Sunday, November 12, 2006

Hagiography of Heroism: Introduction

The Hagiography of Heroism: Desire as Motivation of Performative Identity for Non-State Actors
Presented at ISA 2006, March 24, 2006, San Diego CA (USA)
Work in Progress. Comments Welcome.

“You desire what you see,” is the cryptic clue handed by Dr. Hannibal Lecter to Agent Clarice Starling in the 1991 thriller The Silence of the Lambs. The psychologically astute serial killer’s statement encapsulates the underlying premise of the creation, perpetuation and satisfaction of human desire. Given the information-rich contemporary culture that constantly and consistently bombards us with images, sounds and ideas, we often overlook the ways that our desires are constantly being formed and transformed, often to reflect, refract and repeat millennial traditions – of love, jealousy, envy, hate. In a world with a surfeit of mass media, we ignore Lecter’s warning at our own peril – if we desire what we see, we desire what we see most often – commodities, heroes and ideals. We need not rely on Dr. Lecter’s word for it – much of mimetic theory covers similar ground. Other theoretician have debated the merits and functioning of this mechanism (Girard 1965. See also Auerbach, 1953, Bauml, 1984, Gerard, 1989)

Of more importance, for the purpose of this presentation is the question – given that we desire what we see, what precisely do we see in the new millennium? This question forms the crux of understanding how popular media constructs new ideological and idealist edifices of desires, often building on past structures, but always finding new material to re-enforce the foundations.

Let me first place some qualifiers to the answer however: Beyond the confines of the world of the Sopranos and Desperate Housewives, or even the sanitized polygamous world of Big Love, the world still turns to millennial stories – from the Bible, Koran, Ramayana for a start, but also from other treasure troves of tales that define and explain our lives and worlds. And this world is not necessarily reflected, re-created or re-presented in technologically archaic forms of oral or even print storytelling. From Gaza to northern Nigeria, or the banks of the Amazon to Bombay, storytelling in the 21st millennium is done with the moving image – celluloid, television, digital camera are all required. And they throw up interesting possibilities – to enjoy, admire, desire and imitate. Even in markets that Hollywood dominates, the images refer to and build upon earlier archetypes, endlessly recreating, distorting and transforming earlier ideals in a constant mimesis of the past, contemporary realities and possible futures. However, let us work with primarily Western examples for this section – not for the lack of material from non-Western audiovisual industries, but for the assumption that most material referred to would less familiar to a primarily Western audience. Please note, however, that the paper shall refer to historical and contemporary non-Western cultural products when necessary, either for comparison or for elaborating a point.

For the new millennium, one well known product is the Peter – trilogy based the eponymous novel by J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings. This paper uses the novel to delineate some ideas, without necessarily separate reference to the film-trilogy. The reason for this conflation is not to avoid discussions on the merits of the Oscar-winning film or its filmic pleasures and discontent. Indeed, a discussion of the film trilogy would open a can of worms, not only on the issues of (mis)representations and imperialist agendas implicit and far more pronounced and complex in the film adaptation than the original literary text, but also on the possible meanings of director’s recent oeuvre which shows a marked tendency toward reviving some of the more noxious works of colonialist and racialist discourse.

The attempt to discuss Tolkein’s novel and simply referring to the films as necessary and only as apparently faithful re-presentations of the events described in the novel is intended to retain focus on the idealist and ideological content of the same. Moreover, the novel written in mid-20th century presents us with a neatly fragmented tryptich of heroic archetypes. These archetypes occur in older works of course, often embodied in the same hero. In Tolkein’s own fragmented contentious modernity, they no longer overlap and bleed into each other, fortuitously for us, allowing us to draw three clear models.

Tolkein’s novel provides an interesting case for mimesis, referring to, reflecting and recreating ideas long embodied by a range of texts, including the Old and New Testaments, Norse mythology and Greco-Roman legends. This paper considers mimetic theory in its adapted, transformed contemporary state, and refers to Girard’s idea as a base but not a doctrine. “Mimesis is a complex, multifaceted process of re-presentation and re-creation, in the course of which new works come into being via the misconstruction and transformation of models.” (Gebauer and Wulf, 1995). Since the early writings by Girard, mimetic theory has itself been misconstructed and transformed to include the phenomenon of constant inter-reference between art and society that mutually re-enforce, contradict and subvert each other. This plurality of referentialities reminds us that “To restrict mimesis to the mere reproduction of existing model thus falls far short of a satisfactory conception. We shall get farther in our efforts by attempting to conceive this process of re-presentation as a process of recreative transformation.” (Gebauer and Wulf, 1995).

