12/10/21: _Bad Education_ and the Child’s Materiality

Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education is interested in identity positions insofar as identity is always founded on an illusory logic of wholeness that is founded on retroaction and anticipation. As Jane Gallop makes pointedly clear in “Where to Begin?,” the mirror stage that heralds the Imaginary and gives the subject a conceptualize of his ego founds itself on “the self [being] constituted through anticipating what it will become, and then this anticipatory model is used for gauging what was before” (81). Identity, then, is entangled in an illusory process of cohesion that is, ultimately, forgetful of its (non-)place in the Real, though it can never escape from this forgetfulness. As an exploration of the slipping masks, as attached to faces, names, and voices, of characters inhabiting, through the inhibition by, the darkness of the past, Bad Education provides a glimpse into the Otherness that intrudes every relation to the self. As the emblem for the articulation of (anticipatory) pureness in Bad Education is Ignacio as a child, the Child consistently returns as the image of natural wholeness that marks every character in the film’s relation to the desired Ignacio they used to know. But insofar as Bad Education‘s Child is in relation to Ignacio in the supposed form of self-identity, the Child brings the characters of the film right back to the ambiguity of the self-difference that seeps into their lives. The actual adult Ignacio that represents, imagistically, the Real of the Child as separate from its supposed purity; however, as Lee Edelman writes on in his reading of Bad Education in “Learning Nothing,” “the corporeal transformation he aims anticipates to resolve, not affirm, such division” (156). This is to say that no subject can be a subject unless it harnesses the Symbolically valued objects of futurity and totality to the image of the Child, even if experiences of jouissance demonstrate the impossibility of suturing the gap between the Symbolic and the Imaginary.

The Ignacio that was used to be known, the Child of Bad Education, is therefore, paradoxically, the most unsettling character of the entire film. If the Child is the illusory image used by subjects to anticipate wholeness, the child as a living entity in the world is violently erased from its own potentials. Stagnant in the frame of natural innocence and beauty, with the innocence corresponding to an ignorance of the knowledge of the queerness of sexuality, the Child must be separated from the child insofar as its ideological underpinnings commits violence to children. Bad Education provides a reading of the child as separate from the Child especially in multiple ways. When, in Enrique’s phantasmatic projection of the script of La Visita, Father Manolo reads Ignacio’s story that exposes his abuse, the young Ignacio’s voice provides the voiceover for the disturbing words. Later in La Visita, when Ignacio gives himself to Father Manolo in exchange for Enrique’s continued enrollment at school, the voiceover that provides the line that the event was the “first time” Ignacio sold himself is similarly the voice of young Ignacio. The floating voiceover of the young Ignacio, firstly imagistically and secondly temporally, is disconnected from the pure figure of the Child. The Child thus becomes a monstrosity insofar as the Child is revealed to be nothing but the living entity of the child with his own desire. But, nonetheless, the Child is repetitively cast up by all characters of the film to attempt to secure an anticipated security in selfhood, a security that is constantly disturbed by the materiality of the Child as the child.

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