Nolan’s masterpiece is a reflection on sex, release, procreation, legacy, and how we try to control what we birth for the sake of our ideology and self-image.
Oppenheimer is a record about Robert Oppenheimer, which means the concerns of the movie about Oppenheimer’s record are a meta-concern about the movie itself. What legacy does the movie leave? What does the movie suggest that Dr. Oppenheimer left us? To have children is to start a “chain reaction” of events that spread into the future; likewise, to invent the atomic bomb has forever changed the world. Is a life lived which must control its birth? Must we want to claim “the chain reaction” which our lives set in motion? But how can we know what will happen next?
Oppenheimer is accused of being egotistical and wanting to be seen as the man who invented the atom bomb, while Lewis Strauss wants to cap-off his career becoming Secretary of Commerce — the two are alike. But to achieve this goal Strauss throws Oppenheimer under a bus and Oppenheimer invents a weapon that cannot be un-invented, forcing the world to forever live with a threat of apocalyptic annihilation. In this, we see what people are capable of who desire power and fame, people who simply want to see a dream come to life or if “the theory can become practical.” Indeed, atomic theory could become practical, and now it cannot be un-practiced.
Oppenheimer’s wife, Katherine Oppenheimer, isn’t depicted in the movie as wanting to be a mother and frankly resenting it: at one point, it looks like a baby is red and chocking at the dinner table while Katherine gets up and pays the child little attention. Katherine might horrify us, but she is no different from Oppenheimer wanting to distance himself from what he has created. He wanted “the sex” of his experimentation without the final product — or at least that’s what it seems. In his “trial” (which isn’t even technically a trial, just like the movie itself — a trial and yet not a trial), it is unveiled that Oppenheimer had no moral qualms about dropping the bomb in the early forties, but later on he did. What happened? Did he have no trouble with fathering children, and then suddenly he did? Oppenheimer is accused of wanting to be a martyr, and that by positioning himself to be seen as a martyr, he can be forgiven for inventing the atom bomb. To put it another way, if Oppenheimer is a martyr, then he can be responsible for Trinity but not Hiroshima or Nagasaki, which is what Strauss said was his hope for Oppenheimer, and yet Oppenheimer didn’t seem so appreciative. Why? Because history will only praise Prometheus if he suffers…
If Oppenheimer ended up an “American Prometheus” who had his “organs eaten out by buzzards” — if his heart was shredded by martyrdom — we might see him as a hero. Indeed, if Prometheus gave us fire we ended up destroying ourselves with, but Prometheus didn’t end up punished forever, we might resent Prometheus. And Oppenheimer seems to understand that: hence he needs to position himself to be a victim. And in this he might find enjoyment, as he might find enjoyment in inventing the atom bomb but not being held responsible for the results. He can get his cake and eat it too, a point which brings us back to sexuality in the film, which for me is the most powerful thematic element. If I were to posit a “thematic command” of the movie, inspired by Andrew Luber and Alex Shandelman, I would say: “Don’t let your desire for release start something you won’t own.”
Oppenheimer is thematically orientated toward sexuality throughout. The most obvious example is the sex scene in which Oppenheimer reads his famous line from the Bhagavad Gita about being the destroyer of worlds, which occurs after he seems to be denied a sexual climax. The sex resumes as he reads this line, a line which is repeated in the atomic detonation at Trinity. The tower which the bomb is detonated in strikes me as a phallic symbol, and the atomic explosion is a sexual climax. The sound also speaks to this: there is no music in the detonation, only breathing, which again suggests sexuality and connects back with the earlier sex scene between Oppenheimer and Jean Tatlock. In this, we see Nolan connecting sex and death, which is a connection that is brought out in the French understanding of the orgasm as “a little death” (la petite mort). With the atomic bomb, we see not “a little death,” but “la grande mort” — “the great death.”
