The title is printable only in (what is for me) a foreign language (English, in this case), making sure that readers would not understand it. In Slovene, it is an extremely vulgar common expression, an outburst of rage, which can be roughly translated as “let a prick take a look at you,” or something like “up yours”. But what if we read this expression more literally? In what sense can a penis look at you?            

Another expression can be of some help here, one that every average English reader knows well: “through the looking glass.” It is, of course, the title of Lewis Carol’s sequel to his Alice in Wonderland, which refers to the strange world Alice finds when she steps through a mirror, a world in which things are not as they should be. Normally, you see in a glass a mirror-image of reality (and of yourself), but when you step through the glass, you enter the strange world, from which the mirror-image looks back at you. And here we find the point, from which “a prick looks at you.” (We’ll see why at the end.) Lubitsch’s films are like this: in them, you, as it were, see our (your) reality through the looking glass. You perceive the weirdness of reality and how this reality looks at us, how we are implied in it, inscribed into it… So, what do we see of our society through Lubitsch’s looking glass?             

Lubitsch would have been horrified by the politically correct insistence that sex should only take place when all participants explicitly consent to it. Not only does an explicit statement of consent not really work to prevent violence, but there is also a violence that pertains to explicit consent as such, to its form. In the complex and often ambiguous space of sexual interplay, there definitely are individuals who prefer to engage in it without explicit declaration of consent. They may even experience the demand for such a declaration vulgar and violent in its own way. Does this open the way for men to justify their aggressive sexual behavior by claiming that the woman gave them implicit signals to go on? No, we should just be ready to admit that innuendos and ambiguous messages are an integral part of the sexual interplay, i.e., that this interplay is not like a commercial exchange of favors where both sides clearly state their priorities and then negotiate.           

One aspect of the violence that pertains to sex is that there is something very intrusive in a demand for sexual contact. Many of my male friends (and I count myself among my friends) told me that when a woman whom they passionately desired signaled to them that she wanted them to make love to her, no matter how joyful the occasion, they also experienced a moment of panic: “Did she really mean me and not another guy? Why ME? What did I do to her to deserve this? Why doesn’t she leave me alone?” This secret wish to be spared the trouble (“Thanks god, it was all a misunderstanding, she didn’t mean me, I can now breathe freely!”) is always part of sexual desire.              

Back to Lubitsch! Is, then, all that he is doing in his films just a playful admission of the perversions immanent to sexuality? Recall the Slovene vulgar expression with which we began: if this were to be all he did, he would remain within the domain designated by this vulgarity, just repeatedly reminding us of how “a prick is looking /back/ at us,” i.e., of how we are caught in a circular game of sexuality.           

Let’s take a closer look at how “kurc te gleda.” This Slovene expression signals a gesture of disrespect, of refusing an unwanted demand – not so much “Fuck off!” or ”Fuck it!” as ”Fuck you!”, showing someone one’s penis as a sign of disrespect. In a higher society, one can also say “falus te okulira,” “let the phallus oculate you” (oculate means “having eyes,” or, more precisely, having spots or holes resembling eyes – when an animal is characterized as “ocellated,” it means it has eye-like markings). In his commentary of Freud’s notion of drive, Lacan remarks, with a good dose of humor, that a subject effectively sees himself in his virile member when, all of a sudden, he notices that his member is glad to be seen.           

The dimension of refusing the other’s demand is crucial here. Worldwide protests are today triggered by a particular demand which is not what it is really about, so when those in power concede to it, our reply should be “kurc te gleda”… Rejecting demands is also at the core of the so-called “fuck it therapy,” the invention of John and Gaia Parkin, a husband-and-wife pair that woke up one day in London, said “fuck it,” quit their jobs, left their home, and moved to Italy to start a retreat for their kind of therapy.[1] But “kurc te gleda” is not quite the same; for “fuck it,” there are other expressions in Slovene, like “jebi se” or “odjebi” (more like “fuck off”). The closest to “kurc te gleda” in English is “up yours,” though there is a significant difference: “up yours” is an active gesture (performed or accompanied by the elevated middle finger), while “kurc te gleda” is a passive stance, where no act is performed. This Slovene vulgar outburst of annoyance perfectly reproduces the structure of an object returning the gaze, like the sardine can mentioned by Lacan in Seminar XI. The point, at which the object returns the gaze, is the point of anamorphosis (Holbein), and anamorphosis is precisely enacted in penis’s erection: a penis “looks at you” when erect:

