The Aesthetics of Resentment



Considerations about characters dominated by the affect of resentment.

Resentment is an affection with a strong dramatic appeal. It works quite well as a polarizing element of action, in cinema or theater, and also to promote the spectator's identification with some characters, seen as victims by circumstances or, mainly, by others.

The resentful character – think about Uncle Vânia Chekhov, for example – tends to garner sympathies; his complaints are repetitive and substantiated, and if he sees himself as a “loser”, or as someone who has fallen behind in the dynamics of social relations, this is due to his moral purity, his inability to play the game of convenience and of appearances. The resentful person is, on the one hand, one who sees himself as morally better than others, on the other hand, and for this very reason, he is a justified vindictive person, covered with reasons.

Thus, it is not difficult to understand why resentment works, in dramaturgy, producing the audience's identification with a character who occupies the place of the sensitive, the fragile, the one who fails not because he is worse, but because he is better than others. The resentful character promotes two types of adhesion on the part of the public: either identification in resentment, or sympathy moved by a bad conscience – someone will always feel guilty for his suffering, for his hurt silence.

On the other hand, the resentful character does not require great psychological consistency to be believable. He does not appear, like the great tragic characters, as the subject of a divided conscience, tormented by his choices. Ideal for composing melodramas, the resentful person does not doubt himself or the correctness of his complaints and actions. You don't need to be a Shakespeare to create a resentful character, although only a genius is capable of creating an anguished, divided and implicated character like Hamlet, or like Oedipus the King, for example.

What does resentment consist of, and how to explain the resentful character's power to produce adhesion, empathy and/or immediate identification in the spectator? Generally speaking, resentment is a quite predictable consequence of the subject's refusal to get involved in his own desire. To resent, or, as the word itself indicates, to repeatedly insist on updating a feeling, is always to resent the other. At the origin of this feeling, there was renunciation, voluntary servitude: the subject gave in to the other, repressed the representations of desire - to later spend his life complaining against “what they did to me”, trapped by a need for revenge against the supposed agents of his unhappiness.

The archaic nucleus of resentment, constitutive of our humanity, originates precisely when a similar person – a brother, a small rival – enters the subject's narcissistic field. The identification with the other, the duplication of the perception of oneself that occurs at this moment, preventing, as Lacan writes, that the I is reduced to its lived identity[I], opens up forever in the subject this possibility of confusing the moments in which he refuses to recognize himself (“I am not this person / I did not do this”) and those in which he blames the other for his actions or desires (“he was the one who did this”). / I did it because he wanted to” etc.).

Overcoming resentment necessarily involves working through this ambivalence – the other is me, but at the same time the other is what I want to expel from myself – so that the similar can occupy another place in the subject's psychic life. As a partner in the motions of desire, as an accomplice in the experience of limits and transgression, as a measure, at the same time, of the greatness and insignificance of each one. But the nucleus that makes it possible for the ego to be released onto the other and the return in the form of resentment, is always ready to function in case of need.

In dramaturgy, the identifying power of resentment therefore resides in the hope it offers to the spectator, that the other can be held responsible for the consequences of the subject's acts and decisions. Adherence to the resentful can also be driven by the bad conscience of the neurotic – “if he complains, I must have done something wrong…” – but it is mainly based on the bet that there is something to be held accountable for, from others or from the Other , by the consequences of our choices. His power in making cinema work, especially the so-called “action” films, resides in the same point. It is the victimized and/or vengeful characters who lead the narrative thread, even when their action is practically the reiteration of an immobility (I return to this point) and promote in the spectator the vicarious enjoyment of power, at the same time, to act in his own name and claim a certain irresponsibility, an (illusory) innocence in relation to desire.

They are also characters condemned not to forget what the other did to them. The insistence, the repetition of the resentful – the word in Portuguese already indicates a feeling that is always renewed, that must be felt repeatedly – ​​works in the way of the symptom: it maintains the repressed (that which the subject does not want to know about – for example, his own implication in the act of which he considers himself a victim) and simultaneously promotes jouissance elsewhere. For where there is no enjoyment, there is no repetition.

