[The Montana Professor 19.1, Fall 2008 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

The violence of indifference, or Seung-Hui Cho's case

Michel Valentin
Modern Languages & Literature

—Michel Valentin
Michel Valentin


"Indifference causes damage. The term indifference might appear flat, but it can also enter into an incandescent state. There's certainly a violence of indifference."/1/

Mass murders and serial killers generally provoke in society horror and hatred, an anxious incomprehension or angry bewilderment—each feeding into the other. This revolted befuddlement adds to the dramatic dimension of the act, to its fascination. With such killings, people experience a suspension of meaning, a retreat and suspension of speculative thinking, accompanied by extreme anger or a quasi-fatalist acceptance of the type "human nature is fundamentally flawed"—which ultimately brings about a re-injection of "evil" as the ultimate explanation, pre-empting all others. Society is then left dangling and open as to what to do since nobody knows exactly why they did it. Meanings are suspended. No closure is therefore possible.

Mass murders and serial killings inscribe on the social body a sort of metaphorical writing that tends to a zero degree of sense./2/ When interviewed by the media even "experts" lose their edge./3/ This is why mass killers create an enigma, since the text that their "writing" tragically traces on the body of society obeys a different logic. This "cryptic message" doesn't express what we are used to deciphering, and too often we refuse to surrender: its thoughtlessness is unyielding, uncompromising, "far-out." It does not translate as such. Society's "why" goes unanswered. As Neely Tucker wrote, "We always want there to be an answer, except there never is. We always want there to be a solution, and there is never one of those, either."/4/

Lack of interpretability

Of course there are answers, but not necessarily the ones we want to hear. Of course there are solutions, but they are very difficult and painful and imply sacrifices: re-examination, acknowledgment of errors and shortcomings followed by changes to the social environment, and the re-allocation of resources. This means a genuine public mental health policy, which, fundamentally, is a political question, since it involves the relations between medicine, public policy, and money, i.e., socio-politics./5/ These are things that most Americans don't want to think about, since they believe that they only concern "weirdoes" who should be neutralized: i.e., locked away for life or terminated. Most Americans do not realize the intimate connections between society's "horrific weirdness" and themselves (i.e., the culture); instead, they should ask themselves the question "Is this society, somehow, feeding its own self-hatred—and if so how?"

We are all in it together—whether we like it or not. We are proud of the positive and material things our culture produces. We do not want to think about its negative underbelly. The more we deny its existence, repress the reality of this negative, the more this negative will re-emerge, through the "weakest link" of the social group; via an unexpected angle; the negative side of things, to cite Antonin Artaud; i.e., the very side we ignore or usually consider safe. The more we want to relegate these things to the garbage-can of life, the more they will come back to haunt us with a surprising virulence.

Now there is a way out. The exit from nonsense, the absurd, "violent passivity," fascistic repression, or "medieval evil" is mapped by theory. This means that there is hope—provided that theory is studied, listened to, its lessons learned, and that application follows the rules.

The theoretician of postmodern sociology and art, Jean Baudrillard, wrote about the quasi-virus-like explosion and proliferation of certain postmodern social forms, of postmodern social afflictions and "tics."

Well, certain forms of mental disease are certainly endemic not only to the individual mind and body, but also to the social body which secretes them, a little bit like viruses, via each individual (racism, for instance). In this scenario, the individual's mental disease constitutes an abreaction to traumas experienced by him/her within the social/familial environment. We all, more or less, to a higher or lesser degree, share in these (ir)rational forms of (re)actions. These abreactions are "normal" in the sense that we are all "neurotic" or "hysteric." They form the safety valve of our psychic apparatus. A serious problem arises when they are not possible, when the absence of these abreactions feeds the persistence of obsessional idea-images, which remain unconscious and isolated from the "normal course of thoughts." No rationalization (conscious process) is therefore possible. Those pathological ideas and images are thus denied the "normal" wearing-out process provided by abreactions and the usual associative processes of (conscious and unconscious) language: metaphors, metonymies, puns, rebuses, poems, drawings, dreams. The peculiarity of the serial killer's and mass murderer's state of mind (or absence of "state of mind"—a state of mind that lost its status) is compounded by the fact that social norms and individual inhibitions (re-enforcing or, in the case of a foreigner, clashing with, acculturation) often force the subject to restrain his reactions. The passage à l'acte, or "passage to the act," therefore suddenly arises from a negative (problematic) social dimension working itself (manifesting itself somehow) through the weakest link of the social body: the afflicted individual. Like a dormant volcano above clashing tectonic plates, the pressure can build up, ignored, for centuries before, one day after a few tell-tale signs, the magma erupts. This is why the science of volcanism has been invented, fed by Wegener's theory of plate tectonics.