This is why we are left considering how images shape society and vice versa. The much celebrated Lord of the Rings trilogy – regardless of its unthinking ethnocentricity – threw up earlier and highly resonant archetypes which deserve more than a cursory look. The trilogy recreates the ideal heroes, referring back to Tolkein’s pseudo-epic, written in a simpler age when despite the ravages of the WW2, the ideals of the benign empire could be cherished. The book draws on a plethora of archetypes – using both pre-Christian and Biblical strands to create its heroic narrative. From the Biblical standpoint, where “the meek shall inherit the earth,” Frodo Baggins is given a burden greater than he can bear – to carry the ring to the fiery mountains and destroy it. The apparently weak, disadvantages race of the Hobbits take on distinctly Biblical tints of the “chosen people,” in somehow selflessly saving the world. It is the Hobbits – specifically Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, along with their companions – who are capable of “great deeds” regardless of their abilities, strengths or talents. Any similarity to heroes of the Old Testament was entirely understandable – I suppose - from the standpoint of the author.

Hagiography of Heroism: Part 2

And just as Abraham, Isaac, Moses and the rest of the heroes of ancient Israel were led by the divinity himself (the Biblical god is very clearly male and part of the action), so are the Hobbits guided and assisted by Gandalf, the bearded patriarchal wizard who is immortal, from over the sea” and not from Middle Earth. His magical powers, affinity with the “lesser” deities of Rivendell and Lothlorien and finally the ownership of a “ring of power” confirm this godlike status. Gandalf job is also biblically godlike – to cryptically lead the heroes into difficulties, into increasingly dangerous tests and then midway – when things appear most grim, to disappear. His appearance at the moment of even graver crisis is intended to replicate the “saved by providence” or the “last minute rescue” of older, greater stories. Of course, the reader (or viewer) responds to his heroic re-entry with responses trained over centuries. Unfortunately, a closer or repeat reading/viewing leaves us wondering whether the Hobbits, or indeed, the “big people” wouldn’t have muddled along just as well without Gandalf’s aid. Perhaps that is a similar question that readers are left asking when reading the Bible – where divine intervention is often arbitrary, capricious, if not entirely disadvantageous (as in case of long suffering miserable Job). Yet, Tolkein’s epic doesn’t just exhort the weak to greatness – a theme that is most likely linked to the author’s own position as an English subject during the two world wars, it explores two other strands of desirable heroics. In both cases, Tolkein draws upon and refers to the non-Biblical cultures and traditions that shape European/neo-European thought.

Tolkein’s novel is replete with verses, perhaps to confirm its own attempt at epic storytelling or simply to recreate and reflect older traditions. In addition to its well known verse about the ring, there is another, once again referring to and echoing the New Testament and other Mediterannean, Greco-Roman, myths this time:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost
The old that is strong does not wither
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be the blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
(Tolkein, 1954, in seven volumes 2001, 224)

The verse applies to the “other” hero of the novel, Aragorn, or the “man who would be king,” once balance is restored to Middle Earth. The lines could as easily be applied to Odysseus, that old hero from Homer’s poem who wandered for twenty years but still wasn’t lost. Just as Homer’s hero shall be revealed as the only great survivor of the war at the opportune moment, so is Aragorn destined to labour in the shadows. And just as Christ is the true “King of the Jews,” unrecognised by most of his subjects except a small core of believers, Aragorn too must submit to derision and humiliation until he can finally be anointed king – after all Christus does mean the “anointed one.” Like Christ, he is destined to wander in the wilds, and only towards the culmination of the action does he begin to gain momentum, acquiring believers, supporters and followers in his battle against the “darkness.”

