From War to War: Lord of the Flies as the Sociology of Spite

Article excerpt

A reading of Golding's Lord of the Flies as an allegory of a biopolitical or postpolitical society that elevates "security" to the most sacred principle of organization as a permanent state of exception and attempts to combine it with consumerism. It is in this context that spite, an impotent and self-sacrificial violence, reemerges as a postpolitical strategy. KEYWORDS: spite; security; exception; postpolitical; political infantalization

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  The Lord of the Flies is expanding his Reich.
  All treasures, all blessings are swelling his might....
  Down, down with the handful who doubt him!
  --Stefan George, 1907

The film Lord of the Flies, based on William Golding's novel of the same title, (1) is a dystopic comment on war. For Golding, as for his contemporaries such as Adorno and Horkheimer, war was more than just a dark spot, an exception, in the history of civilization. The life of a group of boys on a desert island, depicted in the film with ruthless precision, does not illustrate a case of regress to pre-social forms but rather an ever-present possibility of our system, a state of exception. Indeed, in stark contrast to the standard interpretations, the two clans that the boys establish on the island, led by Ralph and Jack respectively, explicate the two sides of the same social bond. The upside consists of the image of society as rule-governed and institutionalized, the citizens being law-abiding; on the downside, we encounter fantasies of transgression, potlatch, and perversion: democratic utopianism versus fascist violence, society versus the mob. The two topologies coexist, and thus it would be a mistake to see one of them as being closer to nature, more true or more revealing than the other, which is also why there is always a fragile balance between the two topologies.

It is this fragility, the split character of authority, that Lord of the Flies dramatizes. Ralph continually appeals to reason and order, while Jack empowers his discursive position through references to an enemy, the "monster" on the hill. Ralph's mistake, and the shortcoming of democracy in general, is his denial of what Bataille called "heterogeneity": the importance of expenditure, play, war, and disorganization in social life. What Jack, on the other hand, can neither predict nor perceive is that his disorganizing lines of flight potentially can turn into an orgy of violence and, ultimately, a spiteful death.

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The film opens with an accident: A plane evacuating military students from England during World War II crashes in the Pacific Ocean. The only survivors, a group of boys aged from five to thirteen, end up on a tropical desert island, where they are determined quickly to reestablish civilization. Indeed, in this respect the story brings to mind Robinson Crusoe, where the world is recreated on a desert island. Thus, as soon as two of the central figures in the film, Ralph and Piggy, meet each other, they try to find the other boys and start reestablishing the social order. An important object in this context is a conch shell they find on the beach. Functioning as a symbol of civilization (its sound being used as a call for gatherings of the castaways), the conch holds the boys together: the one who holds the conch has the right to speak, et cetera. In a sense, therefore, the conch is an instrument of democratic governance and legitimacy, a token necessary for preserving the agora and holding violence at bay. At this stage, even Jack, the figure who represents the antidemocratic tendency in the film, is content, when he loses the leadership election to Ralph, with remaining the leader of his own pack, the "hunters." As a whole, he is uneasy with the thought of violence; thus, when he finds a pig caught in a tangle of vines in the jungle, he hesitates, together with the other boys, unable to kill the pig. The boys watch the pig free itself and run away. However, the similarity with Robinson's island ends here. …

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