But, to the discharge of the "experts" misunderstanding and the public's ignorance, psychotic logic is not easy to read./6/ This is partly due to the fact that the unconscious cannot be heard—although it is not silent. That is to say that the unconscious is characterized by what Jacques Rancière in The Politics of Aesthetics calls "silent speech."/7/ In the case of mass-killers, the complex "family/self/society-induced set of traumas" enduring throughout the social history of the afflicted individual (and sometimes getting worse) "inscribes" itself into the "mind" of the patient in ways unbeknownst to him/her. They form a "sub-language" that the patient cannot understand; as if these types of traumas were "speaking in tongues." What cannot "symptomize" itself, what cannot speak out (signify itself) even through a semiotics of some sorts, in the grey zone between language and drives, images and kinetics (where creativity is deeply rooted), will erupt violently (destroying the host or the people around). Since the fundamental logic of psychosis does not repress and erupt in violence, it would seem that Cho was not psychotic.

The passage à l'acte of mass-killers is then certainly caught into a double-bind or loop; between a quasi-hieroglyphic inscription on the body-politic (the social body) waiting to be deciphered, and an unfathomable silence which cannot be uttered (especially by the patient who then becomes the instrument of his unconscious)./8/ The victim becomes a perpetrator (what the media are prompt to call a "predator"/9/). This explains why most psychologists cannot decipher its hieroglyphics and prefer to pass the "case" to the psychiatrist who too often will drug the patient silly. Sometimes the drugs help calm the patient down (but they do not cure the problem as such), provided that the patient takes them forever. Sometimes they don't have any effect or they misfire.

According to all media accounts (of roommates, great-aunt, professors, and classmates...), Cho's behavior was constantly described as enigmatically silent—something extremely irritating or disquieting. As paradoxical and horrifying as it may appear, the murders were the only genuine speech-acts of hatred Cho was able to perform, besides his "fiction writings" which were also incredibly violent. They correspond to the strange expression of the "aesthetic unconscious," complete and replete with a violent fluxus-type of "in-situ art," an "artsy-B-movie form" reminiscent of Robert De Niro's performance in Scorcese's Taxi-Driver (1976)/10/: part video-manifesto, part confession, part pathos or bathos, part adolescent Angst. Strangely enough, Cho's essays, written for Professor Nikki Giovanni's poetry class, seem also to exemplify the same "aesthetic unconscious" dimension. Instead of generating critiques and analysis from his professor, his "unconscious" (automatic?) writings were met with revulsion and were censored. Repulsed by his odd behavior (Cho refused to take off hat and sun-glasses in class), Professor Giovanni had him expelled from her course./11/ Sad! By the same token, would she have expelled Antonin Artaud (who used to spit on the floor) or Jean Genêt from her classroom?

Desire is the desire of the Other

Mass killings are perpetrated for very precise reasons—meaning that there is still a narrative, a logic behind the scene—even if this logic is an unconscious logic, or a logic of the unconscious. But since, according to Lacan, the unconscious is structured like a language, interpretation is not impossible. This implies, though, a willingness to understand and a genuine openness of mind. It is not that, because we do not know (or refuse to know somehow) the actual reasons of these horrific acts, there are no reasons. There is always a light even when obfuscated by horror. In fact, horror has its reasons which reason knows of, contrary to Pascal's "heart"/12/—provided that we do our homework; because this narrative is not easily accessible—not at all. It is not only hidden from the doctor in charge of the treatment (if the patient is lucky enough to receive it), but from the psychopath himself. It takes a special technique and practice (an art indeed!) to bring it out from the patient in spite of "himself" (meaning his unconscious). This practice is called psychoanalysis which, since Freud, has progressed a lot and undergone a lot of modernization and sprucing up. But to practice it, one has first to believe in the unconscious. America does not want to believe in the unconscious for many different reasons./13/ As usual, many of these reasons amount, when everything is accounted for, to a political question.