Drawing on a second strand- one that combines Romano-Semitic heroic principles that forms millennial European/Western cultural identity, Tolkein constructs his second “hero-in-disguise” as the archetypal leader, sharing special and close affinity with the divinity, much like Odysseus is aided by Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who aids Odysseus unstintingly. And Christ-like, Aragorn too has a familial, if not directly blood-linked relationship, with the “divine” creatures in the novel – he marries Arwen, the last of her line who in an echo of Christ chooses mortality to become human. Aragorn’s own bloodline is linked to the Elves, suggesting that he too had the option of “crossing the sea” with the elves, yet it is his “destiny” to remain mortal and eventually die in order to restore order to Middle Earth.

Not surprisingly, the relationship that Aragorn shares with godlike Gandalf is also quite different from that of the Hobbits. Aragorn seems to play the role of protégé and enforcer, a position that allows him to at some hypothetical point in time claim a position of equality with Gandalf. Not only does Gandalf seek Aragorn’s advice, but also accepts the future king’s ability to challenge and defy his own authority. So unlike the Hobbits, who are only protected by some magical quality that preserves their childlike innocence, Aragorn’s strength is innate and sufficient. So Aragorn may wrestle with the Dark Lord, and Gandalf can merely frown. Not surprisingly, it is Gandalf who finally crowns Aragorn as the “true” king, at the latter’s own request, in a scene that is strikingly reminiscent of accounts of Charlemagne’s ascension to the throne. Thus, in a curiously monarchist conservative sleight of hand, king and god are conflated in the novel.

The paper thus approaches the third heroic archetype: tragically embodied by Theoden, the aging king of Rohan. He is also imitated, although with a contrived, and tacked on “happy” ending, by his niece, Eowyn. It is an archetype that draws equally on the pre-Christian European traditions, from the Saxons, the Vikings or the Greco-Roman as well as from the more subtly referred to Biblical ones: that of the heroic suicide. The idea for most traditions is one that we know well – and is encapsulated in the Greek root for the word “tragedy” – τραγωs or “goat,” referring to the ritual where a goat or another creature could be sacrificed to restore health to the entire community.

Not surprisingly, the tragic hero has to sacrifice himself for the greater good of the community. Heroism of this sort has unrelentingly a single end – a glorious death fighting the enemy for the safety of the community. From Achilles to Samson, the heroic suicides intend to cause as much damage to the enemy while destroying themselves. The aging disgraced king of Rohan rides again in the novel to do precisely the same. Like Samson, whose atones for his moment of weakness, by perishing while pulling down the hall of the Philistines, --- atones for his weakness in resisting Saruman by riding to his “glorious” death. Outnumbered, weakened, facing an enemy many times larger than his own, Theoden’s glorious charge is celebrated with near-Homeric war-ecstasy by Tolkein.

Tolkein’s self-confessed enterprise was to “create a mythology” for England, a country that the writer knew first through the embedded nostalgia of the colonials in South Africa. Not surprisingly, the kingdom is not only threatened in the novel, but the order restored is of the most archaic and conservative kind – sexually, politically and socially. The heroes are not only all male – they are also racially white and practically Anglican in their moral outlook. Interestingly enough, what appear in the novel as hints about the rebellious colonies selfishly refusing “civilized rule” was inflated to Sauron’s army dressed in “oriental” turbans, dark eyeliner and veiled faces by director Peter Jackson in the film trilogy.

Hagiography of Heroism: Part 3

However, returning to the idea of the desireable heroic ideals – we are left with three primary types: the weak but “chosen” hero who shall succeed in biblical fashion over the greatest odds; the exiled king whose return shall restore the kingdom, and by extension, humanity to harmony, and to some Edenic realm; and finally, the heroic suicide whose apparent willingness to scapegoat status facilitates the survival of a grateful community. All three forms of heroism are of course supported by a host of minor braves, much like the martial champions are backed by apparently ubiquitous but mostly irrelevant army in innumerable old and new works. What makes these three forms of heroism interesting is that they build on previously known, recognized and admired ideals. As construction of heroic ideals, they reinforce certain ideal behaviours and performances. If we consider the inevitably mimetic nature of human action, then the mimetic structure of consciousness acts as a blind mechanism that constrains people to behaviour constructed by prior models (Girard, 1977).