I write that resentment has a clear function of mobilizing action in a narrative; but I must specify what this action consists of. For this, I turn to Nietzsche, the philosopher who exposed the pathology of ressentiment and reversed the terms of Christian morality, according to which good is on the side of the weak and the suffering. Nietzsche surprises us by replacing the moral opposition between “good and bad” with the opposition between “good and bad”. Let the strong protect themselves from the weak, writes the philosopher – while the first give themselves to life with an open chest, the second, fearful and vile, silently ruminate their revenge.

For the strong – whom Nietzsche called aristocrats, generating some confusion in the interpretation of his thought, especially when taken up by the ideology of Nazism – evil is not separate from good; enemies must be respected and even loved. The hard blows of life must be faced with the same love, love fati, how to face the happy moments. The opposite of good, for aristocrats, is not bad – it is bad, contemptible, petty.

Em genealogy of morals,[ii] Nietzsche refers to resentment as a pathology that is born when the action that matters is prohibited for the subject, converting the motive of action into “imaginary revenge”. There is a passivity in resentment, which is not to be confused with immobility; the resentful appear active, but their actions are, in fact, reactions. The prohibition of action – let us think here of fear of the consequences of an act, but also of the concept of repression – produces, as a counterpart, an interiorization of man, the result of the work of powerful instinctual forces that, prevented from exhausting themselves in action, become against the individual. The resentful thus has the dramatic function of appearing "deep", introspective, psychologically interesting. The resentful person's favorite expression is the interior monologue, produced incessantly as a result of his refusal to make contact with the other.

Paul Laurent-Assoun, comparing the concepts of illness in Freud and Nietzsche, writes that “resentment, paradoxically, is born when what is privative – the inhibition of an action – becomes 'creative'. This presupposes the inversion of the subject-action-world relationship: the man of ressentiment needs, 'in physiological terms, external stimuli in order to act'. In other words: his action is, at heart, a reaction. Hence the 'passive' character of his conception of happiness, that is, of self-expansion”[iii].

the piano

I want to present here a film from the 1990s that illustrates well what I want to call the “aesthetics of resentment”. A film with a theme very dear to feminism – the oppression of a woman in marriage – directed by a woman (Jane Campion), the piano (piano, Australia/France, 1992), winner of the Oscar for best foreign film in 1994, garnered general public and critical sympathies. Long before I had the opportunity to see him, I already knew him almost in detail, from listening so much, in the consulting room, to the associations he produced – especially in women.

I briefly summarize the already well-known plot of the poor widow who remains silent after the traumatic accident that caused her husband's death. Before this tragedy, both Ada and her husband would have been well-known musicians in England. Right at the beginning of the film we know that she is being sent by her father to marry an unknown landowner in a remote and wild settlement on the Australian coast. The action takes place in the XNUMXth century, when such marriage contracts between families were still possible.

Ada (Holly Hunter) takes her little daughter and, her ultimate possession, a piano. The piano is her voice, her link with the past and with life itself, her transitional object. It is evident that the husband (Sam Neil), ignorant of everything that happens to his newly acquired wife, given the amount of luggage that his native employees have to carry to the farm, decides to leave the huge piano case on the beach.

Silent, Ada protests as best she can, but she is powerless to make her husband understand how much she needs the piano. As a matter of fact, she doesn't even try to make him understand. She reacts to her husband's decision through her daughter's voice and a few words written on a notepad she carries with her – “The piano is mine!” – to then return to his impotent, passive, resigned silence. The rest of the story matters less for my analysis. Ada's piano is saved by a neighbor, George (Harvey Keitel), a native farmer, ignorant in terms of the culture from which Ada comes, but sensitive, fascinated by music and soon in love with it.

In an attempt to win Ada over, George asks her for lessons, makes her play for him every day, tries to win her over by initially proposing a bargain with the piano – so many caresses, so many keys, until she has the whole piano back. It is when he withdraws from his proposal (“makes you a whore… I want your love”) that she falls in love and finally gives in. After some adventures involving her jealous husband, for whom Ada never gave herself up, she is finally released from her marriage contract to live her second chance at love.