“One day, I was on a small boat, with a few people from a family of fishermen in a small port. /…/ as we were waiting for the moment to pull in the nets, an individual known as Petit-Jean /…/ pointed out to me something floating on the surface of the waves. It was a small can, a sardine can. It floated there in the sun, a witness to the canning industry, which we, in fact, were supposed to supply. It glittered in the sun. And Petit-Jean said to me — You see that can? Do you see it? Well, it doesn’t see you! /…/ if what Petit-Jean said to me, namely, that the can did not see me, had any meaning, it was because in a sense, it was looking at me, all the same.”[2] 

There is something inherently ridiculous in seeing a man walking around or just standing with his penis erect: it sticks out as a silly protuberance, over-extended like an anamorphic stain.[3] Or, to paraphrase Lacan: “You see that prick? Do you see it? Well, it doesn’t see you – which means that it is looking at you, all the same!” In this sense, the perceiving subject is inscribed into the scene of a man with an erect penis: when a woman sees a man with an erect penis in front of her, she can presume that she is the object-cause of this erection. And the erect penis nonetheless doesn’t see you: it is not an intersubjective recognition when you cause the erection; you are, in a sense, objectivized, depersonalized at least, ignored as subject.           

One should insist on the difference between the penis and the vagina here. Even in the standard cliché scene of sexual invitation (a naked woman lying on her back and playing with her legs), the vagina is not like an erect penis: it is not looking at you, though it obviously “sees” you. So, we have to resist the vulgar association of the vagina with an eye: the vagina is not ocellated, since, in such a scene, the woman herself is actively looking at you. She remains an agent, in contrast to a man with an erect penis who is reduced to a ridiculous idiot helplessly observing what a part of his body is doing.            

Lubitsch draws a lot of fun from situations, in which the role of an erect penis is played by the subject’s exalted ideal-ego, the way he wants to appear to others, but he plays this role in such a ridiculous way that, when he gets caught in the game, he himself cannot but helplessly notice that he acts as an idiot. This is the point, at which my own prick is looking back at me: I cannot but helplessly observe how stupidly I act, unable as I am to break out of the constraints of my ideal-ego… Is it then possible to break out of this circle that reduces us to acting like helpless idiots?

When, close to the beginning of Anouilh’s Antigone, the heroine returns home from wandering around the garden early in the morning, she answers the Nurse’s query “Where were you?” with: 

“Nowhere. It was beautiful. The whole world was grey when I went out. And now – you wouldn’t recognize it. It’s like a postcard: all pink, and green, and yellow. You’ll have to get up earlier, Nurse, if you want to see the world without colors. /…/ The garden was lovely. It was still asleep. Have you ever thought how lovely a garden is when it is not yet thinking of men? /…/ The fields were wet. They were waiting for something to happen. The whole world was breathless, waiting. I can’t tell you what a roaring noise I seemed to make alone on the road. It bothered me that whatever was waiting wasn’t waiting for me. I took off my sandals and slipped into a field.”[4] 

One should read these lines closely: when Antigone sees the world in gray, before the sunshine transforms it into a postcard kitsch, her predicament is not that of the proverbial solipsist who all of a sudden turns his head around to catch how the world is before he sees it. She didn’t see the world the way it was before her eyes saw it; she saw the world before the world turned the gaze on her. In Lacan’s terms, while walking around the garden before sunlight, Antigone was looking at the world before the world was returning the gaze. To return to our vulgar Slovene saying, no prick is looking back at her; nobody is waiting for her or awaiting her, and she is afraid to make noise not because she thinks she might disturb something but because she is aware the world is not waiting for it, so that the world would not react to her disturbance.           

To take a step further here, there is a link between Antigone before dawn and Oedipus at Colonus who paints grey on grey (to put in Hegel’s terms) at the end of his life, but this link makes clear the contrast between the two figures. Antigone’s experience of life before dawn is a suspension of the phallic dimension, while Oedipus’s final curse on life is a majestic assertion of this dimension at its purest. Let’s elaborate a little bit this point.            

