Superbohaterstwo 9/2012

russell sbriglia: love in bane – late capitalism, revolution, and the crisis of authenticity in ‚the dark knight rises’

Like the previous installment in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises has garnered a slew of political responses in the short time since its release this past July. And while valuations of the film’s ostensible politics have tended to fall along predictable American party lines, what is most surprising about such responses is their near-complete agreement on the film’s core political message. For critics on both the right and the left, the film has been found to uphold the “conservative” values of laissez-faireism and rugged individualism while denouncing the “liberal” revolutionary tradition that extends from the storming of the Bastille to the current occupation of Wall Street. Indeed, aside from Rush Limbaugh’s inane suggestion that the film’s villain was chosen as part of a vast liberal conspiracy to vilify Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, co-founder and former CEO of the venture capital and private equity firm Bain Capital, virtually all commentary on the film has deemed it to be a right-wing opus.

The problem with this interpretation, as I discuss below, is twofold. In the first place, it fails to register the degree to which the film, rather than eliding the residues of injustice left behind by the (late) capitalist system—the structural inequities and iniquities which the neoliberal turn has helped to exacerbate—instead calls attention to them. In the second place, it fails to address what I will refer to as the “crisis of authenticity” raised by the character of Bane—a crisis that concerns not the inauthenticity of Bane’s “people’s revolution” (that is, the oft-noted gap between Bane’s populist “propaganda” and his actual goal of destroying Gotham), but rather the challenge which Bane’s authentic, revolutionary politics of “love as sacrifice” poses to the Dark Knight himself.

(Late) Capitalism: A Love Story?

Far and away the most frequently discussed element of the film’s politics to date has been its supposed embrace of the free market and its attendant critique of the Occupy Wall Street movement. As noted above, such an interpretation proves remarkably consistent across the political spectrum. To begin with the right, Andrew Klavan praises the film as “a bold apologia for free-market capitalism,” one that not only offers a “graphic depiction” and “stinging . . . critique” of “the tyranny and violence inherent in every radical leftist movement from the French Revolution to Occupy Wall Street,” but which also pays homage to those self-reliant, rugged individuals who “find redemption in the harsh circumstances of their lives rather than allow those circumstances to mire them in resentment.” [1] Likewise, Christian Toto finds it “impossible not to feel Nolan’s disgust at Occupy Wall Street, a movement which the film paints as both incoherent and violent courtesy of a class warfare villain armed with nuclear weaponry.” [2] Though far less complacent about such a politics, most on the left have been quick to concur that this is indeed the upshot of the film. Thus Robert Colvile wryly dubs its eponymous hero the “Caped Conservative” and deems him a “plutocrats’ champion” whose true crusade is directed not at Bane, the film’s “ostensible villain,” but rather “the impoverished victims of depression and globalisation” who comprise what is “essentially Occupy Gotham City.” [3] Following suit, David Sirota, who goes out of his way to emphasize co-writer David S. Goyer’s involvement with the last two installments of the Call of Duty video game franchise, proclaims that “Batman hates the 99 percent” and cites the film as a prime example of how “pop culture [has] turned on populism.” [4]


But however true these interpretations may ring upon first viewing, the film is actually far less blithe about late capitalism and the contemporary neoliberal order than these critics would have us believe.[5] This is the case not only because the populism of Selina Kyle/Catwoman is far more than the mere “rhetoric” it has been dismissed as—a crucial element of the film which, unfortunately, I don’t have the time to properly address here—but also because, much like the Joker’s reign of chaos, Bane’s “reign of terror” is in many ways a by-product of Bruce Wayne/Batman.[6] Indeed, Bane’s revolution would not be possible were it not for the juridical exceptions and economic exclusions that result from (or, at the very least, are exacerbated by) both Batman and Wayne Enterprises.