For those who have nothing (that is to say nothing to lose but their misery), hate is something. It is a strange attractor born out of the void and which returns to the void, but tangentially, asymptotically—not to say symptomatically. It is born out of the void of indifference; for worse than hatred itself is indifference. Which indifference? Primarily the indifference of the others for the (vulnerable) self in question.

The whole Lacanian question of human desire amounts to the desire of the Other, meaning both desire on the part of the Other (name-of-the-father) and the subject's desire for the Other (also in the unconscious). At Virginia Tech, on class rosters, Cho used to sign with a question mark in lieu of his name. Other students (and faculty?) used to call him "the question-mark kid," which he picked up as a verbal tattoo./14/ No namesake, no place name, just an undifferentiated point of interrogation—like the Sphinx—as if Cho were assuming Freud's place: "Who am I?" "What/whom do I want?" The two other correlated (Lacanian) questions, "What does the Other want from me?" and "How does the Other want me to desire?"—were, of course, not in Cho's repertory. The question mark replacing his name is precisely Cho's response to the Che vuoi? represented by these two Lacanian questions./15/ If they had been in his Symbolic system, the Virginia Tech massacre would not have occurred. These questions could not be formulated because they were not accessible to him—which points towards the nature of his symptom, his "object-cause" (or lack of object-cause) of his "unanswered desire's call." According to psychoanalysts, the status of the object-cause of desire in psychosis is an area that remains to be elaborated but desire is present across all diagnostic categories. The eruptive crisis or "passage to the act" has its cause in the moment the subject realizes himself for the object that he is, i.e., his "irrational" behavior, or what some "experts" called his "evil."/16/

Korea, America..., Washington, suburbia, ivory-towers, dormrooms..., Cho was from nowhere, belonging nowhere, going nowhere. He lived in the same vagrant space as his trauma-symptoms. Difficult, angry, bitter, suffering, introverted, Cho did not speak (like Camus' Meursault), or spoke very little (Bresson's Mouchette/17/): it is said that he could not speak with his mother. He was caught in a constant non-participatory stance toward the world,/18/ as if in suspens(ion) or suspended animation in the special atmosphere that all campuses nurture: a high-school mentality with elitist pretensions and an affected irresponsibility nurtured by the artificially prolonged youth typical of academia./19/ Cho was surrounded by the (affluent) masses of other students, at best mocking him, at worst indifferent to him—avoiding him—that is, voiding him, re-enforcing his de-voicing. Cho's "mild stalking" of female students may also have exemplified his attempt to establish contact from a non-confrontational, non-speaking point-of-view./20/ Used to the silent treatment given to the students whom high-school peers or college coeds find odd, weird, or nerdy, Cho could only deal with his obsessions in the silence of their ultimate "negative indifference."/21/ His ultimate difference is that he internalized their indifference in the wrong way: he took it to heart. Ultimately this calls for the following questions: When did his alienation from the others become (his) ontological alienation? When did his solitude turned into vertigo and rage? The agony of non-communication into hatred of interlocutors?"

Cho's "I hate" or "I have hate" has no object except itself; that is to say, he is a mere subject which cannot objectify itself because it has no Other./22/ Consequently the subject has no object, but the mere hatred of him/it/self, and, of the others, who, in their absence, re-enforce his hatred, help inscribe it in a vicious circle. The subject therefore experiences itself as a null, barred void.

"Hell, it's other people," Sartre made Garcin utter in Huis Clos./23/ This absurd tautology, or perhaps solipsism, this circuitous existential shunting that Cho absorbed, avoids the void itself. Otherwise it could have led him towards a Buddhist-like movement towards the core of the void itself; that is, the Other as non-being (and Cho would have marched out of the vicious circle). Hellish hate in/of the others is a way of killing oneself through the radical absence of the object, i.e., ultimately of the Other. Since this type of "selfish passion without self" has no Other and no objects, it often tends to become paranoid and agoraphobic. Consequently the whole indifference of the world loses any sublime quality and becomes bulimic: it devours everything and it becomes the enemy, the persecutor, the perpetrator. In this case, the indifference of the world cannot be turned by the subject as an indifference to the world (that is, his own counter-indifference to the world, as a type of Hegelian-like belle-âme positioning of the suffering self of some sort). Often post-1960s French movies portray the refusal of the subject to compromise with a society perceived as ignominious and derisive. But the representation of the subject's shift to a dismissive and destructive nihilism is more typical of post-'80s Hollywood cinema./24/