Oedipus at Colonus is a unique play, in which the contours of post-human subjectivity are for the first clearly outlined. That is to say, what if the passage from humanity to post-humanity were the passage from Oedipus to Oedipus at Colonus? If the human subject is Oedipal (with all this implies: constitution through symbolic castration, regulation of desire through the symbolic Law, etc.), the post-human subject is like Oedipus at Colonus, “anti-Oedipus” or, as Lacan put it, beyond Oedipus, reduced to an excremental remainder of the signifying chain.[5] For Hegel, guilt is the highest honour for the tragic hero – if we deprive him of his guilt, we submit him to a thorough humiliation – and Oedipus is deprived even of this honour of guilt, which means that “he is not even allowed to participate /in his fate/ with his desire.”[6] There was no “unconscious desire” in him that pushed him to his acts, which is why, after learning what he did, he refused to act as a tragic hero and to assume his guilt.            

As Lacan formulates it repeatedly, in contrast to all of us, Oedipus is the only one without the Oedipus complex. In the usual Oedipal scenario, we compromise our desire by submitting ourselves to the symbolic Law, renouncing the true (incestuous) object of desire. Oedipus at Colonus, on the contrary, remains stubborn to the end, fully faithful to his desire, il n’a pas cede sur son desir. Paradoxically, Oedipus at Colonus is a subject at ease with himself: he is not a wise old man who learns the vanity of desire, but only here does he accede it fully. Lacan saw this clearly in his first seminar, where he wrote about Oedipus at Colonus:

“So, Oedipus does exist, and he fully realized his destiny. He realized it to that final point which is nothing more than something strictly identical to a striking down, a tearing apart, a laceration of himself – he is no longer, no longer anything, at all. And it is at that moment that he says the phrase I evoked last time – Am I made man in the hour when I cease to be?“ The precise moment Oedipus says this is when, knowing that the place of his death will profit its inhabitants, dignitaries no longer treat him as an excremental outcast but are asking for his favor: “They run after him. Hearing that he is about to receive some visit, all kinds of ambassadors, wise men, politicians, enthusiasts, his son, Oedipus then says – Am I made man in the hour when I cease to be?“ In what sense he ceased to be? ”When the oracle’s prophecy [parole] is entirely fulfilled, when the life of Oedipus has completely passed over into his destiny, what remains of Oedipus? That is what Oedipus at Colonus shows us – the essential drama of destiny, the total absence of charity, of fraternity, of anything whatsoever related to what one calls human feeling.”[7]            

Lacan evokes here Mr. Valdemar from E.A. Poe’s story who, when awakened from death by magnetism, pronounces the terrifying impossible words: “Quick! Put me back to sleep! I am already dead.” But (as Terry Eagleton pointed out) precisely as such, as excluded from all human feeling and charity, Oedipus becomes a political figure: he grounds a new powerful city-state, Athens. Oedipus at Colonus

“becomes the cornerstone of a new political order. Oedipus’s polluted body signifies among other things the monstrous terror at the gates in which, if it is to have a chance of rebirth, the polis must recognize its own hideous deformity. This profoundly political dimension of the tragedy is given short shrift in Lacan’s own meditations. /…/ In becoming nothing but the scum and refuse of the polis – the ‘shit of the earth,’ as St Paul racily describes the followers of Jesus, or the ‘total loss of humanity’ which Marx portrays as the proletariat – Oedipus is divested of his identity and authority and so can offer his lacerated body as the cornerstone of a new social order. ‘Am I made a man in this hour when I cease to be?’ (or perhaps ‘Am I to be counted as something only when I am nothing / am no longer human?’), the beggar king wonders aloud.”[8]            

Christ, a later beggar-king, by his death as a nothing, an outcast abandoned even by his disciples, grounds a new community of believers. Both Oedipus and Christ re-emerge by way of passing through the zero-level of being reduced to an excremental remainder. In short, what comes after the gesture of “kurc te gleda” is a new socio-political order… The key lesson here is that the revolution is not an Oedipal rebellion against a paternal figure culminating in the killing of father, but an event that takes place in a post-Oedipal space, triggered by an agent who passes through the zero-level of subjective destitution and assumes an excremental identification.

