Parenting 101 with Josef Fritzl
27 Jun 2008

The world-wide condemnation of Josef Fritzl opens up an interesting question: why is it that we are so hasty in condemning this man?  Whilst it is no surprise that a crime that is reprehensible should bring forth the outrage of people, it is also equally surprising how this has become almost a universal pogrom.  One almost suspects that there is the logic of the scape-goat at play here: and just like how the sins of the community are passed onto the goat (which is then sent away to die) have we all passed our sins onto Fritzl such that we never have to confront them?

One should consider the fact most often we fear not what we are opposed to, but rather what reveals our deepest desires, our most guarded secrets.  There are usually two different reactions when we are faced with something we are against – some abnormality to our way of life: we either oppose and destroy it, or subsume it under the dominant logic.  For instance, the old logic of Singapore when it came to homosexuality was to overtly oppose it by out-lawing it.  The current strategy of the state is to subsume it:  allow it under particular circumstances because of the ‘pink dollar’ that is generated.  Capitalism is never concerned with morals and values but operates under the logic of reproduction and surplus value. In this case, who cares who you sleep with, as long as you generate surplus value. Surplus value is no longer limited to merely (re)producing another person; we have long ago already commodified persons.  By definition, this means that they are completely exchangeable.  Hence, if you can’t produce another person, replace her/ him with something else – if you cannot generate a person, generate income.  As long as there is (re)production everything is fine.  It is for this reason that ‘human resource’ management is the new trend: we have come to realize that humans are resources (just manage their desires, and everything else falls into place).  This very logic is captured in the now clichéd saying, “The happiest slave is one who thinks he is free.”

The fact that there is immense and almost universal outrage at Fritzl suggests that perhaps his actions have touched a little too close to home for comfort.  For is it not the fantasy of every parent to know the movements of her or his children – in fact it doesn’t not take much of a leapt of the imagination to say that most parents want to mold their children in a particular way.  The only way to do so is to have constant surveillance over your children: whether this is physical or emotional is a question of strategy; after-which what remains is only the degree to which it is applied.  Hence is not Josef Fritzl merely the logical manifestation of the fantasy of every parent?  However as Jacques Lacan has taught us, the moment a fantasy becomes real, we don’t have a moment of satisfaction, enjoyment; instead, there is a nightmare, and in this case, all hell literally breaks loose.

We see this happen in The Matrix of course: the fantasy of the system is unlimited reproduction in order to quash Zion.  However when this occurs – through the figure of Agent Smith – what occurs is the overloading of the system itself.  We have also witnessed this in the events of September 11: our horror was not so much the fact that the planes crashed into the Twin Towers (we’ve always know that this was possible; we might have even thought about it ourselves) but the very fact that what was played out in front of us was the very actualization of our thoughts, our fantasies. 

The instant reaction when confronted with such a nightmare is to completely reject it or to look for a reason – a meaning – behind it.  In the case of September 11, the Arabs were blamed even before there was any evidence of their involvement: the absurdity of this finger-pointing was painfully highlighted in the Oklahoma City bombings of 1995 where till this day conspiracy theorists abound about how Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were merely agents of a wider network.  In fact conspiracy theories work on the level of providing us with an explanation – a logic – such that we can remain assured that there is ‘meaning’ in our lives, in our worlds: in other words, any event, any coincidence is brought back, disciplined, under the auspices of rationality.  It is as though, if the event could be explained then it can remain an aberration, an exception, which is the same gesture as rejecting it completely, separating it from us.  However if it was to remain unknowable, then we cannot exclude it from us – more horrifyingly we cannot exclude ourselves from it. 

We are left with one more question though: how do we confront the absolute nightmare of Fritzl raping his own daughter?  Or perhaps the better question is: do we even want to confront it, and attempt to explain it away?  For only if we allow it to remain an unexplainable horror – and risk the notion that we cannot exclude the possibility that within each of us lies such a monster – might there be hope: for even if there exists such a creature within ourselves, we might then be able to not unleash it: instead of locking up your children in cellars, perhaps it might be best to place your own fantasies there. 

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