits and demons” into our visceral, temporal world. (6) However, Malle does not position Lily to graft within a solo stream of consciousness or subconsciousness. Instead, Malle orchestrates Lily’s sojourn journey as an idiosyncratic one that encourages viewers to sit and marinate between dualist thresholds by cinematically shifting notions of time and location. (7)

 

Malle’s invoked displacement, as feminist theorist Karen Barad explores in “Posthuman Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter” (2003), suggests that invoked displacement is what ultimately generates “non-dualist emancipatory thought.”(8) New onto-epistemological environments can be re-fleshed into the present day by hauntological engagement with the past and future. In other words, the “concept and creation are related.” (9) For instance, Elvia Wilk and Jenna Sutela’s “Slime Intelligence” (2016) discusses the concept of the ORG, an acronym that stands for “Organisation, Organism, and Orgasm.” (10) The organism collaborates as both an organism and an organization, a system of sorts, where it interplays between environments through memory, decision making, and reproduction. The organism exists in both its construction and its aftermath in an ontological continuous loop, where “connections between things diminish” as they continue to produce and function. (11) This ultimately forges a “value-neutral hierarchy” between the organism and its own organization. (12) In other words, the organism exists in its own preemptive performance and execution; it exists in its own concept and creation. (13)

Another instance where we may relate concept and creation together is in reference to the Roman Catholic Church’s ritualistic performance of the Eucharist — the transformation of bread and wine into the blood and body of Christ, also known as transubstantiation. Although the bread and wine have supposedly been transubstantiated into the blood and body of Christ, the physical appearance of the objects remains the same. Not only does this probe questions about the anthropomorphizing of food and objects, but it also raises peculiar questions about cannibalism in relation to ritual and metamorphosis. Perhaps the ingestion of an object or thing into the human form is believed to then expand and embody the form in which it enters, whether this is through sacrifice and/or the mediation of food or object.

However, one may also argue that the anthropomorphizing of bread and wine is a binary as well, as the Bible insinuates that the body and blood of Christ are in fact, separate. This can be seen in the following excerpt from the Gospel of Luke, “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me… This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”(14) In contrast, the performative element of the Eucharist insinuates that the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are all one entity, again, existing in its own concept and creation. This Cartesian mind-body dualism may suggest that the Eucharist is actually a non-dualist thought and performative act, as its construction and aftermath exist murkily between two dualisms in a threshold. I suppose we are left to query if it is possible for the human and/or non-human to ever escape the ‘ism’ (in this case, a dualism), such as whether or not a group or being can still operate within an organization, binary or hybrid, despite existing through a differing third course. (15)

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Black Moon. Directed by Louis Malle. France, West Germany, 1975.

Malle seems to materialize this uncertainty and instability in Black Moon by quarrying across and into Lily’s train of thought by anthropomorphizing the flora and fauna surrounding her. (16) The littering of these symbols, such as the whispering of the weeds, not only destabilizes the heroine, but probes viewer’s to question whether Lily is merely a visitor or viewer of her own experienced traumascapes. Stuck somewhere between the literal and visceral, Lily begins to unleash her internalized anger upon the weeds by stomping and trampling on the ground beneath her like a misbehaved toddler. (17) “Enough!” she shouts to the piercing squeals below, in the hopes of not only quieting their moans but quietening hers as well. We are constantly thrust back into disorientation as Lily’s material trappings seem to be either stripped or paralleled with the ‘reality’ before her — or at least prevailing in a murky puddle between the certainty of an assumed reality and fantasy, a binary in and of itself.