Furthermore the context of heroic action in Tolkein’s novel also reconstructs, re-presents and re-enforces previous models. Tolkein’s heroes are beyond the confines of state-ist hegemonist boundaries of behaviour and desire. Instead, the novel privileges individual desire, motivation and judgement, culminating in delinquent action articulated in violence against the corrupt, decadent and evil “state.” So the Hobbits must journey to the heart of darkness to achieve their final act of destruction, against the very foundations of the “state.” In an oddly Biblical symmetry, Frodo’s act of destroying the ring at the very foundation of Sauron’s empire echoes other acts of bringing down the “very foundations” of an apparently “unjust” state – by Joshua, by Samson, and in constant flow of violence by the biblical tribes of Israel against primarily peaceful – but non-Jewish – communities in Jerusalem.

Similarly, Aragorn – the king in exile – takes on the empire with a ragtag army of the marginalized. Even when cloaked in terminology of righteousness, his actions are hardly more than a quest for power, for the overthrow of a current state structure and its replacement by his own. His quest for power leads him to providing constant provocation, intrusion, attack and ambush of state forces. In each instance of apparent “ambush” of the heroic party, we need only shift our focus to realise that it is Aragorn and his companions who insert them into primarily stable territories and force a destabilization through their acts of violent delinquency.

Even in the third instance, the final ride of Rohan requires Theoden to break a longstanding treaty of peace with his neighbour Saruman. His decision to go to war is once again constructed in terms that privilege his recovery of personal power against the apparently debilitating controls of an encroaching domineering state.

The justification for violence by the “forces of light” – Hobbits, Elves, Wizards and People - throughout the book – that war approaches – sounds eerily like older threats of the same. If there was ever a case built for “pre-emptive strike”, Tolkein makes it, privileging the view from the criminal margins against the hegemonistic discourse of the trans-national state systems arguing for the maintenance of peace. As such the novel places the clash of good vs. evil in mythic terms where the legitimacy of the “state” is questioned and posited as evil, controlling and repressive. In contrast, individual desire, performatively demonstrated by violent acts of delinquency is constructed as an appropriate, even desirable, goal for mimetic behaviour.

Such an idealization of delinquent violent destabilization of course raises the question: why do cultures idealize such desires and behaviours as heroic through representations in traditional lore, religion and mythology as well as mass media? Moreover, this question in turn requires us to question the role of delinquency in society. The work of Emile Durkheim, writing in early twentieth century, probes precisely this link, and provides an important starting point to begin to contextualize the heroic delinquency discussed earlier. Durkheim argues that since all societies have crime, then crime, deviance and rule breaking are socially universal, so deviance may indeed be “normal,” and in fact serve some social purpose or function. Durkheim of course argues that deviance can be punished (in case of marginalized crime) and thus re-affirm social hegemony by reminding the members of the rules of acceptable behaviour. Punishing deviance can also bring members together binding the community together against internal and external “enemies” of the order. On the other hand, when deviance challenges the existing rules and is widespread, it can serve as a useful tool for societal change (Durkheim, 1938).

Durkheim’s propositions open an interesting window into how heroic delinquency is constructed, received and interpreted by a community. The idealisation of such delinquency allows a society to draw its national/ethnic boundary, desire specific communal goals for itself - often through the triangulation of mimetic desire through imagining an “Other” as a rival. Such idealization powers not only internal social change but also imperial exercises abroad.

Thus far the paper has established some heroic archetypes and attempted to contextualize the delinquent violence that emerges as a logical course of action for achieving such heroic status. Moreover, a theoretical context for the performance of the underlying desires has also been proposed. However, an extra step is now required – from the world of storytelling to the real one.

This leap is often pre-empted by many apparently “scientific” disciplines where many assume that what happens in fact and in fiction are mutually exclusive and contradictory. While the relationship between fact and fiction may not necessarily be an obvious one, there is a fundamental purpose for the human practice of storytelling. “Firstly, it provides a uniquely revealing mirror to the inner dynamics of human nature. But secondly, by laying bare the unconscious foundations which underlie so much of the way we view the world, this can in turn cast an extraordinarily revealing light on history, politics, religion, philosophy and almost every aspect of human thought and behaviour.” (Booker, 2004, 571). Indeed, all of the fields listed above are in themselves exercises in storytelling, which is why the paper now takes the three primary heroic archetypes from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, and finds their peers in contemporary reality, thus linking what appears to be a highly successful pseudo-epic to specific desires and performative actions based on those desires.

