By Ritchie Savage, PhD
In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the classical sociological theorist, Max Weber, attempts to make a distinction between his ideal types of Protestantism and Catholicism, and the capacity for the former, not only to embody the movement toward rationalization in history, but also the attention toward capital accumulation. Whereas, for Weber, Protestantism merges with the “continually renewed reinvestment of profit,” Catholicism embodies the continually renewed reinvestment of sin – that is: sin, go to confession, repent, and obtain absolution, ad infinitum.
We find a similar situation in The Trial of Gilles de Rais, by George Bataille. The Gilles de Rais, a knight who fought heroically alongside the Joan of Arc, was guilty of many sins. Foremost among these was sexually assaulting, murdering, and collecting the skulls of small children, whom were lured in and provided to him by the parish priests as a kind of reimbursement for his generous charitable donations in support of the church. He also dabbled in alchemy and Satanism, as he tried to replenish the fortunes that he had squandered – mostly in parades and celebrations dedicated to himself. However, these acts were not enough to get him in any real trouble. Yes, hundreds of peasant children were missing, but in Medieval society, they had a symbolic status more or less equivalent with cattle. His big crime was that he pulled his sword on a noble who outranked him, and then he was suddenly brought to trial for the aforementioned deeds. From Bataille’s perspective, what was most notable about the trial was the heartfelt, sincerely remorseful, and devout confession that the Baron delivered – so conflicted and truly torn was he between his transgressions and his love and fear of God, that despite the verdict and sentence, the audience was, in a sense, won over and indeed very convinced that we was truly sorry and capable of being forgiven (after death).
Finally we approach Slavoj Žižek’s psychoanalytic interpretation of the main message behind The Sound of Music in his Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, which he reads as kind of propaganda statement of the Catholic Church: go, be free, live your life, and indulge in pleasure, “you are always covered by Big Other” (i.e. God).
What are we to make of all these social theorists, texts, and films reminding us of the Church’s libidinal investment in sin? In The Sublime Object of Ideology, Žižek repeats the fundamental question behind the process of psychoanalytic identification first articulated in Jacques Lacan’s Italian phrase – Che vuoi? What do you want? This is reframed for Lacan and Žižek as a deeper question we are always asking ourselves: What does the Other want from me? Is the unconscious wrong to suggest that there is even anything like a Big Other (God)? No one knows. All we know for sure is that, as Freud states in Group Psychology and Analysis of the Ego, the Church will hold in tact as long as the premise that “Christ loves all the members of group equally” does, or panic will set in to dissolve it.
The Daredevil mythos, in both the comic and the Netflix series, seems to completely conform to this psychoanalytic and libidinal logic. He is always in the confessional. He beats up some petty criminals; he goes to confession. He whips the dog snot out of the Hand; he goes to confession. Why does Daredevil, like all of us, feel so guilty?
Perhaps it has something to do with the perpetual crisis of global capitalism and the unavailability of viable political solutions for problems that cannot even be properly articulated within the symbolic order of language itself, but I don’t know. To shift to a more timely articulation of the same sort of dilemma: should we feel guilty for punching Nazis? Maybe not, however I do think Marvel should feel guilty for partnering with Northrop Grumman. It’s time for Confession.
Ritchie Savage received his PhD in Sociology from The New School for Social Research in May 2014. His is an Adjunct Assistant Professor for the Department of Social Sciences and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute as well as John Jay College and Baruch College, City University of New York.
Bataille, Georges. (1990). The Trial of the Gilles de Rais. Los Angeles: Amok Books
Freud, Sigmund. (1990). Group Psychology and Analysis of the Ego. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Lacan, Jacques. (2007). Écrits. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Weber, Max. (2001). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Routledge.
Žižek, Slavoj. (1989). The Sublime Object of Ideology. New York: Verso.
Žižek, Slavoj. (2012). The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. New York: Zeitgeist Films.