Lacan is a thinker who brings death and sex together, as well as a great thinker of desire and drive, and I think Oppenheimer can be read with Lacan in constructive ways. First, the scientists almost seem like they can’t help but try to invent what their theories suggest is possible, in the same way that human sexuality often seems like it can’t help but try to realize and express itself. The male just wants a female: though not in every case, it just seems stitched into the fabric of what constitutes a male. Similarly, the scientist who generates a theory of what is possible can just want to see if that theory is true: the theorist simply cannot help his or her self.
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Now, of course, Oppenheimer is arguably only trying to build the bomb because the Nazis are and have a head-start, and this is historically true (suggests a problematic “Game Theory Dynamic” leading us to a suboptimal result), but what is interesting is that in the movie we never see the Nazis or Japanese: they are there and yet not there. For me, this brings to mind “The Big Other” which Lacan describes, and critically for Lacan “there is no Big Other.” “The Big Other” is who we imagine organizing our actions and behavior, but really we are simply following our desires in light of an imagined Big Other who is not really there. We imagine the Big Other is keeping us from what we want, which in this case would be not making the atom bomb, but really perhaps Oppenheimer does want to build the bomb and be made famous for making it, which means Oppenheimer needs a Big Other to blame for “forcing him” to build the bomb (the “Game Theory Dynamics” are a gift). But Oppenheimer can only live with that want and desire if he can disown it as a response to a Big Other, which, yes, in the case of the historic episode, is true, but the movie is different: there is no Big Other, only talk.
As a side note, the movie is full of talking, and yet the “trial” Oppenheimer is on is not a trial (which is said over and over again): does that mean it is more like a psychoanalytical session? In Lacan, what is said without thinking much about it tends to be how truth is unveiled, but most of the movie Oppenheimer is smart enough and quick enough to be able to think about what he is going to say before he says it — it is not until the end of the movie that he finally seems caught trying to explain the development of his “moral qualms” (which is when lighting goes off similar to the lighting of an atomic bomb explosion, lighting which also feels like the lighting of an interrogation). This “break in the narrative” of Oppenheimer’s life story (which he tries to read from a script the whole time) is portrayed as a climax, and the atom bomb as a climax seems to “rip through reality” in a way. The universe unveils what is possible in it (such a bomb); likewise, a “rip” in Oppenheimer’s narrative unveils that it is possible for a human to martyr themselves to avoid responsibility. And if this is possible, what else is possible in this life? Perhaps only psychoanalysis is in a position to find out.
Anyway, when the Manhattan Project finds out that Hitler is dead, there are many scientists who feel the project should be stopped (and please note the scientist who seems to be heading this effort is a woman). But there is a terrible feeling in this that all the work and effort will be for nothing, and we as viewers of the movie likely want to see the bomb go off ourselves (which suggests we might be “on trial” ourselves). Oppenheimer then claims that the Japanese fights on and makes a case that the bomb will bring about world peace, which might actually be true (Yuval Noah Harari basically makes this case in Homo Deus), but at the time it seems like rationalization (for the fulfillment of desire). Still, the argument works, and it works precisely thanks to the Big Other who is never present in the film. There is thus a rationalization to see the project to competition, which is to say thematically to bring the sexual act to climax. And when that climax occurs at Trinity, we are told about the destruction of worlds. The act of sex which is suppose to keep life going has been ultimately inverted, suggesting the need to determine which sexual acts are best. Sex is not a good in itself, as isn’t experimentation — it all depends.
It is interesting that the atomic bomb site is called Trinity, which could be in reference to the Hindu Trinity between Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahmin, or it could be the Christian Trinity. I lean toward the Hindu Trinity, for in this we see a mixture between destruction (Shiva), creation (Brahmin), and sustaining (Vishnu), all three of which seem present in the atom bomb and sexual act. To birth a child is to destroy the world in which we are not a parent, to create a world in which we are a parent, and then we must change ourselves from the old world to the new in order to sustain the world as it is now (and always now must be). Similarly, to invent the atom bomb is to erase the world without atom bombs, to create a world with such bombs, and then the question becomes if we can have such bombs and not destroy ourselves, which is to see if we can sustain ourselves with atom bombs. Hard to say, but it would seem the “sexual desire” of the Manhattan Project leads to finding itself in this “trinity,” precisely as of the moment when the bomb goes off (like the moment of birth). The world is forever different, and it’s suddenly “as if” the world could have never been any other way.