As Lily continues to tumble across the romantic farmland, she staggers upon a clunky, vaguely maternal talking unicorn. Here we are presented with another dualism, this time between the human and the non-human. Confronted with her own disillusionment, Lily slips in and out of performing as an individual in conversation with another being and talking to herself. However, the residue of the unicorn’s munching and chomping seems to illuminate the crude creature’s “vestige of magical performance”(19), leaving Lily and the viewer to be left in the aftermath of its effects and post-eventuality. (20) To put differently, Lily and the viewer (if they are in fact separate) simultaneously preempt, construct, and exist within their own reverberations of events, existing as both “the organism and the organization” (21) and the “concept and creation” (22), as opposed to merely existing in solitude or co-existing alongside the non-human as separate entities. Perhaps we are left to question whether or not the anthropomorphized flora and fauna (another binary) are zany collaborators or performers (23) in Lily’s ephemeral hallucination or assumed opaque reality. (24) Ironically, like a board game, these non-human entities have been portrayed as “decentralized, autonomous organisms [that have] no ideology, ethics, or accountability.” (25) Yet, the talking unicorn seems to perform as a clairvoyant of sorts, tantalizing Lily with the idea that it possesses information about the farmhouse’s residents that Lilly does not have. Perhaps Malle is suggesting that flora and fauna are finally unleashing their vengeance upon humankind as a consequence of stripping their beings of intelligence and for humanity’s ignorant displacement of labor, performance, and projection.

Malle’s consistent allusion to psychosexuality in Black Moon is also prominent; he continuously personifies the heroine (Lily), the unicorn, the weeds, the incestuous brother and sister (who are also coincidentally called Lily), and the peculiar elderly mother, as entities that may or may not be human. The unicorn continues to blur these lines between what defines the human from the non-human by referring to the destroyed flowers as ‘children.’ As Lily continuously interrupts the unicorn with her humming questions, the unicorn, vulnerable yet in haste, shouts, “WILL YOU SHUT UP AND LET ME SPEAK?” further stressing the oppression and exploitation of the ‘voiceless’ animal. These alternative perceptions allude to western allegories of incest, puberty, and sexual awakening through poetic formalism (26), such as the snake slithering up Lily’s thigh, or Lily and the incestuous sister breastfeeding the troubled elderly mother. Although this may allude to Freud’s engagement with essentialism and anthropology, one may argue that Malle is instead engaging with these taboos in hopes of diffusing anthropological binarisms, rather than sanctioning them. The anthropomorphizing of the botanical binary (flora and fauna) seems to prove to simultaneously suppress and empower the non-human, leaving the human and non-human viewer in a constant state of flux and bewilderment. Between these cracks, the transgressive acts that neutralize the assumed hierarchy between Lily, the human, and the other non-human entities proliferate. (27) As a result, the neutralization of the assumed hierarchy eliminates the possibility of elevating pre-existing idolatrous ideals and encourages a reality based on principles of the silenced non-human — the horribly excluded and exploited — in hopes of employing and unveiling a third course. (28)

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Black Moon. Directed by Louis Malle. France, West Germany, 1975.

The supposed anthropomorphizing of the unicorn and the weeds also draws attention to one’s own phantasmic fetishes; that is, “the displacement of human labor onto its products” as something to merely consume, indulge, and potentially exploit and manipulate. (30) To project, assign, define, and categorize a non-human entity illegitimate its being. We know this, as defining a being or object outside of the human form stagnates its aesthetic pleasure and purpose, stunting its intellectual potential and aesthetically concluding it as ‘final’ and therefore dead, due to the human’s projection, performance, and mediation. (31) But, I suppose it is a displacement of human labor to presume that one’s existence is based upon its aesthetic value, as aesthetic value stems from consumerism, a system that thrives in, and for, capitalism. Although it does beg to question whether humans are just incredibly arrogant, or whether we truly believe we can mediate another form through the performance of their power and privilege (or both). Although I do disagree with Freud’s restrictive dualist thinking in “Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts,” where he argues for the separation of the mind from matter, soul from the body, and culture from nature, I do believe that the displacement and mediation of thought onto either an object or entity (also known as secondary revision), does indeed stunt a being of its authentic purpose and intelligence. (22) However, as George Bataille argues in “An Anthropology of Otherness” (2003), one could accuse the human of upholding barriers in order to remain psychologically secure or protected in their own idealist projections, in hopes of remaining segregated by the confrontation and existence of the ‘other’. (33) However, as we continue down this train of thought, we may begin to spiral and question whether non-human entities do in fact enforce their own projections onto organisms or organizations outside of their being. As humans, we have now come full circle, returning to our original point of entry and inquiry, as we are attempting to still mediate something outside of our form. Unless it isn’t actually outside of our form. As viewers, visitors, and performers, we are confused, exhausted, and heavy-headed. Perhaps Malle’s engagement and enforcement of these binaries demolishes them, as we are continuously swung from one alternative perception to another, never remaining or existing in stagnancy. (34)