In order to address the former, we should begin where The Dark Knight ends, with the exceptional actions taken by Batman in order to apprehend the Joker (i.e., Batman’s violation of the privacy of Gotham’s citizens by tapping into their cell phones in order to locate the Joker). Though Wayne, in an acknowledgment of Lucius Fox’s point that such surveillance is “unethical” and “dangerous,” destroys the system after it has served its purpose, the noble lie that both he and Gordon erect around the deceased Harvey Dent lays the groundwork for the permanent state of exception ushered in by the “Dent Act”—an iteration, of course, of the notorious Patriot Act. It is a direct result of the Dent Act’s having “cleaned up the streets” so efficiently (and unscrupulously) that the sewers have become home to a new, more political breed of criminal. And from this perspective it is anything but a coincidence that Bane’s lair is in many respects a mirror image of Wayne’s Batcave.[7]

Left: Batman in the Batcave (Batman Begins, dir. Christopher Nolan, 2005)
Right: Bane and Batman in Bane’s Lair (The Dark Knight Rises, dir. Christopher Nolan, 2012)
Above: Batman with Alfred in the Batcave (Batman Begins)
Below: Bane in Bane’s Lair (The Dark Knight Rises)

With respect to the latter, it is crucial to note that the world of Gotham City is not that of the futuristic dystopias depicted in similarly gritty superhero (or perhaps it would be better to say super-antihero) movies of the past decade, however “near” such futures may be (e.g., V for Vendetta, Watchmen, etc.). On the contrary, the world represented by Gotham is the all-too-real dystopia that has resulted from the (ongoing) crises of neoliberalism. Indeed, if The Dark Knight was a reflection upon—if not, in fact, an apologia for—the neoconservative instauration of the “state of exception” following 9/11, then The Dark Knight Rises is a reflection upon the fallout from the 2008 global financial meltdown.[8] And while the resonances between Bane’s “people’s revolution” and the Occupy movement have been (too) well-documented, more instructive here is the plight of Gotham’s orphaned teens, in particular those who upon “aging out” of the city’s homeless shelters are forced to go underground for work—a situation exacerbated by the fact that Wayne’s reclusiveness (coupled with his “mothballing” of an expensive clean-energy project) has forced the Foundation to tighten the coffers with respect to charitable donations which in the past allowed the shelters to keep teens on beyond the age of sixteen. Important to recall here are the words of Mark, a young orphan whose older brother Jimmy is found dead in the tunnels after having gone down there to “live” and “work” upon aging out. When questioned by John (Robin) Blake as to what kind of work kids could possibly expect to find in the sewers, Mark simply replies, “More than you can find up here, I guess.” In this respect, then, the film suggests that the system is itself responsible for what “rises” from the depths of the city: namely, those people who constitute what Jacques Rancière designates as “the part having no part.”[9]

Another point we should be careful not to lose sight of here is the fact that Wayne’s fortune, as Slavoj Žižek reminds us, comes from arms manufacturing and stock-market speculation, both of which Bane and Miranda Tate/Talia al Ghul take advantage of to destroy Wayne’s empire and, in turn, Gotham City.[10] Indeed, Bane and al Ghul’s revolution would not be possible were it not for their ability to exploit Wayne Enterprises’ enmeshment in both ends of the capitalist spectrum: (1) the ever-dwindling manufacturing and industry side of capitalism represented by the weapons division of Wayne Enterprises, which supplies Bane and al Ghul with the technology to not only destroy the city (via the conversion of Wayne’s clean-energy project into a nuclear bomb) but to occupy it as well (via the three “Batmobiles” used to keep the bomb mobile); and (2) the ever-increasing finance side of capitalism, which allows Bane and al Ghul to reduce Wayne to penury in a matter of minutes by placing risky trades in his name (via his stolen fingerprints) during Bane’s takeover of the Gotham Stock Exchange. Beyond this, the film also suggests a homology between Wayne and Daggett, the evil construction mogul and unwitting tool of Bane and al Ghul’s plan to nuke Gotham. Though Wayne and Daggett stand at opposite ends of the moral spectrum, they are ultimately united by the fact that both of their products are indispensable to bringing about the destruction of Gotham: just as Wayne’s clean-energy project ends up providing the core for the nuclear bomb, so too does Daggett’s concrete, having been laced with explosives, provide the means for destroying Gotham’s bridges, thereby turning the metropolis into an isolated city-state.

Thus, for all that has been made about the film’s alleged “defense of the establishment in the form of philanthropic billionaires” who attempt to curb “the excesses of finance capital” by way of “philanthropy, off-the-books violence[,] and symbolism,” the film flatly refuses to go the route of merely moralizing the ills of capitalism by portraying them as aberrations, the unfortunate results of an evil few who don’t play by the rules.[11] Indeed, it is only by ignoring the film’s portrayal of the immanent, systemic violence of late capitalism—a violence so quotidian that it doesn’t appear as such—that one can claim, as Klavan for instance does, that it reflects both an unequivocal belief in the neoliberal doctrine that “free markets lift us all” and a unilateral condemnation of “the forcible redistribution of private property . . . as theft, the forerunner of disorder and despotism.”[12] This is not to say that the film presents any radical or even consistent critique of late capitalism. What it is to say, however, is that it is far more conscious of, and far less sanguine about, the fact that capitalism produces its own remainders than critics have so far been willing to give it credit for.