A sexual and libidinal forces leads to Trinity, all rationalized by a Big Other never in the film, and the only way to avoid this changing of the world forever would be for a “holding in” of this sexual energy, never letting it gain “release.” The ability to “hold within” is paramount, and yet only the females of the movie seem capable of this “holding the tension.” Notably at the very end of the film, Katherine Oppenheimer is able to resist the need for “release” from the tension between her and Edward Teller (father of the hydrogen bomb) by refusing to shake his head (she seems more able to “hold it in”). Similarly, the scientist who headed the meeting on canceling the Manhattan Project after learning of Hitler’s death seemed willing to make all the Project’s work come to nothing, which is to say she could “hold within” the unfinished pieces of the project and live with the incompleteness (and do note the Gödel cameo).
The males in the film cannot “hold within” like can the females: the males shake hands (something Katherine is very critical of), and thus the males enjoy “the release” of resolution. The females do not fall into this mistake, perhaps notably because Katherine is profoundly aware of the consequences of having to live with “what we create” (and also because she won’t give to others “the release” (from what they did) that is “for them,” just as Albert Einstein speaks on). Once a child is born, we are always the parents, and Katherine is not quick to “birth” a world in which “all is forgiven” between her and those who abused the Oppenheimers. She is not ready to live with that, but not living with that requires resisting the drive for “release” (like an unfilled sexual urge which never climaxes). She is capable of this, but the males are not, and thus the atom bomb is born (and “a chain reaction” set in motion). Is it good to not forgive? We learn from religion that bitterness can eat us alive from the inside, so we should not be quick to assume that it is good for Katherine to “hold within” her anger. At the same time, the movie has made it clear that it is not always a virtue to “release” either. Arguable, release is both good/bad, as is “holding within,” suggesting a “quantum logic of both-ness” which lurks in the background of the whole film.
Oppenheimer is the father of the atom bomb but also doesn’t want to be responsible for his “child,” and so he positions himself to be a martyr. And we easily accept this framing, but please note how it seems more difficult to see Katherine as a martyr in being a mother. She clearly is being made to suffer by her children, but we easily see her as “a bad mom,” while Oppenheimer seems easier to sympathize with. Why is that? Why does it seem easier to see Oppenheimer as a victim while Katherine is a terrible person? Is not helping invent something which kills millions of people far worse than being a bad mom? In this, Nolan subtly suggests a sexism that mighty unveil something deep about our world (and please also note that it is possible for a woman to get pregnant without a female climax, while it is not possible without a male climax): in this way, women can come to “hold life” without a release, while the male seems entirely orientated and organized toward being a source of “release.” Shouldn’t we in this way almost be more sympathetic toward the female? The female comes to be responsible for a creation which the mother can never escape without even the enjoyment of “release,” while the male at least enjoyed. And yet there is something about mistreating a baby that seems harder to accept than inventing the atom bomb…
Oppenheimer is called a “martyr” throughout the film, but if indeed Oppenheimer wants to be abused so that he can escape responsibility for the atom bomb and thus be remembered better by history, then Oppenheimer is arguably more so a masochist. However, to receive this sexual enjoyment, Oppenheimer must carry out a “transvaluation” (to use a Nietzschean term) of the guilt he feels for inventing the atom bomb, and this is where “martyrdom” is useful. Sexual release that feels immoral or like a betrayal can lead to guilt, and how might Oppenheimer deal with guilt? Well, one way would be to enjoy the feeling of guilt by turning it into evidence that he did the right thing: he becomes someone who must “bear the guilt” of killing thousands precisely so that WWII could come to an end. He bears the guilt so that the rest of us could be free. Thus, the guilt becomes something to enjoy as proof of righteous martyrdom, and in that the guilt becomes masochistic.