Yet, these real world heroics are merely mimetic performances of the great stories. In their trajectories, they are merely the unfolding of action powered by determined striving to achieve the heroic ideal. In many cases, the stories are incomplete, due to the continuity provided by time and reality, and can only be fully narrated within the construct of the archetype upon their conclusion. To assume a clean fit with the archetype when the stories are unfinished would be impossible. However, some shared elements at the initial stages of these real-life sagas do point to the archetypes, and the desire to mimic the same. A word of warning: stories turn on points of view – making one man’s hero into another’s villain. The same applies to these examples discussed below. Neither a moral nor political value judgement is intended as the paper attempts to delineate the role of the archetypes in real life delinquent heroics.

Hagiography of Heroism: Part 4

The first archetype before us is that of the Hobbits: bearing a burden greater than their capacities, somehow the archetypes of the meek who shall inherit the earth, or in their particular case, Middle Earth. However, it is the specific heroics of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins that most reflect the inherent qualities and paradoxes of the archetype. Bilbo finds the ring under the earth and “wins” it primarily by deceit. He then guards it and preserves it till it can be “passed” on to his successor Frodo. Even though Tolkein wishes us to consider Frodo in a heroic light, we are still left with the clear knowledge that were it not for Gollum – the classic scapegoat of the epic – Frodo would not destroy the precious artefact that can in turn collapse the foundations of the empire. Yet the Baggins are not the humble poor of the Bible but the comfortable bourgeoisie of twentieth century Europe. The ring can bring them greater wealth and status, but its loss will not damage their socio-economic standing.

A parallel is not hard to find for the Baggins in the real world. But instead of looking at the likes of Bruce Rappaport, the infamous financier of the past few decades who would provide us with the easiest example, or even the middle-class, well-educated 9/11 hijackers, the paper considers other characters who exemplify Baggins-like qualities.

Tolkein describes the Hobbits as an “unobstrusive but very ancient people, more numerous formerly than they are today; for they love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well ordered and well farmed countryside was their favourite haunt.” (Tolkein, 1954, from seven volume edition 2001, 1). However, the story that follows contradicts all the above claims. Instead, Hobbits are also adept at machinery and warfare, and are neither peace-loving nor particularly retiring from the affairs unfolding around them.

A more Hobbit like figure then is hard to encounter than Maurice Sarfati, an Israeli gun runner, drug money launderer, financial pirate, and “melon-farmer.” While Sarfati’s exploits are dealt with in greater detail elsewhere (Block and Weaver, 2004), the paper merely looks at his actions countering the apparent multinational consortium against drug and weapons trade. Sarfati retains his citizenship from Israel, a precarious state described by its founders in terms that re-affirm their link to the land, as well as its peacable nature, much like that of the Hobbits. And like Hobbits, its some of the country’s scions – who have achieved international fame in the field of financial piracy, drug and weapon trades - bely the nation’s avowed law-abiding nature.

Amongst these, Sarfati has been one of the prime movers for covertly supplying surplus Israeli Defence Force stocks – including assault rifles and ammunition – to Gonzalo Rodrigues Gacha, leader of one of the Medellin cartels in the early 1990s. Sarfati self-avowedly owned a “melon” farm in Antigua which was his cover for financial operations, including embezzlement of US bank loans and immense bribes for Antiguan authorities to carry out a range of financial frauds. Sarfati’s deal with Gacha not only included the sale of Israeli weaponry but also the provision of military and weapons training to Colombian cartel members. One of the trainees from these courses was arrested in 1989 for assassinating judges and court personnel. Other trainees of the Israeli courses went on to memberships of death-squads. One of whom was most notoriously responsible for the massacre of banana-plantation workers in the Uraba province.