But before the happy ending, the viewer is surprised by Ada's suicide attempt: on the boat on which she is going to move with her new husband and daughter, she insistently asks them to throw the old piano overboard - the weight, warn the natives, can cause a shipwreck. George, defender of the piano, is slow to relent. Finally the piano is thrown into the water; that's when Ada lets her foot get caught in the rope tying the piano case, and she is dragged, along with him, to the bottom of the sea. She repents in time, lets go of the rope along with the shoe and is rescued from the waters, to a new life. She returns to play a new piano and begins to learn to speak again, protected and encouraged by George.

Ada's mutism, psychologically justified in the script as the effect of a violent trauma, is the trait that interests me here to think about the aesthetics of resentment: the dramatic action conducted by a character who is presented as a victim of the circumstances that decide her fate; the mobilization of the spectator's sympathies due to this character's moral innocence in relation to her own acts; the clear separation between the self and the world, placing what is bad, violent and calculated as external to the psyche and what is good, sensitive, true, as internal to the psyche of this character, who is placed at the center of the spectator's identifications.

Everything about her refuses life, contact, affection (except for her daughter). Everything about her refuses to forget what life has done to her. Ada's love for her late husband results in the opposite of love fati: if he is missing, life no longer interests him. On the contrary, she acts like someone who hates life, who has deprived her of the man she loves. She remains the music, her link with the past.

The screenwriter's resource could not be more efficient: renouncing speech, Ada makes herself doubly impotent. First, powerless to create new bonds – it is the daughter, her spokesperson, who makes affective contacts with the inhabitants of the farm, with the employees, with the native children and even with the stepfather, whom at first she intends to reject. Ada's mutism is not in the lack of voice, it is in the heart. Refusing to leave behind what was lost in the past, Ada refuses the present, the moment, the continuation of life. Second, her refusal to contact others makes her powerless to fight for what she wants most – the piano, love.

Ada does not fight; it opposes, to everything that life throws at it, a passive, obstinate and obviously mute resistance. She accepts the marriage negotiation proposed by her father, but does not give herself to her husband. She agrees to move to an inhospitable farm, but doesn't have relationships with anyone in the place – her world is limited to her daughter and the piano. It is interesting to observe that the only passage where she struggles to make herself “heard”, and does not give up until she is answered, is when she tries to sink forever next to her piano. It is only in death, the refusal of life, that Ada invests with vigor; suicide is often the great revenge of the resentful.

The philosopher Roberto Machado, in a brief study entitled Nietzsche and the truth, recalls a passage in Beyond good and evil in which Nietzsche unmasks the hatred against life present in the defenders of Judeo-Christian morality… “who, for the first time, gave an infamous meaning to the word 'world'”.[iv] “Judeo-Christian morality”, writes Machado, “total inversion of the values ​​of aristocratic ethics, expresses an enormous hatred against life – the hatred of the powerless, against what is positive, affirmative, in life; denial of life that has precisely the function of 'easing the existence of those who suffer'. In a word, it is nihilistic.”[v]

But Nietzsche also intuits the portion of jouissance that exists in the passive resistance of ressentiment. “The resentful is someone who neither acts nor reacts initially; it only produces an imaginary revenge, an insatiable hatred. Since man would quickly consume himself if he reacted, he ends up not reacting; this is the logic”.[vi] The resentful person lives the repetition of a jouissance, prey to the death drive, instead of “quickly consuming himself” in the varied possible pleasures, in the dynamics of the life drives.

The condition of social oppression of women in the XNUMXth century greatly facilitates the credibility of the character, in addition to making us think that resentment, alongside penisneid, has been a characteristically female pathology, until a few decades ago. Women, devoid of their own voice and resources to act, were left with silent revenge, contempt, hatred cooked in the slow fire of resentment. “Creating an enemy that he considers evil and imagining revenge against his values, what the resentful person does is make sense of his lack of strength: the other is always to blame for what he cannot, what he is not”[vii]. We know that hysteria was the symptomatic form of expression of nineteenth-century women, precisely because they did not see how to rebel against the life they did not choose, but, on the contrary, which was chosen for them.

The passive rebellion of women in the nineteenth century also produced, as the Studies on Hysteria of Freud and Breuer, an endless series of physical symptoms, a kind of writing, in the tissue of the body, of what could neither be said nor forgotten. "O Nichts-vergessen of Nietzschean resentment feeds from the same source of reminizens of Freudian hysteria[viii], writes Laurent-Assoun in his comparative study between the two thinkers. Memory hypertrophy in resentment is proportional to motor atrophy; in this sense, Nietzsche refers to ressentiment as the accumulation of a “dangerous explosive matter”[ix].