Such a subject does not have hatred, he is his hatred. He incarnates it. It becomes his modus vivendi—the only thing that still puts him on the side of humanity (ours—even if we do not like it/him—or hate it/him). Hate is the reversal of a negation; or, better, it is pure affirmation as negation, a positing of one's own negation. It is the ultimate objection to total abjection. The hateful subject thinks along the following lines: "The world makes me feel abject. I will object to the world my abjection, making it responsible for it." In this scenario, the only way the world can be objectified is through hatred. Consequently, the subject will make use of the abject which "society" bestows upon him, turning its meaning inside out, wearing it like an escutcheon (or tattoo) and turning it over to society. As if the subject was telling society, "Here's your own message inverted!" (a move well explained by Jacques Lacan). "I will wear my hatred as a badge and logo," Cho seemed to be saying while wearing dark sunglasses and hat in class, projecting an intimidating figure, an enigmatic persona: again the veiled/cloaked figure of the Sphinx.

Hate unleashes absolute energy and calls for radical action in the tortured subject. Its end result is therefore an absolute act: reactive, negative, pitiless—except for the hypothetical brothers/comrades in (h)arm(s). This is why Cho made a call and offered a justification to others in his Manifesto ("I will do this for my brothers, my children..."). Radical hatred is the distributive justice of those who never had any justice. Nobody gave them one inch, or so they think; and maybe they are right. Saints and psychopaths, acutely, do know that justice is not of this world. Cho was bullied, pushed around, and mocked by peers during his high-school years. As Jean de La Fontaine once wrote in one of his fables, youth is a pitiless age.

When hatred becomes absolute and indiscriminate, it becomes irreducible, irremediable; it cannot be negotiated within the subject without object/Other, except through the passage à l'acte, which is no longer a call to someone. The logic of the "acting out" is a demonstration, while the "passage to the act" does not require any interpretation. It purely is the subject's response to his/her recognition that s/he is object somehow, somewhere. "Random acts of violence" always precede "random acts of kindness" which, consequently, are not their functional opposites.

Aggression; violence; absolute, desperate, and radical retribution are but the logical outcome to the conundrum of the subject trapped in his non-dilemma, this absence of dialectical movement: the stasis of the Being on the verge of non-being who cannot assume plainly the temptation of the void, but, only "Rage against the machine," as the name of one rock band advises.

Mass-murders performed by individuals (as opposed to the killings performed by the Marines or Special Forces, which require cool, calculated, and decisive training, planning, and action) are generally the result of an absolute sense of impotency, irrelevancy, and powerlessness due to the absolute indifference of the world. The Montana Unibomber (who used Montana as a hideout away from it all) in his Manifesto also spoke of his being driven to radical, desperate action because of his feelings of absolute powerlessness in face of the radical indifference of the world to his Angst (what he called the technological de-humanization of the world).

Without rhyme or reason

We have to entertain the hypothesis that "absolute murders" such as the ones committed by Cho are located beyond any psychoanalytic, explanatory discourses. Do they exemplify absolute free-will; i.e., the radical act of someone who wants deliberately to step out of the human circle, out of its grasp, logic, and destiny? As the psychoanalyst Thomas Szasz wrote as a commentary to Michel Foucault's I, Pierre Rivière, having slaughtered my mother, my sister, and my brother.... ( A Case of Parricide in the 19th Century),/25/ the psychiatrization of the law, the medicalization of crime, and the therapeutization of justice are the direct outcome of such "horrifying acts."/26/ These "radical murders" exemplify at once absolute, inexplicable, ultimate violence and the reaction they provoke in society. The medical diagnostics given for such crimes also represent the "murder" of the "unnameableness;" that is to say, the murder of free will and responsibility./27/ In a way it would be more simple if Cho was not responsible because of his "mental condition." It would free us from going beyond the crime into metaphysics, into the metapsychological nature of the death drive. If this was not the case, if he was not "insane," it would mean that psychoanalysis would ultimately be incapable of preventing the occurrences of such crimes. It would also mean either the return of existentialist, absurdist, teleological/religious explanations or the return of a 19th century type of positivist causality (post-modernized of course) as the appeal to electro-chemical imbalances within the networks of neurons or to genetic deficiencies exemplify. Dostoevsky and Nietzsche have no place here; not even Jean Giono's excellent Un Roi sans Divertissement./28/ Cho is no "existentialist hero" or even "anti-hero." His crime does not belong to any transcendence, in spite of his claims. A way out of the linear causality dilemma is to appeal to postmodernist theories—not in order to void psychoanalytic explanations but in order to complement them.