I wish to conclude by not concluding at all. Orchestrating Instability: Diffusing Dualisms, Anthropological Binaries & Phantasmic Fetishes has explored how non-dualist thought is created by existing in an opaque, constant state of flux that does not define, categorize or assign a human or non-human entity through labor, performance, and projection. Ironically, associating or employing dualist thought is also proven to potentially open a new portal of non-dualist emancipatory thought that can exist only through the engagement and challenge of these binaries. This hauntological engagement not only neutralizes the hierarchy between the human and non-human but allows both binaries to exist in their own intelligence through the absence and indulgence of mediation.

• • •

Molly Stephenson is a visual artist, writer, and curator living and working on Wurundjeri country in Naarm (Melbourne, Australia). She is currently undertaking her Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) at Monash University and is the founder and co-curator of the online gallery exhibition, qiq gallery: Quivering in Quarantine. Stephenson’s visual and written practice investigates human displacements of performance, projection, and labor upon the ‘non-human,’ ‘non-being,’ or ‘other’ through her engagement with sculpture and installation. She has been published with SEVENTH Gallery’s Emerging Writer’s Program and Heart of Hearts Press.

Endnotes

1. Sigmund Freud, “Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts,” in Totem and Taboo (United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis Group, 2001), 10–23.

2. The term hauntological is coined by Philosopher Jacques Derrida; Karen Barad, “Posthuman Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 28, no. 3 (2003), 804.

3. Elvia Wilk and Jenna Sutela, “Slime Intelligence,” in Orgs: From Slime Mold to Silicone Valley and Beyond, ed. Jenna Sutela (Helsinki: Garret Publications, 2017), 34.

4. Rick Doljpijn and Iris van der Tuin, “Pushing Dualism to an Extreme: On the Philosophical Impetus of a New Materialism,” Springer Science + Business Media B.V. (2011), 4.

5. Tom Holert, Celebration? Realife (London: Afterall Books, 2007), 9.

6. Freud, “Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts,” 10–23.

7. Holert, Celebration? Realife, 11.

8. Doljpijn and van der Tuin, “Pushing Dualism to an Extreme,” 5–9.

9. Barad, “Posthuman Performativity,” 804.

10. Elvia Wilk and Jenna Sutela, “Slime intelligence,” Rhizome, 2016, Online.

11. Ibid.

12. Wilk with Sutela, “Slime Intelligence,” in Orgs: From Slime Mold to Silicone Valley and Beyond, 34.

13. Barad, “Posthuman Performativity,” 804.

14. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Luke 22: 19–20.

15. Barad, “Posthuman Performativity,” 804.

16. Chantelle Mitchell, “Spatial Field Poetics: A Hundred Thousand Geologies,” in Healing Practices, eds. Rachel Ciesla and Jaxon Waterhouse (Melbourne: Heart of Hearts Press), 35.

17. Informal reviews of Black Moon found here.

18. Black Moon. Directed by Louis Malle. France, West Germany, 1975.

19. Holert, Celebration? Realife, 3.

20. Ibid., 3–5.

21. Wilk and Sutela, “Slime Intelligence.” Online.

22. Barad, “Posthuman Performativity,” 804.

23. Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (United States: Harvard University Press, 2012).

24. Wilk and Sutela, “Slime Intelligence,” 21.

25. Ibid., 34.

26. Holert, Celebration? Realife, 9.

27. Wilk and Sutela, “Slime Intelligence,” 32–34.

28. George Bataille, “An Anthropology of Otherness,” in Surrealism and the Exotic, ed. Louise Tythacott (United Kingdom: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2003), 218.

29. Black Moon. Directed by Louis Malle. France, West Germany, 1975.

30. Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories, 61.

31. Ibid.,169.

32. Freud, “Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts,” 25.

33. Bataille, “An Anthropology of Otherness,” 216.

34. Ibid., 216.