I’d like to make an argument about the current panic regarding late night grog fuelled violence that involves the possibility of seeing grog fuelled violence as being part of what Zizek calls systemic violence, the “often catastrophic consequences of the functioning of our economic and political systems”. It seems reasonable, at first glance, to see the king hit as a corporeal expression of some otherwise repressed frustration, the assertion of a suppressed identity or the refusal of an imposed model for identity. I’ve been thinking that this argument connected grog fuelled violence to something like redemption, that there was a heroism or valor involved in the repudiation of the guises we are obliged to take up as part of our participation in the economic and political systems we live within. Fanon dies hard I guess but it doesn’t convince me.
Zizek isn’t interested in the king hit, and neither was Fanon. They would categorize the Saturday night biffo as being subjective violence and therefore pretty much outside the frame of reference for social or revolutionary action. Violence, real violence, for Zizek is not about persons, or bodies, violence is about structures. Structures do violence, and therefore to talk back to structures violence is the only possible language to deploy. Saturday night fights are simply allowable tolerances in the operations of capitalism, no different from alcohol or karaoke or strippers or poker machines. There is no divinity or emancipation here, just bread and circuses.
Oddly enough this is pretty much the argument being used by NSW Police, that there is only one thing to do and that’s control the bread and circuses more effectively. According NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Mark Murdoch the issue is “the abuse and availability of alcohol.” Taking this as his lead George Souris (Minister for Tourism, Major Events, Hospitality, Racing and the Arts) sees the proliferation of bars as being the problem. Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore despite being opposed to Souris and Murdoch makes a similar argument saying that the violence is due to “the quantity and type of alcohol sold, the level of adherence to responsible service of alcohol guidelines, trading hours and patron numbers and demographics.”
These arguments are old hat. In the good old days alcohol was heavily regulated in NSW, as in other Australian states: the six o’clock swill and no opening on Sunday. That didn’t stop violence. It certainly didn’t stop domestic violence. Regulation and compliance don’t help when someone’s brain explodes and they throw their weight behind a punch. I can’t believe that anyone who’s mid-strike might catch themselves thinking about the mandatory sentencing requirements with regard to grievous bodily harm or the material impact of that strike on the body of another. It’s the fist that matters, not the target. Divine redemptive violence isn’t going to come from “a juvenile product of the working class/whose best friend floats in the bottom of a glass.”
Zizek doesn’t work here; neither do Walter Benjamin or Fanon. But the classic bourgeois bureaucratic responses of NSW officialdom are even less helpful, merely a step away from ramping up the mandatory sentencing requirements and throwing away the key. I can’t help but think there is something else here. The violence is a product of what we do and how we do it, the drinking is a product, and the Saturday night fetish is a product. Those young men doing each other harm, dying or lying broken in Emergency or being incarcerated or being forever the bloke who broke that other bloke’s jaw (see Nick D’Arcy), and they aren’t doing it simply as a loss of control: it’s a function of that control. But what to make of it? What purpose to the function? What does it do? I’ve been pondering this for a few weeks now, wandering around thinking that if the violence isn’t animal, vegetable or mineral what is it? What are those clenched fists about?
Reading Kristeva recently I have developed a small hypothesis that it is really about abjection: “Mute protest of the symptom, shattering violence of a convulsion that, to be sure, is inscribed in a symbolic system, but in which, without either wanting or being able to become integrated in order to answer to it, it reacts, it abreacts. It abjects…” My reading of this is that this means when the fist is clenched and the target locked both perpetrator and victim are rendered neither subject nor object. When the moment comes and the movement of bodies is propelled by their own momentum abjection is at work. The striker is doing terrible harm to others, and in that moment recognises himself as one of those others, not I anymore. There is no redemption or social divinity here, no transcendent moment of clarity but rather: “A massive and sudden emergence of uncanniness, which, familiar as it might have been in an opaque and forgotten life, now harries me as radically separate, loathsome. Not me. Not that. But not nothing, either…on the edge of non-existence and hallucination … there, abject and abjection are my safeguards. The primers of my culture.”
Now I don’t think Mark Murdoch or George Souris or Clover Moore want the recondite assistance of Julia Kristeva on this matter, but they don’t need it because they have heard a similar thought from Australian Hotels Association CEO Paul Nicolaou. Nicolaou said at public meeting about grog fuelled violence: “It seems that the community, our society, thinks that violence is an acceptable act and it’s okay to be violent.” Nicolaou isn’t making a point about abjection, no doubt, but nonetheless he is making it clear that the violence is in us, in what we do and how we do it. I think that both he and Kristeva are right.