The problem of absolute postmodern hatred is that it cannot be dialectized or mediated, although it is heavily "mediatized." It is mediatized without compromise, without any basic attempt at understanding. Today absolute hatred has become a-political. In modern times, it would have been class hatred. Now it can only be class-less, and on the verge of being de-classified (hors-catégorie). The emptying-out of politics generated by postmodern capital and consumerism has rendered impossible the objectification of postmodern hatred, as if, as in the psychopath's psychology, the name-of-the-father was foreclosed from postmodern politics. Since it has not an object but a subject (there are a lot of empty, angry, cool and calculating desperate subjects "out there"), this hatred can only lash out in random acts of blind, total destruction: again, "rage against the machine." It is true that Cho said in his "Manifesto"/29/ that he had a deep hatred for the rich—all the students around him with trust funds, cars, and girls ("Mercedes-Benzes and gold chains..., hedonism and debauchery...")./30/ But his hatred was not class-bound or -directed as such; it had taken the place of politics: pure aimless, void passion instead of directional politics; this pure posture being itself the naïve video gimmick of a graphic mimicry of an images-saturated age.

Postmodern hatred is undifferentiated. It is the result of the absolute indifference of postmodern society to the world, to itself. The absolute indifference of our world to anything that is not itself (that is, the spectacle of Capital—its agents included—according to the situationist Guy Debord)/31/ also implies, on a micro-level, as a radical (in-)consequence, that the world was at best hostile to Cho, at worst indifferent to him.

At the end of Camus' The Stranger, Meursault the murderer, waiting in his cell for his execution, becomes reconciled with the great indifference of the world. He starts crying. But it is a cosmic indifference that confronts the stranger; it is the indifference of eternity and everlasting space-time; not the end-result of a mass-induced zombie-like narcissism and complacent, self-righteous hyper-egotism. The first is poetic and spirited—it induces spirituality in the subject; the second is anomic and spiritless—a comfortable version of death.

Since, "no man is an island entire of itself," as the poet John Donne wrote four centuries ago, and since the 20th century has accustomed us to collective guilt and across the board culpability, we have to accept responsibility. If not "we" as such, at least the ideology, the culture, the political system, and complacent status quo that provoke, trigger, and/or exacerbate such anger and responses (or lack of responses); and which, without our tacit support and indifference to what is not our personal, private plight, would be forced to change. As the voice-off utters at the end of Alain Resnais' Night and Fog, "Is their face that different from yours—from ours?"/32/

Can we change this culture of apathy and indifference, when this indifference itself is perhaps the only response remaining—to the silent majority, the silent masses—to the "white noise" of the capitalist world, the relentless din of its madly dashing-forward drive and accelerated de-humanization: indifference against indifferentiation?