Consequently, we should add to these two a third figure, Che Guevara from the photo after his capture in Bolivia, just before he was shot dead. Guevara’s position between the soldiers who captured him, the style of his hair and the expression of his face all give birth to unmistakable Christological dimension. Like Christ (and, we may add, like Salvador Allende and Victor Jara in Chile), Guevara had to die a miserable death in order to become a cult figure that he is. Through his death, he became a sacred figure where “normal” criteria of actual achievements no longer matter. Carlos Puebla, whose most popular Guevara song is “Hasta siempre,” also wrote another Guevara song, “Lo eterno (The eternal one),” which directly mobilizes the Christological echoes:

“People say, Che Guevara, / that it’s a lie that you’re dead. / Your presence, continuous and bright, / like of a shining star, / is still on alert and ready for combat, / Comandante Che Guevara. / People like you never get erased, / both from history and from time. / How could people who are eternal die! / Since you were more than a man, / since you were the light and the example, / you will live eternally / in the hearts of the people.”[9]

One can even claim that, like Christ, Guevara knowingly or unknowingly strove for death, and that he knew that his cause in Bolivia was lost. In his review of the Guevara-film The Motorcycle Diaries, Paul Berman critically claimed that

“the entire movie, in its concept and tone, exudes a Christological cult of martyrdom, a cult of adoration for the spiritually superior person who is veering toward death — precisely the kind of adoration that Latin America’s Catholic Church promoted for several centuries, with miserable consequences. The rebellion against reactionary Catholicism in this movie is itself an expression of reactionary Catholicism. The traditional churches of Latin America are full of statues of gruesome bleeding saints. And the masochistic allure of those statues is precisely what you see in the movie’s many depictions of young Che coughing out his lungs from asthma and testing himself by swimming in cold water.”[10]

To this, one should simply answer: true, but – so what? Why should revolutionary politics not take over the Catholic cult of martyrdom? The parallel with Oedipus at Colonus and Guevara makes it clear that what matters is not the pain of martyrdom as such but the step outside the symbolic circuit which defines our identity. Here, we encounter the unique moment where history and eternity meet: far from being a mere withdrawal from history into the abyss of inner life, the excremental identification is necessary for a radical historical change; it renders visible the high subjective price of an authentic revolutionary act.

And do we not find exactly the same Christological turn in the lyrics (written by Joan Baez to Ennio Morricone’s music) of “Here’s to you,” the title song of the movie Sacco and Vanzetti? “Here’s to you, Nicola and Bart / Rest forever here in our hearts / The last and final moment is yours / That agony is your triumph.” These lyrics “make use of a statement attributed to Vanzetti by Philip D. Strong, a reporter for the North American Newspaper Alliance: ‘If it had not been for these things, I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have died, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life we could have hoped to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for man’s understanding of man as we now do by accident. Our words — our lives — our pains — nothing! The taking of our lives — lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler — all! That last moment belongs to us — that agony is our triumph.’”[11] What one should resist here is the perverse reading of these lines: Vanzetti has consciously chosen agony (death) to achieve triumph. Such manipulation doesn’t work. The passage through the zero-point counts as the new beginning only if the subject effectively assumes its excremental status – the triumph takes place later as a kind of “collateral damage.” In the case of Christ, without Paul who interpreted his death on the cross as a triumph, he would have remained just one in a series of largely forgotten sectarian martyrs…    

This religious dimension of a radical political act is founded on a very precise fact: the triumph of a revolution is the moment when we step out of the existing economic and social order by way of suspending its main written and unwritten rules. We (try to) do what, within this order, appears impossible. We do things to which the hegemonic ideology reacts with “But you can’t just do this!!!” we do what Brecht, in his praise of Communism, called “the simple things that are hard to do”: nationalizing banks and large corporations, expanding free education and health service, providing housing for the poor, legalizing gay and LGBT+ rights, etc.