Ada's symptom could not be more transparent: she literally loses her speech. the voice in off with which Ada communicates with the viewer, towards the end of the film, she explains the reason for her resistance to life in terms that are very familiar to psychoanalysis: “I am afraid of my desire; he's too strong."

For Nietzsche, resentment, which could very well be explained by the “fear of desire” that Ada perceives in herself, can be prolonged in the production of bad conscience; the instinctual forces turned against the subject itself produce the aforementioned interiorization, and it is within himself that the subject seeks the cause of his unhappiness. But since he is prevented from perceiving that the cause is in the renunciation of desire, the resentful person bets on guilt and self-accusation. Ada's suicide attempt, just when she sees herself on the verge of marrying the man she so intensely desires, can be read both as a refusal to abandon the voluntary servitude she chose as a way of renouncing life, and as produced by bad behavior. consciousness, unfolding of the resentment that makes man, in the words of Nietzsche, “sick of himself”. In the film's romantic perspective, George's love heals Ada. Once again, the action and desire of the other come to take the place of the subject. But cures through love, reminds Freud in his text on “Transference love”[X], are a dashed hope. You cannot cure someone who is incapable of love by offering him, as a remedy, what his illness can only refuse.


In opposition to the “aesthetics of resentment” typified in the piano, I propose a film that could represent what I will call overcoming resentment. Its about dead-man (USA, 1995), by filmmaker Jim Jarmusch – not by chance a marginal figure in Hollywood cinema – in which a totally naive subject suddenly finds himself, and violently, grappling with the consequences of some choices made somewhat at random . The way in which this character (played by the actor Johnny Depp) bears the price of his fate will help me to explain, by contrast, what I am calling the “aesthetics of resentment”.

dead-man, like other Jarmusch films, is punctuated by ironic references to the repressed origins of Western culture. Abandoned traditions, forgotten authors, age-old knowledge that has been totally discredited and discarded due to the speed of adaptation that the present times demand of each individual, reappear like ghosts in the lives of the characters in his films. The reference that one tries to forget may be European culture, prior to North American (in Strangers than Paradise, from 1984, for example), Eastern culture facing the West (in “Ghost Dog”, from 1998), or indigenous roots buried by the voracity with which capitalism conquered America, as in this dead-man.

This element, almost irresistible to produce a drama based on the “aesthetics of resentment”, is treated in the opposite way by Jarmusch: not as an appeal to the spectator's pious adherence to the “lost causes” of America's marginalized people, but as an efficient resource to put bare the poverty of spirit, ignorance and stupidity of the life of the well adapted. The “ghosts” of repressed cultural references do not appear, in these films, to lament their oblivion, but to laugh at the living.

I see no other way to explain what I mean than by telling the story of dead-man. I apologize to those who haven't seen the film, if this spoils some good surprises in the script. Johnny Depp's character is a mild-mannered, well-mannered young man from Cleveland who takes a train to some mythical city in the American West – a place marked by all the clichés of old westerns; the “end of the line”, “hell” itself, warns the train driver, his face black as coal, wondering at the figure of that little dandy in a carriage full of bandits, hunters and vagabonds.

The iconographic treatment given to the legendary region of the American West already differs greatly from the cinematic idealization of the “old west”, in which rough men and sensual women move against the backdrop of idyllic villages, farms that realize the “rural nostalgia” of the spectators and lush landscapes that herald the greatness of America. The “west” of Jarmusch, in this story set at the beginning of this century, is an ugly caricature of the richest country on the planet.

The legendary figure of the fearsome bandit, “public enemy” of maidens, farmers and bankers, was replaced by that of the industrialist of the early days of savage capitalism – with the difference that if the first was persecuted by the men of the law, the second makes the law according to your interests. The Indians are decimated, the villages burnt down, street vendors sell blankets contaminated by tuberculosis to finish off the remaining natives more quickly.