  1. Quote from Jean Baudrillard's The Conspiracy of Art in Semiotext(e), Foreign Agents Series (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 2005), 145.[Back]
  2. We are inspired here by Roland Barthes' Writing Degree Zero (1953).[Back]
  3. "When tragedy strikes the same questions quickly arise. Why did this occur? How could this happen? Who messed up? Who should we blame? These questions are our way of dealing with tragedy and are based on our need to believe that tragedy can be prevented if we can just analyze the cause, comprehend the problem and take appropriate action. Even though our intellect tells us otherwise, our emotional need for safety exacerbates these misconceptions. But who can provide any logical reason for the events at Virginia Tech? We may hear the 'why,' but will we ever really understand?" Dave Bell, Director, Curry Health Center of the University of Montana. "Unanswerable questions can lead to creative solutions for mental illness" (Montana Kaimin, Wednesday, 25 April 2007). Experts lose their edge not because of the futility of having to explain the "desire" of psychotic murderers from the dimension of the unconscious, but because too many American psychiatrists/psychologists do not believe in the unconscious. The consequence is that they are clueless and are forced to resort to teleological explanations; either spiritual (evil) or biological. The biological explanations themselves are of two sorts: a soft one (anomalies in the electro-chemical functioning of the neuro-cortex) and a hard one (the genes.) Here Molière says it all: "A knowledgeable fool is a greater fool than an ignorant fool" (Molière, The Learned Ladies 1672, 4.1.2), "And that is exactly how it comes about that your daughter is dumb" (Molière, The Physician in Spite of Himself, Act 2).[Back]
  4. Washington Post, 20 April 2007.[Back]
  5. Consult Bernard E. Harcourt's excellent study: Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing and Punishing in an Actuarial Age.[Back]
  6. According to Cindy Linse, a psychoanalyst, mass murder is not necessarily within the purview of the logic of psychosis. Only a psychoanalyst could have determined if Cho was actually psychotic or not.[Back]
  7. Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics (New York: Continuum, 2004), 82.[Back]
  8. But in one instance, Cho had no problem expressing his violent fantasies. Through writing, in his English poetry class, Cho vented his "daemons." His writings were clear indications of his violent tendencies. Part of the problem is that no one heard him, nobody took him seriously.[Back]
  9. Another example of the pervasiveness of the ideology of socio-biology, or its new avatar, evolutionary biology.[Back]
  10. This is a film also about a psychopath and his passage à l'acte—complete and replete with identical obsessional behavior, long periods of protracted silence while driving his taxi around New York, same type of voyeurism and stalking of the "rich girl," long preparation with weapon-acquisition and training sessions, and "séances of psyching-up the self," followed by the mass-killing. The only difference is that unable to target the top echelons of the system (via the senator running for elections), the psychopath of Taxi-Driver takes on the "filth" of the city; turning his self-hatred inside out, he wipes out pimps and frees an under-age girl. He is then touted as a hero. If Cho had been able to do the same, the media would be celebrating him instead of making him the scapegoat of America's repressed.[Back]
  11. On CNN, Professor Giovanni had an interesting comment. She said that, often, male students (!) try to dominate the class, something she does not allow since she is the one in control of her classroom. But in the case of Cho, she said that there was something scary about him. Nikki Giovanni's comments are in dire need of deconstruction![Back]
  12. "The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of" Pensées, 4: 277.[Back]
  13. Even a denegation such as the one given to the media by Associate Professor of Psychiatry at New York University, Michael Welner, is misleading and shows a quasi-dramatic naivety: "There has never been a neuro-anatomical localization of mass shooting behavior" (Washington Post). Why should there be one? This attitude is reminiscent of the 1950s, when, upon Einstein's death, doctors extracted his brain and kept it in a formaldehyde-type of solution in order to be able to look for the physical traces of his intelligence, expecting maybe to find the neuro-anatomical localization of the relativity theory.[Back]
  14. This indexes towards the nature of his symptom and that this question-mark had to be read literally: he was asking others to help him fill in the blank, the gap. We do not know if Cho had no name-of-the-father; or at least if it had become blank, in suspension. This strange anecdote also indexes towards a definite ignorance of academia that seems to have forgotten poststructuralist lessons. If Virginia Tech's faculty and students had read enough deconstruction or Lacanian theory they could perhaps have helped Cho fill in the blank; which brings to mind Stanley Fish's question, the title of one of his books: Is there a text in the class?[Back]
