"Protect me from what I want"

Fortuna's horn of plenty appears to have been poured out over the global habitat. At the first cursory glance at least, the happiness of the "small" man is realised in Robert F. Hammerstiel's sunny scheme of the world. In the trim houses of the lotto paradise, on the low-maintenance artificial lawns of neighbourhood-friendly front gardens with and without inflatable pools, in the charming living-rooms and the dreamlike bedrooms, in the sterile model kitchens in front of them and in the clean children's rooms furnished on an appropriate miniature scale, peace and idyll reign, not least underpinned by what is on offer at department stores, in mail-order catalogues and shopping malls which ensure the fulfilment of dreams that money can buy: plants from yucca plantations and pot-plants, wall décor sprayed on by airbrush and photographic wallpapers from eagerly copying reproduction centres, small models from the Barbie, Lego or Playmobil factories, objects of affection from establishments for breeding everyday domestic animals but also unusual house-mates in the form of exotic fauna, relaxing aquariums and exciting terrariums, all carefully packaged together with every conceivable accessory and sealed ready for transport. And practically everything else the heart could desire.

In view of such an ambience the everyday life of Blaue Lagune does not need to shun comparison with its "partner town" Seahaven. For in this small coastal town surrounded by water which features in Peter Weir's "Truman Show", too, the sun shines year in, year out, on the tranquil life of insurance salesman Truman Burbank until finally the petty-bourgeois idyll below the cupola of the Omnicam Ecosphere Building is broken and the hero of the film has to recognise that he was only the main character in a television series which by some paradoxical logic had set itself the goal of presenting as a reality show the ultimately fictional life of a human being from birth onwards.

In this respect, the other place too is a scene of disillusionment and its consequences. Whilst, however, Seahaven as a conventional cinema story gradually reveals its other side and ends with the desperate rebellion of a victim who has been deceived and degraded by a media world unleashed, Hammerstiel, who allows the simultaneous logic of the still image to remain in effect even where serial pictorial links and the cinematic continuity of his videos beckon with a narrative enticement, shows us initially and in the centre of his so immaculate and clean universe that the blue flower of trivial romance is by no means to be found in the Blaue Lagune. On the contrary, this world is overshadowed by the inevitable by-products of a consumer apparatus aimed at producing needs and satisfying needs: the invalidation of longing, the denial of unfulfilled desire and the end of the pursuit of utopia.

Thus the force of depression and the dreariness of the stereotype weigh on the apparently cosy prefabricated world from the start. By replacing reality with what is immediately real, a comprehensive materiality of the objective dominates, causing the separation of the animate from the inanimate to be suspended. Thus, a seeing eye and an observing gaze has also been replaced by an impersonal it shows, caught by a soulless perceptron wandering around without plan or aim, its "perception" reduced to a calculation of the field of vision but without the faculty of subjective experience. As a result, even the difference between the place where no human being is to be seen and the place where there is a human presence vanishes: the scene always remains devoid of humanity. Instead of humans, the Blaue Lagune is inhabited by speechless, lonely beings, subject not to language but to the facticity of the material, beings whose immobility reflects both an emotional vacuum and a paralysed, frozen inner restlessness. They have become puppets whose players have lost hold of the strings.

Under the direct impression that Hammerstiel's universe is too good to be true, his presentation has proved to be the documentation of the honouring of a promise, a promise however which is revealed in its complete ambiguity both as a promise and also as a blunder. The cause of failure lies here as well as elsewhere in the fact that what is promised does not remain what it is, and comes to a place which it should not reach, that is, it is satisfied with fulfilment and is fulfilled in satisfaction.

We all know the experience: as long as desires are permanently short-circuited with demands and needs, as long as desires, fantasies and conflicts are constantly acted out on the stage of the world, we are denied entry to the stage of dreams. From here it is not far to pornography which was once rightly said to be the thief of dreams, a statement which in the final analysis also applies to capitalism with its perverse core of commodity fetishism and its permanent production of need and satisfaction. The realisation of dreams thus logically means the end of dreaming as an ideal can only be kept alive in the absence of its fulfilment. Just as light, even though it creates colour, is at the same time its greatest enemy, pleasure and longing (which in the words of the philosopher are a striving for eternity) also come to an end (at least temporarily) when they are fulfilled. As regards the dream, this means that the subject awakens as soon as the dreamed-for wish, i.e. the desire, is going to assert a claim.