The factory in which our hero enlists to work is a monstrous pavilion polluting the air and rivers, which dominates the life of a violent and miserable town. Its owner, Mr. Dickinson (Robet Mitchum), keeps the business and employees under a regime of complete terror. When the young man from Cleveland arrives to claim the job as an accountant he had applied for by mail, letter of admission in hand, he learns that another employee already exists in his place. Nobody explains anything to him except that he arrived too late; the delay in the post office and transport (I deduce the spectator) imposed a delay of two months between the admission of the candidate and his arrival at the place of employment. The vacancy already belongs to someone else, without appeal, and he is thrown out on the street without a job and without money to return.

Interesting detail in this passage: the name of Johnny Depp's character is William Blake, but both he and the factory employees, and the boss himself, ignore the existence of the poet. They get his name wrong, they call him “Mr. Black,” he corrects – “Blake” – and the word hangs loose, without reference, meaningless.

Thus begins, from a mismatch wrought by chance, what can be called a man's “destiny”; not the Freudian repetition of the symptom, product of repressed desire, but the imponderable of life that escapes the control of the eu, agitated by forces alien to individual will, against which the subject has fragile resources to fight. It is known that William Blake recently lost his parents, and used the inheritance money for the trip. One can deduce from this information a desire to change one's life, to gain the world, to do something from helplessness.

Failure in this endeavor could produce a character marked by self-pity; Jarmusch's choice is different. The protagonist of his film surrenders to his fate. Like Ada, from “The Piano”, Blake does not fight against “fate” either – but he does not offer resistance to what life has made of his life. He simply accepts his new condition and surrenders to it. The past is left behind, the present leads to two actions. We'll see.

After buying a whiskey with his last coins, our hero ends up in the room of a former prostitute in the city, now a flower seller, in return for a spontaneous gesture of kindness he had shown her. It amazes him that Thel keeps a gun under his pillow. Why? “Because we are in America,” she replies. Soon the revolver will reveal its usefulness: Thel's ex-boyfriend enters the room, shoots her, and ends up being killed by the terrified accountant, who flees through the window as best he can. It turns out that the bullet that killed the girl lodged in the heart of William Blake, as she had thrown herself in front of him to protect him.

In the next scene Blake is coming to, already in the middle of the bush, and the first thing he sees is the face of an Indian who is digging into his chest with a knife, trying (unsuccessfully) to remove the bullet. “stupid white man”, says the indian, furious. Afterwards, he asks if Blake has any tobacco; “I don't smoke”, replies Blake, leaving the Indian even more convinced of the white man's stupidity (throughout the film, this dialogue will be repeated at each encounter with strangers: “do you have tobacco?” – the object of the woman's desire). new civilization that is imposing itself – “I don't smoke” – to the disappointment or anger of those who requested it).

The conversation between the two takes a complete turn when Blake reveals his name. Ironically, the Indian (Gary Farmer), strayed from his tribe (and who has already lived, a prisoner, among the whites), is the only character who knows and worships the poet, and treats the white man as if he were William Blake himself, or your reincarnation. He quotes the lines that will punctuate the rest of the film from here on out:

“Everey night and every morn'
some to misery are born.
Every morn' and every night
some are born to sweet delight, (…)
some are born to endless night”.

Little by little, while his new story is being rewritten, the meaning of Blake's poem is revealed to his namesake: “sweet delight"and "endless night” are two sides of the same coin, life. From one state to another the passage can be very quick; the speed of a shot, the speed that separates being alive from being dead. William Blake is now in the hands of the Indian, whose name needs no comment: Nobody. “Did you kill the white man who killed you, William Blake?” Nobody asks. “But I'm not dead,” Blake replies – and the Indian says no more.

Meanwhile, we learn that the man Blake killed in Thel's house was the son of industrialist Dickinson. He hires three gunmen – the fastest in the west, so we don't escape the legend – and puts up posters with Blake's portrait throughout the region, offering a reward for his capture. The legend is ready to be (re)told. An Indian of mixed blood rejected by his tribe, a wounded white outsider with a price on his head for murder, hired guns (who end up, not surprisingly, killing each other), inhospitable lands, bandits, wanderers, adventurers.

I must say that the film is in black and white; its pace is paused; irony sets the constant tone for this parody of Jim Jarmusch, who makes no concessions to mass cinema and plays with the western genre, spearhead of the powerful Hollywood industry, without depriving it of its tragic grandeur.