  15. The Other here, of course, is taken in its Lacanian acceptation. The first appearance in the republic of letters and mythical pathologies of the fatal Che vuoi? corresponds to the utterance of the "great camel's head" conjured up by Alavaro in Jacques Cazotte's Le Diable Amoureux (The Devil in Love), 1772. The ghastly camel's head is an incarnation of the Devil who later assumes the shape of a woman (Biondetta) to take better possession of Alvaro's soul. Trapped in his own game, the Devil—aka Biondetta—falls in love with Alvaro.[Back]
  16. Some who made this unfortunate pronouncement on CNN are academics—professors of psychology; others, professional hate-mongers, such as the producer O'Reilly on the Fox News Channel.[Back]
  17. L'Etranger (1942). Meursault's indifference to, and disconnection from people, followed by a strange attachment to things (the sun and the heat) does not yet turn into a painful refusal to integrate with the others. A film (1967) by Robert Bresson about a 14-year-old girl, daughter of a drunk father and a bed-ridden mother, who commits suicide after being raped and losing her mother—from a novel by George Bernanos.[Back]
  18. According to the non-felicitous remarks of his poetry teacher Giovanni (a published poet), who, repelled by his male-attitude of domination (!) and odd behavior, appealed to the academic hierarchy to evict Cho out of her classroom. I suppose that her repressive and traditional reaction is to be expected when a poet becomes an academic, i.e., institutionalized, normalized, and co-opted. In other times, this appeal to punitive authority would have been expected, say, from a business professor. Now, it has also to be expected from poets who, of all people, should know better! Poets used to be known for channeling their (and others') revolt, anger and even rage into the creative poetic act. Of course that was before postmodernism![Back]
  19. This protracted "teenager's egotism" also affects academics who often act as spoiled, cantankerous children endowed with a derisive authority and a grotesque role-modeling fantasy—like the figure of the dwarf-Principal in Jean Vigo's Zero for Conduct (1932). For more on the matter, read "academia novels" such as the books of Jane Smiley or David Lodge.[Back]
  20. As a student suggested to me, perhaps his stalking was an attempt to affirm the presence of the phallus and ease castration anxiety, especially given the probability that the connection to his father was lacking. The suggestion came from Christopher Johnson who also made excellent comments about the present article.[Back]
  21. Even Virginia Tech's clinic which was supposed to treat him did not seem to have done much good to him. What kind of treatment did he receive? Did he ever enter into an analysis with a genuine psychoanalyst? Or was he just interrogated by a psychologist or only treated with psycho-tropic drugs by a psychiatrist? In any case Cho's psychological state testifies to a certain failure of American mental health, of its policy and politics—especially in universities, which, of all institutions, should have known better. (See J. Mangold's Girl Interrupted, 1999).[Back]
  22. This point is interesting in light of Lacan's remarks in Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis (Ecrits) about the subject being founded on a basis of opposition to itself.[Back]
  23. No Exit, 5 (1944).[Back]
  24. John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990). Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994). The slasher genre of Hollywood movies is but the commercial gore-exploitation of a very disquieting American phenomenon.[Back]
  25. Pantheon Books (New York: Random House, 1975).[Back]
  26. The trial of Pierre Rivière was the first case in French history (1835) to allow psychological factors to contribute to the defense's testimony.[Back]
  27. Pierre Rivière's strange crime and trial inspired two movies: Je suis Pierre Rivière (Christine Lipinska, 1975) and Moi, Pierre Rivière, ayant égorgé ma mère, ma soeur et mon frère (René Allio, 1976.)[Back]
  28. 1946. Metaphysical "novelistic chronicle," set during the 19th century, about a policeman tracking a serial killer in the mountains and villages of Provence. After having killed the killer, the policeman blows himself up. Giono's novel was turned into a movie in 1963 (François Leterrier.)[Back]
  29. We have to wonder here who gave the name "manifesto" to Cho's videotapes? Did a media anchor or executive decid to use the name in order to discredit other more famous and serious manifestoes (Communist Manifesto, Surrealist Manifesto)? The question is opened.[Back]
  30. Cho's video-Manifesto was certainly his "last stand" and ultimate defiance. He tried to compensate for his latent, own corporal dislocation (imago of the fragmented body or deficient imago) by conjuring up a ready-made Gestalt of aggressivity, constituted out of the macho images loaded with aggressive intentions provided by pop culture. His macho posturing and aggressive jubilation certainly simulates the mirror-stage's erection of the child's body. In fact, Cho's whole video-Manifesto plays out a reenactment of the whole mirror-stage, during which he acquires a whole imaginary set and during which his "passage-to-the-act" invokes history (i.e., posterity).[Back]
  31. The Society of the Spectacle (1967).[Back]
  32. 1958.[Back]

[The Montana Professor 19.1, Fall 2008 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

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