Sarfati is a fascinating personality, having embezzled millions in US aid funding and other private investment funds. Like the Baggins, he holds his connections to land and agriculture closely. His rather unsuccessful melon farm – at least on the financial books – is closely matched by the flower business owned by his cohort Arik Afek and the racehorse stable owned by Passant Ben-Or. The drug and weapons running operations have reached the heart of the “stable” empire of the US as Israeli-trained gunmen battle the DEA, and sophisticated weapons are delivered to the very heart of “evil.” However, Sarfati is aided by no scapegoat Gollum to ensure the destruction of the weapons that can rock the foundations of the transnational state structures. Instead, when he – Frodo like – determined to keep the ring for himself, there has been little to prevent his delinquency. Driven Frodo-like to strive for riches and power beyond imagining and caught by yearning to retain any and all possible means of achieving the same, Sarfati is constrained by neither fortuitous chance, nor by other players. Instead, he follows Frodo’s choice of holding the ring to its natural conclusion – a never-ending quest for the ever greater amassment of material success which leaves death and destruction in its wake.

Sarfati’s fit of the archetype is uneasy, in part because of the disjunct between the national self-image and Frodo’s choice. National self-image for Sarfati’s home country places him in the “weak” category, his own choice of profession and activity place him as one held in thrall of an evil power – much like the ring-bearer. The end result is paradoxical where desire for power leads him in one direction while other, external, considerations insist on the need to “appear” righteously weak.

The second category of heroic delinquent is perhaps one of the most ubiquitous in contemporary reality – that of the hero-in-disguise or the king-in-exile. Contemporary media ranging from Batman and other superhero sagas all rely on our instinctive sympathy and interest for a hero who must live in the shadows, performing their heroic identity in face of ridicule, anonymity and opposition. Once again, the king-in-exile is fundamentally a violent delinquent apparently fighting for the restoration of a “just” realm, or just a change in the existing state apparatus which is perceived as unjust. The contemporary media doesn’t just present the hero in disguise in numerous comic-linked products but also places him/her as the just avenger or representative in most films of the action/war genres. Sylvester Stallone’s first outing as Rambo in First Blood relies on the same mechanism. The hero knows better than the oppressive brutal state! And at the right time, his truth and glory shall be revealed, while the state is undermined and humiliated in turn. Arnold Schwarznegger’s career has been built on a series of films starring him as the lone saviour fighting all odds to bring out peace and justice. Not surprisingly, given its popularity in media, this is one archetype that forms a popular motivation in real life heroic delinquency.

The Iranian president Ahmadinijad’s repeated reference to the Mahdi is linked to this archetype – of the return of a hidden king that shall restore power and glory to an apparently oppressed people. In the past decade of US imperial adventures, the archetype seems to have gain strength, finding expression amongst militants around the world. However one of the most interesting case in point has been that of the recent election of the Hamas in Palestine. The organisation has consistently moved from the fringes of Palestinian society and politics to the centre-stage in the past few years. Some comparisons with Tolkein’s elaboration of the king-in-exile would provide some pointers. One characteristic, as Tolkein explains, of the true king is his ability to heal. Not surprisingly, Aragorn’s healing skills are demonstrated early in the novel after the fight with Sauron’s emissaries on Weathertop. Not only are “black riders”, former kings themselves vanquished by the “true” king Aragorn, he also shows his knowledge and talent for life-saving. As Frodo is wounded by a “cursed” blade, it is Aragorn’s lot to find the special herb that can heal. Of course, keeping with the mythic proportions of the novel, the herb attains its magical healing powers only in the hand of a king.

Hagiography of Heroism: Part 5

Not inexplicably then, for all the years, that West (cast here in the role of Sauron) has eyed the Hamas as terrible opponents, the Palestinians have been receiving proof of the group’s ability to heal. The Hamas runs hospitals, schools and civic services form the bulk of the organization’s activities, even though Western media reports primarily on their “martyrdom” operations. Working from the position of the hero-in-disguise, the Hamas have been working at convincing and recruiting followers over the years of their existence. Relying on earlier archetypes means that they recruit not only soldiers and activists, but also cheerleaders and silent supporters, a strategy that served them well in the recent elections. The organisation has also constructed its military image, based once again on the warrior-hero characteristics displayed by Aragorn (and indeed other heroes of the same mold): stoicism, courage and determination in face of all odds have marked the Hamas’s move from the shadows to its current position as the “justly anointed king.”