Gradually, it becomes clear that Blake is being initiated into something he himself doesn't realize what it is, by his friend Nobody. Of course, the Indian is also a parody of the Indian, and the supposed wisdom of his ancestors is transmitted to the white in such enigmatic phrases ("the talking stones listen to the sun", "the eagle must not try to learn from the crow", etc. ) that Blake gives up on understanding him. But learn from him two fundamental things; first to kill.

He becomes, as it should be, the “fastest trigger in the west”, a living legend, and all. Second, he learns to die. This the viewer perceives very subtly, very slowly. Nobody paints marks on his companion's face that make him look like a skull, doesn't let him eat, talks about enlightenment, crossing the mirror, and at a certain point in their wandering through the mountains, leaves Blake alone: ​​“May the great spirit take care of you".

Left alone, Blake finds a baby deer shot dead, and begins to understand. He wets the tips of his fingers in the animal's blood, smells the blood, compares it to the smell of his own blood (his wound, like that of medieval Tristan, never stopped bleeding), paints with blood what remains to be painted on his face. Then he lies down beside the slaughtered deer, his body following the outline of the other body, identified with the animal; “some are born to sweet delight (...) some are born to endless night".

Later, the two meet again by chance, and the Indian assumes that he has to lead the white man to the end. He goes with him to what would be an Indian tribe – a large shed, almost a tenement, where the last remaining Indians in the American West live as gypsies, or as beggars, as an endangered culture that still wants to survive. William Blake is already very weak, but he trusts Nobody. The Indians make a beautiful boat lined with flowers; they dress Blake in ritual clothes, lay his body in the bottom of the boat. “Time to go,” says Nobody. Blake smiles; he is understanding. “Time to go back where you came from” – and launches the funeral craft into the sea.

At the last minute, Blake feels his pocket and tells his friend, "I found some tobacco in here." The Indian, who spent the entire film chasing tobacco, and who cursed his white companion several times for never bringing tobacco with him, returns the precious cargo to the dying man: “it's for your trip”. Blake's last words, already starting to be carried away by the waters, are: "Nobody: I ​​don't smoke."

It is not necessary to consult a market research to know that dead-man had a much smaller audience and less repercussion than “O piano”. The first is a drama; the second, despite the parodic tone, bears the characteristic mark of tragedy; not because it ends with the death of the protagonist, while “O piano” goes through the imminence of death just to emphasize the “happy ending”. But because, as is characteristic of the tragic, the subject goes to meet his destiny, whose meaning is only revealed at the end. William Blake is mortally wounded, but he doesn't know it. He didn't foresee what life would hold for him when he left Cleveland for the west; but in a way he accepts the imponderable and is willing to live it as best he can.

The analogy between the two characters is more apparent than consistent. Both Ada and Blake are willing to abandon a life already rendered sterile by circumstances – the widowhood of one, the orphanhood of the other –, but the “new life” they find is not what they were looking for. In the face of this, the big difference is that Ada remains attached to her memories and resists the present, as if demanding from life the fact that death and finitude are integral parts of it. Refusing the tragic character of existence, Ada, who is alive, tries to die.

Jim Jarmusch's William Blake bears the unconscious imprint of his name. It is the name of the great English poet and engraver of the 1790th century, author, among others, of “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” (XNUMX). “Eternity lives in love with the fruits of time”. "The path of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." “The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the rage of the sea, and the smiting sword are portions of eternity too great for the human eye.” “A soul immersed in delights will never be defiled.” “The worm forgives the plow that cuts it.” These are some of Blake's Proverbs from Hell[xi], which make us think of the poet's mysticism as a precursor of Nietzsche's tragic philosophy. Jarmusch's Blake, who ironically ignores the existence of his precursor, understands the meaning of the only poem that Nobody makes known to him.

This Blake, who is going to meet his private portion of endless night, embrace life. The result is that, in the course of the film, life operates countless transformations in him. The comparison with Ada again is irresistible. It remains true to itself from beginning to end – “sick of itself”, as Nietzsche wrote. Blake is extremely plastic. From accountant to gunslinger, from city dandy to wandering adventurer, from good guy to “public enemy number one”, William Blake allows himself to be crossed by the violent forces of life, just as he lets himself be guided by his friend, towards a destiny he senses, but unaware.