Oppenheimer is the man who ended WWII and ended war by making war unimaginable, and for doing this he is rejected and abused (an “American Prometheus”) — or so he lives his life to make sure he will be so abused and thus so possibly framed (through his politics, associations, licentiousness, etc.). Oppenheimer comes to enjoy being abused, both because it means he is succeeding at avoiding responsibility for his “child,” and because it means that history will probably remember him better (he had a movie made about his life, after all). The movie on numerous occasions also suggested that Oppenheimer was capable of “making himself believe anything” just like he was so capable of convincing others, and so if Oppenheimer was able to position himself as a martyr, then he likely could make himself truly believe he was a martyr, and thus his masochism become righteous versus a product of self-deception. His guilt then became a badge of honor.
René Girard wrote extensively on “pseudo-masochism” and “pseudo-sadism” (which is based on Freud’s work but also distinct), which considers the ways that humans can deal with “the problem of desire” (and mimetic rivalry) by making the object of their desire unobtainable. In pseudo-masochism, we are rejected and glad we are rejected, because it means there is a distance between us and the object of our desire (“the transcendent other,” who is “practically defied”), and so our ability to keep desiring “the other’ and “object” is maintained. In a way, the pseudo-masochist is more advanced, for the individuals know that desire can never be fulfilled, and so assures that what is desired always rejects them, thus keeping the desire alive. And the pseudo-masochist enjoys this denial, precisely because it means he or she can maintain desire (and arguably the greatest desire is having desire). But Girard warns that where these “addresses” to the problem of desire are not present (and they mostly aren’t so present), society tends to fall into “scapegoating,” as Girard is most famous for theorizing.
How could Oppenheimer “scapegoat” though when he was the head of the Manhattan Project? Who else could be responsible but him? The Nazis? Yes, but that’s why it’s critical to note how Nazism collapses before the Manhattan Project is done, and why also Japan’s inevitable defeat is of note: we cannot blame the Big Other. Perhaps Oppenheimer wanted to believe the Big Other could be blamed, and for a time this was possible, but what about after that rationalization proved more difficult? There was only one option left for Oppenheimer: becoming “the scapegoat” himself and then enjoying it — ergo, masochism.
But would this strategy work? America dropped an atomic bomb on Japan and arguably started “the arms race” with Russia which characterized the Cold War, and Oppenheimer perhaps came to be a “scapegoat” for what America did (it was his project taken too far), thus giving Oppenheimer what he wanted. But it’s questionable if this worked: President Truman made it clear to Oppenheimer that he dropped the bomb while Oppenheimer just invented it, suggesting that Oppenheimer wasn’t responsible for the atomic detonations. This seems to be a great liberation, and Strauss also notes that he worked to make Oppenheimer responsible for Trinity but not Hiroshima and Nagasaki — and yet Oppenheimer wasn’t appreciative. Why not? Because Oppenheimer wanted to be a scapegoat precisely so that he could address his desire to be free from his guilt and so that he could be seen as abused by America, paradoxically increasingly his chances for being seen positively by history (like a Christ-figure, and please note “paradox” is a critical term for this movie). If he was praised for Trinity, history could come to see him as responsible for the Atomic Age, but if he was abused, then though he’d be denied praise now, history could easily remember him as a martyr (like Prometheus). And so history itself could become the Big Other that Oppenheimer could hope in, and the object of Oppenheimer’s desire could be history’s memory of him, which by definition he would never reach or access (forever a “transcendent other”). And so Oppenheimer’s gains for himself something like “Desire’s Masterpiece” (something like a conspiracy against himself). And in being able to imagine that history would see him as a martyr, Oppenheimer is better able to live with and enjoy himself. To truly only be praised for Trinity and to escape his guilt, Oppenheimer needed to be abused and martyred — then he could enjoy his life and legacy.