All You Need Is Love

The first half of Nolan’s film places a great deal of emphasis on the transformation undergone by Wayne in the eight years since the Batman was last seen. Yet more important to tackling the film’s politics is the transformation of Batman’s nemesis this time around. As The Dark Knight repeatedly reminds us, the Joker is a by-product of Batman.[13] That is to say, in a world in which the exception, as Walter Benjamin predicted it would, has become the rule (i.e., Batman, the vigilante who stands outside the law, is paradoxically the one who protects and upholds it), Gotham, as the Joker puts it, “deserves a better class of criminal.”[14] But this seeming identity between Batman and the Joker, as Todd McGowan brilliantly points out, falls apart once we realize that contrary to Batman, whose exceptional actions are pathologically motivated (i.e., a result of the traumatic witnessing of the murder of his parents), the Joker’s exceptionalism lies in the very fact that there is no pathological incentive or empirical object driving his actions.[15] To quote Alfred, the Joker “just wants to watch the world burn.” In this respect, the Joker is an embodiment of what Edgar Allan Poe dubbed “the imp of the perverse”—a “mobile without motive,” a “motive not motivirt.”[16] Hence his perfunctory pantomiming of what is today the all-but-compulsory gesture of relating one’s own personal trauma—in the Joker’s case, “how he got his scars”—thereby “mocking the idea that some deep-rooted trauma drives him.”[17] The Joker’s backstory changes every time he tells it for the simple reason that there is no “authentic” backstory, no traumatic referent; the scars simply are.

By contrast, Bane’s motivations (by the end of the film at least) are perfectly comprehensible. As we learn upon Miranda Tate’s revealing of herself to be Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, the late leader of the League of Shadows who trained Bruce Wayne to become Batman, “the source of [Bane’s] revolutionary hardness is unconditional love.”[18] Contrary to the Joker, we know exactly how Bane got his scars, why he wears the mask: he was beaten to the brink of death for helping young Talia escape from “the Pit,” the “Hell on Earth” prison in which she was born. Indeed, the reason why Bane is excommunicated from the League of Shadows is not, as Alfred suggests, that he is “too extreme” even for Ra’s. Or, rather, we should say that Bane is, in fact, too extreme for Ra’s, but for a reason altogether different than that suggested by Alfred. As Talia reveals in the film’s most touching scene, Bane’s “only crime was that he loved me.” That is to say, Bane’s disfigurement, incurred as a result of his selfless act of love for Talia, is what leads to his excommunication, for it is an unbearable mark of Ra’s own failure as both a lover (a constant “reminder of the hell he’d left his wife to die in,” to quote Talia) and a father. In this respect, Bane, as Talia’s “protector,” is not so much “Dent taken to an extreme” as he is Ra’s.[19] As Lacan might have put it, Bane is “more Ra’s than Ra’s himself”—a position he literally assumes by taking the place of the (first absent and then deceased) father. Thus, despite the populist rhetoric of redistribution and retribution peppering his bromides, the true motivation behind Bane’s reign of terror is love.

Above: The Joker regales Gambol with one of the many versions of “how he got his scars”
(The Dark Knight)
Below: Bane, “the Masked Man,” being interrogated by the C.I.A.

Here, however, we should resist the temptation to interpret Bane’s love as somehow undermining the “purity” of his revolution, denuding it of its true political import. According to this logic, Bane’s revolution is merely epiphenomenal, an instrumental means to a transcendental end, while Bane is himself reduced to a mere instrument of al Ghul, the film’s true villain. Yet rather than tainting his revolution, Bane’s love is precisely that which purifies it. That is to say, what is most terrifying about Bane is not that he represents the (frequently disavowed) violent potential of the Occupy movement, but rather that he doesn’t.[20] Bane is not seeking a mere restructuring of the social coordinates, what Rancière would term a “redistribution of the sensible”[21]; rather, as a man whose object is to “fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s destiny,” what Bane seeks is the complete and utter destruction of Gotham. And while this is certainly a pathological (i.e., tangible, empirical) goal, the motivation behind it—love—lends to his revolution a transcendental dimension that allows him to approximate the Joker’s role as an “agent of chaos,” an agent of what Kant would call “diabolical evil” (which, as it turns out, is structurally indistinguishable from the highest good).[22] As Žižek notes, it is precisely this ability to assume the position of “a pure transcendental subject non-affected by . . . catastrophe,” to “thoroughly abstract . . . from, despis[e] even, the imbecilic particularity of one’s immediate existence,” that distinguishes the “authentic revolutionary,” and it is in this sense that Bane’s imposing physicality, his hulking presence, is a trap.[23]

Thus, as “a person of deep love, with a spirit of sacrifice,” Bane is not a faux revolutionary, a mere straw man concocted by the reactionary imagination of a conservative auteur.[24] On the contrary, Bane resembles one of the authentic revolutionaries revered by many of today’s occupiers, Che Guevara, who not only insisted that “the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love,” that “[i]t is impossible to think of an authentic revolutionary without this quality,” but who also, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, “advocated a fearless approach of risking the new world war which would involve (at least) the total annihilation of the Cuban people.”[25]

What is more, Bane embodies this spirit of sacrifice more thoroughly than Batman himself, whose sacrifice of his own life to save Gotham from nuclear holocaust turns out to be merely symbolic. This is not to deny the power of symbolism or to discount the heroism of Batman’s act; as Wayne tells Blake, his protégé, the reason he dons the mask is to not only “protect the people closest to” him, but also “to be a symbol: Batman could be anybody.” Yet for a superhero series whose distinguishing trait is its gritty realism, a verisimilitude which stands in stark contrast to the computer-generated world of most other superhero franchises, it is important to note that Wayne never truly “gives Gotham everything” in the sense that Bane, in his attempt to bring about “Gotham’s reckoning,” does. And this is also why Bane’s love for Talia is more authentic (and believable) than Wayne’s love for Kyle—a point which, paradoxically, is reinforced by the film’s penultimate scene in which Alfred, whilst sipping a Fernet Branca at an Italian café, witnesses Wayne and Kyle living happily ever after across the table from him. The reason why this scene strikes so many as inauthentic is not only because it literalizes Alfred’s dream, but also because it is overshadowed by Bane’s authenticity, which, as Žižek correctly notes, “leave[s] traces in the film’s texture.”[26] Thus, whereas Batman is able to love beyond sacrifice, to have “a life beyond that awful cape,” Bane embodies a politics of love as sacrifice.

Above: Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle (The Dark Knight Rises)
Below: Talia al Ghul and Bane (inspired by The Dark Knight Rises)

Such a take on the politics of love is ultimately a much darker and more radical one than that proposed by revolutionary philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, for whom love (“the production of affective networks, schemes of cooperation, and social subjectivities”) is “a biopolitical event” that “marks a rupture with what exists” and “produces a new world, a new social life” which they dub “the common.”[27] This is the type of love that exists between Wayne and Kyle. For contrary to the widespread insistence that the film endorses an ethics of self-reliance—the ethical correlative, so to speak, of its alleged laissez-faire economics—Batman is only able to defeat Bane and al Ghul with the help of Kyle, who decides (contrary to Ayn Rand) that selfishness is not a virtue and thus returns to save Batman’s life (just as he had done for her earlier).[28] Furthermore, though it is true that Wayne, as Kyle at one point quips, “doesn’t go broke like the rest of” Gotham’s citizens, it is likewise true that it is only by losing his fortune—becoming a “99 percenter,” as it were—that Wayne is able to defeat Bane (recall Bane’s taunt during their first fight, “Victory has defeated you!”) and win the love of Kyle.

But to return to Hardt and Negri, the true biopolitical event in The Dark Knight Rises, that which haunts its “happy” ending, is the “divine violence” represented by Bane, the type of violence which confers upon him the status of what Giorgio Agamben calls “homo sacer”—a status which Bane, in fact, appropriates from Batman.[29] This is not to say that the film embraces the divine violence of Bane’s biopolitical revolution; yet neither does it “demonize . . . collective action against capital” or suggest that “any direct action against the rich, or revolutionary moves towards the redistribution of property, will lead to dystopian nightmare.”[30] Once again, the film casts dystopia not as something on the horizon; rather, we enter the dystopia in medias res—a fact which, paradoxically enough, is precisely that which situates the film squarely within the coordinates of our current neoliberal reality.

In the end, then, The Dark Knight Rises finds itself caught between two drastically different means of responding to the crises of late capitalism/neoliberalism: Bane’s divine violence and Wayne and Kyle’s collectivism—an ambivalence which constitutes the film’s own crisis of authenticity. And this is why Žižek is correct to insist that “external critique of the film ([i.e.,] claiming that its depiction of OWS is a ridiculous caricature)” is inadequate. Critique of the film must be immanent precisely because the film harbors “a multitude of signs that point towards the authentic event.”[31]The question that remains, however, is which event—or, rather, whose love—is the more authentic one?

  1. ^ Andrew Klavan, “Batman Battles the Politics of Resentment,” Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2012.
  2. ^ Christian Toto, “Batman Battles Bane, Nolan Nukes Occupy Wall Street,”, July 19, 2012.
  3. ^ Robert Colville, “How the Dark Knight Rises Reveals Batman’s Conservative Soul,” Telegraph, July 17, 2012.
  4. ^ David Sirota, “Batman Hates the 99 Percent,” Salon, July 18, 2012. As Sirota concludes, the film’s message, like that of the Call of Duty series, is one that “the 1 percent must love.”
  5. ^ Two major exceptions in this regard are Ross Douthat, “The Politics of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’,” New York Times, July 23, 2012,and Gavin Muller, “ ‘The Dark Knight’ is No Capitalist. . .,” Jacobin, July 23, 2012. Douthat claims that rather than “push[ing] a crude, Ayn Rand-esque parable about heroic Gotham capitalists threatened by resentful, parasitic looters,” the film instead “reflects a ‘quiet toryism’ ” that “owes much more to Edmund Burke than to Sean Hannity.” Muller furthers this interpretation by asserting that “Wayne is far more feudalism than finance”—a gentleman “bound by duty and honor” and “unconcerned with business or money-making”—and that, “[u]sing the French Revolution for inspiration, the Nolans have restaged the question of bourgeois revolution, but in reverse. They want you to stand with the monarchists.”
  6. ^ As many commentators have noted, the film features many obvious nods to both the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror: for instance, Bane can be read as Maximilien Robespierre; Dr. Jonathan Crane (the “Scarecrow”), the man who presides over the show trials and presents defendants with the “choice” of “death or exile,” can be read as one of the Montagnardian judges who sent traitors to the guillotine (here replaced by an ice-covered Gotham Bay); and, finally, the release of the inmates from Blackgate Prison (many of whom were incarcerated as a direct result of the Dent Act) can be read as the storming of the Bastille.
  7. ^ This homology between Wayne and Bane extends far beyond the simple fact that both are former members of the League of Shadows. For instance, upon “breaking” Batman during their first confrontation, Bane reveals that they have been fighting beneath Wayne’s “precious armory” all along. A more explicit example of their identity occurs when Alfred, while informing Wayne of the “rumors surrounding Bane,” proclaims, “Sometimes a man rises from the darkness. Sometimes the pit sends something back”—a point which becomes the leitmotif/mantra of the film’s second half following Batman’s entrapment in “the Pit” by Bane, the only other person alleged to have escaped from it.
  8. ^ Many critics have noted the relation between Batman’s exceptional actions and those of President George W. Bush in leading his administration’s “War on Terror.” See, for instance, Klavan, “What Bush and Batman Have in Common,” Wall Street Journal, July 25, 2008, and Todd McGowan, “The Exceptional Darkness of The Dark Knight,” Jump Cut, no. 51 (2009). In lock step with his interpretation of The Dark Knight Rises as “an apologia for free-market capitalism,” Klavan interprets The Dark Knight as “a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war,” adding that, “[l]ike W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.” Though Klavan doesn’t concede the point, the perpetuity of the Dent Act proves his thesis regarding the state of exception’s merely temporary, provisional status incorrect. McGowan’s article, on the other hand (which I address at greater length below), provides a far more nuanced, in-depth account of the relation between The Dark Knight and the state of exception.