Of course, the moment of revelation of the true self of the hero-in-disguise is critical in a story, generally placed at the moment of climax, when victory is nearly won and only credit need be gained. Unlike stories which can be constructed artificially to fit archetypes, human histories can merely attempt to achieve the same goals. While the desire to performatively claim the identity of the hidden-king is a powerful motivator, human actions do not necessarily have as well delineated or predictable consequences. This means that unlike Aragorn who announced himself as king at the final stages of the decisive battle, Hamas is faced with governing a realm in disarray and with little resources to restore peace or harmony. With Hamas moving from the shadows to the centre-stage of Palestinian politics, a question needs to be asked: has the king revealed himself too soon?

The third and final archetype is yet another familiar one: that of the heroic suicide. Despite much of the current discursive attempts emanating from Western academic that posits the heroic suicide as a non-Western phenomenon, there is ample evidence to the contrary. Not only do the military stories from the two world wars of the twentieth century show Western adherence to heroic suicide (the battle of Gallipolli being a prime example), but mass media also glorifies the ideal as a desirable one. Hollywood alone has produced heroic suicides (ending in death or success) in blockbusters as varied as the Fourth of July, Mission Impossible II and of course the film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.

Heroic suicide is a complex category, relying as it does on self-destruction as a performative assertion of an empowered self. The paradox also makes this archetype most powerfully resonant with populations who benefit from such a hero. The heroic suicide allows the perpetrator to deal a psychologically (and possibly militarily) crippling blow to the enemy – at times an oppressive state, or at times to a rival Other population or state. The key to this archetype is not the necessary destruction of the hero, but the desire for self-destruction that motivates him/her. In most narratives of the heroic suicides, the archetype is explores by twin strands – one that ends in death and destruction, and another – generally as the representative of a younger renewing generation – that ends in military success and life. Tolkein explores this archetype in the twin warrior-figures of Rohan – Theoden king who leads the ride of the Rohan to the killing-fields of Gondor against a far greater army and dies in battle, and his niece Eowyn who rides to battle seeking death but lives, having faced the leader of the Ringwraiths. The twin strands allow the narrative to retain an element of hope, although it is inevitably the narrative of suicide – cloaked as self-sacrifice – that resonates more strongly.

This self-sacrifice may be linked to the Girardian scapegoat mechanism, this time chosen freely based on prior constructions of its desireability. Unlike Girard’s scapegoat, the heroic scapegoat is not the repository of collective guilt but of the collective innocence. The heroic suicide is “sacrificed” by violence towards and from the “other”, often constructed as the outsider as a means of confronting a moment of social crisis. In death, the heroic suicide is exalted as an ideal to be strived for and desired by the population. This may be one major factor in why the heroic suicide is most ubiquitous as a desirable ideal in societies in crisis.

Theoden thus becomes the symbol of collective innocence of Rohan, despite his own moment of weakness as well as his decision to break the peace treaty with Saruman. His decision to lead the battle at Helm’s Deep is crucial in the war with Sauron, as it marks the change in alliances amongst the players. His final death in battle, against an enemy too strong to fight is a fitting tribute to his abilities as a king and warrior. Moreover, his death provides the injection of blood-lust for Rohan’s younger warriors who return to battle “grim and fey.”

The paper’s third example explores how this archetype of heroic suicide resonates powerfully among societies in crisis and at war as a desirable performative identity. The paper turns here to Loula Abboud, a Lebanese young woman who took up arms against Israel and finally died by exploding her own body in a battle against Israeli soldiers in her hometown of Aoun. The paper chooses Loula’s case in contrast to better known cases of “suicide bombers” for a variety of reasons. First, Loula was Christian not Muslim. She died in battle rather than in a “martyrdom” operation, and she died in her hometown battling an occupying force. Like Theoden king, Loula’s arrival in battle was the result of a long internal conflict and the end of a period of indecision that began with the exile of her family to Beirut. Moreover, the known facts of her death are those of linked to battle – she returned to occupied Aoun in 1985 at the head of an armed resistance party. She provided covering fire to her retreating comrades and then patiently waited for the enemy soldiers to approach her before setting off the explosives. Interestingly enough, Western commentators have expressed an inability to understand Loula’s actions or indeed her elevation to heroic status by the Lebanese, qualifying her as misinformed, and even more specifically “either insane or desperate.” (Davis, 2003, 71).