Oppenheimer had to have himself martyred and seen as a tortured soul, all of which Oppenheimer could grant for himself in opposing atomic programs and critiquing the American government. His Communist associations also helped him, for he could be seen as a man trying to help “the working class” while also making himself a target of the American government. And so Oppenheimer set the board in his favor, accepting martyrdom as the next best thing from being a Christ-like scapegoat. And so Oppenheimer could deal with his guilt and self-image by making himself a Prometheus who was tortured, which is to say he was able to make himself a martyr and see himself as a martyr (via self-deception). It’s admittedly not a bad strategy, given the magnitude of what he had done: what other hope did he have to be remembered well than to let himself be “tarred and feathered” (as Katherine Oppenheimer notes)?
There is reason to think Oppenheimer engages in the described “mental gymnastics” (which requires psychoanalysis to bring out) precisely because he seems incapable of “holding anything in” (as can the females in the movie). He has sex when he wants it; he has to experiment to see if his theories are right; he has to see Physics and cosmic imagery wherever he looks. His inner and outer worlds are mixed: he is incapable of keeping them separated. He simply has not had to face the consequences for failing to keep them so separated; in fact, he is praised as a genius precisely because he blurs them. And when Oppenheimer does start to face the consequences, he can better avoid them by making himself a martyr. But when Katherine Oppenheimer’s inner and outer worlds blur in having a child, and then she tries to distance herself from the consequences of that blurring, she seems more monstrous. Again, the question returns — why?
Oppenheimer cannot make a “scapegoat” for himself in being the head of the Manhattan Project (there’s no one but him to be responsible, especially once the excuse of the “Big Other” of the Nazis and Japan rings empty. But Oppenheimer is able to deal with himself by making himself a martyr, which makes masochism possible, an enjoyment in suffering and being a martyr. This is the best Oppenheimer can hope for, and such a possibility is fathomable for a male — but is it fathomable for a mother. Katherine seems at a disadvantage.
“The Real” in Lacan is basically what emerges when we don’t get what we desire, and it is only the female characters, in denying “release,” who let “The Real” come forth. The males don’t choose to let “The Real” come out: they have to be maneuvered into it (as is Oppenheimer through his “trial” when confronted about his “moral qualms” developing later in life). But the female seems destined by her very biology to encounter “The Real,” which also suggests why Freud associates the female with hysterical, which sounds sexist, but it’s actually a suggestion that females are more true than males, while males are more rational, but rationality for Freud is primarily a mechanism of self-deception. Thus, men are more rational because they are more self-deceptive, while women are more hysterical because they are more Real and true. Oppenheimer is a master at avoiding “The Real” of what he has done, and it seems like he is more able to maneuver his life precisely to be famous for creating the atom bomb but at the same time not be seen as monstrous. But Katherine and mothers in general don’t seem so free to so maneuverer, which is to say they must be more true and thus Real.
We, as watchers of the movie, can feel disgust at Katherine for how she treats her children, but I would wager most people are more ambivalent toward Oppenheimer. Why? Well, it has a little to do at least with the obvious fact that Oppenheimer’s “child” is an inhuman bomb, while Katherine’s “child” is a baby (please note how easy it is to think of the child as Katherine’s even though it is both Robert’s and her child, suggesting another association that makes it easier for Oppenheimer to escape “The Real). A mother cannot separate herself from her child without being a monster, while Oppenheimer more easily can, especially when he hands it off to the military. Please note also how “handing the bomb off to the military” feels different from how the Oppenheimers “hand off their baby” to a family friend, which again speaks to advantages males have in having their “children” be objects vs people. It seems like a violation of nature itself for a mother to not want her child, and yet Oppenheimer is arguably “violating nature” in the most profound way imaginable in creating the atomic bomb. And yet we as viewers can feel a difference. (Should we be questioned?)
The child is dependent on the mother, while the atom bomb is not dependent on Oppenheimer (and yet it is — its existence depends on him, but not the sustaining of it, though perhaps the possibility of a different “project manager” is another reason why it’s easier for Oppenheimer to escape responsibility). Oppenheimer arguably kills thousands of people (and perhaps one day billions), and yet the single step and division between him and the people he hurts seems to change everything. Oppenheimer doesn’t directly hurt people, but he might do so through a bomb, but this isn’t direct because the bomb doesn’t have to be used, but Katherine is directly in contact with her child who naturally wants the mother. Katherine must directly hurt her children, which can naturally strike us as more monstrous than Oppenheimer indirectly harming millions. This is a strange move of the human mind, and yet this very tendency enables Oppenheimer to more easily distance himself from what he is doing. Because he is separated from what he might do by the inanimate bomb itself, he has “space” in which to make himself a martyr and thus not be seen responsible for the Atomic Age. But Katherine does not have this space: she is directly exposed to her “child” and “offspring” (and that makes all the difference).
Similarly, do we “really get” what we are watching when we watch a movie about the invention of the atom bomb? When the movie ends with a scene regarding the apocalypse, do we really feel or “get” what we are seeing? I don’t think so, and yet I’d wager we’d feel a lot more if a child was directly in front of us crying and asking for help. Why? Isn’t the image of the world ending far worse than a single child crying? Yes and no: it’s just a movie, after all. The end of the world isn’t actually happening, while a child is actually and directly crying. The child is more “vivid,” and so our emotions are orientated toward the child. And this right here might suggest why it is so remarkably difficult to stop the “chain reaction” set in motion by Oppenheimer. We simply don’t feel the gravity of what might happen: we are psychologically and neurologically incapable of it. As a result, it seems impossible for us and the majority of people to motivate themselves to stop the “chain reaction” in place. Granted, we also might not know how to, but we also might not know how to help the child crying in front of us, and yet that wouldn’t stop us from feeling like we “must do something.” And it is that emotional difference (which brings to mind “Probable Cause” by O.G. Rose) which is of interest to me and what the male is more easily able to use to his advantage then the female. Since the consequences of the male can result from inhuman things that’s consequences are also abstract, it is easier for the male to not take as seriously the consequences of his “products” and “children”; the woman, however, creates humans who cry and suffer “concretely,” and so it is more difficult to deny what the woman is doing when she abandons or avoids her child. Men in the movie cannot help but “release” and then can avoid the consequences of that release, while women are not so able to maneuver (which might also suggest how it seems easier for men to walk away from a family versus the other way around).
Oppenheimer invents a “thing” which might cause suffering, and so he can separate himself from it and create space for his martyrdom, while Katherine births a “person” which will suffer, and so she cannot separate herself from it and create space for her martyrdom. Katherine’s martyrdom must be in motherhood and raising the child, but that isn’t so quickly interpreted as martyrdom: she’s just being a mother. She’s doing what she’s supposed to do. And so she easily receives no sympathy, while Oppenheimer, who is easily playing an elaborate game to be seen as a martyr, can receive much sympathy. Is a “Female American Prometheus” imaginable? If not, we do not see her buzzards.
We have discussed throughout this work how Oppenheimer might have orchestrated his own martyrdom, and yet even knowing this it can prove easier to sympathize with him versus with his wife as a bad mom. The depth of our bias seems boundless, and if we need “feminine depths” to stop “apocalyptic chain-reactions,” this bias might favor our demise. And to be clear: this paper is not arguing that “release’ or “creation” is always bad; rather, the point is that it is natural of us not to take seriously as we should what it means to bring something into this world. The feminine is portrayed in the film as generally more capable of grasping this, a wisdom that our world perhaps needs today (assuming it is not already too late).
The ability to “hold within” is paramount, and yet only the females of the movie seem capable of this, which perhaps suggests their capacity to “hold life within,” an interesting notion for it combines “keeping a life from entering the world,” which is suffocating, and also “making a life to enter the world,” which is creative — it seems we must always combine both, paradoxical life. The sexuality of the movie is indeed very paradoxical, which aligns with the Quantum Mechanics the movie mentions and that Oppenheimer “brings to America.” Oppenheimer also “brings to America” the paradox of the creation of the atom bomb, which precisely as “ultimate destroyer” is possibly the ender of war (Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahmin together). The movie suggests a value in “sex without release” and “process without competition,” which are also paradoxical, and yet this paradox seems central to life.
If the invention of the atom bomb has started a “Game Theory Dynamic” that is leading the world to a Nash Equilibrium and “suboptimal result” of a possible nuclear apocalypse, which is to say rationality itself is now leading us to something dire (as is the case with the whole “Meta-Crisis”), then the only hope of avoiding this fate is a “nonrational” action, which could indeed be carried out through a “paradoxical logic.” This is a theme throughout O.G. Rose, say in “The Most Rational and Suboptimal of All Possible Worlds” on Benjamin Fondane, and we see here evidence in Oppenheimer of the case. Rationality alone won’t save us, but avoiding “the chain reactions” of “autonomous rationality” might require “sex without release,” per se, which means we must be more feminine. Furthermore, it might be that the only way we leave “indestructible maps” is through a paradoxical logic like that behind “sex without release” (which please note is different from never having sex at all; furthermore, this doesn’t mean release is always bad: we must develop discernment and skill). Are we capable of this? If not, then the word might be “unescaped maps all the way down.”
A creation we deny is different from a creation we never have, and yet the result is the same: nothing is created. This is part of the reason why it is difficult to avoid “release”: we have to risk being seen as “doing nothing,” which can perhaps be especially difficult for the male ego. To engage in months and years at the Manhattan Project, only to abort the project at the end — this can make people seem like they wasted their life, like they were lazy and foolish. Far better to have never started the Manhattan Project in the first place, but once the “sex” has started, it has started. There is no going back, only stopping and seeming no different than someone who did nothing at all. Again, this is not easy for the ego to accept and live with, and yet the females in the movie seem capable of “holding in” — the males need to take these lessons. Similarly, once a woman is impregnated (and assuming it isn’t a mischarge), the baby is coming: what has started cannot be stopped. They know how things gain a life of their own, and so they are not quick to “release” and are more careful to “hold in” despite how that might them look unforgiving and cruel (like Katherine does when she denies the handshake at the end, perhaps taking a hit to the ego which the men cannot bear). If males are incapable of this “holding in” when the situation requires it, men will seemingly only be capable of “autonomous rationality” (which is argued throughout O.G. Rose ultimately being autocannibalistic). Hence why Oppenheimer really might have started that chain reaction…
Oppenheimer shows the dangers of “experisexuality,” per se, a sexual orientation for experimentation to a point of “release” that cannot turn back. It showcases the dangers of the inability to avoid “release,” and how once that mistake is made, a “legacy” is now alive and engaged in a life of its own (like a child). Theory can only get us so far, but once theory takes us somewhere, we cannot go back (as we couldn’t have known before the door is locked behind us). On this point, the movie makes me reflect on if there is a danger in as an artist not being able to let an essay idea go, a novel idea — that the ability to “hold some ideas within” and not create everything might be a necessary ability and skill. That is very difficult, and we might even be able to rationalize fear and anxiety as “being strong enough to hold an idea within” when really we are just rationalizing. There is a ditch on either side of the road, and it is not always easy to tell what is right and what is not, similar to the Manhattan Project. Should the atomic bomb be invented? Should this essay have been written? Perhaps I should have done something else. Yes? No? Yes/no? Must we always end up in a logic of both-ness?