It is clear that human desires and human instincts are just as complex as they are paradoxical in their dynamic and economic dimensions. In this respect, Freud himself had to correct Schopenhauer's simplified formula which describes our world as will and idea by designating it a world characterised at the end of its experience mainly by a desire for ideas. For the specifically human does not lie in specific natural instincts and their adequate fulfilment but rather in man's unique social conditionalities within the concepts of civilisation and culture, the essence of which for Freud is grounded in a renunciation of instincts. This postulate does not however mean that in the human socialisation process which is regulated by norms, values and ideas, instinct as the driving force behind behaviour is invalidated. On the contrary, it means that pure instinct, which as such is not bound to consciousness and is thus a basically unconscious process, undergoes a transformation. Characteristic of pure instinct is its search for immediate and direct satisfaction by which it constantly aims to extinguish itself, thus always bearing within itself the mortal in the sense of the death instinct. In order to drive back the destructive side of instinct, it has to be deferred, tamed and limited. In connection with deficit and - in Freud's formulation - the "Not des Lebens" ("dangers/necessities of life") after entry into a world outside the womb, instinct expresses itself first as a need which however only slightly touches the psyche and there corresponds most to that elementary sense of pleasure/pain as it is postulated for the earliest human experiences. As a striving for pleasure, the need is aimed at a real material object and achieves satisfaction by it. The first needs of the infant whose satisfaction can only be achieved by means of another person - hunger and feeding, in particular - stand however in opposition to a power wielded by the mother, in that she can grant or refuse the required object such as the breast. This power which places itself before the satisfaction of the need and which transcends the need thanks to its privilege of granting or refusing it, is the power addressed by what we call the demand. The demand is thus not necessarily directed towards concrete objects but is really a demand for love, aiming at presence, but also - inasmuch as autonomy makes its demands effective - at the absence of another. The origin of this demand is to be found in the need for help of every kind which Freud has ascribed to the biological factor of human immaturity and which creates the need to be loved which never again leaves the human being. At the same time, this demand for love represents a source of hatred, fed by dependence and by resentment against an omnipotent other. This is probably the origin of the phenomenon of envy, since the impulse to envy, as is well-known, is not directed towards a desired object but towards the destruction of another who is in a real or assumed state of completeness as opposed to the sense of one's own incompleteness. On the other hand, the power which blocks access to the object has a tendency to debase satisfactions of need because according to what was mentioned at the beginning every satisfied need simultaneously destroys the demand for love. Ongoing undervaluation of the demand for love can thus have catastrophic effects such as in the case of anorexia. Here, according to Lacan, something which one has (food) is always given in place of giving something which one does not have (love), and as a consequence, the child refuses food and plays with his refusal as with a desire.

In the final analysis, a demand is also an expression of need in language. By articulating the signifying chain whereby a material and sensual basis is withdrawn from the object as well as itself in the process of what is called symbolic castration, the infant subject reveals its essential lack. This gives rise to the appeal to receive complementation from the other, inasmuch as the other as the location of speech is also the location of this lack. Around this field of demand the wish formation develops which we designate synonymously with the specifically Freudian wish as desire. Desire arises on both sides of demand as the difference between need and demand. On the one side, because demand, by articulating the life of a subject according to its own conditions and by shaping the need, leaves a gap between need and demand; on the other side, because the demand actualises the essential lack so that by means of the demand an essential desire and a splitting of being and significance arises: as soon as I speak I am not, and as long as I am, I am outside of significance. Under these conditions which have to be set against any Cartesian thought of a self-assuredness of the subject, the subject, insofar as it is submitted to language, is always a split subject, constantly oscillating between a subject of the remark and a subject of the statement. Insofar as in the expression of desire instinct has passed through the bottle-neck of significance by way of the demand which represents the entry into the commitment of speech, it has lost its original objects from sight, no longer finding fulfilling satisfaction in any object and always seeking for something else. Thus, when it is said that human desire is the desire of the other, this does not only mean that as the original object of love has been denied to the person because incest is forbidden, he can therefore never really find stability in all the substitutes that follow. It also means that from the start and so as to survive he desires the desire of the other and that his wishes which have been expressed linguistically have taken on the law of non-finalisation in the sense of metonymy. Amongst the ethical implications of psychoanalysis, Lacan has thus made this particular recommendation: you should not stop desiring - although this does not always preclude the fulfilment of pleasure and satisfaction of vital needs having to be sought again and again. Under these conditions, one can also encounter happiness which is not based on possession or on empowerment or even so much on fateful coincidence but (also etymologically based) on a success.

Within a refined aesthetic of formal (pseudo-)affirmations which expose with imitating gestures the clichés of order, cleanliness and perfection in such an obvious way that they lead almost automatically ad absurdum, Robert F. Hammerstiel succeeds in making the observer suffer and experience failure: a failure which arises from an anthropological misunderstanding of the human subject as a type of desire-machine whose functioning is guaranteed in accordance with Pavlov's reflex model. In view of an artistically captured artificial world of clarity and cleanliness, one is reminded in the final analysis of Robert Musil's words whereby order somehow merges with manslaughter.

Thus, Blaue Lagunen are not last those places where people live who have not learnt to say, "Please don't give me what I ask you for as that isn't what I really want". Another formulation is the well-known appeal which is guaranteed to maintain desire, "Protect me from what I want!"

August Ruhs