There is a psychological difference, almost imperceptible, in the way in which the entrance of a similar determines the fates of Ada and Blake. In both cases this entry is decisive. George rescues Ada from resentment to love, Nobody leads Blake from an insignificant life to a death that makes sense. The difference is what George has to do, by ada, which it refuses to do; Exemplary is the scene in which he manages to take her, naked, to her bed for the first time, but is unable to elicit a single caress or movement from her. We see, in the medium shot, George's hand trying to animate Ada's hand, which is inert, for a caress; trying, unsuccessfully, to get her dead arm to wrap around him in an embrace.

Blake's delivery to Nobody's care is of a very different character. An active character. For example, when the Indian orders him to go to some hobo's camp to try to get some food, Blake shows fear. “I'd rather not go,” he says. But Nobody demands it, and he goes. And when he goes, he goes to the last consequences. It is in this way that he becomes an infallible gunslinger, capable of defending himself and his friend. Blake relies on Nobody to survive; but the intrusion of the Indian is decisive in changing him: another man is produced from this encounter.

If death is inevitable, William Blake carries it with him without complaining, perhaps even without paying much attention to it – until the last minute, he goes on living what life brings him. sweet delight e endless night are inseparable. “Joy makes fruitful; sadness gives birth”, wrote the other Blake, two centuries before Jarmusch conceived his film. Misery – misery of the soul, petty attachment to an imaginary identity of man with himself and his illness – can be overcome; some to misery are born, says the poem. Is misery necessarily a destiny?

The tobacco, which Nobody eagerly sought, is on the boat that takes Blake on his journey through the looking glass. The friend offers it to him, but the Indian returns it for the last trip. “I don't smoke,” reminds Blake, yet again. Even so, tobacco goes with it. For the Indians, tobacco on the funeral boat is part of a ritual, the ritual that symbolizes the reintegration of man with the cosmos, the possibility of enlightenment, in short. “If the doors of perception were purified, each thing would appear to man as it is: infinite”.[xii] For us, Jarmusch's contemporaries, this perception is no longer mystical; it is poetic. And poetry even offers some transcendence to everyday misery. Who's going to think about tobacco at a time like this?

*Maria Rita Kehl is a psychoanalyst, journalist and writer. Author, among other books, of Resentment (Boitempo).

Originally published in the book Psychoanalysis, cinema and aesthetics of subjectivation, organized by Giovanna Bartucci (Imago, 1994).


[I] Lacan, Jacques. (1948) Aggressiveness in psychoanalysis. In: Lacan, Jacques. Writings. Buenos Aires, Siglo Veintiuno, vol. I, 1994, p. 94-116.

[ii] Cf. Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1887) Genealogy of Morals. São Paulo. Companhia das Letras, 1998. Translated by Paulo César Souza.

[iii] Laurent-Assoun, Paul. (1980) Neurosis and morality. In: Laurent-Assoun, Paul Freude Nietzsche, similarities and dissimilarities. São Paulo, Brasiliense, 1989. p. 230.

[iv] Machado, Robert. Nietzsche and the truth. Rio de Janeiro, Graal, 1999, p. 64.

[v] Same, same.

[vi] Same, same.

[vii] Ibid, p. 65

[viii] Laurent-Assoun, Paul, (1980) op. cit., p. 232.

[ix] lbid, p. 231.

[X] Cf. Freud, Sigmund. (1915) Puntualizaciones sobre el amor de transferencia. Sigmund Freud. Complete Works. Buenos Aires, Amorrortu editors (AE). 1989, Vol. XII, p. 161-174.

[xi] Cf. Blake, William. (1790) Proverbs from hell. In: William Blake's writings (Collection “Rebeldes Malditos”). Porto Alegre, LSPM, Blake, William. 1984, p. 27-34. Translation by Alberto Marsicano and Regina de Barros Carvalho.

[xii] Blake, William, (1790) op. cit., p. 71.

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  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • A myopic logicRED MAN WALKING _ 12/06/2024 By LUIS FELIPE MIGUEL: The government does not have the political will to make education a priority, while it courts the military or highway police, who do not move a millimeter away from the Bolsonarism that they continue to support
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives