Whoosh! Issue 49 - October 2000


IN ILLO TEMPORE...
AN INTRODUCTION TO A MARXIST ANALYSIS
OF THE MAKING OF A POSTMODERN MYTHOLOGY
IN XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS


Page 3

THE FUNCTION OF THE HERO



]  Xena does a Mike Tyson on Argo.

Some find Xena to be a dysfunctional hero.
From TIES THAT BIND (20/120)


[45] Greek mythology, by the way, is not a cosmic drama in the nature of the Old Testament or the Gospels, where the cosmic all-powerful deity fulfills, sovereign-like, his plans for the elected people or for mankind as a whole. The Greek gods, as compared to YHWH or the Father [Note 33], are hopelessly limited, in that they strive after something they can never be sure of achieving. In fact, they are no different from the human heroes, such as Odysseus, Ajax, Agamemnon, etc., in that they are creatures of desire, and therefore define themselves by what they strive after because they are lacking. In the words of the Marxist historian M.I. Finley,

"[Heroes] always seek honour and glory...[for them] everything pivoted on a single element of honour and virtue; strength, bravery, physical courage, prowess ... there was no unheroic trait, but one, and that was cowardice and the consequent failure to pursue heroic goals" [Note 34]

[46] The main trait of the hero was being asocial, even destructive, with a single-mindedness in the pursuit of a purely individual goal. The Heroic condition was a zero-state of human conditioning, of the individual as it constituted as against society. It was not as it constituted in society, as in the fashion described by bourgeois sociologists like Durkheim or Parsons.

[47] The existence of something like XWP, with its return of heroic diction, represents, therefore, a cultural milestone. It betrays a consciousness in our mass culture of the inability of present bourgeois society to provide for the individual the condition to begin existing as such. With its peculiar strivings, traits of character, tastes and interests, it moved in a fashion other than through a desperate attempt to affirm itself in the most brutal, aimless action for action's sake - "action" being the prime form of it to affirm its peculiar identity.

[48] Therefore, XWP is, at the same time, a history about "the unreality of having two Americanized 20th century characters wearing clothes that echo comic books, wandering through a timeless world" [Note 35] and a reemployment of the actual archaic epic. Better, it is something that tells us about our postmodern age precisely because of its being set in the language of the epic. Precisely, it tells us about a beleaguered individuality forced by present social circumstances to fall back to the epic mode, in all its glorious wanton cruelty and asocial bearing. Or, to let the characters speak with their own words, let us hear Xena's and Gabrielle's traveling companion and comic relief, Joxer:

Joxer the mighty Roams through the countryside He never needs a place to hide ... Righting wrongs and singing songs Being mighty all day long He's Joxer, he's Joxer the Mighty .... [Note 36]

[49] What we have here, being exactly an (involuntary?) slapstick version of the famous opening lines of THE ODYSSEY [Note 37]. But, it is impossible not to perceive, under the silly lyrics of the parody, the despair conveyed by it. As Flaubert, quoted by Walter Benjamin, had already written in the middle of the 19th century, the heyday of bourgeois civilization, "Few will realize how very sad one must be in order to resurrect Ancient Carthage" [Note 38]. How many will realize how sad one must be in order to invent Xena? For the sadness of the above parody resides not only in the fact that the character Joxer is a pathetic wannabe warrior, entirely incompetent and hopelessly self-deluded. It is also because this character is left with no other choice than nurturing this self-delusion through trying to be, or at least pretending to be, "mighty" [Note 39]. What lies behind the supposedly funny parody is the idea of an individuality that discovers such interests are unattainable anyway and that the only choice left is trying, even against all odds, to simply be. It starts with the individualistic-bourgeois notion of the necessity of changing itself through self-discipline and self-observation. Then it chooses a mode of action that allows him/her to profit best from the actual circumstances in order to ascertain his/her interests [Note 40].

[50] Therefore, it is sad to realize that the later bourgeois civilization ultimately rehabilitated the old ideal of the heroic individuality who, being unable, in a barbarous age, to accomplish much, to accumulate and enjoy through his possibilities and according to his needs, is reduced of necessity to sticking with expressing him/herself in the most demonstrative fashion, antagonistic, and eventually self-destructive. What we have, here, in ideological terms, is that we seem to have retreated from Locke and his idea of Society as a collection of individuals reproducing themselves peacefully when given the right to have each their own private property. Or, conversely, the right to work for one who owns such property in exchange for a living wage. We have apparently returned to the Hobbesian view of society as an endlessly murderous dispute between myriad petty individual interests, making life, therefore, nasty, brutish, and short. The Xenaverse forever plagued by looting warlords fighting each other [Note 41], is the spitting image of Hobbes' "State of Nature" imagery [Note 42].

[51] Hobbes, however, can be taken as having invented bourgeois society, in that he gave form to the ideal of the bourgeois ego as being one of the self-supporting individual. Of course, we had already in Aristotle the notion of the best human condition to be one of autarkeia, but autarchy was that of the community, not of the insulated individual. In Hobbes, the state ceases to be the provider of the collective Good Life that is the guarantee of the safety of the individual. And that takes us to the Marxist notion of the subsequent genesis of this bourgeois ego.

[52] As Marx states flatly in the beginning of the Grundrisse, the bourgeois notion of the self-sufficient individual begins with the idea of the Robinsonade. That is, an individual considered as able to determine his/her particular goals and to calculate his/her possibilities of peacefully achieving them through productive activity, capital accumulation, and peaceful exchange with other independent and self-sufficient individuals. Of this notion of the peaceful and self-sufficient individual pervading all bourgeois economics, it is easy to realize that:

"Smith and Ricardo still stand with both feet on the shoulders of the 18th century prophets, in whose imaginations this 18th century individual [...] appears as an ideal, whose existence they project into the past ... As the Natural Individual appropriate to their notion of human nature, not arising historically, but posited by Nature" [Note 43]

[53] The idea of the peaceful, self-centered individual, profiting from his/her abilities to achieve his/her aims in peaceful commerce with others, has become ingrained in the bourgeois consciousness. The resurgence has appeared in the most unlikely place, the system of production of mass culture. No matter how awkward, parodistic, and campy, the old heroic individuality, i.e., the individual, even as one who defines him/herself, in the words of Xena herself [Note 44], as "driven" [Note 45] can only be taken as a symptom of the deepest societal crisis. What in Nietzsche was yet an intellectual pose, in XWP becomes a mass phenomenon, most unexpected as, like Finley points, the actual inception of a new ideology, however deep its historical formation process, is always "sharp, swift, abrupt" [Note 46].



Or just protoplasm?

Was Darius a member of the proto-bourgeoisie?
From CHARIOTS OF WAR (02/102)


[54] For the fact is that Greek mythology had been continuing to develop, even after the demise of paganism, even during the darkest of the "Dark Ages", as a token of a system of values associated with the idea of aristocratic prowess. Even medieval or Byzantine authors, devout Christians that they were, will always remind his listeners of "the heroes of old" when wanting to praise physical achievement, courage in battle, and outstanding valor. What is worshipped in the Pagan system of values is not "the gods" in themselves. It is the fact that the gods, being enlarged versions of human beings, are driven by the same desires and, therefore, by the same wants, as humans. It is human striving after some human desire that is worshipped.

[55] The gods were revered because they were mighty. Yet such might was not the might of the First Person of the Trinity, creator of all life, omnipotent and therefore able to grant each human being, through His mercifulness, a place in the universal order of things. The Olympians were celebrated not because they were all-powerful, but because they were necessarily successful, in the sense that they could always hope eventually to achieve what they strived for. Being immortal, they were able to try repeatedly [Note 47]. The gods essentially were so many ex ante versions of a latter-day myth, the Freudian "Father-of-the-Horde" and the bearers of the Lacanian more-enjoyment. They were, in fact, creatures of Desire, and, by so being, were at the same time human and more than human. As Finley remarked, the Homeric religious revolution was outstanding in the fact that:

"To picture supernatural beings ... as men and women, with human organs and human passions, demanded the greatest audacity and pride in one's own humanity" [Note 48]

[56] Something that led to the partial superseding, in Greek religion, of the gods of the cosmic order, be they cosmological (the Titans), or nature-gods (Demeter and Persephone), that created order in the Universe and a proper place in it for each human being. The Olympian gods were of a more disorderly kind.

[57] There was a famous episode in the Iliad, when Hera demanded Zeus to grant the final destruction of Troy as an act of Tit-for-Tat revenge against the unfairness of Paris's judgment in the famous beauty contest. When replied by the king of the gods that "of all the cities under the sun and the starry heaven in which dwell earthly men, most honored of my heart was holy Ilion", the goddess replied immediately:

"Indeed there are three cities most dear of all to me, Argos and Sparta and widewayed Mycenae. May these waste whenever they become hateful to your heart; for then I shall neither stand up nor hold a grudge"—provided, of course, that Zeus granted the final destruction of Troy. [Note 49]

[58] It is common sense to say that these deities were immoral. If we think that a system of morals must be based on the idea of the Categorical Imperative (to act according to principles that can be applied to all men, at any time, in all circumstances), i.e., of morals taken as universal, then they are indeed immoral. Nevertheless, they had a system of ethics: to strive after one's honor, no matter what. Being immortal, and, by so being, being outside of human reality, the gods could and did strive endlessly after their honor, even when laying the world waste was the price to be paid. Yet at the same time, the fact that such was the ethics attached to godhead made clear that such ethics were forbidden to mere mortals.

[59] The complete or, prospective, enjoyment granted the gods underlined the fact that all human enjoyment must be, by its own nature, partial and limited. Conversely, it was only by appealing to the overwhelming power of the gods that mortals could bear their limited and stunted nature, for, as the gods, being gods, had such power, they could, when properly approached, bestow part of this power on mortals they happened to love [Note 50]. But the fact is that the gods, also because of their being gods, could set the code of heroic ethics, but could not really partake of it:

"Because they could not die, the gods could not be true heroes. They might fail to attempt an specific goal, but they could try again and again, and there was no risk of death in the attempt." [Note 51]

[60] Complete enjoyment, as it is, must be reserved to the gods, in order to make sense to strive after one particular enjoyment or other. As Lacan says, "the Dead Father is the Enjoyment." [Note 52]

[61] In Xena's first appearance, on the HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS episode THE WARRIOR PRINCESS [Note 53], there is a scene (Act 3, Scene 6) where Xena kills one of her men (and bed-warmer) on the spot for failing to kill Hercules. She slits his throat with her chakram, a boomerang-like circle of steel, causing Hercules to ask:

Hercules: Is that what you do to all your warriors, Xena?
Xena: Only those who don't follow my code.

Xena, as we see, is ready to go to any extreme whatsoever to enforce her code of ethics, striving after honor, prowess, and loot. She has no compunction about returning to her fortified camp to tell her men that they must stand aside and watch her lover fight Hercules:

Xena: The only one to do battle with Hercules when he arrives is Iolaus, do you understand? I don't care how quickly my little man dies, I don't care how painfully he does it, no one is to be there until Iolaus is dead and Hercules is standing, staggered by the weight of what he has done to his best friend. Then, and only then do we move in to rid the world of the son of Zeus. Do I make myself clear? Good. —(THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109), Act 4, Scene 3).



Iolaus, about to become 'dope on a rope'.

Apparently, Xena has always had a "thang" for pre-Mycenaean hot tubs
From Hercules: The Legendary Journeys' WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109)


[62] We see also that Xena speaks the same language as Hera, some paragraphs above, irrespective of the fact that Hera is a goddess and Xena, a mere mortal. The results of following this logic to the last will be, of course, counterproductive in the extreme: in the next episode [THE GAUNTLET (H11/111)], Xena's men, tired of the abuse heaped upon them, react by overthrowing Xena and putting her lieutenant Darphus in her place, none to soon, given the fact that

She [Xena] really does think of her army as completely disposable ... Makes you wonder what kind of people would knowingly and voluntarily serve under a system like that. [Note 54]

What Xena had created were her own gravediggers, as anyone that had read THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO could repeat.

[63] Nonetheless, one can love Xena, despite her arrogance, as an Ancient Greek could admire Hercules/Heracles, Ulysses /Odysseus, Achilles, the two Ajaxes [Note 55], etc., despite their arrogance and other all-too-human failings, in that they were just that: idealized human beings, who were driven solely by their inner dispositions and who, therefore, had gained the affections of the gods by being found to deserve everlasting fame. As Arnold Toynbee rightly divined, the avowedly religion of the "Hellenic" civilization, with its various gods, was nothing but a cult of human might, even when frustrated by the circumstances, or perhaps because of the inevitable frustration of such might among each succeeding generation of mortals. Jason, Bellerophon, Theseus, and others remained heroes, even when having died in depressing circumstances. The gods, by existing, set a standard of human excellence and might, which outstanding mortals may try to attain. Even when necessarily frustrated, they deserve to be praised.

[64] That causes one, nonetheless, to wonder: how could a TV series so removed from the idea of resurrecting a lost world, as proven beyond all doubt by the host of anachronisms in costuming, scenery, plot, put on purpose by the authors, reproduce so accurately the atmosphere of the ancient epic? By the way, XWP partakes that ability of falsifying everything except the mood and atmosphere with Dumas pere. Dumas was a romantic disenchanted with the crass bourgeois materialism of his age that, like all romantics, Balzac included, unearthed the old aristocratic ideals of honor, elegance, fidelity, etc., to use as a kind of litmus paper test that would reveal the shortcomings of his own age, by concocting novels that were "half lamentation, half lampoon; half echo of the past, of the future" [Note 56]. XWP is a fiction of the same order. It is a parody of the old myths that, however, through this very lampooning, reveals something about our epoch. For the problem, here, is exactly the following: we can, like the Post-structuralists, play with the idea, taken from the 18th century skeptic Fontenelle, that "the history of the myths is only the history of the errors of the human spirit" [Note 57].

[65] We can refuse to give the myth a hermeneutics. We can deny the myth a meaning, a function, and even a structure. Yet, in that case, the myth would be something like a kaleidoscope, where the composing parts would combine at random, and to hear a mythological narrative would evoke the same drowning sensation felt when hearing the narrative ramblings of some madman (or a mad person, as you will). Half tiredness, half-plain disgust, half impatience, half boredom, given the entirely arbitrary character of such fictions. But the fact is that, in an epoch that has relegated the old fashionable mythological metaphors of the Victorians to the garbage can of history, where the knowledge of the classical languages is not the proof of learning for a gentleman. Then suddenly an American TV series, that is, from a country renowned for its historical ignorance, recycles the old Hellenic myths with a high amount of perversity, but at the same time, a considerable amount of coincidence in meaning and structure that point to some cause providing for the similitude of the effects. The main point here is the fact that XWP, like the old myths, always evokes a world under an arbitrary power, that of gods who are repeatedly portrayed as "petty and cruel, plaguing mankind with suffering" (opening of HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS). Why?

[66] The problem is, that the ancient gods were not "moral", in that they are not put in the mortal world to order it, to make justice prevail, to right wrongs, or any other moral imperative function. They were put in their Olympian abode in order to provide, simply by existing, a standard against which the mortals can realize their limitations and incompleteness. In XWP's parent series, HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS (afterwards HTLJ), there was an episode—HERCULES ON TRIAL—where Hercules was put—what else?—on trial because of his prowess giving people ideas about doing extraordinary things, therefore risking, and sometimes losing, their lives, instead of remaining in the station assigned for them by the gods. Hercules' defense, as it was, consisted in defending the right for anyone of trying to probe, and therefore stretch, the limits of one's possibilities, regardless of the consequences, as the sole means of forming one's individual consciousness. A very proper development for the episode, to which an Ancient Greek would have found nothing improper! For the gods, of course, strike down mortals who trespass their proper limits, a Greek would say, "to show Hubris", by using Nemesis as their agent. Nonetheless, since no mortal can have an a priori notion of his/her possibilities, each mortal is therefore compelled to try to stretch such possibilities to their limits.

[67] In a superb essay, the French historians Vernant & Vidal-Naquet have explained that such "stretching" is the basis around which the concept of the individual has formed in Greek tragedy. The tragic heroes, it seems, are struck down by blind Fate, as the commonsense notion about Greek tragedy goes. But the fact is that they are struck down, not because of fate, but because a hidden, unsaid, individual desire, about which the gods know beforehand, leads them freely to stretch their divinely assigned limits, therefore rendering punishment inevitable. The Greek world for voluntary, hekôn, means not a decision taken after a Rational Choice that takes into account the pros and cons of a decision, in terms of their actual consequences, but refers to a decision taken according to the inner dispositions of the individual without external constraints. Therefore, animals can act hekôn as much as men [Note 58]. To give a mythological example, taken from Aeschylus' Orestia:

"When [Agamemnon] decides to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, he does so, according to Rivier, under the constraint of a double coaction that bears onto him as objective necessity: it's impossible to refuse to obey Artemis' orders, given through the seer Calchas; it's impossible to forsake an alliance, which end—to take Troy—accords to the demands of Zeus Xenios [Zeus the Host].[...] Iphigenia's sacrifice is necessary, given a situation that weighs on the king as a fatality; nevertheless, at the same time, this death is not only accepted, but passionately desired by Agamemnon, who is therefore responsible for it" [Note 59]



His best work was lost when he mistook it for a napkin.

P.D.Q. Bach (1807-1742?) wrote the obscure musical work, Iphigenia in Brooklyn,
for Bargain-Counter Tenor, 3 Double Reeds, Trumpet Mouthpiece, Wine Bottle, Harpsishord, and String Quartet.


[68] As late as the 17th century, the Jansenist theologian Abbot Arnault, defending a Catholic version of the notion of predestination, noted that, contrary to what the heretic Calvin defended, people are not a priori doomed or saved by means of a divine decree, but the individuals' inner disposition make it to happen as if such a decree existed. A miser can, out of his/her free will, choose whether or not to give alms to a beggar. The fact, however, is that in all probability, s/he will freely choose not to do so. The fact that human instinct is more or less conscious, in the sense of being consciously perceived as something that imposes itself on the will, does not make it less of an instinct. As Lacan will say, parodying Descartes, "Where I do not think, here I am".

[69] For what we actually have here is exactly the notion the being of the desirer cannot be understood, cannot, in fact, exist, in insulation from the object desired, as desirer and thing desired form a single being, in that the personality of the individual cannot properly exist as a particular personality if detached from a particular object of desire. The miser, in Arnault's notion, must either refuse the give the alms or else cease to be that particular person who is to be defined, among other things, by a particular relationship with money and with beggars.

[70] The tragics' notion of free will has much to do with the Nietzschean notion of "Will to Power"; the individual has not a particular will at a given time [Note 60]. The individual can forswear his/her will as much as s/he can choose to cease to exist, in that to forswear one's will is to negate oneself completely and voluntarily. Therefore, one must prefer to follow one's will, even with that means eventual self-annihilation, in that such annihilation will happen as superior constraint imposed on the individual and not as an act of complete self-denial. The part of the tragic hero, therefore, will be one of do or die, in that he cannot cease to do without actually dying [Note 61]. Agamemnon must eventually die in the hands of his wife, as he cannot give up the Trojan expedition, which he passionately desires. Therefore, he cannot do other than to passionately desire his daughter's death, as it comes to be the sine qua non condition of the said expedition, and therefore cannot fail to arouse, in the future, the homicidal wrath of Clytemnestra. The individual, as it were, is caged in the vise of the will.

[71] Two Xenatic parallels: in the 3rd season (1997-1998) episode THE DELIVERER, Xena is told by a Briton slave that Caesar (yes, Julius!) has invaded Britannia and engaged in a fight with the queen Boadicea [Note 62]. Xena has a moral obligation to help Boadicea, whom she had let down in battle years ago. However, Xena also passionately desires to take revenge on Caesar, who had once ordered her crucifixion. Therefore, since the Briton slave is an agent of the evil god Dahak, she is forced to assist the ravishment and impregnation of Gabrielle by a column of fire that makes her pregnant with an evil creature, which starts a chain of events which will lead to the murder of Xena's son. Xena is held responsible for that; as Dahak's minion Khrafstar tells her, "Your rage at Caesar brought you here".

[72] During practically all the 4th season (1998-1999) episodes, Xena is haunted by a vision that foretells her imminent death by crucifixion in the hands of the Romans, alongside with Gabrielle. Yet, when Xena is attacked by hired killers sent by Caesar, her passionate hate, again, sends her to Rome, leaving Gabrielle unprotected and allowing Gabrielle to be sent to a Roman prison. Xena then has to break into it, only to be duly captured and crucified alongside her companion [Note 63]. Perfect resurrection of the ancient tragic notion of individual responsibility! We appear to have left the pastiche far behind. But how could people who seem not so learned accomplish such a perfect revival of a notion that runs counter to all commonsense modern notions about individuality and responsibility? Perhaps because there is some coincidence in living conditions between the Ancient World and our postmodern age? But precisely what living conditions?

[73] The ideological core, to speak in Marxist terms, of Ancient mythology, is, above all, the opposition between the omnipotence of the gods and the frailty of humans, i.e., the common condition of humans in any class society. For, as Marx and Engels had noted, very early, in The German Ideology, the existence of an abstract consciousness in men is caused by the existence in human consciousness, of an awareness about the existence of a rift between Society, limited and stunted, and Nature, unlimited and whole. The very idea of a relationship between Man and Nature derives of the fact that the original identity between the two, existing when Man was only a herd-animal, is forever broken.

[74] No animal, says Marx and Engels, relates to Nature, as it is in Nature and of Nature [Note 64]. The rift was created by the fact that, in order to transform Nature, Man had first to be able to see it as something alien to himself [Note 65]. That rift was created by the development of a Division of Labor that rendered able the active transformation of Nature through the development of Productive Forces. This Division of Labor implies the formation of different group and individual functions in society. Foremost of these formations are the separation between intellectual and manual labor, and the inequality of rewards from participation in the joint labor of production. The awareness of the rift between Man and Nature is always followed by the awareness of the stunting of most individuals through inequality:

"It is quite immaterial where consciousness starts to do on its own; out of all this thrash we get only the inference that these three moments, the productive forces, the state of society and consciousness, can and must come into contradiction with one another, because the division of labour implies the possibility, nay the fact, that intellectual and material activity, that enjoyment and labour, production and consumption, devolve on different individuals" [Note 66]

[75] Because of the opposition between individual desire and surrounding necessity, the development of passionate strivings, and the ultimately striking down of all individuals [Note 67], things were thematized by ancient tragedy as an opposition between the divine world and the mortal word were expressed in the workings of tragic Fate. We have this ideology expressed in Aeschylus and Sophocles, as well as in Corneille or Racine [Note 68], as the idea of the hero whose part it is to do or die, and ultimately to do and die.




Ares hopes the 'vampire' teeth are long gone.

Xena's definitely a passionate kind of gal.
From AMPHIPOLIS UNDER SIEGE (104/514)



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