Yet Loula’s actions place her squarely as the archetypal heroic suicide. Like Theoden, she chose to go to battle of her own volition. Like Theoden, the enemy faced was superior in number and firepower. Finally, she chose her death, like Theoden, knowing it would inspire others of the community. This final factor is crucial to understanding the desirability of heroic suicide, as the act immediately elevates the actor to exalted status. Like Theoden who becomes the inspiration for the younger warriors of Rohan, who can look back at his “glorious death” with pride, Loula’s decision to die in battle also ensures her status as a martyr for the nation. The act of heroic suicide, in both cases, instantly binds the community in opposition to the enemy while also providing a collective repository of pride and glory – a commodity that is scarce in societies in crisis.

The Hagiography of Heroism: Conclusion

The paper has thus far linked heroic archetypes explored in Tolkein’s novel – constructed itself as a pseudo-epic and drawing on mythical archetypes – and their reflections in contemporary reality. The paper does not intend to suggest that any of the three examples were conscious acts of mimesis or for that matter required any knowledge of the novel. Instead, just as Tolkein’s novel drew upon, re-created, re-presented and transformed earlier archetypes, so do the three mentioned examples desire to perform the archetypes in real life. They are neither alone, nor far from common, in reality, as human will always refer to archetypes as reference models of idealised behaviours and identities.

There reason to explore these narrative archetypes is one that bears further study from within the disciplines of political science and IR. Much of the recent discussion from disciplines studying non-state actors have focussed on narrow boundaries of religious or political ideology, or to personal greed (falling in line with false greed-grievance dichotomies). Thus, the motivations and activities of these delinquent actors are linked to psychological distress and trauma and consequently causes are sought in areas as far ranging as political emasculation of the Third World male, culturally ingrained oppressive social practices, gender prejudice, and finally, the new catch-allcategory of religious (especially Islamic) fundamentalism

Instead, as the paper has suggested, while economic, political and military gains may form the overtly expressed motivations for these non-state actors, many are also driven by the underlying desires to perform identities constructed from archetypes of long historical and cultural standing. Another motivation for at least a section of the active participants in international arenas linked to or dubbed as crime or terrorism: that of individuals seeking personal gratification of living up to, and indeed being transformed into heroic and desirable figures.

Prior to concluding, one last point must be made. The archetypes embodied by The Lord of the Rings are by no means limited to cultural production of Hollywood and its other mass media subsidiaries in the “First World.” In passing and very briefly, reference must be made to cultural icons such as Che Guevara, whose marginality, willingness to battle and final “heroic” death allows a similar desirable archetype to be created and emulated in much of Latin America. The positioning of narrative allows contemporary political figures and stories to be interpreted in archetypal forms, often in mutual contradiction by rival societies: so while Fidel Castro may well be Saruman locked in his unassailable tower for US, he is conceived more as an aging just king like a Theoden in his weakened besieged state.

Similarly, other cultural industries, ranging from Indian commercial cinema to Nigerian Hausa videos interpret and position the archetypes quite differently and in contradiction to the hegemonistic discourse emanating from Hollywood, thus reaching audiences that can encounter similarities and therefore re-position, re-present and re-affirm themselves through and in the narratives. In this context, a final mention must be made of the recent Turkish film, The Valley of Wolves, which narrates the current US war in Iraq from an anti-US perspective. With directorial and spectatorial sympathies firmly entrenched on the Arab/Iraqi side, the film neatly overturns the Hollywood stereotypes to create a narrative similar to innumerable Schwarznegger/Stallone films. However, the film still recreates and reflects the heroic archetypes the paper has discussed, providing an interesting insight into how archetypes can and do travel cross-culturally.

In conclusion, the archetypes subconsciously posit a desirable identity for emulation by the community in a moment of collective crisis. Not surprisingly, the performance of this desirable identity also includes a hagiographic, and self-hagiographic function that insists on its re-membrance and re-counting, thus emphasizing and recreating its desirability for the future generation. That the desirability is guarded, transformed, and transmitted in the shadows of our collective subconscious makes its call all the more seductive, hard to explain and irresistible.

Perhaps then it is not a ring after all, but these archetypes that are referred to in Tolkein’s opening verse, that can “rule them all…and find them…bring them all…and in the darkness bind them.”

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