  9. ^ Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. Julie Rose (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999). For Rancière, the “part of those who have no part” is constitutive of the political order as such. As he explains: „The struggle between the rich and the poor is not social reality, which politics then has to deal with. It is the actual institution of politics itself. There is politics when there is a part of those who have no part, a part or party of the poor. Politics does not happen just because the poor oppose the rich. It is the other way around: politics (that is, the interruption of the simple effects of domination by the rich) causes the poor to exist as an entity. The outrageous claim of the demos to be the whole of the community only satisfies in its own way—that of a party—the requirement of politics. Politics exists when the natural order of domination is interrupted by the institution of a part of those who have no part. This institution is the whole of politics as a specific form of connection. It defines the common of the community as a political community, in other words, as divided, as based on a wrong that escapes the arithmetic of exchange and reparation. Beyond this set-up there is no politics.” (11-12)
  10. ^ Slavoj Žižek, “The Politics of Batman,” New Statesman, August 23, 2012.
  11. ^ Tom Charity, “ ‘Dark Knight Rises’ Disappointingly Clunky, Bombastic,”, July 19, 2012;Mark Fisher, “Batman’s Political Right Turn,” Guardian, July 22, 2012. Here I disagree with Žižek’s otherwise brilliant reading of the film in “The Politics of Batman.” Calling attention to the many nods to Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities throughout the film, Žižek argues that the Nolans “resuscitat[e] the archetypal Dickensian theme of a good capitalist who finances orphanages (Wayne) versus a bad, greedy capitalist (Stryver, as in Dickens).” While this may be correct in principle, my larger point is that the logic of the film continually undercuts this easy moralistic bifurcation between Wayne and Stryver (or, more importantly, Daggett).
  12. ^ Klavan, “Batman Battles the Politics of Resentment.” Though he ultimately agrees with Klavan that the film “demonizes collective action against capital” by suggesting that “revolutionary moves towards the redistribution of property . . . will lead to dystopian nightmare,” Fisher is nonetheless perspicacious enough to note that the film does, in fact, grant us “the pleasure of seeing Bane manhandle some predatory traders”—a pleasure compounded by the fact that the police not only refuse to storm the Gotham Stock Exchange to save stockholder money, but also choose to pursue a re-emergent Batman instead of Bane and his accomplices,  who have taken Wall Street traders as hostages.
  13. ^ Take, for instance, Alfred’s rejoinder to Wayne’s claim that in turning to the Joker the mob “crossed the line”: “You crossed the line first, sir. You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation.”
  14. ^ See Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Selected Writings: Volume 4, 1938-1940, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Belknap-Harvard University Press, 2003), 392. Also available online at Marxists Internet Archive. As Giorgio Agamben explains, Benjamin’s point is that, in the modern era, the state of exception “not only appears increasingly as a technique of government rather than an exceptional measure,” but also appears increasingly as “constitutive of the juridical order” as such. Agamben, State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 6-7.
  15. ^ McGowan, “The Exceptional Darkness of The Dark Knight.”
  16. ^ Edgar Allan Poe, “The Imp of the Perverse,” in Poetry and Tales (New York: Library of America, 1984), 827.
  17. ^ Žižek, Living in the End Times (London: Verso, 2010), 60.
  18. ^ Žižek, “The Politics of Batman.”
  19. ^ Ibid.
  20. ^ For a disavowal of the violent potential of the Occupy movement, see Harrison Schultz, “Don’t Occupy Gotham City: A Protester Reviews ‘The Dark Knight Rises’,” Daily Beast, July 19, 2012. Schultz is correct to note that Bane’s revolution is led not by Occupy-types—those “impoverished, peace-seeking protesters who armed themselves with signs, sleeping bags, tents, and iPhones at best in their attempts to fight for social justice”—but rather by “highly disciplined terrorists and the violent criminals freed from Blackgate Prison, who [are] all heavily armed with futuristic-looking firearms, tanks, and a big nuclear bomb.” Yet he protests too much when he asserts that the film lacks “any connection to reality” and is “only a movie,” a “distraction . . . intended to comfort us not only from unpleasant social realities but from the solutions to those realities as well, which aren’t necessarily unpleasant.”