Remember the first year of the Allende government in Chile in 1970: they provided free meals at schools, nationalized copper mines, engaged in the construction of workers’ housings, plenty of “simple things” like that… And, we have to go to the end: in the specific conditions of that time, with the brutal resistance from the local bourgeoisie supported by the US, they HAD to fail, inflation roared, etc. They had to fail not only because of the resistance of the forces of the established order, but due to immanent reason: their failure (exemplified by the violent death of a leader) provides the point of excremental identification, which gives a new force to the movement.

It is meaningless to deplore the fact that the revolutionaries were not pragmatic enough. This, precisely, was the point of their acts once they took over, namely to violate the existing “pragmatic rules.” Whatever the new problems, the Allende government changed Chile into a “liberated territory” where, in some sense, even the air the people were breathing was different, and the problems it faced just prove the fact that, within the existing order, even doing “simple things” like providing free meals and housing for workers is impossible. Later, revolutionaries should become pragmatic, of course, but they HAVE to begin with crazy simple acts.

So, what does this look like in Lubitsch? There are moments in many of Lubitsch’s movies, in which one can discern a similar stance. They are not moments of some mystical inner peace that signals our disengagement from reality. Let’s read Anouilh’s key lines again: the wet fields “were waiting for something to happen. The whole world was breathless, waiting. I can’t tell you what a roaring noise I seemed to make alone on the road. It bothered me that whatever was waiting wasn’t waiting for me.” So, there IS something the world is waiting for; it’s just not me it is waiting for. This is why Antigone doesn’t want to make noise: not in order to disturb some inner peace of the world, but because her noise would not resonate… Remember Gandhi’s famous motto: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” The moments we are now dealing with are precisely the moments when we realize that we cannot be that change: we just have to accept the painful fact that we are not part of the Event reality is calling for.

Furthermore, recall a famous moment of discord in Trouble in Paradise when Gaston loses his smooth manners and explodes in anger at Marietta, who is ready to prosecute a small crook like him but not her manager for stealing her money since they both belong to the same class. At this moment, reality is rendered grey; it is deprived of all its erotic colors; there is no “Lubitsch touch” here. Gaston’s anger is not directed just at Marietta but also at himself: the noise the world is waiting for, the change needed to abolish the corruption he is decrying, is the noise of a social revolution, but he knows that, due to the way he earns his living (he is a crook and thief), he only parasitizes on the existing social order.            

Similar discordant moments happen in Ninotchka, in To be or not to be, and especially in Lubitsch’s last finished film, Cluny Brown, which in its entirety strikes a discordant note in Lubitsch’s universe. It tells the story of Adam Belinski, a Czech refugee to England before World War II who tries to mobilize public opinion against the Fascist threat. A rich English friend invites him to his country estate where Belinski meets Cluny Brown, an ordinary girl fascinated by plumbing, and finds her spontaneity intoxicating and refreshing… To cut a long story short, at the end, they get married and move to America where Belinski publishes a bestselling detective novel making them both rich. The struggle against Fascism simply disappears from the story, i.e., the two lovers make all the noise in order for them (and for us, the viewers) NOT to hear what the world is waiting for: a war against Fascism.              

And, maybe, erotic love itself is something the world is not waiting for, something which makes noise only for the lovers and doesn’t resonate in social reality. The illusion of love is that all reality should resonate with it, that the world returns the gaze and looks back at happy lovers; however, social reality goes on and remains grey, unaffected by the colors of love. Maybe, therein resides the hidden lesson of Lubitsch’s films, especially of Ninotchka, which directly deals with this topic. And therein resides also the (often ignored) lesson of Freud: everything is not sexual(ized); there is a space for a-sexual universal causes.


[1] See

[2] Jacques Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, New York: Norton 1998, p. 95.

[3] Stephen Hawking’s illness confirms this special status of erection: he was totally crippled, suffering from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), but he was capable of obtaining erection because ALS affects motor neurons while sexual activity/organs are controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system. People with ALS (and many quadriplegics in general) are usually fully capable of having sex.

[4] Quoted from

[5] See Alenka Zupančič, “Oedipus or the Excrement of the Signifier,” in Ojdip v Kolonu (in Slovene), Ljubljana: Analecta 2018.

[6] Op. cit., p. 171.

[7] Quoted from

[8] Terry Eagleton, Trouble With Strangers, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell 2008, p. 201.


[10] Available online at