It’s not always easy to tell at the time, and afterwards we might try to disown our choices by making ourselves a martyr. How many artists and writers emphasize the struggle and difficulty of writing? It is of course true that creation is hard and difficult, as it is true that Oppenheimer was mistreated after the Manhattan Project. But might we also enjoy this mistreatment, precisely because it helps us avoid the responsibility for what we create? Might we like having children we don’t have to take responsibility for? Sex without consequence? Might controlling birth start a “chain reaction?” Theory can only get you so far.
The Map Is Indestructible by O.G. Rose explores “map-naturing” and “map-creating,” which can be aligned with Žižek’s thinking on ideology, and in Oppenheimer we indeed see the infinite human capacity to create “maps” and rationalizations which justify their actions and behaviors, even if they must make themselves into martyrs (I considered including this paper in that book for this reason, but ultimately decided against it). Oppenheimer the film is an example of how sexuality and rationality combine, and perhaps we see in Oppenheimer profound jouissance in coming to enjoy his obstacles, precisely because they turn him into a martyr who can then be remember fondly by history. Sexuality, ideology, and rationality are combined throughout the film, as perhaps they always are in life.
Do we engage in jouissance when we watch Oppenheimer? Is there an enjoyment we gain from facing something so terrible, similar to the enjoyment Oppenheimer might Gain from facing martyrdom? Žižek himself has noted how much talk of Global Warming and Financial Ruin is filled with jouissance, which is to say people get an enjoyment out of discussing the apocalypse. Likewise, do artists and writers enjoy talking about the difficulty of their craft? Do people enjoy discussing the difficulty of life? Easily, but please note how it might be more difficult for us to sympathize with mothers who struggle — yes, we might talk about how much mothers suffer, but then we lack any sympathy for them when they fall up short (we also might blame them for not using birth-control). Does this mean jouissance favors acts of destruction over acts of life? Do we more naturally enjoy the sufferings of death then the suffering for life? If so, the connection between jouissance and the death-drive might be clearer. Life is Anti-Life. Pro-Life is unnatural, so best not an option — as it now is (“atomic bird-control”).
To close, Strauss resented Oppenheimer for turning Einstein against him, which of course never happened: Oppenheimer and Einstein were talking about far more important matters than Strauss. Strauss was focused on something that ultimately didn’t matter and something that ultimately wasn’t true — perhaps like me in writing this paper (my argument could be entirely wrong), and perhaps just like us watching Oppenheimer (it’s just a movie). Here we are, enjoying a movie about a possible atomic apocalypse all while the real threat of nuclear apocalypse grows with Russia and Ukraine. To speak Lacan, we seem to be facing “The Real” of the atomic threat, but really we might be avoiding the Das Ding of the apocalypse (like Oppenheimer, we might be using “The Real” to avoid the Unthinkable).
Strauss only thought about himself, as perhaps did Oppenheimer, but are we much better in watching Oppenheimer and seeking our own enjoyment? But what else can we do? How can we really take seriously the possibility of an atomic apocalypse? If we did, we probably wouldn’t be able to function. And so we must treat it like an abstraction, like a theory, and yet “a theory can only get you so far” — it won’t give us “release.” And this is the danger, a hint on why “history might repeat” (until it can’t): we cannot function outside of abstraction, imagery, and theory, and yet abstractions and theories make us hungry to try and “release” them. We need feminine logic to avoid this mistake, but is “feminine logic” prevalent today? I’ll let readers decide.
The longer it is between us and WWII, the more the danger of the bomb might sink back into an abstraction, something like a theory, thus making us hungry for that “release” again to remember what it was like. We know the bomb could kill us all, but we’ve also never seen it for ourselves. Can we keep Oppenheimer a movie and “un-released” into the world? Maybe, but theory can only get us so far. Movies are only so real.
Belonging Again: An Explanation (Part I)
Belonging Again: An Explanation (Part I) - Kindle edition by Rose, O.G.. Download it once and read it on your Kindle…