  21. ^ See Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible, trans. Gabriel Rockhill (New York: Continuum, 2004). As Rockhill explains in an appendix to his translation, for Rancière the “distribution of the sensible” is “the implicit law governing the sensible order that parcels out places and forms of participation in a common world by first establishing the modes of perception within which these are inscribed.” The distribution of the sensible is thus a delimiting project, one that “produces a system of self-evident facts of perception based on the set horizons and modalities of what is visible and audible as well as what can be said, thought, made, or done.” Enter the project of what Rancière calls “dissensus,” that aesthetico-political act or event which redistributes the sensible by “confronting the established framework of perception, thought, and action with the ‘inadmissible’ ” (85). This is what Rancière means by “the politics of aesthetics.” As he explains in The Emancipated Spectator, trans. Gregory Elliott (London: Verso, 2009), “scenes of dissensus” set in motion “a process of political subjectivation” that “brings back into play . . . uncounted capacities that crack open the unity of the given and the obviousness of the visible, in order to sketch a new topography of the possible” (49).
  22. ^ It bears mentioning here that the name Ra’s al Ghul means “Demon’s Head.” Thus, by assuming the role of the absent/deceased father, Bane quite literally approximates diabolical evil. What is more, it is this transcendental dimension to Bane that helps to explain—indeed, to justify—his much maligned voice, the foreign, inhuman dimension of which is less a result of its being difficult to understand (a point emphasized in many internet parodies) than its sheer volume relative to the rest of the dialogue and score. On the structural identity between Kantian ethics and diabolical evil, see Žižek, Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), and Alenka Zupančič, Ethics of the Real: Kant, Lacan (London: Verso, 2000). For a reading of the Joker as an agent of diabolical evil, see McGowan, “The Exceptional Darkness of The Dark Knight.”
  23. ^ Žižek, “Robespierre, or, the ‘Divine Violence’ of Terror,” introduction to Virtue and Terror by Maximilien Robespierre, ed. Jean Ducange, trans. John Howe (London: Verso, 2007), xviii. Also available electronically at Lacan Dot Com.
  24. ^ Žižek, “The Politics of Batman.” For a consideration of Nolan’s conservatism, see Muller, “ ‘The Dark Knight’ is No Capitalist. . .”
  25. ^ Che Guevara, Venceremos! The Speeches and Writings of Che Guevara, ed. John Gerassi (New York: Panther Books, 1969), 398; Žižek, “The Politics of Batman.”
  26. ^ Žižek, “The Politics of Batman.” The aforementioned enjoyment we experience when Bane manhandles the stock trader is just such a trace (see note 12, above), as is that enjoyment experienced when Bane replies to Daggett’s claim that he has “paid him a small fortune” with the following query: “And this gives you power over me?”
  27. ^ Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 180-81.
  28. ^ Also important to note here are the supporting roles played by Gordon, Fox, and Blake, who together are able to foil al Ghul’s plan to remote detonate the nuclear bomb.
  29. ^ The term “divine violence” comes from Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence,” in Selected Writings: Volume 1, 1913-1926, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Belknap-Harvard University Press, 2004), 236-52. For a by turns illuminating and maddening discussion of divine violence, see Žižek, “Robespierre, or, the ‘Divine Violence’ of Terror,” and Violence: Six Sideways Reflections (New York: Picador, 2008), 178-205. For Agamben’s treatment of the figure of “homo sacer,” the “sacred or accursed man” who, due to his status as an enemy of the state, is reduced to “bare life” and can thus be killed by anyone yet must not be ritualistically sacrificed, see Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998). To briefly explain the point that Bane appropriates the role of homo sacer from Batman: at the beginning of the film, it is Batman who, because he is believed to have murdered Harvey Dent, occupies the position of homo sacer. By the film’s conclusion, however, Batman, as a result of having (symbolically) sacrificed himself to save Gotham from Bane’s divine violence, is reintegrated into—indeed, is canonized by—society.
  30. ^ Fisher, “Batman’s Political Right Turn.”
  31. ^ Žižek, “The Politics of Batman.” For Žižek, this “authentic event”—the film’s “absent center”—is the “immanent” transformation of Bane’s reign of terror into “the ‘People’s Republic of Gotham City,’ a dictatorship of the proletariat in Manhattan.” Though I agree with Žižek that the film stages its own immanent critique, I find this reading to be a bit of a stretch.


Russell Sbriglia is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY. His essays and reviews have appeared in Arizona Quarterly, American Nineteenth Century History, and the Nathaniel Hawthorne Review. He is currently working on two book projects: the first, entitled Dissensus Communis: Conservatism, Skepticism, and Sympathy in the American Renaissance, is a revised version of his doctoral dissertation; the second, tentatively titled Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Literature but Were Afraid to Ask Žižek, is an edited collection of essays on Slavoj  Žižek’s relevance to literary criticism and theory.

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